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The hot corner is beginning to heat up

David Wright batted .302 with 115 runs, 33 HR, 124 RBI and 15 SB last season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - To finish up our infield portion of the projections we arrive at third base. The position has been a little thin lately, but seems to be improving with the addition of youngsters like Evan Longoria, Garrett Atkins and Alex Gordon.

Also on the horizon are 22-year-old minor league prospects Pedro Alvarez (Pittsburgh), Brett Wallace (St. Louis) and 23-year-old Mat Gamel (Milwaukee) who might see action sometime during the year.

But for the 2009 fantasy season, the heart of the third base world will reside in New York where the two best players at the position make their living.

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees - Despite all the controversy, A-Rod is still one of the best players in the game. He had one of the best fantasy years ever in 2007 (143 runs, 54 HRs, 156 RBI, 24 SB, .645 slugging), so when he was merely "great" last season it was perceived as a bad year. But there is nothing wrong with these stats - 104 runs, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 18 SB and a .573 slugging.

David Wright, New York Mets - Wright puts up fantastic numbers, yet I keep wanting more. He batted .302 with 115 runs, 33 HR, 124 RBI and 15 SB. Pretty good, yet he also hit just .243 with runners in scoring position and led the league with 267 at bats in that situation. So if he had just hit his career average his RBI total would have been astronomical. Wright's 15 stolen bases was his fewest since 2004.

Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs - Since 2003 when he was traded from Pittsburgh to Chicago in mid-season, Ramirez has averaged 84 runs, 31 HR, 105 RBI and hit .283 over the six-year span. Given the strength of the Cubs offense he should continue to be a very productive fantasy option.

Evan Longoria Tampa Bay - Longoria will be the "it" choice this season and you will have to overpay to get him after his great rookie season in which he batted .272 with 67 runs, 27 HR, 85 RBi, 7 SB and a .531 slugging percentage. He has all the tools the be a real life MVP and a fantasy star. Fantasy owner expectations are through the roof which will make it difficult to get him at a reasonable price.

Chipper Jones, Atlanta - If only Jones could stay healthy. He hit .364 last season with 82 runs, 22 HR, 75 RBI and .574 slugging percentage in just 128 games. He hasn't played more than 137 games in a season since 2003 and there is no reason to think that the 37-year-old will suddenly become durable. But when he is on the field, he is a fantasy stud. He'll be playing for a new contract and we all know what that means.

Garrett Atkins, Colorado - Atkins looked to be on the verge of greatness after his 2006 and 2007 seasons in which he averaged 100 runs, 27 HR, 116 RBI and batted .314, but the numbers slipped a little last season. It will be an important year for Atkins to prove that 2008 was the aberration, not 2006-07.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington - When Zimmerman first arrived in the majors he was touted as another David Wright, but he has yet to show that kind of brilliance. In his first two full seasons he was a 20 HR, 90 RBI, .280 hitter, but last season a cold start and a two-month stint on the DL from a shoulder injury left his stats lacking. He should return to his previous averages, but will never be a fantasy star in Washington - there just aren't enough scoring opportunities with the Nats'.

Adrian Beltre, Seattle - Beltre will never again produce the numbers he did in 2003 with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he hit 48 homers, knocked in 121 runs and hit a stunning .334. As long as you will be happy with 80 runs, 22 HR and 80 RBI then you won't be disappointed. Without Raul Ibanez in the lineup, Beltre will likely be surrounded by Jose Lopez, Jeff Clement and Russell Branyan...I'm not sure that sets him up for big fantasy season?

Mark Reynolds, Arizona - He's got the power (28 HR in 2008), but the really scary statistic for Reynolds is 204 strikeouts. That wouldn't be bad if he was your pitcher, but it's really ugly when he is your third baseman. Reynolds did almost double his walk total from 2007 to 2008 so maybe he will develop plate discipline.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City - Gordon has yet to reach the levels expected of him when he first arrived in 2007. But most of his numbers did improve in his second season and after returning from a torn hip flexor had a solid .965 OPS over the final 32 games. Batting sixth in the Royals lineup isn't going to help his fantasy production.

Jorge Cantu, Florida - Will the real Jorge Cantu please stand up? Is he the 25+ HR, 95+ RBI guy of 2005 and '08 or the part-time player with no fantasy value of 2006 and 2007? It's possible the Marlins will move him to first base replacing the Kansas City-bound Mike Jacobs, but as a first baseman he has much less value.

Michael Young, Texas - You liked him as a shortstop, will you still like him as your fantasy third baseman? The team asked him to move to the hot corner to make room for speedster Elvis Andrus. As a shortstop a 100-run, 12-15 HR guy is an asset, but as a third baseman he's just another player. When that next generation of third baseman arrived, probably by 2010, Young won't be of value anymore.

Top-12 Third Base Projections
Alex Rodriguez NYY 580 173 108 37 118 20 0.298 0.565
David Wright NYM 635 197 112 31 111 17 0.310 0.540
Aramis Ramirez CHC 550 160 88 33 103 1 0.291 0.520
Evan Longoria TB 540 150 85 32 93 6 0.277 0.525
Chipper Jones ATL 470 151 86 23 82 3 0.321 0.535
Garrett Atkins COL 600 174 84 27 90 1 0.290 0.490
Ryan Zimmerman WAS 525 149 77 24 80 1 0.283 0.460
Adrian Beltre SEA 540 146 78 22 75 10 0.270 0.465
Mark Reynolds AZ 570 151 80 29 80 8 0.265 0.480
Alex Gordon KC 560 151 72 21 83 11 0.269 0.445
Jorge Cantu FLA 590 153 75 24 75 4 0.260 0.485
Michael Young TEX 605 174 90 11 70 8 0.288 0.410

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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