A major shift at third base feels imminent. A handful of superstars have dominated the position for years but some recent struggles have paved the way for the next group to make a splash. While it’s not time to write off these aging sluggers just yet, some rising stars are making a push up the rankings. Which young names have already started to rise?
The prospect side of things can be a bit murky at third base. Like second base, many future third basemen are currently playing shortstop and will eventually slide over. Still, the current prospect pool looks strong, though the leader of that list, Jordan Walker, will likely lose eligibility next season. If that’s the case, the position will be left in good hands with Junior Caminero and Elly De La Cruz.
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- Tier 1 is as strong as ever with Jose Ramirez narrowly clinging to the top spot. The perennial MVP candidate is slashing .281/.361/.452 through 155 plate appearances. However, the power has taken a step back as he has just four homers this season, including one over the last 13 games. Ramirez is still producing at a high level it’s worth keeping an eye on his falling barrel rate and career-high 29% whiff rate. Just behind him is a pair of 26-year-old sluggers in Rafael Devers and Austin Riley. Devers leads the AL with 11 long balls but is hitting just .250 due to some strikeout issues, specifically with chasing balls. Riley doesn’t seem like his usual self; his hard-hit (42.6%) and barrel (7.3%) rates are currently career lows. All three third basemen in Tier 1 are still elite sluggers and I wouldn’t expect the iffy starts to last all season.
- On the flip side, a pair of other superstar third basemen are showing noticeable signs of regression. Manny Machado has registered a brutal .692 OPS through 142 plate appearances this season. Whle he’s slashing .351/.429/.676 over the last nine games, his underlying data is hard to look at. His barrel, sweet spot, and hard-hit rates have all fallen dramatically to new career lows. Machado’s worsening whiff and chase rates have resulted in a career-high 22.5% strikeout rate. Similarly, Nolan Arenado’s OPS sits at an ugly .608 despite having a .913 mark through the first 14 games. He’s also seen sizable dips in his batted-ball data with a soaring strikeout rate (career-high 20.8%). After they both finished top-3 in 2022 NL MVP voting, is this slow start temporary or a sign of the dreaded post-30 downfall?
- As mentioned, barring a change, Jordan Walker will lose third base eligibility next season, making Junior Caminero and Elly De La Cruz the next in line for top prospect status. Caminero was a popular breakout candidate this offseason and he’s exceeded the lofty expectations. The 19-year-old is slashing .356/.408/.678 with 12 extra-base hits (eight home runs) and 45 R+RBI through 98 High-A plate appearances. His strikeout rate has jumped to 23.5% which could cause some issues down the road. As he gets more experience, I’d expect that number to drop with his elite hit tool. De La Cruz is one of the most exciting prospects in the game and became a unanimous top-10 name over the last year. He’s still raw but very projectable; the loud tools have masked a 30%+ strikeout rate at nearly every level. De Laz Cruz could be a legitimate 40-40 threat with the Reds but the plate approach has to improve first.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum from Arenado and Machado, Matt Chapman and Max Muncy have bounced back in a tremendous way in 2023. Chapman, the AL April Player of the Month, leads the AL with a .349 average and is pacing the entire league with 17 doubles. He’s sporting a 1.038 OPS with five homers and a 24.8% strikeout rate, his lowest since 2019. A .459 BABIP is obviously unsustainable but Chapman has some of the best underlying data in baseball. His improvements are real and, even with an inevitable dip in his average, looks to be in line for a career year. Muncy sits atop the home run leaderboard with 12 and has a .385 OBP despite a .218 average thanks to an elite walk rate. His strikeout rate has ballooned to a career-high 29.2% but he’s barreling the ball as well as anyone. The average will probably stay in the low .200s as it has for most of his career but the power is back.
- Speaking of power, Patrick Wisdom is just behind Muncy with 11 bombs already this season. He knocked 53 over the previous two years but looks to be on his way to his first 30-homer campaign. However, it’s paired with a ridiculous 36.3% strikeouts rate, resulting in a .229/.317/.587 slash line. This is nothing new; since the start of 2021, Wisdom is hitting .218 with a 36.8% K-rate. Without the elite walk numbers that Muncy has, Wisdom will be heavily limited by his poor plate discipline. As of now, I still don’t view him as much more than a cheap, corner-infield power bat.
- Gunnar Henderson is off to an ugly start after his terrific 2022 season. The rookie infielder is slashing .174/.339/.304 with three homers and a 31.3% strikeout rate. He walks enough (19.1%) to mask some of the holes but he’s flat-out looking overwhelmed this year.
- Christian Encarnacion-Strand has been incredible in his first taste of Triple-A action. The 23-year-old slugger is slashing .404/.433/.807 with seven homers and 14 RBI through 13 games. His 1:13 BB:K leaves something to be desired but that shouldn’t prevent him from an MLB promotion in the near future.
- Injuries put a halt on Brady House’s 2022 season but he’s back this year and looking like the top prospect he was believed to be. The 20-year-old is slashing .297/.403/.516 with seven extra-base hits and an 11:17 BB:K through 18 Single-A games. He slipped off most prospect rankings in the offseason but is on his way back with a hot start.
- Tyler Black is one of the hottest names in the minor leagues. Over his last seven games, he’s registered a .346/.528/.539 slash line with 11 stolen bases and three extra-base hits. The 22-year-old has an elite plate approach, posting an OBP over .400 at every level of the minor leagues. His power and speed in 2023 are a bit of a surprise but should earn him a promotion to Triple-A soon.
2023 Dynasty Third Base Rankings
|4||Bobby Witt Jr.||KCR||22.9|
|13||Elly De La Cruz||CIN||21.3|
|59||Deyvison De Los Santos||ARI||19.9|