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Third Basemen on the Rise

Yesterday, we rolled out our third basemen rankings for the upcoming season, and although the list gets awfully dicey after the first couple of tiers, there are some names whose stock is up headed into the draft.

Since Howard nicely summarized Pablo Sandoval‘s horrific 2010 on and off the field, I’ll leave him off the list, although I’d say he is certainly on several bounce-back radars.

Mark Reynolds

Reynolds tenuously sits at the back end of our third tier after having what was easily his worst offensive season in his four year major league career. That’s precisely why he’s climbing the rankings – that is, most managers are expecting some degree of regression in the BABIP department, which will get his batting average back into the ‘not-very-good’ range instead of just being putrid.  And let’s face it, Reynolds has that sexy profile of a guy that can hit 35 home runs and steal double digit bags.

If you thought his BABIP was bad overall, it got even worse as the season wore on. His BABIP was .274 in the first half and .231 after the break.  His career BABIP is .323, so there’s much room for (likely) improvement. In 2010, Reynolds also started lifting the ball much more than in previous years, with a spike in his FB% rate to nearly 55%, up over a career 47.8% and his infield flies rose to 15.5% after just 9.5% the year previous. If he can get his line drives back into the high teens and his fly ball rate back to career levels, Reynolds should produce nicely in Baltimore. But don’t bet on a batting average north of .245.

Pedro Alvarez

The knock on Alvarez is certain to be his contact rate at just 69.7% to go along with a 34.3% strikeout rate which inevitably will restrict a batting average. But Alvarez has fantastic power, posted an impressive .205 ISO (Ryan Zimmerman territory), and projection systems have him dialed in right around 27 to 28 HR’s with regular playing time. Alvarez is likely likely to hit in the middle of a not-so-shabby order that includes a supporting cast of Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Garrett Jones, so he could fall into 100 RBI without too much effort. Alvarez turned just 24 in February, so he’s still learning the league, which could either scare you or make you really excited to see what he can do.

His average draft position across Yahoo, ESPN, and Mock Draft Central combined (Y.E.M. ADP for short, anyone?) is a touch over 99, which means he isn’t slipping in many drafts. So if you believe in the big man, be ready to pounce before the 8th round is over.

Ian Stewart

Stewart has a profile that is awfully similar to Alvarez with plus power, high strikeouts, and issues with the batting average. In fact, Stewart and Alvarez  look a lot alike in several categories (click to clarify):

Yeah, I’m cherry picking a bit here, and to call Alvarez’s stats “career” isn’t quite fair since his career is all of 95 games, but at least on a very basic level, they share a lot of qualities as hitters.The reason I mention this is because Stewart is going to be far cheaper on draft day with combined average draft position of 148.  Alvarez has a higher career ceiling, but there isn’t a huge departure in their 2011 projections.

Perhaps the biggest question for Stewart going into 2011 is playing time, which Mike Axisa covered in depth earlier today. If Jose Lopez could somehow nail down the starting 2b gig, that might mean steady PT for Stewart at third which almost certainly will propel his stock on draft day, although a situation worth watching is platoons with Ty Wigginton as Stewart’s moderate struggles with lefties persists.

<a href=”http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1491&position=3B” target=”_blank”>Ty Wigginton</a>