Headley set to return for Padres
This week, we look at some interesting third-base situations from around the league.
Without any further ado ...
Starter: Jedd Gyorko
Next: Jesus Guzman
On the mend: Chase Headley (thumb)
Jedd Gyorko may have been the Padres' Opening Day starter at second base, but he spent six of the team's first eight games manning third base with Chase Headley out with a fractured thumb. However, he returned to second base Thursday through Saturday. Why? Because Headley should be back in the Padres' infield this week. His return should push Gyorko back to second on a full-time basis, and should push Jesus Guzman into a deeper reserve role.
Other Observations: Gyorko slugged .588 last year at offensively-inflated Triple-A Tucson, but his power has been notably absent through 40-plus at-bats. Guzman's two starts at third base this past weekend were his first appearances at the position in his four-year career. Headley had 31 home runs and 17 steals in 2012, which made him the first Padre to record 30-plus home runs and 10-plus steals in a season since Ryan Klesko in 2001.
It is quite telling that the White Sox did not recall Brent Morel from Triple-A Charlotte over the weekend when it became evident that Jeff Keppinger would need to slide from his regular third base gig to second on an everyday basis to cover for the injured Gordon Beckham. Morel has a .372 OBP through his first 10 games at Charlotte, and his recall would not have cost the organization a 40-man spot (as Tyler Greene did). It either means they have a lot of confidence in Conor Gillaspie, or none in Morel. Gillaspie's power the past few seasons may have been boosted by the Pacific Coast League, but he makes contact more often than most of the White Sox's regulars. Morel, on the other hand, already has 13 strikeouts at Charlotte. The gig is likely Gillaspie's until Beckham forces an infield crunch in June.
Other Observations: The White Sox have been among the league leaders in team home runs the past few seasons, but they have not had a third baseman hit 20-plus home runs since Josh Fields did so in 2007. Tyler Greene played one game at third for Charlotte before the White Sox purchased his contract, but he had only played 11 games there over his eight-season minor league career. Still, he could see a few games there during his stay in Chicago.
The Braves opened the post-Chipper Jones era with a platoon of Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco at third base. However, Johnson was quickly shuttled across the infield to cover for the DL'd Freddie Freeman. That's probably for the best, as Francisco has more upside for fantasy purposes. He had a career .501 slugging percentage over six minor league seasons, which includes 75 home runs between 2007 and 2009. Johnson has seen the ball well so far this season (4.3 pitches per plate appearance), but 13 of his 15 hits have been singles. Blake DeWitt still plays baseball, but he will likely be limited to a late-inning role when it comes to third base responsibilities.
Other Observations: Would the Braves try Evan Gattis at third base to keep his bat in the lineup once Brian McCann returns? Probably not, but it will probably be discussed as McCann's return draws near. Jones had a higher FanGraphs WAR in his final season in the big leagues than Johnson and Francisco combined in 2012 (2.6 versus 2.0).
Manny Machado had a weak opening to his 2013. He had nearly as many strikeouts (four) as hits (five) in the Orioles' first two series. However, manager Buck Showalter did not budge Machado from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, and he followed that up with an .826 OPS in six games against the Red Sox and Yankees. He has also exhibited an above-average glove at third. That's good, as the O's do not have much depth behind him. Ryan Flaherty can play the position, but he can't hit. Wilson Betemit was recently transferred to the 60-day DL. Chris Davis is best suited as the team's everyday first baseman.
Other Observations: The Orioles started six players at third base last season. Of those six, only Betemit and Flaherty are still on the active roster.
On April 7, Lonnie Chisenhall went 2-for-5 with a three-run home run off the Rays' David Price. He has gone 0-for-10 with five strikeouts over his next three starts. Such is life with the former top-30 prospect, who failed to secure the Indians' everyday third base job in his first two seasons in the majors. His youth and pedigree will likely force the Indians to continue trotting him out to third. However, Mike Aviles will nip a few starts here-and-there, and Mark Reynolds could see some innings here when other batters need to DH.
Other Observations: Chisenhall has only put the ball in play in 61 percent of his plate appearances this season, down from a career 71 percent. How bad has third base been for the Indians in recent years? Jack Hannahan was the Opening Day starter in 2011 and 2012.
It would be difficult for the Pirates to steer away from Pedro Alvarez, who hit 30 home runs as a 25-year-old in in 2012. However, he might rack up 30 strikeouts before the end of April, and he has yet to tally an extra-base hit through 38 at-bats. Of course, I don't mean to surmise that Alvarez will lose his job, but manager Clint Hurdle may opt to sit him for a few days. That may be more likely once the Pirates activate Brandon Inge from the disabled list, as they sent their only other player with third base experience (Josh Harrison) to Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday.
Other Observations: It should come as no surprise that all three of Alvarez's hits have come against right-handed pitchers. He has gone 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts against left-handed pitchers. Inge has gone 0-for-7 against minor league left-handed pitchers over 10 rehab games. Gaby Sanchez played 148 games at third in his minor league career, but he has yet to play an inning of the position since coming to the majors in 2008.
Kevin Youkilis through his first 11 games in 2013: 333/.404/.571. Kevin Youkilis through his first 11 games in 2012: .195/.261/.317. The change in scenery probably helped, as did a fully-healthy offseason. However, his current line is more than a little bit skewed by the small sample size, and the Yankees will probably shift him over to first base on a more regular basis as the season wears on to keep him fresh. Jayson Nix served as the Yankees' Opening Day third baseman, but his defensive versatility will likely keep him floating around the ailing infield rather than sticking at third for an extended period of time. Alex Rodriguez may be able to play some third once he returns from the disabled list, but he is still in the "baby step" phase of his rehab.
Other Observations: There isn't any help on the way coming through the Yankees' minor league system should injury befall Youkilis. None of the Yankees' top-10 prospects play the infield, and the starting third baseman at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is the 33-year-old Gil Velazquez.
Chris Nelson broke camp as the Rockies' starting third baseman after OBP'ing .379 over the final two months of 2012. Nelson has shown zero semblance of power through his first 33 at-bats of 2013 (zero extra-base hits), but that is acceptable given his above-average on-base ability and the prevalence of pop elsewhere in the lineup. Jordan Pacheco, who started 82 games at third in 2012, has yet to appear there in 2013. Reid Brignac, on the other hand, already has as many appearances at third for the Rockies in 2013 as he did for the Rays from 2008-12.
Other Observations: Through Sunday, Nelson had hit six times as many groundballs as flyballs, but he had zero infield hits. Nolan Arenado, who enjoyed an excellent spring with the Rockies, has 10 extra-base hits for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 34 at-bats. He should be in Denver later this summer.
Starter: Josh Donaldson
Next: Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard Third base was something of a black hole for the A's in the first half of 2012. Five different men played the position, including Luke Hughes and Adam Rosales. However, Donaldson, a converted catcher, stabilized the spot after returning to the lineup in mid-August, and he proceeded to slash .290/.356/.489 from August 14 til the end of the season. He has gotten off to a similarly strong start to 2012. He had a string of five multi-hit games this past week, and owns a pair of home runs through 13 contests. He faces no immediate threat for playing time, as both of the team's other likely candidates to play the position are firm starters elsewhere on the infield (Eric Sogard at second and Jed Lowrie at short). Sogard could slide over if the team recalls Jemile Weeks at some point.
Other thoughts: Donaldson has already hit into a league-leading five double plays this season. Scott Sizemore's torn ACL provides everyone else on the infield with a good amount of job stability.
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