Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: Third Base

This is a continuation of MLB Network's Top 10 by position.

Third base is an evolving position. Typically, the hot corner is considered a position for big, strong power hitters with a cannon for an arm and quick reflexes. But the top ten in MLB features a variety of players with different styles. Some of the players on this list may be a bit misplaced though.

10- Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
9- Placido Polanco, PHILLIES
8- Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals
7- Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
6- David Wright, New York Mets
5- Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
4- Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
3- Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
2- Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
1- Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Ray

It's strange to see someone other than A-Rod in the top spot. But as Rodriguez continues to age and produce less, it's appropriate for him to move down the list. More importantly, Longoria is a superstar. He's a stud at third base and has MVP awards in his future. With just three seasons under his belt, he's already hit 82 home runs and driven in 302 runs. His average has increased every year he's been in the league, going from .272 to .281 to .294. He also hit 46 doubles last year, five triples and stole 15 bases.

Zimmerman's last two seasons have propelled him into elite status. Once a good player with a ton of potential, Zimmerman stepped out of his shadow in 2009 when he hit .292 with 33 home runs and 106 RBI. For his encore in 2010, he hit .307 with 25 homers and 85 driven in despite nearly 100 fewer at bats. He's one of the best in the game and plays in a very large ballpark in Washington.

There's also no argument against Youkilis in the top five. He'll have to transition back to third with the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, but that shouldn't be a problem for 'Youuuuuk'. He's played tremendous defense regardless of position and is one of the toughest outs in baseball. He battles at the plate and is among the league leaders every year in pitches seen per at bat. He's another player in Boston looking to bounce back from injury, but that shouldn't be a problem for the resilient star.

This is where the rankings get a little hazy. Beltre had a tremendous season in Boston last year, but he's been an up and down player throughout his career. His .321 average last season far exceeds his career average of .275 and his 28 home runs and 102 RBI are far greater than his eight homers and 44 RBI the prior season. The last time Beltre had a monster season like he did last year was 2004 for the Dodgers when he hit .334 with 48 home runs. The season earned him a lucrative deal with a new team, the Seattle Mariners. He followed by hitting .255 with 19 home runs. His season with Boston last year earned him a nice contact for the Rangers, but my bet is that he doesn't come close to repeating his 2010 showing. I'd have a hard time putting him in the top five based on one strong season after several average to below average ones.

Reynolds is another player ranked too high. Sure, he's a run producer. Last year, he hit 32 home runs and 85 RBI. But Reynolds hit a putrid .198 and he struck out 211 times! He also hit just 17 doubles. He may be a legitimate power hitter, but there is no way he's the seventh best player at his position. Yes, 1.98 is his career low at the plate, but it's not that much lower than his .242 career average

Which brings us to Polanco. He's an excellent baseball player, but because he doesn't have much power, he is always under-valued. After winning the gold glove at second base, he transitioned seamlessly back to the hot corner where he played gold glove quality defense for the Phillies last season. He's the best number two hitter in the league, he hits for a high average, doesn't strike out, moves runners along and is one of the best clutch hitters in the game. There is absolutely no way he should be ranked ninth. While he doesn't compete with the big boppers like Longoria and Zimmerman, Polanco is on a tier just below those players and far superior to players of Reynolds' stature.

It's worth noting that it's impressive for Rolen to make the list after all these years. While he's mostly hated in Philadelphia, Rolen was always one of my favorites. He played the game the right way and has been a terrific third baseman throughout his career; one of the best defensive players to ever man the hot corner. Sure, he made some mistakes, but it's hard to blame him for wanting out of Veteran's Stadium and that horribly uncompetitive team. It's pretty remarkable that despite all of his injuries throughout the years, Rolen continues to bounce back and is still listed in the top ten at a highly competitive position.

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