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In our third installment of ranking the AL East it seems only natural to look at third base. If you missed last week’s post of second base you can check it out here. Spring training has officially started so baseball is ever closer and what better way to get in the mood than ranking some players? Here we go!
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Rays: Coming into the 2013 season there were questions swirling around about Longoria’s health having averaged just over 100 games the past two season. Well Longoria answered those questions with authority as he set career highs in home runs (32) and games played (160) all while playing his usual stellar defense. On a down note, Longoria had a career high for strikeouts (162) and matched his rookie season for a career low OBP (.343). At 28, Longoria’s best seasons are ahead of him especially with Wil Meyers around to take some of the pressure off.
2. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles: If it were not for concerns of how he’ll rebound from a serious knee injury, a serious case could have been made that Machado belongs in the top spot. A natural shortstop the 21 year old is the best defensive shortstop in the AL East and should he continue to improve he may become the best in the Majors. There is no question that this kid can hit (Major League leading 51 doubles), but he still has to work on his plate discipline (only a .314 OBP). If Machado can put the injuries behind him and mature as a hitter, he will wreak havoc in the AL East for the next decade or more.
3. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays: Health has always been a problem for the Canadian native as he has yet to play more than 125 games in a season. Luckily he is still young (23), so he still has time to put it together. When healthy Lawrie is a dangerous mixture of power and speed and has a fantastic glove to go along with it. If it weren’t for Machado or Longoria, Lawrie would easily be the best defensive third baseman in the division. The key to his success (beyond health) will be improving his plate discipline.
4. Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox: The power potential has always been there for Middlebrooks. He hit 15 home runs in 75 games in 2012 and then 17 over 94 games in 2013. Over a full season that translates to 32 home runs, which is real power, something that is hard to find these days. Unfortunately power does not mean much if you do not make contact or take a walk now and then. For every walk Middlebrooks has taken he has struck out five times. This is not a recipe for success. Middlebrooks improved late last season, but fell into old habits during the postseason. He is still relatively young (25), so he still has time to put it together, but he is running out of time.
5. Kelly Johnson/Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees: With A-Rod suspended for the season the Yankees will go with this pairing of a lefty with mediocre power and a glove-first right hander. It’s hard to see the Yankees getting close to league average production from third base and it will be a position they most likely will need to address if they are in playoff position come the All-Star break.
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays: No questions asked, Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in the AL East. The 28-year old has grown to be one of baseball’s finest and after having a career high at-bat total last season (614), it appears as though his health issues are in the past. Longoria will continue to be the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay offense in 2014.
2. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles: Machado was definitely the second most productive third baseman in the AL East, but his health moving forward is completely up in the air. The 21-year-old is reported to have said he needs to adjust his running style in order to prevent reinjuring himself. Yikes. However, whether he can run or not doesn’t change the fact Machado can hit. Expect a boost in all hitting stats as the youngster continues to develop.
3. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays: When healthy, Lawrie is dangerous. He can hit for power, he has a great track record of being able to get on base, and he also has a lot of base-stealing potential. Unfortunately, the Canada native hasn’t been able to put together a season of more than 125 games. However, if he does, it will likely be very impressive.
4. Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox: It was tough putting Middlebrooks behind Lawrie because Middlebrooks has so much more raw power. In 615 career at-bats, the 25-year-old has blasted 32 home runs and driven in 103 runs. What makes it even more impressive is that he has done this with very inconsistent playing time. However, his playing time has been so inconsistent because he really isn’t doing much when he’s not hitting home runs. His .294 OBP and dismal .20 K/BB ratio tell us enough.
5. Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees: After filling in for an injured Derek Jeter in 2013, Nunez will slide over to third in an attempt to replace the suspended Alex Rodriguez. Defensively, the Yankee’s won’t be missing a whole lot, but don’t expect Dominican Republic native to come near the same offensive production that Rodriguez is capable of. While the rest of the AL East third baseman are either a source of strength or have the potential to be a source of strength for their teams, it seems as though Nunez is just a temporary solution.
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays: Longoria is one of those special talents that can carry a team with his bat for long periods of time as well as a stellar glove on the field. In 2013, the 28-year-old was able to stay healthy and produce at a high level. He played in 160 contests while hitting 32 home runs and driving in 88 runs with a .269 average. Sure, he struck out a career-high 162 times, but Longoria is one of the best right-handed sluggers in the majors.
2. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles: After missing the final week of the regular season with a left knee injury and receiving offseason knee surgery, Machado looks to build on an impressive 2013 season in which he tallied 710 plate appearances with 14 homers and 71 RBI. The third year player is only 21 and still has room to grow with his bat and glove as he won the Gold Glove for third this past season. With being so young, Machado has shown great promise in the Orioles organization as he led the MLB with 51 doubles.
3. Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox: Middlebrooks has been subject to numerous trade talks over the last season and a half due to a lack of a consistent approach at the plate that does not lead to numerous strikeouts. The 25-year-old still has six years under team control and is nowhere close to his prime. A .227 average and .271 OBP derailed the hype that he got in his rookie campaign in 2012. However, his 32 home runs over 169 games played fares well as he is a legit power threat when he makes contact.
4. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays: The 24-year-old has had real trouble staying healthy and only played 107 games in 2013. Lawrie has been great with his glove and a solid power bat in the Blue Jays lineup since coming up from the minors in 2011. He finished with 11 longballs and 46 RBI in 442 at-bats while hitting .254. The one upside is the 68 strikeouts compared to 30 walks.
5. Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees: With a career-high three homers last season, Nunez looks to be the main option at third with Kelly Johnson likely sticking at second. With only 90 games under his belt in 2013, the 26-year-old will likely improve some at the plate, but is more of a glove who can get the job done on only the defensive side of the ball.
That wraps up our rankings at third base. Feel like we missed something or are just plain wrong? Let us know and make sure to check out next week’s post on shortstops (hint: Derek Jeter is not what he used to be).