Jupiter, FL - Top-30 Third Basemen Rankings for 2011 Draft
There was a time that third base was considered primarily a defensive position. Go back and look at the stats of Hall-of-Famers like George Kell and Pie Traynor and you’ll see that power was out of the equation until Eddie Mathews joined the Braves and took the league by storm in the 1950s. If you played great defense and could hit over .300 with just a few homers, you were a superstar.
Nowadays, defense is still required but teams tend to look first for the bat and just hope he can make the easy plays. The prototype third baseman has in effect become the “oversized” shortstop. Good hands, good power, and average or worse speed.
Many of the players we’ve ranked among the nation’s best third baseman fit the modern prototype, but some of them break it, like #1 Javier Baez (Arlington Country Day, FL) and #2 Chris McFarland (Lufkin HS, TX). They’re closer to the old school mold of third basemen.
McFarland is out of a different mold altogether. His best tools are actually his speed and his very quick bat, but many of us are unsure whether he has the arm or footwork to project as a big league shortstop. At third base, McFarland has shown plus defensive potential, for whatever reason it all works better there. McFarland has some righthanded power potential, but is more of a line-drive hitter. He has a chance to steal a lot of bases and can also play the outfield. How many base-stealing third basemen are there in the big leagues? Well, the New York Mets’ David Wright was the leader with 19 in 2010.
Javier Baez (Arlington Country Day, FL) stands 5’10”, 170 lbs and doesn’t look much like Scott Rolen or Evan Longoria. Exceedingly smooth and athletic, Baez has already been ranked #2 among the nation’s best middle infielders and #3 among catchers. Nevertheless, the hot corner may be his most natural position.
Baez projects as a high-average hitter more than a slugger, but could certainly develop power down the road. It’s his defensive prowess and athleticism that stands out above power, Baez has gold glove potential at the hot corner with his very quick hands and plus range.
At #3, we quickly see the other end of the spectrum, a more prototype third baseman to the modern game. Nicky Delmonico (Farragut HS,TN) fits the “oversized shortstop” mold, standing 6’2”. He’s also an early-round prospect as a catcher for many of the same reasons; good hands and a strong arm to go with a powerful lefthanded bat.
Three other third basemen who fit the prototype follow Delmonico in our rankings; #4 Dillon Maples (Pinecrest HS, NC), #5 Matt Dean (The Colony HS, TX), and #6 Travis Harrison (Tustin HS, CA). Maples is a primary pitcher headed to UNC, but he’s also an advanced hitter who handles the glove very well around the hot corner. I personally prefer his bat to his arm. Dean is a 6’2”, 190 lb righthanded hitter with power and good hands for third. Harrison has some of the nation’s best power and can also gun it across the diamond. Some prefer Harrison in the outfield or at first base, but others believe he’s worth a try here first.
There’s a good bit of talent among this group of preps and when you consider that Rice University’s Anthony Rendon is expected to be one of the very first picks, there’s a chance we’ll look back on the 2011 Draft as a great one for third basemen. But the challenge of making such a projection goes beyond simply projecting the skills and talents of the athletes because some of these top prospects might end up playing somewhere else.
Perhaps the greatest third base draft of all-time is 1971. Both George Brett and Mike Schmidt were taken with back-to-back picks, 29th and 30th overall, in the second round. They became not only Hall of Famers, but franchise icons who played for their drafting clubs their entire careers.
Believe it or not, both were drafted as shortstops and began their pro careers standing closer to the second base bag. Brett was taken out of El Segundo HS near Los Angeles, and Schmidt was drafted out of Ohio University. There was no draft media to speak of in 1971, but I seriously doubt any scouting directors said to themselves at the time, “Man, that was a great draft for third basemen!”
I won’t boldly predict two Hall-of-Famers out of this group, either, but I do think there’s exciting potential and upside among them.