Al Central Rundown: Third Base
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsThe Rundown
There are few certainties in this ever-changing world that we live in. Grass is green, Minnesota is cold, Nickelback is overrated, and José Ramírez is one of the most talented players across Major League Baseball.
Rewind the clock to just a few years back and the same thing could be said about current Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Mix in rising star Yoan Moncada and versatile slugger Hunter Dozier and you’ve got a recipe for one of the strongest hot corner divisions in the MLB.
Yet with talent comes asterisks. How will Dozier adjust to his new position after being bumped from first following the acquisition of Carlos Santana? Will Josh Donaldson be able to stay healthy? How will new Tiger Renato Núñez fit into the young Detroit lineup?
Here’s how things will pan out.
Of all the teams in the division, the Detroit Tigers hold the title for most uncertainty in what third base will look like in 2021. Last year the position was split between young gun Isaac Paredes and emerging star Jeimer Candelario. Candelario led the depth chart at the position to start the year but eventually shifted to first base due to a C.J. Cron injury, creating a spot for Paredes at third.
With Cron headed off to Colorado, it’s almost certain that Candelario will stay put at first. That’s not a bad thing for Detroit- the 26-year old had a breakout season in 2020, slashing .297/.369/.503 and recording a 1.9 WAR.
Paredes on the other hand was a bit more rocky. The 2020 rookie slashed .220/.278/.290 in 34 games. Paredes certainly didn’t get off to the start that he would have hoped for, but he’s only 21 years old and will have plenty off opportunities to get in a groove during his first 162 game season in 2021.
Yet perhaps the biggest move surrounding the position took place just over a week ago when the organization signed free agent and former Oriole Renato Núñez to a minor league contract. Núñez spent most the year at first base and DH in 2019 and 2020 for the Orioles. However, the 26-year old spent 59 games at the hot corner for the Orioles in 2018 and has played the position during various other spurts throughout his career.
Núñez slashed .256/.324/.492 for the O’s in 2020. Not bad. While Paredes is most likely the future for the organization at the position, Nunez will provide a nice platoon option with a bat that has proven to be successful.
Kansas City Royals
The offseason addition of Carlos Santana to Mike Matheney’s up and coming Royals bolstered a unit of young talent. That, and the free agency of Miekal Franco also prompted the move of franchise staple Hunter Dozier from first base/left field to third base come 2021.
Playing third won’t be a new challenge for Dozier. In fact, it may be a relief for the 28-year old. Dozier played 100 games at third for Kansas City in 2019.
2019 also happened to be Dozier’s best year at the plate in his career, slashing .279/.348/.522 and leading the league in triples (10).
2020 was a down year for Dozier, registering a .228 AVG and 48 strikeouts (third on the Royal’s to Alberto Mondesi’s 70 and Jorge Soler’s 60). With 2020 in the rearview mirror, this year could provide an opportunity for Dozier to lead a strong Royal’s offense alongside Santana and Salvador Perez.
Cleveland Baseball Team
With the departure of Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez remains as the lone crowned jewel in the Cleveland infield. And in all honestly, Ramírez is just as much if not more of a valuable asset as Lindor.
Just 27 years old, Ramírez finished runner-up to José Abreu in 2020 AL MVP voting and won his third Silver Slugger award in four years. Pitching has drawn eyes to Cleveland over the years, but José Ramírez’s efforts at third deserve just as much respect.
A career .281 hitter, the two time All-Star has been steady throughout his eight year career and has no signs of slowing down. Expect big things from Ramírez in 2021, a year that could potentially be one of his last in Cleveland.
Chicago White Sox
Most projections have the Twins finishing ahead of the White Sox in 2021. Yet if there’s a ‘team of the future’ in the Central, it’s the Sox. Third Basemen Yoan Moncada plays a huge role in that identity alongside names like Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, and Eloy Jiménez. Oh, and reigning AL MVP José Abreu.
Moncada had an ‘eh’ year in 2020, slashing .225/.320/.385. Yet the 25-year old was an absolute animal in 2019, slashing .315/.367/.548 with 25 HR.
Moncada does have an Achilles Heel in his strikeout tendencies, recording 154 in 2019 and a league leading 217 in 2018. Yet that may be okay, considering the SouthSiders have so many other versatile and diverse threats on offense.
Expect Moncada to put up solid numbers in 2021. He may not have a .300+ season at the plate but it would be a shame if he doesn’t contribute as one of the big hitters on a lethal White Sox offense.
The ‘Bringer of Rain’ is back for his second season of baseball in Twins Territory. No one questions the ceiling of Josh Donaldson. The 2015 MVP and two-time Silver Slugger has proven that he can perform at at high level as recent as of 2019, when he slashed .259/.379/.521 with 37 HR on the Braves.
The biggest question for Donaldson is his stability regarding the health of his calf. 2020 wasn’t the first time that the slugger was faced with calf issues and there’s a chance that it could come back. Yet Donaldson has had a full offseason to work towards full health and looks great so far in the cages in Florida.
In addition to his potential at the plate, Donaldson is as solid as they get for defensive third basemen. He recorded +15 Defensive Runs Saved and 1.7 Defensive WAR in 2019. These numbers may not stack up to his left-infield counterpart Andrelton Simmons but they’re good enough to make a solid impact. If Donaldson can stay healthy he will provide a key piece of the puzzle for the Twins to make a run in October.
Detroit Tigers: C-
If Jemier Candelario were still playing this position there would be a different conversation. But he’s not. The tandem of Isaac Paredes and Renato Núñez has the potential to get the job done, but there’s a lack of consistency and stability.
Kansas City Royals: B-
Hunter Dozier has proven that he can be a force at the plate, especially against the Twins. Yet the lifelong Royal had a shaky 2020 and will have to bounce back in 2021 if he wants to cement himself as a high-quality third baseman.
Minnesota Twins: B+
Josh Donaldson has the potential to be one of the best players in the game in 2021. Yet his health limited him in 2020 and aging isn’t always a great indicator of improvement (minus Nelson Cruz). Donaldson is a great clubhouse guy and will look to prove himself once again in 2021. Let’s hope it goes well.
Chicago White Sox: B+
Similar to Donaldson, Yoan Moncada didn’t have a stellar 2020 season. Yet the young star has proven to be a powerful force at the plate and folks can expect him to be a game-changer in 2021.
Cleveland Baseball team: A
José Ramírez is as good as it gets. While the general scope of Cleveland seems to deteriorate, Ramírez is in the prime of his career and one of the only reasons why many projections seem to think Cleveland can make a run.
FanGraphs put on their annual projection (Steamer) for third basemen in 2021. Take a look.
The Voice of the People
A pool of (unbiased) fans voted on who they think is the best third baseman in the AL Central. Do you agree?
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