Shaw on MLB: Top fantasy third baseman

October 3, 2012, 3:10 AM

The production from the hot corner has been in decline in recent years as Mets star David Wright has struggled to adapt to Citi Field, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez have shown their age, and Evan Longoria’s inability to stay on the field has reminded baseball fans of the promising, but injury-prone Eric Chavez.

This season the position got a lift as Miguel Cabrera shifted across the diamond to make room at first base for Prince Fielder. Though missing out on the top-five, Ryan Zimmerman was healthy and effective, Pedro Alvarez showed his might, and David Freese was a solid everyday player.

Top 5 Third Basemen

5) David Wright, Mets

After the worst season of his career, David Wright had plenty to prove. He had hit just .255 with 14 home runs while missing 60 games to injury in 2011. Wright quickly put that season in the rear view with a sensational start to the 2012 season that included 11 home runs and a .355 at the all-star break.

Wright was not able to hang in the NL MVP conversation much longer, as his production nose-dived in the second half of the season to 10 home runs with a .257 average. Regardless, Wright will finish the season with 20-plus home runs, 90-plus RBIs, 90-plus runs, and a .300-plus average. Even with little protection in the Mets order Wright remains the face of the franchise and one of the top fantasy stars in baseball.

4) Aramis Ramirez, Brewers

After a slow start to the season, Aramis Ramirez caught fire and helped bring the Brewers in the wild-card conversation even though they will ultimately fall short. Since May 19, Ramirez has blasted 25 home runs with 84 RBIs and a .326 average in 108 games.

Ramirez has quietly put together a stellar career with 10 seasons of at least 25 home runs and seven seasons with at least 100 RBIs. At the age of 34, Ramirez has surprised with a career-high eight stolen bases. Though injuries have long been a concern for Ramirez throughout his career, when he is healthy the Brewers slugger is remarkably consistent.

3) Chase Headley, Padres

The most underrated player in baseball is undoubtedly Padres third baseman Chase Headley. After blasting a combined 15 home runs over the last two seasons, Headley has doubled that total this season with 30 round-trippers. Headley is more than just a power threat; he also boasts 112 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, and a .283 average. Those figures are even more impressive when you consider that Headley plays home in the pitcher-friendly PETCO Field. However, with 83 walks and a stellar .376 on-base percentage, Headley has been consistent no matter the venue.

Not to be ignored is Headley’s incredible power stretch since the all-star break with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs in 71 games. Even in San Diego, Headley is a fantasy star; however, if the 28-year-old gets traded to a more hitter-friendly surrounding, expect the Colorado native to garner MVP consideration.

2) Adrian Beltre, Rangers

Adrian Beltre may be the most underappreciated player of his generation. Playing in Seattle for five years of his prime, Beltre was removed from the national spotlight and even worse his power numbers were limited by the spacious SAFECO Field. Had more eyes seen the smooth-fielding third baseman play, there would have been a greater appreciation for his defence that is perhaps more valuable than his potent bat.

Over the last three years Beltre has played in hitter-friendly ballparks and it has made the world of a difference. He has averaged 32 home runs with 103 RBIs and a .314 batting clip with the Red Sox and Rangers. Now there is a greater appreciation for the 33-year-old veteran whose career numbers suggest that Cooperstown may still be in reach. Just 778 hits shy of 3,000 and 154 home runs shy of 500 home runs, Beltre really needs another four stellar years and perhaps two average seasons to reach both benchmarks.

1) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

While everyone is talking about Miguel Cabrera’s gaudy statistics, what is being swept under the table is the fact that he has moved from first base to third base to make room for Prince Fielder’s big bat in the lineup. No one will offer Cabrera the Golden Glove award, but he does deserve some credit as all of his 151 starts have come at the hot corner and his .966 fielding percentage is the best of his career at that position.

A lock for the American League MVP, the only question for Cabrera is whether he can finish with a flourish that will earn him the league’s Triple Crown. Cabrera currently leads the AL with a .331 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs.

Cabrera has long been one of the elite players in baseball. He has been in the top-five voting for the MVP award in five different seasons including in each of the last three years. Sure, he is not as well-rounded as Albert Pujols, specifically when it comes to defence and his ability on the base paths, but Cabrera has matured to become as complete a hitter as there is in the game. Best of all, the Tigers star is not even 30 years old yet.

Biggest Busts

3) Mark Reynolds, Orioles

The good news for Mark Reynolds is that his batting average has improved for a third consecutive season. The bad news is that it still sits at just .226, which is typically enough to cost a player his spot in the lineup. Reynolds continues to find himself in the Orioles’ red-hot lineup because of the threat of a home run every time he steps to the plate.

Unfortunately, the home run rate is a bit down, as Reynolds will blast the fewest home runs since his rookie campaign. He also hurt fantasy managers by growing conservative on the base paths with just one steal this season, also his lowest total since his rookie season.

To his credit, Reynolds’ walks have increased and his strikeouts have declined, however, that is not what fantasy managers had in mind when they added the slugger to their roster in March.

2) Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays

It seems like no matter what Brett Lawrie did this season he would have been hard-pressed to meet the lofty expectations. Coming into the season, fantasy pundits were talking about 30 home runs and 30 steals with a high average in Lawrie’s first full season. Lawrie did not come close as his 11 home runs and 13 steals were hardly an improvement from his production last season when he played in just a third of as many games.

Lawrie remains a top talent and is certain to be a sleeper pick in 2013. A positive takeaway from this season is that Lawrie found himself at home at the Rogers Centre with seven home runs and a .302 average in 57 games.

1) Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Fantasy baseball is all about what have you done for me lately, and on that note Alex Rodriguez’s value has never been lower. Indeed, the veteran with 647 home runs under his belt has hardly made an impact this season. Perhaps the category that A-Rod has offered the most in is stolen bases, as his 13 swipes ranks ninth for his position. On the other hand, 18 home runs and a .270 average are hardly enough to warrant an everyday gig in 12-team fantasy leagues. In reality, the Yankees still have $113 million committed to Rodriguez.

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