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Newman’s Own: Best Third Baseman of 2012

Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position (in italics if ranking includes position shift). After writing the first three lists, I realized there’s really no way to keep statistical information out of the equation completely and focus on scouting/projection alone. This has caused me to hedge my bets a bit on high ceiling talents and focus more on the complete player. Additionally, understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.

Previous Rankings:
The Catchers
The First Basemen
The Second Baseman

1. Mike Olt, Texas Rangers

After being underwhelmed by what little I saw of Olt in Arizona, multiple contacts spent the season talking up Olt as a plus defender at third base with above average offense for the position. And while I’m still not ready to drink the kool-aid without hesitation, Olt receives the nod for the top spot due to his combination of high floor and the fact he has already debuted for Texas. On a list full Single-A or below players, upper level production is at a premium. In this instance, Olt, and Davidson for that matter, reap the rewards.

2. Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks

Few players make the jump from the California League to the Southern League and increase offensive output significantly. Matt Davidson did just that posting a 134 wRC+ while being young for the level of competition. His swing is long and Davidson profiles as a fringe average defender, but Pedro Alvarez produced a 2.9 WAR season fueled by power and walks in spite of high strikeout totals and defensive shortcomings. Davidson may follow a similar blueprint resulting in an above average regular at the big league level.

3. Travis Harrison, Minnesota Twins

After watching Harrison in person, I wonder if the Twins made a mistake by not challenging the young third baseman with a Beloit assignment to begin the 2012 season. At present, Harrison is a balanced player combining equal parts hitting ability and power projection. Additionally, he was a better defender than I was expecting to see given the reports of his being destined for first base. Expect him to transition nicely to full season baseball in 2013.

4. Edward Salcedo, Atlanta Braves

Salcedo is a physically imposing prospect with power potential at the third base position. However, his contact tool has developed more slowly than expected causing strikeouts to pile up while free passes dwindle. He’s still the highest ceiling bat in the Braves organization, but that’s due more to a lack of talent than status earned through strong production and scouting reports. If his peripherals don’t begin to take a turn for the better in Double-A, his value will take a hit.

5. Garin Cecchini, Boston Red Sox

Without question, Garin Cecchini had a productive season in Greenville of the South Atlantic League. Supporters will point to 46 extra base hits and 51 stolen bases and call me crazy for not ranking Cecchini in the top-3. In all honesty, they have a point on paper. Of course statistics are just a piece of the puzzle. In person, Cecchini scouts more like a tweener who whose skills would fit beautifully at second base. After looking for comparable big leaguers, I wonder if Daniel Murphy with more speed is fair.

6. Mitch Walding, Philadelphia Phillies

I have no idea what happened to Mitch Walding in the New York-Penn League, but he collapsed shortly after seeing him put on a spectacular batting practice display and a handful of great swings in game action. For now, he receives the benefit of the doubt from me because I trust my eyes more than lower level stats. However, Walding’s struggles have made him a must see for me in the South Atlantic League next season as few players make as strong a first impression as Walding did.

7. Dante Bichette Jr., New York Yankees

I have little doubt the Yankees prospect can hit after seeing him shorten up multiple times with two strikes and guide two singles off of Tim Hudson while on rehab assignment. However, I do question Bichette’s defensive ability, as well as his maturity after watching him yawn and horseplay his way through pre-game drills. At 19, he is likely to repeat the South Atlantic League where I’ll receive additional looks in 2013. After a disappointing season in Charleston, Bichette has the hitting ability to rebound should he develop a more professional approach.

8. Patrick Leonard, Kansas City Royals

Power projection? Leonard has it as the former fifth round pick slugged 14 home runs in his short season debut while maintaining a 10+% walk rate. On the field, he made a stronger first impression than uber-prospect Bubba Starling. With Lexington now a Royals affiliate, I’ll have ample opportunity to follow up on Leonard in 2013. A better look at his defensive abilities will help complete the profile.

9. Rio Ruiz, Houston Astros

In Greeneville, Ruiz presented with advanced plate discipline for his age and strong defensive chops. He struck out a couple of times on questionable pitches, but my first impression was of a prospect with a balanced set of skills. In seeing Ruiz, Lance McCullers Jr. and a brief glimpse of Carlos Correa, the future is bright for Houston fans after a strong 2012 draft.

10. Conor Gillaspie, San Francisco Giants

The oldest “prospect” on this list, Conor Gillaspie is your classic tweener with little left to prove at the minor league level. One can’t help but be at least a little impressed by his contact tool, but Gillaspie’s power and defense lag behind. He’ll never unseat Sandoval at third base in San Francisco, but even venturing to write another team would bite on Gillaspie as a starter based on his current skill set may be stretch.

11. Rosell Herrera, Colorado Rockies (SS)

Why don’t I pay much attention to short season batting lines? Herrera is a good example. After hitting .284/.361/.449 in 2011, the teenager cratered in Asheville of the South Atlantic League to the tune of .2o2/.271/.272 to begin the year. He was better after a return trip to short season, so maybe his second trip through the SAL will prove more fruitful. Herrera has all the tools to become a quality prospect, but is as unrefined as a prospect can be at this stage.

12. Brandon Drury, Atlanta Braves

Braves fans in desperate need of a hitting prospect to be excited about rallied about Brandon Drury’s .347/.367/.525 triple slash line last off-season. Another classic rookie league warrior, he struggled mightily in the first half (.187/.226/.270) before a respectable second half turnaround (.279/.323/.407). Drury had a few moments throughout the season where he presented as a big league bat. His defense at third base was also better than expected.

13. Francisco Martinez, Seattle Mariners

Once considered a top-5 prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, Martinez struggled to a .227/.315/.295 triple slash line in Double-A. At 21, he was admittedly young for the level of competition, but I saw a fringe prospect with an iffy set of tools. On the field, it was abundantly clear Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino and Stefen Romero were considerably better prospects than Martinez.

14. Kyle Kubitza, Atlanta Braves

Kubitza was on his way to becoming a nice little sleeper in the Braves organization until a .156 July put a stop to that. In finishing with a .239/.349/.393 line, he established himself as a fine organizational player with a bit of upward mobility if things break right. For me personally, his loose hands and above average bat speed leave some room for improvement going forward.

15. Jason Esposito, Baltimore Orioles

Yes, Esposito was a former high round pick from Vanderbilt. Unfortunately for the Orioles, every concern about his bat entering the draft was proved accurate as the 22-year old posted an anemic .537 OPS in the South Atlantic League. To add insult to offense, Esposito didn’t present as the plus defender I was expecting to see. His combination of tools and skills leaves him more of an organizational player than premium big league defender with a fringe bat he was reported to be.