Impact Prospects for 2011: The Third Basemen | Rob Leibowitz
Last week we continued our look at the minor leaguers who will have an impact on the 2011 season with a breakdown of second basemen. This week we move on over to third base.
The Indians third base situation currently has the likes of Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena attached to it, screaming the words "stop-gap" loud and clear. Enter Lonnie Chisenhall. The 22-year-old will start the year in Triple-A, but he may not be there for long. Chisenhall is an average third basemen defensively and has enough chops to legitimately start there on the MLB level. At the plate, he is known for his solid, hard-contact making skills and power potential. He is not the most selective hitter, but did manage to walk close to 9% of the time while making contact roughly 83% of the time and driving out 17 home runs for Double-A Akron. His below-average speed and his platoon splits (career minor league .233 hitter against lefties) will likely keep him from being a .300 hitter, but he does have the skills to be a solid citizen starter, capable of hitting in the .270s to .280s, hitting into the high teens to perhaps the mid-20s in terms of home runs per season. He reminds me a teeny bit of former Indians and current Oakland third basemen Kevin Kouzmanoff, though Chisenhall's left-handedness does give him an advantage.
Frazier may get a shot - somewhere
The Yankees have this Alex Rodriguez guy over at third base, but they do indeed have a third baseman in the upper levels of their minors by the name of Brandon Laird. Yes, he's indeed Gerald's younger brother. Like his older brother, Brandon is a right-handed hitter and has a similar plate discipline skill set - typically walking around 8% of the time and this past season increasing his strikeout rate, at three separate places of play, to a one-fifth or more of the time. However, with respect to Brandon, it is more understandable given that he has legitimate mid-20s home run per season power and between his three stops in 2010, he hit 29 of them. He also plays good enough defense to stay at third base in the long run. The question I keep coming back to is the nexus between his right-handedness, his strikeout rates, and his ability to hit right-handed pitchers in the long run. Regardless, he will get his second taste of Triple-A this season and have a chance to prove his 3% walk-rate was a fluke and also a chance to revitalize the 80% or better contact rates he had shown throughout the pre-2010 stages of his career. If he can, then he might be someone to be a bit more excited about. Right now I see him as a solid average third baseman with good power and mediocre batting average ability and downside of being a Triple-A veteran due to a wrong-side-of-plate platoon split.
Mike Moustakas may never be a sabermetric darling, but quite frankly he may never have to be to be to be valuable from both a real baseball and a fantasy baseball standpoint. Why? Well the ability to make contact, combined with good bat speed, and the ability to hit for excellent power is a good way to compensate for mediocre plate discipline. Between the Texas League (a great hitter's league) and Triple-A, Moustakas hit 36 home runs while hitting a combined .322/.369/.630. While I would like to see him handle lefties more effectively, one has to give him a lot of credit for what he accomplished at the higher levels of the minors despite being just 21 years old. Now at 22, he will start the season in Triple-A, but only has the likes of Mike Aviles (likely to move over to second base and challenge Chris Getz for playing time) and Wilson Betemit (best used as a bench player) ahead of him on the depth charts.
The Marlins' Matt Dominguez's glove at third base is so good it may overshadow his bat for his career and he could win more than few gold gloves over his career, that is if he can hit well enough to stick as an everyday third basemen. He does not project to be an above-average home run hitter, topping out in the high teens to perhaps the lower 20s per season, though he did hit 14 homers and 34 doubles last year, which is encouraging. He has shown some improvement with his selectivity, walking about 10% of the time while making contact just a tad more than 80% of the time. Right now the key is his ability to hit right-handed pitching. The good news - if he does hit well at Triple-A this season, he could be up quickly as stop-gap veteran Wes Helms is all that stands in his way.
Juan Francisco is on this list because he is still a rookie, he has excellent power potential, and he will most likely get some playing time this season. That all said, I really do not see him as an MLB starter and am including him as cautionary only. Yes, he may be fine as a short-term call-up if he's in the middle of a good streak - as power hitters like him can get locked into from time to time - but when he is cold, Francisco is going to be sub-zero. So why do I loathe him so? Well right-handed hitters who strike out more than a quarter of the time and who show a consistent lack of selectivity, walking less than 5% of the time on a year-in, year-out basis and showing an inability to hit pitches that change speeds or have movement, just do not make my much loved minor league lists. Yes, he hit 19 home runs in fewer than 400 plate appearances and he has 30+ home run per season potential, but unfortunately unlike Dominguez above, he is far from relying on his glove to carry him to the majors, so he'll need to make refinements with his approach at the plate to succeed, and someone willing to overlook his glove too.
Fortunately for the Reds, Francisco is not their only potential option at third base. The oft-position-shifted Todd Frazier is that other candidate and he rates as a better defensive option there to boot. He actually has been shifted around, not because of shortcomings in his defense, but more because of the team's needs, so he has played some left field and second base too. The problem is that Frazier, after being considered one of, if not the top, Reds prospect heading into 2010, is coming off a rather sub-par season that has his future as a starter in doubt. When all is going well for Frazier, he has high-teens to low-20s home run-per-season potential, but is better known for a line-drive swing that produces plenty of doubles. The concern right now was his drop-off in how often he made contact, dropping from 85% and 81% at Double-A and Triple-A respectively last season, to nearly 73% this past year, the worst mark of his career - not a good thing for a right-handed hitter. He will need to show he can make some adjustments and put together a strong campaign this year to make the Reds' deep roster, but at least he will have time to do it. Scott Rolen, provided he stays healthy, has two more years and a no-trade clause on his contract. Keep an eye on Frazier as another potential trade bait item in the Reds' stockpile.
Brent Morel is the one rookie, provided his spring training isn't awful, currently slated to open 2011 with a starting third base job at the MLB level. While he does not have the upside of some of the other players, he may have the best profile to actually stick. While not quite in Dominguez's class defensively, he is still above average at third base. At the plate he is not much of a power threat and is more of a doubles and line-drives type with low- to mid-teens per-season home run power. He is an aggressive right-handed hitter, who does not walk often, but at least makes pretty good contact, doing so 84% of the time in Triple-A, and has shown similar or better contact-making skills earlier in his career. During his time in the majors, however, he did appear to press a bit and struck out more than a quarter of the time, so it may be a bit before he acclimates. He is not someone I would expending a great deal of resources on, he's a post 10th round pick in AL only formats and if you hit double digits on his price in an AL only auction, you've probably paid too much.
Alex Liddi, 22, will be the Tacoma starting third basemen in 2011. That alone should generate some attention, especially with Chone Figgins' name coming up in some occasional trade talk. After slugging 23 home runs in very home run-friendly High Desert, Liddi posted a still solid, but not exceptional 15 home runs in Double-A while maintaining a consistent skill set, walking roughly 9% of the time and striking out more than a quarter. Long-term he does project to re-cross the 20+ HR plateau. The issue surrounding him is, like many of his above brethren, his ability to be more than a platoon player. Also, with the exception of Francisco, he is the worst defensive third basemen of this bunch. The Mariners have notably been adding defense-oriented players in recent seasons and he may not meet their criteria in that regard. Still, the Mariners are a team lacking in proven power beyond Jack Cust, and may seek to add Liddi's power despite his defensive shortcomings, should their efforts to look for an external candidate fail. Right now I see Liddi as a low-average, 20+ HR threat, who could win the job and be a starter for several seasons to come or as a matter of circumstances, could be passed over and not get much of a chance. If he does not improve his defense, he could end up being moved to first base - not an ideal spot for a right-handed hitter.
Possible MLB Phase Draft/Auction Selections:
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Lonnie Chisenhall, Matt Dominguez, Mike Moustakas
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups
Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco, Brandon Laird
As always, if there are any minor leaguers who were not included in this piece who you would like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or to post to the Mastersball.com forums.