KEEPERS: 2017 Dynasty Reload—3B

This is the fourth installment of our annual off-season series aimed at helping keeper league (KL) and dynasty owners address needs over the next 3-5 years. Each week we will examine a position, and note players and prospects who 1) are likely available in your league; and 2) we think have a good shot at earning double-digit R$ sometime between 2017 and 2019.

Stable, established contributors are more difficult than ever to acquire, be it by trade or off your league's free agent list. This is even more valid for rebuilders with little excess talent to barter, and particularly relevant with respect to position players in deeper leagues.

We'll attempt to identify the best and most MLB-ready of both marginal producers and legit prospects with upside, some with little to no MLB track record. And of course context matters—in terms of opportunity, risk, health, age, price and productivity time-line. Our filter uses the following criterion:

  • Player must be growth-age—27 years old—or younger as of April 1, 2017
  • Player must have earned less than $10 in a 5x5 format during 2016
  • Player must have 100+ AB above A+, AFL experience, or 5 years in professional foreign ball

Links to previous positions: C | 1B | 2B

As at most positions, newcomer strength at third base has been cyclical. And after clicking on six $10+ breakouts in 2015, we could come up with just five potential candidates for our 2016 list, of which only Jake Lamb and Nick Castellanos met our R$ target. With respect to Joey Gallo, Colin Moran and Giovanny Urshela—none of whom we were particularly excited about in terms of 2016 production—were given an extended opportunity, nor did they deserve better given their minor league performance. Brandon Drury worked out nicely as our only missed-the-cut click, earning $13 playing all over (and now ticketed for 2B in 2017).  We also mentioned and projected all of double-digit earners Javier Baez, Eugenio Suarez, Travis Shaw, but all at different positions. All of these names eventually played at least 20 games at third base, again pointing out the value of versatility.

The good news now is that this year's third base list offers more upside than 2016. And once again, names with eligibility/expectations at other positions in this series—including but not limited to Wilmer Flores, Joey Gallo, etc.—could qualify and thrive at third base if the breaks go that way. 

 

After setting up huge expectations by destroying the high-minors (.986 OPS, 20 HR, 47/38 BB/K over 314 AA/AAA AB), Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) struggled in his first 10 MLB games (2-for-38) before turning things around. And he didn't a hit an MLB HR until his 21st game. Bregman ended up batting .264, earning $5 largely fueled by AB at the top of the HOU lineup. But from August 16—the date of his first HR—on, Bregman finished the season going 40-for-124 (.323 BA) with 8 HR and a .600+ Slg. His pedigree, minor league plate skills and ability to adjust suggest that we're likely to see a continuation of this late surge as opposed to regression. If the Bregman owner in your league is asleep, this could be your only buying opportunity barring injury, because Bregman is on the verge of becoming a star.

Jeimer Candelario (3B, CHC) is our above-the-cut 3B sleeper, with opinions dependent on when one saw him play in 2016. Our own Chris Blessing watched Candelario during his 1H stuggles (.219 BA over .210 AB) in the Double-A Southern League—and was low man on the recommendation scale at our recently-concluded First Pitch Arizona Forum. Others saw Candelario adjust and thrive in a surprising Triple-A promotion thereafter, where he posted a .333/.437/.542 line with 9 HR and a 38/53 BB/K over 264 AB. All agree that the switch-hitting Candelario has the plate skills, pop and just enough glove to man an infield corner; the question is when and for whom? Blocked in CHC, the 23-year-old Candelario needs a trade to see an extended MLB gig. Now given his spot on the 40-man-roster and 630 AB in the high minors, the odds are likely that this happens at some point in 2017.

In a mild 2016 surprise, Cheslor Cuthbert (3B, KC) earned $9 in 2016, filling in for injured Mike Moustakas and posting a .274 BA and 12 HR on 475 AB. Despite an 80% ct%, a .248 xBA and sub-par power metrics (88/74 PX/xPX) suggests that Cuthbert's immediate ceiling is limited—and both a healthy Moustakas along with a charging Hunter Dozier seemingly leave him with nowhere to play. But Cuthbert is taking 2B reps now, and Moustakas is an FA at the end of 2017, if the Royals don't move him before then. A decent defender, Cuthbert has always had good minor league contact and better patience than he showed in KC— and he was hinting at a little more pop just prior to his 2016 call-up. He's unlikely to soar in 2017, but now just 24 years old, Cuthbert is now a good bet to at least get more opportunities somewhere over the next few seasons.

Ryan Healy's (3B, OAK) surprise $9 2016 half-season (.305 BA, 13 HR in 269 AB) has left plenty of questions as to where he goes from here. On the plus side Healy entered last off-season determined to generate more power by altering his hitting mechanics—and a combined career-high 27 HR between Double-A, Triple-A and OAK say he was wildly successful. Ironically, at the same time he was able to produce a career-high BA as well, and hold a lofty .300+ mark in his MLB debut.  Our peripherals suggest that it won't get any better than this. Fueled by a 35% h%, Healy outhit his xBA by 32 points, and neither a 4% bb% nor a 102 xPX are too optimistic about plenty of 20+ HR seasons to come. That Healy pulled 12 of his 13 HR to the left of second base further suggests that this isn't a plus power profile, and that MLB pitchers may adjust. Still, Healy is a capable performer who now owns the OAK third-base job. He's earned plenty of near-term rope, giving him a good shot at upping his R$ over a full 2017 season.

Having yet to see his first high-minors AB, Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW) received a mention in our 2B below-the-cut line last winter. Now a year later, Moncada has ripped through A+ and Double-A with an aggregate .294/.411/.511 line over 405 AB. The 15 HR at a young age (21) offered glimpses of Moncada's power upside while reaffirming his outstanding patience (72 BB) and plus-plus running game (45/12 SB/CS) from 2015. Contact (124 Ks) has become a tougher hurdle at the higher levels, as was emphasized in a 12 K, 4-for-17 late-season debut in BOS. But while Moncada will likely begin 2017 again in the high minors, his refined skills and explosive athleticism make him as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is today. Now out of BOS and with CHW, Moncada could resurface at 2B or even the OF, depending on the White Sox' needs. Even if the contact and BA lag for a while at the MLB level, don't be surprised to see him earn $10+ on his legs alone, whether that happens in 2017 or beyond.

On the heels of his breakthrough rookie 2015, Miguel Sano (3B/OF/DH, MIN) struggled through a lost season and still managed to earn $9. Obviously his value was again driven by tremendous power (25 HR, 172/157 PX/xPX) and willingness to take a walk (11% bb%). But Sano struggled early defensively with a move to the OF, and throughout the season with injuries, including hamstring, elbow and back woes. A return to his old position coupled with the non-tender of Trevor Plouffe looks like a vote of confidence (even though he could well end up at DH), and better health will almost certainly mean a return to double-digit R$. But that .236 BA and just a marginal uptick in Sano's sub-60% ct% raises legitimate questions as to his ceiling from here—particularly if he struggles defensively at third base. If you're a believer in an injury-free Sano's ability to make better contact and his 40-HR upside, your purchase window is open.

 

Missed our cut, but worth watching:

Christian Arroyo (3B, SF): Posted just a .274/.316/.373 line with 3 HR over 474 AB while young (21) for Double-A and in offense-stifling home venue (.315 BA on the road). Better pitch selection would help excellent contact. Split 2016 time between three infield spots; could debut as MLB utility in 2017.

Matt Chapman (3B, OAK): Power-and-patience combo (36 HR, 68 BB) leaped forward in 589 AB between AA-AAA—but so did the strikeouts (173). Outstanding defensive upside, only contact stands in the way of an MLB career.

Yandy Diaz (3B, CLE): Power-challenged Cuban import offers plate skills and defense, showed all of this in .318/.408/.446 (9 HR, 71/86 BB/K) performance in 444 AB between AA-AAA. 25-year-old took some OF reps in 2016, now seeks utility role in CLE.

Hunter Dozier (3B/OF, KC): Older (25) prospect retained patience, finally unlocked power with first 20+ HR season as BA rebounded to .300 level between AA-AAA. Contact—123 Ks in 486 AB—still fuel skepticism. Blocked at 3B in KC for now, took some 2016 OF reps at AAA and KC. 

Rafael Devers (3B, BOS): 19-year-old LHB with advanced hit tool, bat speed and power projection fought through 1H struggles to hit .326 in 267 2H in full-season A+ debut. Improved defensively, though MLB position remains in question. Ceiling merits a mention despite zero high-minors AB.

​​Ryan McMahon (3B/1B, COL): 21-year-old LHB with good power and patience struggled to .242/.325/.399 line (12 HR, 466 AB) in first Double-A effort. Strikeouts (161 of them) remain an ongoing problem, though Coors Field can minimize their effect. Work-in-progress defender with strong arm, now playing some 1B.

Jefrey Marte (3B/1B/OF, LAA): Bench utility is his likely upside, but $7 2016 was a mild surprise, particularly improvements in contact, HctX and vs. RHPs. 2016 gains and power (15 HR, 135/109 PX/xPX in 258 AB) makes him a reasonable end-game/roster pick in deep leagues.

Colin Moran (3B, HOU): Disappointing season from former first-round pick and pure hitter. Strikeout suddenly became an issue, fueling career-worst .259 BA. No follow-through on 2015 2H power uptick. Kept most of his patience, but 24-year-old might need a change of scenery to become viable again. 

Renato Nunez (3B/OF, OAK): 22-year-old hit 23 HR—​his four-year average—in first Triple-A shot; now mashing (10 HR through 106 AB) in winter ball. But poor pitch selection, .228 BA and 31/119 BB/K over 505 AAA AB say he'd be an MLB liability right now. Average defender now getting some LF time.

Rio Ruiz (3B, ATL): Fast-rising LHB with solid patience and .265 career BA has yet to develop power projected by some. Strikeouts spiked to troublesome levels at Triple-A (116 Ks over 465 AB). Still young (22), but knocking on MLB rebuilder's door after 885 high-minors AB.

​Nick Senzel (3B, CIN): 2016 1st-round pick and polished college bat showed off in his professional debut, posting .329/.415/.567 line with 32 BB, 7 HR and 15 SB over 210 AB. Fast-mover potential.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.