The hot corner is stacked once again in 2022. Not only does it have top-tier superstar talent, but it also might be the deepest position on the diamond. For that reason, I’d like to highlight some honorable mentions. Bobby Witt Jr., the number two prospect in baseball, projects to have an elite bat and should transition well to third base. Josh Donaldson has taken a few steps back since his MVP campaign but he’s still one of the top hitters at the position despite his injuries. With the honorable mentions out of the way, let’s look at the top 10 players at third base.
10. Matt Chapman, TOR
Matt Chapman had a down year offensively in 2021, but he dealt with injuries along the way. He had a 101 wRC+ in 2021, but his strikeout rate is a real concern. He struck out 32.5% of the time last season, but still ranked in the 80th percentile in chase rate. The problem? He can’t make contact in the zone. His zone swing rate is a league-average 66.4%, but his 72% zone contact rate is well below the league average of 82%. He’s projected by Steamer to have just a 104 wRC+ in 2022, but his glove is so good that it might not even matter. Chapman had 17 OAA and 10 DRS in 2021, on his way to his 3rd Gold Glove Award.
9. Justin Turner, LAD
Justin Turner is 37 years old. He’s a two-time all-star and a World Series champion, and he still hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He’s no longer a great defender but he’s still serviceable (0 OAA in 2021). Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has slashed .298/.379/.498 with a 139 wRC+ and 30.5 fWAR. In 2021, he had a 127 wRC+ with a .359 xwOBA, 7.9% Barrel%, and 10% BB%. Turner will have a chance to play for another championship on a loaded Dodgers team in 2022.
8. Nolan Arenado, STL
Nolan Arenado was long considered the best third baseman in baseball. Whether he ever was or not can be debated (he wasn’t), it’s clear that Arenado has taken a step back over the past two seasons. From 2015 to 2019, Arenado had a 128 wRC+. Since 2020, that figure is at just 105. He’s entering his age-31 season, but it seems like his best years are already behind him. The glove is still elite (he had 10 OAA and 6 DRS in 2021) but he needs to bounce back offensively to jump back into the top five.
7. Yoan Moncada, CWS
Yoan Moncada has one of the weirdest profiles of any player in Major League Baseball. He strikes out a ton (27.2% since 2019), he doesn’t walk a lot (10.8%), and he has a record-setting BABIP (.368). He had an elite season in 2019 but his .406 BABIP made it almost impossible to sustain. He struggled in 2020 but put up another great year (with a .350 BABIP) in 2021. Moncada took a step forward in sustainability in 2021, and another step forward with his plate discipline (and a power resurge) would place him in the top five.
6. Austin Riley, ATL
Austin Riley had a huge breakout year for the Atlanta Braves in 2020 after a disappointing first two seasons. Riley swung less, made more contact, and put the ball in the air more than last year, which all led to a 135 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR. Riley’s production may not be fully sustainable as he had a .368 BABIP in 2021, but he hits the ball hard so the regression shouldn’t be horrible. Steamer projects Riley as a 125 wRC+ hitter, which is a fair expectation for the young third baseman.
5. Rafael Devers, BOS
Rafael Devers has a great bat, but his shortcomings on the defense are hard to overcome. At the plate, Devers had a 134 wRC+, .538 SLG, and .392 xwOBA while hitting 38 home runs. His batted-ball data is incredible. He ranked in the 89th percentile in Barrel%, 94th percentile in xwOBA, and 93rd percentile in average exit velocity. Devers’ bat is undeniably among the top at the position, but he’s a horrible defender. He had -13 OAA in 2021 and has -14 in his career (despite somehow putting up a +17 OAA season in 2019). Devers will continue to mash in 2022, and an improvement defensively could launch him into MVP talks.
4. Anthony Rendon, LAA
Anthony Rendon had a forgettable season in 2021. He only played in 58 games, and it’s clear his injuries impacted his performance as well. He had just a 95 wRC+ in 2021 after having a wRC+ above 140 for each of the prior four seasons. If Rendon is able to bounce back, he could easily be the best third baseman in baseball as he was just a few short years ago. However, if he can’t, his $245 million dollar contract could turn into another huge Pujols-like mistake for the Angels.
3. Alex Bregman, HOU
The discourse regarding Alex Bregman this offseason has been quite polarizing. On one hand, Bregman has had two underwhelming seasons in a row. On the other hand, Bregman was a top-3 player in the league from 2018 to 2019. While critics will point to the Astros’ cheating scandal as the reason for this regression, he’s dealt with consistent injuries over the past few years. Even in the last two seasons, Bregman has a 117 wRC+ and 2.9 fWAR in 133 games. He’ll probably never hit 41 home runs again, but he still sports some of the best plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills in the league. It’s a make-or-break year for Bregman: another great season could put him back in the top 10 players in the league, while a bad one could turn him into a league-average third baseman.
2. Manny Machado, SDP
With Fernando Tatis Jr. sidelined to start the season, the Padres will rely on huge production from Manny Machado. Although his first season in San Diego was underwhelming, Machado has been incredible over the past two seasons. In 213 games since 2020, he’s slashed .286/.353/.515 with a 130 wRC+ and 7.0 fWAR. Last season, he had a 93.1 MPH average exit velocity (96th percentile), .380 xwOBA (91st), and 52.2% HardHit% (93rd). Not only is Machado an elite hitter, he’s also incredibly durable and electric in the field. Machado hasn’t missed more than ten games in a season since his age-21 season in 2014. Defensively, Machado is a two-time Gold-Glover and 2013 AL Platinum Glove Award winner, while accumualting 111 DRS over his 10 year MLB career.
1. Jose Ramirez, CLE
Jose Ramirez has quietly been one of the best players in baseball for the last five years. He combines an elite bat with elite speed and solid defense, churning out six win seasons on an annual basis. He ranked fourth in the AL in fWAR in 2021 after leading MLB in 2020. Since the 2019 all-star break, Ramirez has slashed .283/.364/.590 with a 151 wRC+ and a league-leading 12.5 fWAR in 254. Although the Guardians won’t be great, don’t be surprised if Ramirez is squarely in the AL MVP race late in the season.
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