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Reality Check: Third base gets a facelift

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When you go to draft your third baseman in 2013, you'll want to keep three things in mind:

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1. Jose Bautista is no longer eligible at the position.
2. Edwin Encarnacion is no longer eligible at the position.
3. Mark Trumbo is no longer eligible at the position.

Together, those three have averaged 32.7 home runs this season. While every position undergoes a makeover over sorts in the offseason, as stricter eligibility requirements come into play, that's a lot of firepower to lose all at once.

You'd think that removing those three from third base would render the position nothing more than a barren wasteland of broken-down veterans and transitioning youngsters. But as you can see with this latest look ahead to the 2013 rankings, all it does is reduce the clutter.

Make no mistake: Third base is deep. Sure, Miguel Cabrera is all by himself at the top, but with the resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Aramis Ramirez and Martin Prado, among others, you can't go wrong with the top 11 or so. Really, you can't. Their numbers are all so bunched together that distinguishing between them has proven to be one of the greatest challenges of the rankings process. After Cabrera, the next seven could conceivable go in any order -- and it's not like the dozen or so after that are in a completely different stratosphere.

To a degree -- more than I'd like, actually -- the order shown here reflects my own personal preferences. Hey, I had to break the tie somehow. I can defend why I ranked these third basemen as I did -- and I plan to in the space provided -- but I have a feeling if you presented 10 different people with the same task, they'd come up with 10 different lists.

As always, you're free to dissent in the comments section below. In fact, it can only help. Ultimately, I'd prefer these rankings to reflect public perception anyway. The more feedback I get, the more accurately I can represent what you should expect to see in your draft.

Top 10 third basemen for 2013
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers
2. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
3. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
5. David Wright, 3B, Mets
6. Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS, Dodgers
7. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
8. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Brewers
9. Martin Prado, 3B/OF, Braves
10. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants

Not only is Cabrera the clear No. 1 at third base, but he's arguably the top pick overall. Part of the reason is because nobody else at his position is even a candidate for the first round. Can't say the same for Ryan Braun or Mike Trout.

About midway through the second round is where the position gets interesting, with any of Beltre, Longoria, Zimmerman, Wright, Hanley Ramirez and Headley capable of going off the board that early. It's not like they'll all be part of a run either. A couple of them should still be kicking around as late as the fourth or fifth round. If that's the case, then ranking these players isn't nearly as important as knowing how many there are. Let someone else shoot for his favorite. You'll be just as well off picking through the leftovers.

Of course, the take-what-they-give you approach isn't nearly as contentious as a good ole set of rankings, so in the spirit of debate, let's look at why mine are the way they are.

Beltre is going to be 34 next year, which is a little scary and the reason why I hadn't originally planned to rank him so high. But then September happened, causing him to pull away from the rest of the pack with a slugging percentage on par with Encarnacion's. He's been a monster since leaving Seattle in 2010, and he was a monster before arriving in 2005. He now has enough of a track record outside of Safeco Field that I'm not going to let a little matter like age scare me away.

Not even if it means passing on Longoria, who was a borderline first-rounder prior to this year? Look, the Rays' third baseman still has the most of upside of anyone at the position other than Cabrera, and he might be close to meeting it at age 26. But not if he doesn't stay on the field. He's been limited by injuries the last two years, which should force Fantasy owners to take a more cautious approach with him. I'm not saying I'd be in a hurry to draft Beltre with Longoria still on the board, but based on the numbers they've put up this year, Beltre should be the first of the two to go in 2013.

If you think another year of underwhelming numbers makes Zimmerman an uninspired choice at No. 4, you're forgetting just how much his balky shoulder held him back early in the year. A third cortisone shot jumpstarted him on June 24, and since then, he's performed about like Miguel Cabrera on a per-game basis, with a batting average around .330 and an OPS around 1.000. Still on the right side of 30, his best may be yet to come.

Wright rounds out the top five, but to give you an idea just how close he is to the previous three, I had him ranked second at the position when this process began about a month ago. But seeing him fade in the second half, with a batting average in the .240 range and strikeout rate back to one every four at-bats, I'm wondering if his first-half Renaissance was too good to be true.

By now, you're probably wondering where Headley fits into the mix. After all, he's the one getting all the attention at the position because of a second-half power surge that his put him in the MVP discussion. If you can trust him to sustain this pace, he's right up there with Beltre, but it's unfamiliar territory for him and will be especially hard to duplicate playing half his games at PETCO Park. If he had some hope of getting traded in the offseason, I'd like his chances more. As it is, I have him sixth among the pure third basemen -- seventh overall, behind the shortstop-eligible Hanley Ramirez -- but I could be persuaded to push him ahead of Wright. It's just that I subscribe to the better-safe-than-sorry approach in the early rounds, which is about the range we're talking here

Aramis Ramirez is routinely one of the more underappreciated third basemen in Fantasy, and by ranking him eighth at the position, I'm only part of the problem. But in a way, he's the perfect bridge between the near-elite types and the fallback options like Prado and Sandoval. He's a year older than Beltre, which makes him inherently riskier, and his numbers haven't been as consistent from year to year. Still, he's clearly capable of high-end production, trailing only Cabrera in Fantasy points per game among third basemen this season. The only reason he's allowed to fall so far is because so much else is available at the position.

Next 10 third basemen for 2013
11. David Freese, 3B, Cardinals
12. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays
13. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees
14. Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners
15. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
16. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox
17. Todd Frazier, 1B/3B, Reds
18. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
19. Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, White Sox
20. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles

Even in shallower 10- or 12-team leagues, a team that has stuck with Freese as its starting third baseman all year now has just as much of a chance of winning the championship as anyone else, which speaks to the depth at the position. He's clearly in a lower tier from the Beltres and Zimmermans of the world, but he's consistently productive, offering a high batting average with plus power.

All of the players listed in this second group have either the upside or track record to make a similar contribution next year. If you draft one of them as your starter, be it Freese or Alvarez or Youkilis, you're not necessarily conceding anything at the position. Granted, you're taking a bigger risk -- Youkilis has taken another step back in batting average this year and might be on the verge of a collapse as a 34-year-old next year -- but you're at least giving yourself a fighting chance of keeping pace with the competition.

It's not like at second base, where as soon as you draft Daniel Murphy, you know you're hitting the trade market. That Middlebrooks pick might just pan out.

Of course, if you take a flier on Lawrie, Alvarez, Middlebrooks, Frazier, Moustakas or Machado, you'd prefer to do so as a bench option, allowing you to trade the excess if you strike gold, but not everyone has that luxury. If safety is more of a priority for you, Rodriguez and Seager are both fine fallback options at the position. Rodriguez is at the point in his career when he'll miss occasional starts due to various aches and pains, but the DH spot should keep him in the lineup more often than not. And he's still productive enough to perform at about the level of Prado or Sandoval when in the lineup. Seager may not have an especially high ceiling, but he's practically a 20-homer, 15-steal guy already and could see a slight boost in production if the Mariners move in the fences at Safeco Field this offseason.

Among the high-upside picks, Lawrie is still relatively safe. He's gotten a fair amount of big-league exposure already and has been no worse than adequate in Fantasy. His ranking here is partially a response to him failing to live up to the hype this season -- a "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" sort of thing -- but I still like his upside enough that I'd be tempted to take him over Freese or even Sandoval in certain situations.

The other upside types all have obvious shortcomings -- a poor contact rate for Alvarez, a less-than-stellar walk rate for Middlebrooks, an uncertain role for Frazier, a questionable ceiling for Moustakas and a lack of experience for Machado -- that make them more or less interchangeable in the rankings here, so if one scares you more than the other (or if, say, Middlebrooks' pedigree as a well-rounded hitter impresses you more than Alvarez's pure power), feel free to adjust as necessary. Alvarez, Middlebrooks and Frazier appear to be the closest to meeting their upside, so they get a bump from me even though Moustakas and Machado probably have higher ceilings.

Whichever high-upside player you opt to take, it's a worthy gamble over the assured mediocrity of Chris Johnson or -- ahem -- Michael Young.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger. The numbers speak for themselves.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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