RotoWire Partners

In Some Depth: Wild and Crazy 3B Situations

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

People don't call Carson Cistulli a "Wild and Crazy Guy" not for nothing. I have, for example, worn brown shoes with black pants without any hint of embarrassment. I've also, if you can believe it, waited all the way till February a couple times before filing my income tax return.

The present document represents my most recent submission to the wild and/or crazy. Where previous versions of In Some Depth have attempted to survey, in a general way, the most uncertain depth-chart situations in the major leagues, I've endeavored here to look at one position only -- namely, third base.

As the attentive fantasy owner will know, third base has been a difficult position so far this year between injuries (Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman) and general incompetence (Brandon Inge, Melvin Mora, Ian Stewart). As such, owners have found themselves looking for solutions wherever they might be found. Hopefully, what follows aids in that search.

Below are ten not-entirely-certain third-base situations around the league. In parentheses, after each player's name, I've included the number of games (not including Monday night) that the player in question has started of his team's last seven contests. I've ordered the situations roughtly in order of interesting-ness (from most to least).

Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Players: Ryan Roberts (6), Melvin Mora (1)
Notes: As of press time, Melvin Mora has been -- and remains -- on the bereavement list since May 18th. As a result, Ryan Roberts has gotten starting-type plate appeearances -- as he should be doing, probably, even when Mora's with the team. The most interesting part about the Mora move is who replaced him (i.e. Mora) on the roster -- namely, Sean Burroughs. Burroughs' name will sound familiar if you were way into prospects ca. the year 2000. Between 1999 and 2002, Burroughs was ranked 82nd, seventh, sixth, and fourth (in that order) on Baseball America's top-100 list. Having returned to affiliated baseball for the first time since 2007, Burroughs has shown excellent contact skills (if little else) at Triple-A Reno. He may not get PAs this time around, but a future injury could give him playing time. He's the sort of player who could unexpectedly hit for a high average.

Team: Cincinnati Reds
Players: Scott Rolen (6), Miguel Cairo (1)
Notes: I, personally, own Scott Rolen in the two leagues in which I'm most active. It was generally the case during drafts/auctions that Rolen was available in a round/at a price that undervalued his per-game value. The problem, obviously, is that Rolen is an injury risk, one whom Dusty Baker is also apt to give days off without much warning. It's for that reason that newly promoted Todd Frazier is of some interest. Frazier has been a top prospect, having ranked 60th and 43rd on Baseball America's top-100 prospect list in 2009 and 2010, respectively. One concern for Frazier has been contact. Last season -- his first full one at Triple-A -- he struck out in 26.5% of his at-bats. He's cut that figure to 20.6% so far this season through 182 PAs, while maintaining his walk rate and power.

Team: Colorado Rockies
Players: Jose Lopez (7)
Notes: If you've read this column previously and/or listened to even one of my spots on the RotoWire Sirius XM show, you'll know that I aspire to become America's leading Jose Lopez Apologist. Mind you, this is not to say that I think Lopez is an excellent offensive player -- a brief tour around his player page reveals that he doesn't care much for walking, for example -- but so far as fantasy production is concerned at the moment, Lopez has at least four things going for him. Those four things are: (a) the sort of power that allowed him to hit 25 home runs in 2009 at righty-killing Safeco, (b) a ballpark now that'll inflate his offensive production, (c) middle-infield eligibility in a number of formats, and (d) manager Jim Tracy's vote of confidence as the team's (current) starting third baseman.

Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Players: Jayson Nix (4), John McDonald (3)
Notes: Per FanGraphs, Toronto Blue Jay third basemen are batting just .186/.242/.291 in 188 plate appearances this season. Even accounting for their horrid (and unsustainably low) .215 BABIP isn't enough to make that line respectable. The culprits (in order of starts at third) are Jayson Nix (68 PA, .186/.294/.322, .243 BABIP), Edwin Encarnacion (137 PA, .244/.270/.336, .278 BABIP), and John McDonald (110 PA, .204/.269/.316, .220 BABIP). Nor are any three of those players certifiable "buy low" candidates. Jose Bautista qualifies at third base by many formats, but it's unlikely that he'll move out of right field. One name to watch is Brett Lawrie. The organization is very high on the infielder, acquired as part of the Shaun Marcum deal with the Brewers this past offseason. He could be promoted as soon as early June.

Team: New York Mets
Players: Justin Turner (4), Willie Harris (2), David Wright (1)
Notes: Turner only has 68 plate appearances so far in the majors this season. Given what we know about samples and when they become reliable for different stats, it's too few PAs with which to make any conclusive statements about his .333/.382/.492 batting line. That said, it's almost enough plate appearances to begin drawing conclusions about Turner's contact abilities. If we started drawing those conclusions today, here's what they'd be: Justin Turner is good at making contact. Per FanGraphs, Turner has struck out in only 11.1% of his at-bats -- i.e. almost half as many as the current league average of 20.8%. Turner is likely to draw the greatest number of starts at third base in David Wright's absence. Given that he (i.e. Turner) also qualifies at second in most formats, his offense might play.

Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Players: Pedro Alvarez (3), Brandon Wood (3), Steven Pearce (1)
Notes: This past Saturday, the Pirates placed Alvarez on the 15-day disabled list with a quad injury. In the three games since then, Wood has played a couple games at third base, while Pearce has played the third (and most recent). In terms of upside, Wood remains (improbably, perhaps) the more interesting player. Despite his horrid contact rates while with the Angels, there's also something to be said for a change of scenery. Another plus with Wood is that he'll qualify at shortstop in a number of formats, after having started there eight times this season and 20 last. Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that manager Clint Hurdle will turn to Wood exclusively, just that it'd be more interesting for fantasy owners if he did.

Team: San Francisco Giants
Players: Miguel Tejada (4), Mark DeRosa (3)
Notes: On May 10th, Mark DeRosa made his trimphant return to the Giants, having suffered the slings and arrows of both (a) outrageous fortune and (b) lingering wrist injuries. It appeared as though DeRosa would form at least some kind of platoon with, if not take over third entirely from, the struggling Miguel Tejada. Instead what happened is, is DeRosa partially tore a tendon in the same wrist that was the cause of his original problems. Because he qualifies at shortstop, has a BABIP-deflated line, and appears to be getting playing time, Tejada isn't the absolute worst player to own. But he's not a third-base option, either. This author would very much encourage the reader to follow farmhand Conor Gillaspie with one eye. Gillaspie hasn't much power, but makes good contact and is an option in what is proving to be quite a shallow third-base class.

Team: Florida Marlins
Players: Greg Dobbs (6), Wes Helms (1)
Notes: In 108 plate appearances so far this season, Greg Dobbs is batting .337/.380/.480. Note, pleasepleaseplease, that his .397 BABIP is inflating those numbers, and that the most likely possibility is that he'll bat something like .270/.320/.410 for the rest of the season. Any sort of decline from his current production will probably prompt manager Edwin Rodriguez to give more time to Emilio Bonifacio and/or Wes Helms. None of that triumvirate is very interesting, to be honest. Would-have-been starting third baseman, the 21-year-old Matt Dominguez, has returned to minor-league play recently after missing the first five-plus weeks of the season with a fractured left elbow. Scouts praise Dominguez's glove work, but his bat is likely below average. Accordingly, he shouldn't have much to offer fantasy owners in the event of a promotion.

Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Players: Daniel Descalso (5), Nick Punto (1), Albert Pujols (1)
Notes: The Cardinals placed David Freese on the DL with a broken broken left hand back in the beginning of May. Nick Punto, who was probably part of the solution to the vacancy left by Freese, followed him there this past Wednesday with a right elbow strain. With few other options, manager Tony LaRUssa has turned almost exclusively to Daniel Descalso. Descalso's value, at this point, is that he qualifies at multiple positions. So far as fantasy is concerned, however, he offers little in the way of power or speed -- nor's he a candidate to sustain a .300-plus average.

Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Players: Juan Uribe (4), Russ Mitchell (2), Juan Castro (1)
Notes: Although he's technically played the most games at third for the Dodgers in the past week-plus, it's also the case that Juan Uribe was disabled on Sunday, meaning third base falls to... someone. The most likely someone is Russ Mitchell, except Mitchell has slashed just .091/.231/.227 so far in his 26 major-league plate appearances. His true talent obviously lies somewhere above that, but "How far?" is one question and "How long will Mattingly endure him?" is another. Some combination of Jamey Carroll, Juan Castro, and Aaron Miles could get time at third, but none are likely to help a fantasy team.