In a continuation of my recent piece on overvalued third basemen, today I'll be looking for underrated gems among the 3rd base class...
2014 Steamer Projection: 138 Games, .243 .317 .468, 29 HR, 82 RBI, 69 Runs, 2 SB
ESPN Rank: 101 (11th Round)
Where I'd Rank Him: 75-80 (8th Round)
If you've been reading my work at all this off-season, my inclusion of Pedro Alvarez on this list should come as no surprise. I flat out love the guy. People tend to get scared off by his batting average, and I'm not gonna lie, I expect him to be a below average contributor in that category. The .240 line Steamer projects for him sounds about right to me (though a guy can always hope for a bit of BABIP luck to boost that up to .260 one year). But a .240 batting average should not be such a deterrent. A league-average batting average in MLB is about .250 nowadays, and even if you take into account a league-average fantasy batting average is higher than that since the guys at the bottom end of the spectrum often never get rostered, you still only end up with an average around .260. Pedro's .240 line definitely hurts you in that category, but it's manageable if you balance your roster. Better pitchers and deeper bullpens have caused a precipitous drop in league wide batting averages since the mid 2000s, and that trend has served to bolster the value of low average sluggers like Alvarez.
So far though I've used a lot of words to explain why Pedro Alvarez isn't a bad fantasy player. Let me instead show you why I think he's a great one. Only 14 players in major league baseball hit at least 30 home runs last year and only 5 hit at least 35. Alvarez was one of those 5, hitting 36 last season, enough to lead the NL in home runs in 2013. Power is scarce these days and it seems to be getting scarcer every year. Pedro Alvarez supplies that power and he supplies it in a monster way. His average fly ball distance for example clocks in at 311.36 feet, good for 3rd in the major leagues, above sluggers like Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera. Furthermore, since debuting in 2011 he's learned to progressively increase his fly ball percentage in every season he's played, giving him overall more opportunities to hit the ball out of the park. All this from a player who's only played 3 full seasons of major league ball, and is still just 27 years old.
I often agree with the Steamer projections (that's why I include them with my articles), but on Pedro Alvarez I think Steamer is way off. I'd put that 29 home run estimation from Steamer as Alvarez's floor going into next season. I fully expect to see another 35-36 home run performance from him, but honestly I really do believe he has 40-45 home run potential in him. I have a feeling we'll get a look at that potential this year. If Alvarez can put everything together, I think he's one of those few special players in the league capable of carrying your team the way Chris Davis carried teams last season, albeit with a lower batting average than Davis managed. It's just plain wrong in my opinion to push that kind of upside out of the top 100 because of concerns over a batting average that's only 10 points under league average.
2014 Steamer Projection: 122 Games, .272/.347/.423, 13 HR, 59 RBI, 59 Runs, 3 SB
ESPN Rank: 271 (Undrafted)
Where I'd Rank Him: 238-242 (late 24th-early 25th round)
It puzzles me a little bit to see how quickly the fantasy community has seen fit to pronounce David Freese's fantasy career over. He's always had some problems staying healthy and last season, outside of May and June, he was admittedly a difficult player to roster, hitting only .262 for the season with little power and no speed. At the same time however prior to last season he'd hit .293 in 144 games in 2012 and .297 in 97 games in 2011. Now that he's with the Angels, he'll be hitting in the middle of what should at least be a good offensive lineup, with the potential to be amazing one. The Angels don't really have another option at 3rd base, so he's guaranteed at-bats as long as he can stay healthy. And finally, he's got enough power to get you 10-15 home runs in a good season. That sounds like a player who's at least worth a pick for depth in the 24th-25th round as a corner infielder, and yet he loses that spot to players like Ryan Howard and Justin Smoak (who are both waaaay over-ranked by the way). That doesn't seem right to me.
2014 Steamer Projection: 148 Games, .289/.345/.434, 13 HR, 70 RBI, 80 Runs, 7 SB
ESPN Rank: 115 (12th Round)
Where I'd Rank Him: 102-105 (11th Round)
Martin Prado, like David Freese, is another one of those players who I think has been given up on way too early. With the exception of 2011, he's always been a well above average producer in batting average hitting .300 in 4 of the last 6 seasons, and .282 as recently as last year. Throw that in with a consistent 10-13 home runs every season, a handful of steals, and the positional flexibility he offers at both 2nd base and OF, and I don't see why he's ranked as low as he is. He's not a star player, but Prado offers the kind of depth you need to win a championship and there's value in that too.