RotoWire third base fantasy battles
With the "official" start to summer coming Thursday and thermometers around the country registering 90 degrees or above (or at least my thermometer), I have decided to put forward some hot corner thoughts to consider on a hot day.
Awful puns aside, here are 10 interesting observations about third-base situations from around the league:
The Cubs recalled Luis Valbuena from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday when Ian Stewart (wrist) hit the disabled list, and it looks like he will be manager Dale Sveum's third baseman of choice moving forward. Joe Mather would have been the logical in-house candidate to take over for Stewart, but Valbuena has started every game since his recall. Mather should figure into the equation before long, and he could also find time in the outfield. Josh Vitters, who was the team's top pick from 2007 and currently slashing .282/.332/.461 at Triple-A Iowa, could be up if/when the Cubs enter full-out rebuilding mode. Stewart's wrist issues should keep him out for a while, and he may not be guaranteed his old starting role if/when he does return to health.
Back in spring training, manager Manny Acta said the Indians' third base job was less a battle between Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hanahan, and more a battle of Chisenhall against Bad Chisenhall. Bad Chisenhall won out in exhibition play, and the Indians handed third base to Hanahan, while regular Chisenhall went to Triple-A Columbus. I predicted a few weeks ago that Chisenhall would use the momentum from his .324/.353/.541 line at Columbus to start for the Indians for the rest of the season, but I am much less sure of that in the wake of Hanahan's return from the disabled list Friday. Chisenhall hit .227 and drew zero walks while Hanahan was on the shelf, and it looks like he will face a platoon (at best) or a demotion to Triple-A (at worst).
After this weekend, Pedro Alvarez may be the only man in the country who wants to go back to Cleveland. He had a pair of two-home run games in the Pirates' series win over the Indians, and he went 5-for-13 with nine RBI in those three contests. The four home runs upped his season total to an unpredicted 12, which lends him value in plenty of formats despite a batting average hovering dangerously close to .200. Casey McGehee may see a few more starts here soon, as Garrett Jones will occasionally take his spot at first base now that the Pirates can no longer use the DH.
I would be a horrible baseball analyst if I devoted an entire week's column to third basemen and failed to mention Trevor Plouffe. He has gone 13-for-34 (.382) with three doubles, seven home runs and 12 RBI since June 8. That is about the same time that Jamey Carroll left the hot corner at about the same time to relieve Alexi Casilla of duties at second base. Plouffe's 14 home runs on the season far exceed the eight he hit in a part-time role last year, but it is worth noting nearly a quarter of his fly balls have been home runs (24.6 percent). Meanwhile, Danny Valencia, who slashed .331 as a rookie in 2010 opened the year as the Twins' top third baseman, continues to mire at Triple-A Rochester. He owns a .365 OBP over his last 10 games (38 at-bats), but he has hit just .244 in 33 at-bats there. Plouffe's home run rate may be unsustainable, but his hold on the third base role should survive a dip in power.
Albert Pujols saw a few starts at third during interleague play and a clogged Angels' roster forced him to temporarily vacate his first base home, but it would be a shock if he logged another inning on the wrong side of the diamond this season (unless the Angels make the World Series). This has been the worst season of Alberto Callaspo's career, but he has been the team's primary option at third. Callaspo's batting average may creep up if his .271 BABIP catches up to his career .293 rate and he stops striking out so much (11.1 percent of his at-bats). Maicer Izturis has chalked up a cursory start or two per week, but his .221 average (.184 over the last four weeks) is not exactly heating Callaspo's seat.
The once-dubbed "Greek God of Walks" has only started nine games at third since returning from a back injury in late-May, and his increasingly-frail body has made it harder for him to start consecutive games at one of the tougher defensive positions out there. First base should be an increasingly available positional home for Kevin Youkilis once interleague play ends, which should create an unfettered flow of starts at third for Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks' .815 OPS is third-best among AL rookies (behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes) despite a .192 batting average swoon over the last two weeks.
Thought Herrera's .300 batting average and .400 OBP thru June 12 would help him stake a hold to some playing time at third base for the Dodgers after Juan Uribe returned from injury? That has not been the case thus far. Uribe has started the Dodgers' past five games at third, relegating Herrera to an infield utility role. Uribe's still boasts a strong arm, but he no longer flashes the power that helped him hit 20-plus home runs as recently as 2010.
At age 36, Polanco is no longer the reliable entity at third he used to be. His number of games played has dropped from 153 in 2009 to 132 to 122, and he has already dealt with a litany of minor maladies in 2012. The entire Phillies infield has been something of a jigsaw of late, but Ty Wigginton and Mike Fontenot have been the primary fill-ins when not logging starts at first or second base. Michael Martinez, who has been subbing at second for the injured Freddy Galvis and Chase Utley, played a few games of third in the minors, so he could be a fill-in option at some point.
Will Rhymes has been the Rays' go-to third baseman of late, with Sean Rodriguez frequently filling in at second and short in manager Joe Maddon's often unpredictable infield. A modicum of predictability should return later this week with Evan Longoria set to return from a partially torn left hamstring. He may need a week until he is able to handle third base duties exclusively, but said return could bump one of Rhymes, Rodriguez, or Drew Sutton from the roster.
For a guy who had never played third base professionally before May 2012, Orlando Hudson has not done a bad job filling in for the still-DL'd Brent Morel (back). His defense has not necessarily been GG-worthy, but the metrics show he has not been abysmal (three errors and a -0.5 UZR in a small sample size). His .183 batting average since joining the Sox barely edges out Eduardo Escobar's .183 and Morel's pre-injury .177. That's a lot of small numbers. Morel remains out at least through the All-Star break, and the club may be in the market for external talent if it looks like he will miss additional time beyond that.
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