Recently I was reflecting on just how historically stacked third base seems to have been in the 1970s. Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo were nearing the end of their careers, but still had some good years left. George Brett and Mike Schmidt were famously taken back-to-back in the 1971 draft (that’s right, any team in baseball — including the Royals and Phillies, could have had them both) and while both initially struggled, well, do I even need to finish that thought? Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, and Buddy Bell were all active and all have at least somewhat compelling Hall of Fame cases. And that is without getting into other third basemen who had excellent careers like Sal Bando and Ron Cey.
The position is not nearly as stacked these days, but there are obviously a number of excellent players, from the big guns in the New York and Boston to the young superstars in Tampa Bay and Washington to underrated guys in Cincinnati and Texas. But those sorts of players will probably get plenty of Fan Projections. Today, I want to take a look at less-scrutinized, but still interesting, third base situations that deserve your input — those of the Orioles, White Sox, and Angels.
It might be cruel is mean to even bring the Orioles up at this point. Mark Reynolds came in on a trade, hit a bunch of homers, and from pretty much every perspective, played awful defense at third base. It looks like Reynolds is slated to play first in 2012, so like many things in Baltimore, third base is in flux. With Josh Bell never being as impressive in the minors or majors as he was prior to coming over from the Dodgers, at the moment the Orioles look like they are going to turn to Chris Davis at the hot corner. Davis had some big seasons in the high minors for Texas a few years ago, but there were questions about how he would transition to the majors (he never answered them, at least not positively, when he played for the Rangers). One might understandably wonder, “if they didn’t like Mark Reynolds, why would they acquire and start a younger version who probably will not hit as well.”
However, that might also be unfair to Davis. For one, there have been mixed reviews on Davis’ third base defense in the past, even if there were very few raves that I have heard of — he might at least be an improvement on Reynolds (how hard could that be?) if not good. Second, while 26 is not as young in baseball terms as some might think, it is still at an age where Davis could still be developing. This is one for the fans to help out: how will Davis’ glove play at third, and is he going to be able to make enough contact in the majors so that the power he showed in the minors can come into play?
According to Kenny Williams, the White Sox’ 2012 plan is that the kids will play. The strange rebuild is afoot in Chicago, and with the Legendary Mark Teahen out of town (and DFAed by the Blue Jays) and Dayan Viciedo moving to the outfield, Brent Morel is getting another shot at the starting job at third base. Morel’s defensive reputation coming up through the minors was excellent, how “excellent” translates to runs saved is one question for you to answer.
The question with Morel is whether he can hit enough to be useful even if he does live up to his reputation with the glove. As Carson Cistulli noted at the time, after spending most of the season displaying mind-numbing offensive futility, Morel had a monster September in just about every respect. In-season splits do not have much predictive power to speak of (although September should not just be dismissed because of call-ups), but at least it gives some hope that Morel can be more than a total zero with the bat. He was never really impressive with the bat in any respect in the minors (even his best seasons were heavily BABIP-dependent, and still not that awesome), but there is a reason the White Sox wanted to give him a shot. Will he show more on offense at age 25?
Our last fan projection target for the day has a more positive recent history. Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo actually started out as shortstop prospect for his current organization, but shifted to second base and was traded to Arizona, then Kansas City. Callaspo finally got a shot at some full-time play for the Royals in 2008, and despite doubts about his range at second, hit pretty well. He continued to play poorly at second in 2009, but hit very well, and for the first time in his career showed a little power to go with his excellent contact skills and average walk rate. In 2010 the Royals moved Callaspo to third, where he was a better fit defensively (and made room for mistake-free player Chris Getz), but his swing got a bit power-happy (although without duplicating his 2009 results in that respect) and his walk rate dropped. The Royals astutely sold low Callaspo for future rotation anchors Sean ‘S.O.S.’ O’Sullivan and Will Smith.
Callaspo did not exactly light things up for the Angels in 2010, and it was a question of whether he would get much playing time. However, he grabbed his opportunity in 2011. He kept the contact rate high as always, but bumped his walk rate up to a career-high 10.8 percent. While he still does not show much power, when you make that much solid contact, add in some walks, and play good defense at third, you get a good player (3.6 WAR in 2011) at a cheap price. Howie Kendrick understandably got much of the attention this season, but if Callaspo is not quite as good a hitter (although unlike Kendrick, he seems to have heard of this “strike zone” all the kids are talking about), he has his own skills and is about the same age. Will the Angels stick with Callaspo if he struggles to start the year? Are they really going to carry through on their threat to give Mark Trumbo some of the playing time at third? Do they realize that, defense aside, Callaspo actually out-hit Trumbo in 2011 (.330 to .327 wOBA)?