Astros' Top 5 third basemen: McTaggart's take

April 13th, 2020

HOUSTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the Top 5 third basemen in Astros history. Next week: Shortstop.

• Houston's All-Time team: C | 1B | 2B

1) Alex Bregman, 2016-present
Key fact: 22.4 WAR is the most by a third baseman in club history.

While the brilliant Ken Caminiti played at a high level over a long period of time, Bregman’s unparalleled achievements since he reached the big leagues in 2016 make him the best third baseman in club history. In only 3 1/2 seasons in the Majors, Bregman is a two-time All-Star (2018-19), has two top 5 American League MVP Award finishes -- including a close second behind Mike Trout in '19 -- and he won the ‘19 Silver Slugger Award. He’s slashing .286/.384/.527 in 517 career games with 99 homers and 320 RBIs.

Bregman has also become one of the franchise’s most clutch players, highlighted by his walk-off single to beat the Dodgers in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the 2017 World Series and his Game 4 grand slam in last year’s World Series. He has hit 10 postseason homers, joining teammate Carlos Correa and Albert Pujols as the only players to record double-digit playoff homers prior to turning 26 years old.

What sets Bregman apart is who was on the mound when he slugged his playoff homers. All 10 have been off pitchers who made an All-Star team at some point: Chris Sale (twice), Stephen Strasburg (twice), Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Blake Snell and Fernando Rodney. Last year, he became the fifth player in MLB history to reach 41 homers, 119 walks and 37 doubles with 83 strikeouts or fewer, joining Barry Bonds (1993), Ted Williams (‘49), Lou Gehrig (‘36) and Babe Ruth (‘24, ‘21).

“He’s one of the best players in baseball,” former Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

2) Ken Caminiti, 1987-94, ‘99-2000
Key fact: 546 RBIs is the second most by an Astros third baseman.

Caminiti, drafted by the Astros out of San Jose State in 1984, was entrenched at third base when Houston acquired Jeff Bagwell late in the '90 season, forcing them to move Bagwell to first. Caminiti was a terrific defensive third baseman who had a cannon arm and was a solid offensive player during his first eight years in Houston. Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Luis Gonzalez were the cornerstones of a young team on the rise in the early '90s, but Caminiti was dealt after the ’94 season to San Diego, where he later won a National League MVP Award.

In 10 seasons with Houston, (Caminiti returned in 1999-2000), he slashed .264/.330/.402 with 103 homers and 546 RBIs in 1,085 games. He passed away unexpectedly in '04 at 41 years old -- a day before the Astros beat the Braves in Game 5 of the 2004 NL Division Series to win their first playoff series in history.

“People ask me what kind of person he was,” Biggio said. “Everyone knows what kind of player he was. He was a warrior. He played in any kind of pain. He had an obligation to the people who depended on him. He was the guy you’d want in your foxhole. He was a great guy, too. He was one of those people that would give you the last dollar he had. If you needed something, he’d be there for you, no questions asked. I always said that if I was in trouble and I had one telephone call, he’d be the one I’d want to call.”

3) Doug Rader, 1967-75
Key fact: Has more RBIs (600) and Gold Gloves (five) than any third baseman in Astros history.

Rader is the greatest defensive third baseman in club history, as witnessed by his five consecutive NL Gold Gloves from 1970-74. He’s played more games (1,178) at third base than any other player in club history and slashed .250/.318/.402 during his nine years in a Houston uniform. Rader’s 18.3 WAR trails only Bregman as the highest in club history at third base.

In 1970, Rader and teammate Jimmy Wynn became the first two players to hit homers into the upper deck of the Astrodome. Rader later managed the Rangers, White Sox and Angels for seven seasons and compiled a .482 winning percentage without reaching the playoffs.

4) Morgan Ensberg, 2000-07
Key fact: Named team MVP after clubbing 36 homers in 2005.

A ninth-round pick out of USC in 1998, Ensberg reached the big leagues in 2000 and posted one of the best offensive seasons by a third baseman in club history in ’05 when he hit .283 with 36 homers and 101 RBIs. He won an NL Silver Slugger Award that year and finished fourth in MVP Award voting in the league. He was the eighth Astros player to homer three times in a game, achieving the feat on May 15, 2005.

Ensberg got off to a hot start in 2006 (nine homers, 1.232 OPS in April) before suffering a right shoulder injury. He wound up hitting .235 with 23 homers and 58 RBIs in 127 games and couldn’t recover his All-Star form. The Astros sent him to the Padres at the Trade Deadline in ’07.

5) Phil Garner, 1981-87
Key fact: His 12.3 WAR is fifth highest among Astros third basemen all time.

Beloved by Astros fans as the mustache-wearing manager who guided the Astros to their first World Series berth in 2005, the player dubbed “Scrap Iron” by former Astros broadcast Milo Hamilton played seven of his 16 big league seasons in Houston. A World Series hero for the ’79 Pirates, Garner was traded to the Astros late in ’81 and slashed .260/.323/.389 with 49 homers and 320 RBIs in 753 games with Houston.

Garner platooned with Denny Walling at third base when the Astros won the NL West title in 1986 and was traded a year later, less than a month before Caminiti made his debut at third base as a rookie.

Honorable mentions
Enos Cabell (1975-80, ’84-85) took over at third base when Rader was traded to San Diego and was the team’s primary starter through the ’80 season. He was named the team’s MVP in ’78 when he had a then-club-record 195 hits in 162 games.

Bill Spiers (1996-2001) was a hard-nosed and clutch player who played on three division-winning title teams in the late '90s, posting a .782 OPS in 632 games with Houston.

Bob Aspromonte (1962-68) was one of the original expansion picks made by the Colt .45s (from the Los Angeles Dodgers) in '61. He set the NL record with 57 consecutive errorless games at third base in '62 and won team MVP honors in ’64 when he hit .280 with 12 homers.