This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
The Top Third Basemen
Let's continue our look at top prospects, moving across the infield to third base. We've done pitching, catching, and first basemen so far in our series.
Background: Longoria is the number Two player on our RotoWire Top 100 list, and also ranked second in my Top 50 hitters list in the 2008 Baseball Prospect Book. Drafted in the first round (third overall) in 2006 out of Long Beach State, Longoria adapted rapidly to pro baseball and won't need much more time in the minors, if any.
Tools and Skills: Longoria is 6-2, 190, a right-handed hitter and thrower born October 7, 1985. A shortstop in college, he moved to third base last year and developed quickly into an above-average defender at that position. With the bat he features power to all fields, solid plate discipline, the ability to hit for average, and very few flaws.
Performance: A career .304/.388/.546 hitter in pro ball, including .307 with 21 homers in Double-A last year. He's probably more of a .270ish hitter in the short run, though with plenty of power, and his batting average will rise as he gains experience.
Projection: Longoria is battling for the Opening Day third base job in Tampa Bay and has a good chance to win it. He's a leading Rookie of the Year candidate, a potential All-Star once he settles in, and should have a long and productive career.
Background: The number Nine player on our RotoWire Top 100 list (and Number Five on my Top 50 hitters list in the book), LaRoche was a 39th round pick in 2003 out of Grayson County Community College in Texas. The brother of major leaguer Adam LaRoche and the son of former major league pitcher Dave LaRoche, Andy has nothing left to prove in the minors.
Tools and Skills: LaRoche is 6-1, 200 pounds, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born September 13, 1983. He's had trouble with injuries, including shoulder and back issues, but when healthy he shows above-average power with excellent strike zone judgment. He has a strong arm and soft hands, but his range at third base is just average due to a lack of speed.
Performance: A career .295/.376/.525 hitter in the minors, LaRoche has hit 28 homers in 128 career Triple-A games. LaRoche looks like a .250-.270 hitter at the major league level once he settles in, but with plenty of power and a high OBP.
Projection: LaRoche tore a thumb ligament last week and could be out of the lineup until June. He has nothing to learn in Triple-A at this point, but the injury is badly-timed. He still projects as a solid-to-excellent player but will have to prove he can overcome health concerns.
Background: The number 22 prospect on our RotoWire Top 100 list, Headley was drafted in the second round in 2005 from the University of Tennessee. He was a star in college, but slipped to the second round because some scouts doubted his power. He's answered those questions in pro ball, showing plenty of pop.
Tools and Skills: A switch-hitter, Headley is 6-2, 195 pounds, born May 9th, 1984. He features a smooth swing and has developed solid power, but his best attribute is his exceptional strike zone judgment: he's very difficult to fool and draws plenty of walks. His defense at third base is decent, good enough for him to hold the position as long as he hits as expected.
Performance: Headley is a career .300/.405/.487 hitter in 1152 minor league at-bats, including .330/.437/.580 in the Texas League last year. He should hit for average, moderate power, and a high OBP in the majors.
Projection: Headley is blocked at third base, so the Padres are trying to get his bat into the lineup by moving him to the outfield. He won't have the range to really thrive defensively in the outfield, but his bat should play well at a corner, and that could be as soon as this year.
Background: Brandon Wood has been atop prospect lists for several years. He's seen his status slip somewhat but still clocks in at number 26 on our RotoWire Top 100.
Tools and Skills: Wood is listed at 6-3, 185, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born March 2, 1985. His best hitting tool/skill is power: he has tremendous power to all fields, though he sometimes gets pull-happy. His strike zone judgment is a weakness and will inhibit his ability to hit for average, but the power should help make up for that. Defensively he can handle both shortstop and third base, lacking excellent range but doing everything else well.
Performance: Wood is a career .282/.350/.528 hitter in the minors, including .272/.338/.497 last year in Triple-A. That's a low batting average for Salt Lake, and right now batting average and OBP projection into the majors is his biggest weakness.
Projection: The Angels are giving Wood time at both third base and shortstop this spring to enhance his ability to make the team. He still has strong potential as a power hitter, but he needs playing time to work his issues out, and riding the bench will harm him.
Background: Ranked 54th on our RotoWire list, Villalona is a wild card who could turn into an exceptional player but still has a lot of unanswered questions. Signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, he has just one year of rookie ball under his belt but is already considered one of the most promising minor league hitters, at least at the lower levels.
Tools and Skills: Villalona is 6-3, 210 pounds, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 13, 1990. Although still quite raw, scouts say he has light-tower power and could be a massive offensive force. He needs to improve his plate discipline and his approach against breaking balls, his defense needs lots of polish, and he will have to watch his weight given his body type.
Performance: A .285/.344/.450 mark in the Arizona Rookie League last year wasn't bad at all, given that he began the year at age 16. His BB/K/AB ratio needs improvement. Given his youth he has loads of time to improve this.
Projection: Villalona is listed as a third baseman but there's a good chance he will switch to first base down the line. Physically he projects as a terrific power hitter, but we'll need to get some full-season data from him to see how he adjusts against better pitching. He could be an exceptional player; we'll know more a few months from now.
Article first appeared 3/12/08