Third base preview: A-Rod places first

BY John Halpin • December 17, 2009

Miss baseball already? Here's the third base preview.

The Man

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees — The Clutchiest Man Alive only played 124 games due to his preseason hip surgery. We all should produce this much in three-quarters of a work year: .286 BA, 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 78 runs and 14 stolen bases. In 2010, A-Rod can look forward to a full season in a bandbox of a stadium and a prime RBI slot in the middle of a tremendous lineup. Sorry, but the guard isn't changing here just yet.

Number Two

Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks — I'm trying to come up with a reasonable explanation why I didn't put a guy with 44 home runs, 102 RBI and 24 stolen bases in the top spot at this position. Honestly, the only things I keep coming up with are these:

1. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was a lucky .341, and a normal level would lead to a terrible BA considering how often he strikes out. With that said (thanks, Larry David), his BABIPs have historically been high, so I probably don't have a good reason why his BA will drop from this year's .260. It might, it might not.

2. I want to see him do this again. That's pretty much it. Bill James' projections have Reynolds tabbed for a .268 BA with 40 homers, 107 RBI, 103 runs and 18 steals, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd absolutely take A-Rod. Maybe that makes me an idiot. Oh well.

Question Mark

David Wright, Mets — I'm not sure what to make of Wright's power outage in 2009, when he hit 10 home runs after combining for 116 in his previous four seasons. Most pundits seem to think his power will return, but there never really seems to be a good reason to accompany those predictions. Did Wright's new, spacious home park kill his HR mojo? Were all the injuries that left him alone in a barren lineup the culprit? Whatever the reason, we're talking about a 27-year-old All-Star with a .309 career batting average who stole 27 bases last season and maintained a .390 on-base percentage along with an .837 OPS despite his struggles. I'm betting on 2009 being a fluke and planning to rank him third (or maybe even second) at his position.

Breakout

Gordon Beckham, White Sox — After a grand total of 59 minor league games, Beckham had a terrific rookie season, batting .270 with 14 home runs, 58 runs scored, 68 RBI, seven steals and an .808 OPS in 103 games with the White Sox. You think his power isn't bad, right? He hit 28 dingers in 64 games during his senior season at the University of Georgia, and he plays in a homer-friendly park. He's going to become a star, and fast. Note: Beckham's expected to start at second base for the Sox this season, but in most leagues he'll only qualify at third. If your league lets you put him at second base right off the bat, his value increases by a lot.

Bounceback

Alex Gordon, Royals — Maybe Gordon will never live up to the enormous hype that accompanied his major league debut in 2007, and that's fine. Now that he's expected to be healthy after his A-Rod-style hip surgery, would it be so bad for Gordon to turn into a .270, 20-homer, 10-steal kind of player? And would that be so bad for your fantasy team?

Underrated

Adrian Beltre, Free Agent — Beltre had a rough 2009, undergoing shoulder surgery in late June and taking a hard hit ball in the, um, groin in August. In an effort to properly gauge his value — and not just to avoid thinking about an injury labeled "severely bruised testicle" — I urge you to throw out his lost season, in which he homered just eight times with a .683 slugging percentage in 111 games.

From 2005-08, Beltre averaged 24 home runs, 88 RBI, 79 runs and nine stolen bases while playing half his games in cavernous Safeco Field, which severely hurts righthanded batters (check this FanGraphs article for some detail). If he signs with a team in an average ballpark, or even better, somewhere homer-friendly, he could put up some nice numbers. Don't be one of those people who forgets about him on draft day.

Andy LaRoche, Pirates — LaRoche isn't great, or even very good, but he closed 2009 with a strong kick and wound up with a dozen homers, 64 RBI and 64 runs scored. If you want 15 homers from a corner infielder in an NL-only league, LaRoche is your guy.

Slipping

Chipper Jones, Braves — Jones will turn 38 in April, and since 2004 his games played totals read as follows: 109, 110, 134, 128, 143. He's on the downside of his career. Don't draft him like an All-Star anymore, because you can't count on him. This isn't a surprise to anyone, right? The guy is day-to-day just about every day.

Scott Rolen, Reds
— Didn't we know last year that Rolen was slipping? Well, in case anyone forgot, he played in 128 games last season, which was his highest total since 2006. In the last three seasons, he's combined for 30 home runs, and he's going to turn 35 in April. Rolen might get some benefit from playing in Cincinnati's Really Small American Ballpark, but to bet on that with anything other than a late-round flier would be crazy.

Sleeper

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays — Encarnacion might only be worth a look in deep mixed leagues or AL-onlys, but I'm intrigued. He had wrist, knee and hamstring issues that limited him to 85 games in 2009, but in that half-season he hit 13 homers. Sure, he batted .225 with a disappointing .410 slugging percentage, but I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy.

Seriously, the reason I keep looking at Encarnacion is because he made strong power progress from 2007 to 2008, when he jumped from 16 to 26 home runs and from .438 to .466 in slugging. If we assume 2009 was a fluke, then he could be a nice sleeper entering his age-27 season. Warning: Encarnacion had wrist surgery in October, and sometimes it takes guys a while to gain their power back from such procedures. I like the idea of taking a chance on him, but not too early or for too much auction money.

Youngsters to Watch

Brandon Wood, AngelsChone Figgins is a free agent. Does that mean the Angels will FINALLY let Wood play, or do you think they'll bury him behind another slap-hitting, basestealing machine? Once again, as an optimist, I'll bet on the chances of Wood and his prodigious power forcing his way into the Halos' lineup. Since his ridiculous, 98-extra base hit breakout season in 2005, Wood's averaged 38 home runs per 162 games over four seasons in the minors, and he'll only be 25 on Opening Day. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but who cares? If he plays, he's going to hit home runs. A lot of 'em.

Mat Gamel, Brewers — The Brew Crew braintrust likes Gamel, but Casey McGehee's breakout season has created a bit of a logjam at the hot corner in Milwaukee. Plus, even though Gamel's defense has reportedly improved from "colossally awful" to "really, really bad" over the last couple of years, he still might need Prince Fielder to get traded in order to get any meaningful 2010 playing time. Let's rate Gamel's stock as TBD right now and see how the hot stove heats up.


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