Let me take you through the thought process of a writer like myself.
I constantly have thoughts relating to the game of baseball passing through my head. I’m sure many other baseball fanatics can relate. Ideas that have an added layer of intrigue tend to find there way onto my iPhone’s Notes app, to be revisited in a triage-like manner at points later in the day. What I’ve learned is that you can’t force these ideas.
So last Tuesday Grey and I joined a 12-team roto mock draft with the CBS Sports crew and I soon realized two things…
First is a theory that is growing on me. You should always conduct a mock draft before creating rankings. It’s very easy to eyeball one player over another, but you gain valuable insight when interacting with that player in a draft room. This has helped me wildly in the compilation of my rankings for my personal site, BigThreeSports, which will make their debut in the coming weeks (shameless plug).
Second, and more important, I realized how deep the third base position is for 2017. Knowledge and action are two different animals. For all you philosophy nerds out there, Mary and the Black and White Room, is a grand analogy to my discovery. As a variation of the story goes, Mary is an extremely intelligent scientist, tasked with studying everything there is to know about color. But, she lives in a black and white room. What happens when Mary is actually exposed to color in the real world? I am Mary, and third basemen are my color.
Nick Castellanos was the catalyst that pushed the line of text reading ‘Third base fantasy depth analysis’ in my Notes app further up the list of potential columns. When I saw the Tigers’ third basemen on the draft board as I came to my last pick, all that came to my mind were positives. Castellanos batted a sustainable .285 with 18 home runs over 110 games. I’m usually against pacing out players to a full season, but when it only consists of adding 30-40 games, it becomes much more tolerable. The 24 year old would’ve amassed a 74/25/78 season over 150 games. Castellanos combined for 302 games played in his first two full seasons as a .250 hitter with meddling power. I’m perplexed as to how Fangraph’s Steamer has him pegged 125 games after a clear improvement in skill, and only the 44% strikeout rate carried by Jacoby Jones threatening playing time. I’ll take over on 125 games played for Castellanos eight days a week.
It’s easy to like Castellanos. He’s young, in a good lineup, improved his launch angle, and kicked up his line drive rate last season. But as I realized in this CBS draft, it’s going to be tough to get him into a lineup on a regular basis as the state of the third base position currently sits.
Let’s look at it this way, for Castellanos to be noticeable among this plethora of third base talent, he’d need to finish somewhere near the top 12-14 at the position. Last year, that window was occupied by the 40 homer Todd Frazier, the 30 homer Yasmany Tomas, and Swiss army knife Anthony Rendon. If we move towards the top 20 at the position last season, we see guys like Josh Harrison and Eugenio Suarez who were valuable because of their stolen bases. Then we get to the Nick Castellanos and Adonis Garcias of the world. Good hitters, who just weren’t good enough among their peers to make an impact.
Relative success is one of the driving factors that has widened my perception of how deep the position is. In your standard 5×5 league, you’re tasked with starting five outfielders, which means the top 60 are utilized to one extent or another. Two players near that top 60 landmark last year were Brett Gardner and Nick Markakis. Their lines were as follows…
Brett Gardner – .261/80/7/41/16
Nick Markakis – .269/67/13/89/0
First of all, that Brett Gardner line is a fantastic example of just how much having a few steals can boost a player’s overall value, and still make him irrelevant in a drafter’s mind. Markakis was a player you saw every week on the waivers and passed over for the guy with slightly more potential, think Steven Moya or Aaron Altherr.
It’s a very crude relationship, but if Castellanos was an outfielder, you would see him on a lot more sleeper and breakout columns compared to his current hype level.
What this depth does is create a higher standard for players to storm into relevancy. Instead of lingering in the realm of theory, let’s take a look at two guys who can break into the top 12.
Maikel Franco was a classic case of a few things last year. First was a phenomenon I applied to Nick Castellanos earlier; projecting a smaller sample size over a larger span of games without any consideration for change. It seemed liked the expectation for Franco heading into 2016 was a .280/90/28/100 season, double what he put up in his 80 games from 2015. He really wasn’t too far off either, posting a .255/67/25/88 season in 152 games. But Franco was viewed as a bust due in part to the Spring Training hype his draft stock possessed, pushing him into the top 100 overall after he mashed nine homers in 68 at bats in March.
This offseason, I’ve read some lukewarm takes on the Phillies’ third basemen that don’t necessarily tarnish his skill set, but believe the breakout is further off from 2017. This tends to be because of his top five infield fly ball rate of 17.1% from 2016. It’s not necessarily a fluke either, as coincides with his career average, we just have to factor it in and hope it’s something he addresses with development.
Grey has Franco number 14 overall at third base, with a 30 homer projection and 95 RBIs. If he can hit those marks along with something in the range of a .275 average, he profiles as a riskier Kyle Seager, a player currently going about 60 spots ahead of Franco in NFBC drafts. That ADP I would expect to stick as well, even with the influx of more draft data. Franco can be a very relevant third basemen this year, but the bar is so high that scenarios exist where Franco hits our .275/80/30/95 hopes and still fails to edge his way into the top 12.
Miguel Sano is a player I have been high on since the day I saw him play back with the Twins’ AA team, the New Britain Rock Cats. Aside from the fact that there are now numerous minor league team names stupider than the ‘Rock Cats‘ – I highly encourage you to follow that link and scroll to the third logo they show – I still believe that Sano has the best raw power in the game second to Giancarlo Stanton. It’s clear that raw power hasn’t translated to success at the major league level, but if there is any player in this crop of third basemen with 45 home run potential outside of the top five, it’s Sano.
You’re taking a hit with the average, strikeouts, and swinging strike rate, but your return is playing time and the pleasure of watching massive home runs on a weekly basis. The weird thing about Sano’s profile as a hitter is his lack of aggressiveness, the opposite being a common fault in a lot of high strikeout power hitters. He swings at only 41% of the pitches he sees, placing him right around the top 20 most patient bats in the game. The odd part is that among that top 20 of patience, he is the only player with an in-zone contact rate below 80%. So Sano exists in this world where a) he takes a lot of pitches, b) he doesn’t make contact often when he swings at pitches inside the zone, and c) when he does actually hit the ball, he does so harder than 95% of the other players in the game with a 40% hard contact rate (min. 400+ PA).
Do I want him to be more aggressive? Sure, but then there’s a real chance he bats below the Mendoza line. The utopian idea with Sano is that he can get to a .260 average and maintain his 40 home run power, something that can only be achieved by serious refinement in approach and swing. I wish I knew if this change was on tap for 2017, but we’ll have to wait and see. Potential for a top 10 finish at third base is possible for Sano, and there aren’t any other players that possess his upside.
You can follow Lance on Twitter, @LanceBrozdow, if you prefer to act like a proper millennial.