Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The third base position could be the most difficult to predict this season due to numerous changes throughout both leagues.
In the National League, Hanley Ramirez will become the Marlins third baseman, though it's likely most fantasy owners will still want to play him at the weaker shortstop position. Assuming Jose Reyes makes his "annual" trip to the DL, that shouldn't be a problem.
There are at least two significant changes to the American league third base list; 1) Alex Gordon will no longer be eligible after playing only outfield and first base last season; 2) Jose Bautista may lose his 3B role now that the Blue Jays have brought up the uber-talented Brett Lawrie.
Even the availability of Michael Young, who in 2011 was eligible to play 1B, 2B and 3B, may depend on whether Adrian Beltre can stay healthy. As a result, what once was the deepest position outside of first base has been thinned a bit, making the top players more valuable.
1) David Wright, New York Mets - Wright still has the talent to lead all third basemen in fantasy points and the Mets helped by changing the dimensions of Citi Field. The team will move the left- and right-field fences in by as much as 12 feet and reduce the home-run line to eight feet high. Considering Wright has averaged just 18 homers a season in the new park after averaging 29 in the three previous years at Shea Stadium, this move can only help. Where Wright stands out, however, is his ability to steal bases as well as hit the long ball. At third base, maybe only two or three guys will hit the 20-20 mark and Wright will be one of them.
2) Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay - Longoria had an "off" year by his standards - batting a career-low .244 with 78 runs scored, 31 HR and 99 RBI. I have every reason to believe that he'll rebound and produce like he did in 2009 and 2010. What concerns me is his lack of stolen bases. In his first two seasons, he stole a combined 16 bases and was never caught. In 2010, he stole 15 bases and was caught five times. Last year he only attempted five steals and was caught twice. Hopefully he was just protecting himself from the return of an early season oblique injury, but his lack of speed is worrying and the reason Longoria isn't the No.1 ranked third baseman.
3) Adrian Beltre, Texas - I'm always fearful of rating Beltre too high because he's had so many disappointing seasons in the past. But I'm convinced that in this Texas lineup, he'll again produce the power numbers we're all looking for. Despite missing 38 games in 2011 with a hamstring injury, Beltre blasted 32 HR and knocked in 105 runs. Those numbers are repeatable.
4) Kevin Youkilis, Boston - For the second consecutive season, injuries put a damper on Youkilis' production. He has missed 104 over two years. Last season was not only shortened by injury, but Youkilis posted his lowest batting average (.258), runs scored (68), homers (17) and OPS (0.833) since 2007. A healthy Youkilis, he's apparently fully recovered from the hernia surgery, batting in the cleanup spot behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez can and will do plenty of damage.
5) Brett Lawrie, Toronto - Lawrie came up late last year and in 150 at-bats proved he belongs in the Blue Jays starting lineup. He batted .293 with nine homers, 25 RBI and an OPS of 0.953. He also stole seven bases. The 22-year-old British Columbia native has plenty of power and speed with a big upside. Lawrie should be a 30-20 guy in his first full season and in the weakened third base position might crack the top-five. He's the reason Jose Bautista won't play much, if any, third base.
6) Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees - Rodriguez played just 99 games last season, fewest since 1994 and posted some very unsatisfying fantasy numbers considering his early second-round fantasy selection (Yahoo preseason ADP 14). His 67 runs, 16 HR, 62 RBI, .276 batting average and OPS of 0.823 were also well below expectations. Rodriguez should see more time at DH and less at third base in an attempt to keep him healthy which is a double-edged sword since he batted just .184 in 38 at-bats as a DH last season. A healthy A-Rod is still worth 25 HR and 100 RBI.
7) Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee - With Nyjer Morgan, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun (minus his 50-game suspension), Ramirez can still be part of a solid offense in his first year with the Brewers. If he can stay as healthy as he was in 2011, 25-30 HR and 90-100 RBI is possible, even probable. However, the two years prior to last season, he missed a total of 120 games. Miller Park is a great place to hit and Ramirez has a career OPS of 0.825 there as a visitor.
8) Michael Young, Texas - In 2011 Young played every infield position except catcher, but played third the most when he wore a glove. He led the league in hits (213), batting .338 with 88 runs scored, 11 homers and 106 RBI. The low home run total limits his ability to move up in the rankings as does his lack of speed.
9) Ryan Zimmerman, Washington - Zimmerman had an off year in 2011, primarily due to injuries which held him to 101 games played. In the improving Nationals lineup, if he stays healthy he will get you the 25 HR and 100 RBI while batting around .290. Another third baseman with no speed.
10) Ryan Roberts, Arizona - He began the 2011 season as a free agent in most leagues (Yahoo preseason ADP 399), but ended up on 70% of all rosters due to his solid early-season play. Though he batted just .249, Roberts hit 19 HR, stole 18 bases and scored 86 runs.
Just missed; Mark Reynolds, Pablo Sandoval, David Freese.