A lot of these names should be familiar to you. During an era when front offices show little restraint in promoting their top prospects, third base, for whatever reason, features a long list of those that have benefited from a slow-and-steady approach.
Jedd Gyorko never did get the call last year despite stellar numbers at Double- and Triple-A. The Tigers toyed with the idea of bringing up Nick Castellanos but ultimately opted against it. Nolan Arenado slumped for most of the year at Double-A, ending any thoughts of him filling the Rockies' void at third base. The Twins appear content letting 19-year-old phenom Miguel Sano advance at a snail's pace. The Diamondbacks found enough stopgap options at third base to keep Matt Davidson at bay. Anthony Rendon, for as advanced as his bat is supposed to be, just couldn't stay healthy.
With so many of the top prospects at this position beginning Round 2 of their prospecthood, some of the newcomers like Richie Shaffer, Matt Skole, Joey Gallo and Christian Villanueva have to go by the wayside. Of course, judging by the precedent set in 2012, we'll have plenty of chances to address them in the years ahead.
While third base may not offer too many surprises for owners in dynasty leagues, it's great for those owners in seasonal leagues hoping to find immediate help in the minor-league ranks. Apart from Sano and maybe Kaleb Cowart, all 10 of these players have a chance to make a worthwhile contribution in 2013.
That is, as long as their organizations don't hold them back again.
Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2013. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.
1. Jedd Gyorko, 24, Padres
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .311 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI, .921 OPS, 51 BBs, 95 Ks
On the basis of numbers alone, Jedd Gyorko deserved a shot in the majors last year. The Padres didn't give it to him mostly because they didn't know how he fit in at the time. Chase Headley was breaking out with MVP-like numbers, making him suddenly part of the long-term picture as well. Logan Forsythe was emerging at second base, making Gyorko's transition there something that didn't need to be rushed. So at Triple-A Tucson he sat, except when the time came to bat. Then, he hit -- and oh, did he it. If anything, his 2012 numbers were brought down by his time at Double-A San Antonio. Of course, that's probably the biggest reason to doubt his top-prospect status. As impressive as his minor-league track record is, his best numbers came in the two leagues most skewed toward hitters, the California League and the Pacific Coast League. In two stints in between, his OPS dropped below .800. Even with the fences coming in at PETCO Park, his power stroke is no certainty to translate. Still, he's a well-rounded enough hitter to make an impact in Fantasy, particularly if he moves to second base. Right now, that's the most-likely scenario. The Padres would be willing to move Forsythe to shortstop if Gyorko proves he's ready this spring. Because of that, the 24-year-old has sleeper appeal even in standard mixed leagues.
2. Miguel Sano, 19, Twins
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .258 BA, 28 HR, 100 RBI, .893 OPS, 80 BBs, 144 Ks
Remember the rave reviews Giancarlo Stanton's power potential drew as he was shooting up the minor-league ladder a couple years ago? You'll see some of the same things written about Sano this year. Or perhaps you'll see even better than that. Given his superior plate discipline and ability to play a premium position like third base, some have gone so far as to compare him to AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. That's probably heaping a little too much praise on a player still in his teens, but it's not like Sano is the one-trick pony last year's .258 batting average made him out to be. He rebounded from a rocky start to hit .291 over his final 51 games. So far, the Twins, for all their shortcomings offensively, have resisted the urge to speed Sano through the minor-league system. Last year was his first above the Rookie level. If the Twins stick to their philosophy of promoting him only in the offseason, he won't reach Double-A, much less the majors, this year. For that reason, Sano is no more than a desperation pick in AL-only leagues. In dynasty leagues, on the other hand, he's about as good as long-term prospects get.
3. Nick Castellanos, 21, Tigers
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .320 BA, 10 HR, .815 OPS, 36 BBs, 118 Ks
Despite being the third-youngest player there, Castellanos made quick work of the Florida State League last year, batting .405 in 55 games to earn a promotion to Double-A Erie in June. After he won Futures Game MVP in July, he might have just kept moving up ladder if he didn't play third base, which a certain Miguel Cabrera happened to occupy in the majors. Though general manager Dave Dombrowski wasn't shy about his praise for Castellanos' bat, the 21-year-old's move to right field came just a little too late for him to reach the majors in 2012. Now that he's gotten some work there, he'll pretty much determine his own timetable. So does that mean we're all just counting down the days until Castellanos is starting in the outfield for the Tigers? Not exactly. See, for all the praise heaped on him both inside and out of the organization, Castellanos had kind of a bumpy transition to Double-A last year, hitting .264 with a .678 OPS and a 76-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His power is still developing, and his plate discipline might never be better than average. If the Tigers force the issue with him, which they seem inclined to do, he might disappoint in Fantasy. Still, given his projected arrival, Castellanos is worth drafting in AL-only leagues, and he's obviously a must-own in long-term keeper formats.
4. Nolan Arenado, 21, Rockies
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .285 BA, 12 HR, 36 2Bs, .766 OPS, 39 BBs, 58 Ks
At this time a year ago, Arenado seemed all but certain to take over the starting job in Colorado by season's end. The Rockies had traded away former top prospect Ian Stewart and had signed the disintegrating Casey Blake to take his place. True to form, Blake folded before the season began and announced his retirement in May. Problem is Arenado didn't take off the way the Rockies thought he would. The power he developed at Class A Modesto one year earlier disappeared on him at Double-A Tulsa, resulting in just one home run in April and eight over the first four months. His lack of progression compelled general manager Dan O'Dowd to announce in late June that Arenado would remain at Double-A for the rest of the year because his "maturity level [had] not yet reached his talent level." Arenado did finish the season on a high note, hitting .366 with four home runs in his final 30 games, but after what happened last year, you can bet the Rockies won't force the issue with him. If he gets off to a hot start, only Chris Nelson stands in his way, but most likely, the Rockies will give the soon-to-be 22-year-old his at-bats at Triple-A. Arenado has some sleeper appeal in deeper NL-only leagues, but he remains more of a long-term keeper in Fantasy.
5. Anthony Rendon, 22, Nationals
Where played in 2012: Rookie, Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .233 BA (133 at-bats), 6 HR, .851 OPS, 23 BBs, 29 Ks
Rendon likely would have been better than the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft if not for a strained shoulder late in his college career, and he likely would have been better than fifth on this list if not for a fractured ankle that sidelined him for all but 43 games last year. Those hypotheticals should tell you two things: He's an extremely talented hitter, and he's extremely injury prone. The former is the reason why you should stick with him in Fantasy. He's only 22, after all. Maybe a couple of freak injuries pinned him with an undeserved label. If he's able to shed it, he could be another Evan Longoria or David Wright in time. Yeah, he's that good. He brings an advanced approach from Rice University, where he was named College Player of the Year in 2010, and he's at the age where he's ready as soon as he proves he's ready. Of course, another of those esteemed third basemen, Ryan Zimmerman, currently blocks his path to the majors and figures to do so for the duration of his seven-year contract. Though the Nationals have toyed with moving Rendon to second base, that transition might not come so quickly, especially if he has trouble staying on the field. Barring an injury to Zimmerman, Rendon is unlikely to make a significant impact in seasonal formats this year.
6. Matt Davidson, 22, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .261 BA, 23 HR, .836 OPS, 69 BBs, 126 Ks
The Diamondbacks found enough Josh Bell, Ryan Wheeler and Chris Johnson types to cover for them at third base last year that they were able to avoid forcing the issue with Davidson, who is still widely regarded as their top hitting prospect. As a result, Davidson gets to continue his slow and steady climb up the minor-league ladder, where he hasn't gotten a midseason promotion in two years. He seems to be progressing well enough. His power numbers were a little underwhelming in the hitter-friendly California League in 2010 and 2011, but he was able to improve them in the more balanced Southern League last year. Power is supposed to be his best attribute, but his solid approach and ability to handle secondary pitches should make him a well-rounded hitter in time. His numbers don't jump out at you the way Jedd Gyorko's or Nick Castellanos' do, but he's not much farther from making an impact in the majors. If you want someone who you can trust for 25-plus homers at third base every year, Davidson is the long-term keeper for you. And considering a Johnson-Eric Chavez platoon is all that stands in his way, a midseason promotion isn't out of the question.
7. Wilmer Flores, 21, Mets
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .300 BA, 18 HR, .827 OPS, 38 BBs, 60 Ks
It finally happened. After years of marginal numbers had forced just about everyone with any authority on the matter to give up on him as a top prospect, Flores finally became the hitter everyone expected him to be last year. And he actually got better during his 251 at-bats at Double-A Binghamton, hitting .311 with an .855 OPS, which suggests his emergence wasn't just a case of him mastering a level he had repeated 100 times over. At age 21, he seems to have genuinely gained the muscle mass necessary to tap into his considerable gifts. And now that he has it, he's unlikely to regress anytime soon. Having struck out no more than 77 times in any of his five minor-league seasons, Flores is rarely fooled at the plate. The one lingering question for him is what position he'll man in the long run. If he plans to stick with the Mets, third base isn't an option with David Wright locked up long term. Second base would be great for Fantasy owners if the Mets believed Flores had the range to handle it. Ultimately, defense might take a back seat for the rebuilding club, especially if Flores masters Triple-A right away. In the short term, he's well worth a look in NL-only leagues, but his long-term value takes a hit given the likelihood he'll wind up at first base.
8. Kaleb Cowart, 20, Angels
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .276 BA, 16 HR, 103 RBI, 14 SB, .810 OPS
The Angels were one of the few teams willing to commit to Cowart as an everyday player rather than a pitcher in the 2010 draft, and he rewarded them with a breakout season between two levels of Class A last year. A switch hitter, he hit 14 of his 16 home runs from the left side, which had been his weaker side coming into the season. He also improved his walk rate, finishing with a respectable .358 on-base percentage. He's hardly a finished product, but as long as he's able to continue building off the strides he made in the lower levels of the minors last year, he should make a relevant contribution in Fantasy when he's ready to ascend to the majors two or three years from now. Among the long-term keeper options at third base, Cowart's ceiling isn't the highest, but he's among the most likely to hold down a regular job at the major-league level.
9. Josh Vitters, 23, Cubs
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .304 BA (415 at-bats), 17 HR, .869 OPS, 30 BBs, 77 Ks
Major-league stats: .121 (99 at-bats), 2 HR, .395 OPS, 7 BBs, 33 Ks
Though he was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters has yet to nail down a starting job in the majors, which is reason enough to regard him as a disappointment of a prospect. Last year, though, he did a nice job salvaging what little reputation remains, hitting .304 with 17 homers and an .869 OPS in 415 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa. Granted, he achieved those numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but considering he struggled just to hit doubles at previous stops in the minors, any indication of him learning to drive the ball is cause for optimism. The performance even earned him a promotion to the majors in early August. He was a disaster there -- unable to carry over his low strikeout rate, which was the one constant from his minor-league career -- but after the way his first five professional seasons went, you'll settle for baby steps from him. The Cubs still have nobody better than injury-prone retread Ian Stewart to man third base, so with another couple of baby steps, Vitters could find himself starting in the big leagues soon enough. He's no certainty to perform there, but he's worth a flier just in case all that talk of him being a lost cause turns out to be premature. He's only 23, after all.
10. Miles Head, 21, Athletics
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .333 BA, 23 HR, .968 OPS, 39 BBs, 130 Ks
If you assessed him on raw numbers alone, Head would be the Athletics' most exciting corner infield prospect since Dan Johnson. See the problem there? Like Johnson, Head has benefited from some of the favorable hitting environments in the Athletics' minor-league system. He did most of his damage last year in the heavy-hitting California League, batting .382 with 18 homers and a 1.149 OPS in 267 at-bats. In his two most recent stints in neutral leagues -- the Carolina League back in 2011 and the Texas League late last year -- he produced an OPS below .750. The one thing Head has going for him that Johnson didn't is experience with another organization. He was initially with the Red Sox, only coming over to the Athletics in the Andrew Bailey deal last offseason, and the numbers he put up in his one full season with them were similar to the ones he put up last season. In other words, the data on Head is still too limited for us draw any real conclusions from it. His status as a second-tier prospect with the Athletics is rightful cause for skepticism, but if you disregard him because of it, you could miss out on a big-time power hitter a couple years from now. Then again, a lack of power was never Johnson's problem either.
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