The Washington Times - March 2, 2009, 12:00AM

Third base is usually a premium position in fantasy, but this year’s crop is uncharacteristically thin. Only the top three - Alex Rodriguez, David Wright and Aramis Ramirez - finished among the top 30 hitters in my league last year, and there are only a few third basemen with a realistic chance of joining them in this year’s top 30 when it’s all said and done. Evan Longoria could emerge as an elite player this year, Chipper Jones and Garrett Atkins are safe bets and Chris Davis is a nice prospect, but after that you’re left with a big group of similarly solid but unspectacular options.

1. Alex Rodriguez, NYY

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A-Rod missed time with a quad injury and still managed 35 homers and 103 RBI. He’s one of the game’s best, but since the steroid issues aren’t going away and he’s notoriously hypersensitive, his performance may be negatively affected. A suspension isn’t out of the question, either.

2. David Wright, NYM

Crosstown rival Wright is the only third baseman you could even consider taking over A-Rod. His average season over the past three years includes a .313 average, 30 homers, 116 RBI and 30 steals. At 26, he probably hasn’t reached his ceiling.

3. Aramis Ramirez, CHC

Ramirez somehow manages to get lost in the shuffle on draft day even though he’s a virtual lock for a solid average, 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI. He’s a big step down from A-Rod or Wright but is the clear No. 3 option at third.

4. Evan Longoria, TB

Apparently all the hype surrounding Longoria was justified. He began the year in triple-A and missed a few weeks in August and still slugged 27 homers and hit .272. Expect even better numbers in 2009, but know he K’s once every four at-bats.

5. Garrett Atkins, COL (1B)

Atkins has regressed since his breakout 2006 season (.329, 29 jacks, 120 RBI), but he’s still a valuable fantasy commodity and the dual eligibility helps. A repeat of his 2008 campaign (.286, 21 homers, 99 RBI) is a pretty safe bet.

6. Chipper Jones, ATL 

Chipper would be right up there with A-Rod and Wright if not for his age - he turns 37 in April - and propensity to miss time. His power is still there, and he’s hitting for better and better averages (career-high .365 last year) as he gets older.

7. Chris Davis, TEX (1B)

Davis hit .333 with 23 jacks in the minors in 2008 and came up and hit a respectable .285 with 17 more longballs. He’s an early candidate for breakout player of the year, and the dual eligibility only helps matters. Beware the whiffs, though.

8. Edwin Encarnacion, CIN

It seems like Encarnacion has been around forever but he’s still just 26, and that breakout everyone’s been waiting for could still happen. Don’t bet the farm, but it’s possible 2009 could be the year he hits around .280 with 30-plus homers.

9. Adrian Beltre, SEA

Beltre will probably never replicate his 2004 season (.334, 48 homers) but he’s settled in as a better than average fantasy third baseman in Seattle. Over the past three years his average season is a .270 average, 25 jacks and 88 RBI.

10. Jorge Cantu, FLA (1B)

Cantu had 28 longballs and 117 RBI for the 2005 Devil Rays, but was written off by most after he struggled the next two seasons. He bounced back in a big way in last season with 29 home runs and 95 RBI, but can he do it again?

11. Mike Lowell, BOS +

Lowell had a down year in 2008 as he battled injuries, but still managed to hit .275 with 17 homers in 419 at bats. As long as he’s sufficiently recovered from his October hip surgery, he’s a good bet for an average near .300 and 20-25 jacks.

12. Carlos Guillen, DET (1B)

Guillen tumbled from 21 homers and 102 RBI in 2007 to 10 jacks and 54 ribbies last year as his back acted up. He’s moving to the outfield this year, and his triple eligibility and recent history of success make him a good gamble.

13. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS

Zimmerman hasn’t progressed much at the plate in his three-plus seasons and missed time with a shoulder injury last year. He should be good for a .280 average, 20-plus homers and 90-plus RBI, and has the potential for more.

14. Alex Gordon, KC

Gordon has yet to live up to the lofty expectations set for him, but he’s still only 25. He didn’t take a big step forward as a sophomore, but a 37-point improvement in his on-base percentage is a good sign. He’s a great sleeper for 2009.

15. Melvin Mora, BAL

Mora’s resurgence last year at age 36 (.285, 23 homers, 104 RBI) caught most by surprise. He’s always been solid though, and besides the fact that he’s a year older, there’s no reason to believe he can’t post similar numbers in 2009.

16. Casey Blake, LA + (1B)

At this point, you know what you can expect from Blake: an average around .270-.280, 20 or so home runs and about 75 RBI. Numbers like that make him a great value pick late in drafts, and his dual eligibility only helps matters.

17. Chone Figgins, LAA

Figgins’ .330 average in 2007 was obviously a fluke, but he does enough to help fantasy teams by getting on base, stealing bases and scoring runs. He had a down year in 2008, but at 31, he’s probably got some gas left in his tank.

18. Kevin Kouzmanoff, SD

Kouz hit 23 homers and knocked in 84 runs last year, but also posted an awful .299 on-base percentage and fanned 139 times while drawing just 23 walks. He’s got 30-35 homer upside, but don’t count on it at spacious Petco Park.

19. Troy Glaus, STL +

Glaus had a pretty good 2008 season, hitting .270 with 27 jacks and 99 ribbies. Unfortunately, he needed surgery on his right shoulder in January and probably won’t be ready for Opening Day. Monitor his progress and consider stashing him.

20. Scott Rolen, TOR

Rolen’s days of fantasy stardom are over, but he’s still a servicable option when he’s healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, that’s not all that often anymore. His best-case scenario for 2009 is probably a .280 average and 15 homers.

THE BEST OF THE REST

21. Joe Crede, MIN
22. Ty Wigginton, BAL (OF)
23. Ian Stewart, COL +
24. Josh Fields, CHW
25. Mark Reynolds, ARI
26. Pedro Feliz, PHI +
27. Mat Gamel, MIL +
28. Brandon Wood, LAA (SS)
29. Andy LaRoche, PIT
30. Willy Aybar, TB
31. Jose Bautista, TOR
32. Bill Hall, MIL +
33. David Freese, STL +
34. Eric Chavez, OAK +
35. German Duran, TEX
36. Dallas McPherson, FLA
37. Martin Prado, ATL
38. Greg Dobbs, PHI
39. Geoff Blum, HOU
40. Omar Infante, ATL (SS,OF)
41. Mike Lamb, MIN
42. Brian Buscher, MIN
43. Andy Marte, CLE
44. Casey McGehee, MIL
45. Conor Gillaspie, SF

PROSPECTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

1. Brett Wallace, STL
2. Wes Hodges, CLE
3. Dayan Viciedo, CHW
4. Neil Walker, PIT
5. Pedro Alvarez, PIT
6. Chris Johnson, HOU
7. Daniel Valencia, MIN
8. Juan Francisco, CIN

 

FANTASY PREVIEW SCHEDULE

Monday, Feb. 23 - Intro & Catchers
Wednesday, Feb. 25 - First Basemen
Friday, Feb. 27 - Second Basemen
Monday, March 2 - Third Basemen
Wednesday, March 4 - Shortstops
Friday, March 6 - Outfielders
Monday, March 9 - DH-only
Wednesday, March 11 - Starting Pitchers
Friday, March 13 - Relief Pitchers

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo by the Associated Press