MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series ranks Major League Baseball’s top players at each position headed into 2019, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 12 through Feb. 9. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we’ll share his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBI never matter.
Position overview: If you want to argue that this is one of the best collections of third basemen in baseball history, we wouldn’t argue with you. Third base is absolutely stacked, not just with elite hitters, but with strong fielders as well, and as if that weren’t enough, baseball’s consensus No. 1 prospect mans the hot corner and should spend most of 2019 in the Major Leagues. There are far more than 10 deserving names to fill out this list.
Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time at third base in 2018 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include Manny Machado (SS), Max Muncy (1B) and Jake Lamb (1B).
The Shredder’s list: “The Shredder” is MLB Network’s official ranking system for the Top 10 Right Now series, taking into account a variety of statistical factors, compiled separately from the human panelists.
For comparison, the Shredder’s 2019 third basemen list is: 1) Jose Ramirez 2) Justin Turner 3) Nolan Arenado 4) Anthony Rendon 5) Alex Bregman 6) Matt Carpenter 7) Matt Chapman 8) Kris Bryant 9) Josh Donaldson 10) Eugenio Suarez.
On to my list …
1. Alex Bregman, Astros
2. Jose Ramirez, Indians
There were only four players in baseball in 2018 to have more walks than strikeouts, and two of them are atop our list of third basemen. Last year, when we ranked Bregman eighth, we noted “if there’s a player on the bottom half of this list who is the most likely to make a huge jump next year, it’s Bregman,” and that turned out to be true. Bregman hit .286/.394/.532 (157 wRC+, fifth-best in MLB) with 31 homers, and he was a strong enough defender that he was able to seamlessly slide over to shortstop to make 23 starts filling in for Carlos Correa.
That’s no slight to Ramirez (.270/.387/.552, 146 wRC+, 39 HR, 34 SB), of course, as he’s now had three straight star-level seasons and was, for much of the year, on pace for a truly historic season. But we’ll give Bregman the small edge here because of Ramirez’s disappointing and difficult-to-explain slow finish, as he hit only .210/.343/.387 in August and September.
3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
4. Matt Chapman, A’s
We’re grouping these two together as well, because they’re almost certainly the two most elite defensive third basemen in the game. Arenado has the track record — that’s why he’s got the edge over Chapman here — that comes with six straight Gold Gloves, while Chapman just put up one of the five best DRS seasons by a third baseman on record (dating back to 2002).
They can both hit, obviously; while Arenado (four straight seasons of 37-plus homers) has long had a reputation as a slugger, it was easy to miss that Chapman slugged .508 and popped 24 homers. His 137 wRC+ was equal to Freddie Freeman’s, and if you’re wondering if “Freeman, but as an elite third baseman” would be a valuable player, well, now you know.
5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Rendon (.308/.374/.535, 130 wRC+, 24 HR) seems perpetually underrated, perhaps due to the strength of the position or the other stars on his own club. Over the past five seasons, he’s been healthy four times, and he’s been outstanding four times; over the past two seasons, he’s slugged .534, which is similar to Khris Davis or Nelson Cruz, except that instead of being a DH, he’s a strong defender at third base. He also upped his hard-hit rate from 38 percent to 45 percent, while dropping his ground-ball rate to a career-low 33 percent. All good signs.
6. Kris Bryant, Cubs
This one’s entirely about health, because for the first two months, Bryant was having a typically fantastic season. Then he injured his left shoulder on a slide in late May, tried to play through it, and ended up landing on the disabled list twice, from June 23-July 10 and again from July 26-Sept. 1.
See if you can spot the difference in his production:
Through May 31:
.286/.401/.524 148 wRC+ 39 percent hard-hit
After May 31:
.260/.348/.400 104 wRC+ 27 percent hard-hit
For the final two-thirds of the season, his power all but disappeared. He’s reportedly expecting to be healthy heading into 2019, and if so, he’s a superstar, likely one who deserves to be higher on this list. He’ll have to prove he’s still that same player, though.
7. Justin Turner, Dodgers
Turner’s year didn’t get started until mid-May after a broken wrist in Spring Training, and he missed some time in late July with a groin strain, so he only got into 103 games in 2018. But when he played, he was something close to dominating, especially in the second half, where he mashed a .356/.447/.619 line, the second-best in all of baseball behind only National League MVP Christian Yelich.
Turner is 34 now, and he’s had a few injury issues over the past few years, which keeps him from rising higher on this list. But he’s also hit .318/.411/.524 in nearly 1,000 plate appearances in 2017-18, behind only Mike Trout, J.D. Martinez and Aaron Judge. He remains one of the best hitters in the game.
8. Eugenio Suarez, Reds
If you haven’t been watching much Cincinnati baseball over the past two seasons, you’ve been missing one of the more impressive progressions in the game. Suarez was once considered a relatively light-hitting shortstop in the Detroit system, but with the Reds, he’s now increased his home run totals from 13 to 21 to 26 to 2018’s career-high 34. That’s in part simply due to a sharp increase in exit velocity, but the larger point is that he hit .283/.366/.526 (135 wRC+) in 2018, basically what Freeman and Bryce Harper just did, and he’s a solid defender.
9. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
It’s almost difficult to remember that Carpenter hit a mere .155/.305/.274 through April, because he was so hot after that — you may remember all the “salsa” talk — that it launched him into the the NL Most Valuable Player conversation. All told, he ended up with career highs in home runs (36) and slugging (.523), while posting a .374 OBP essentially equal to his .377 career mark.
He’s not higher here primarily because of the position’s strength, but also because with Paul Goldschmidt now in St. Louis, the 33-year-old Carpenter will be playing third base on a daily basis for the first time since 2015. (Not that he’s inexperienced; he started 74 games at third in 2018 and generally looked fine.)
10. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
We know that Guerrero hasn’t made his Major League debut yet, and he may not even be on Toronto’s Opening Day roster. We know that there’s questions about his defense, and that there are other successful proven third basemen (see below) who deserve a spot here. But he just hit a massive .381/.437/.636 in the Minors, and perhaps more impressively, had only one more strikeout (38) than walks (37). He’s already projected to be one of the best hitters in the Majors.
Sure, he doesn’t turn 20 until March. But Ronald Acuna Jr. was 20 last year, and Juan Soto was 19, and look what happened there. This isn’t just a good prospect. It’s a special one.
Just missed (in no order): Travis Shaw, Brewers; Miguel Andujar, Yankees; Donaldson, Braves; Eduardo Escobar, D-backs; Rafael Devers, Red Sox
We know that Yankee fans are wondering why Andujar didn’t make the list after a very strong batting debut, but that’s mostly about the incredible strength of the position, as well as serious questions about whether his poor defense will allow him to stay at third. If healthy, Donaldson is more than capable of another star-level season, while all Shaw has done for Milwaukee is hit 31 and 32 homers in the last two seasons, with good defense and impressive positional versatility.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com.