Marlins' Top 5 third basemen: Frisaro's take

April 13th, 2020

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 Joe Frisaro’s ranking of the top third basemen in Marlins history. Next week: shortstops.

1. , 1999-05
Key fact: Three-time All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner and World Series champion

If Jeff Conine is “Mr. Marlin,” then Mike Lowell could very well be coined “Mr. Steady.”

“He was a quiet leader,” former Marlins manager Jack McKeon said of Lowell recently. “He went out there and did the job. He was very professional, all the way around.”

In his seven-year tenure with the Marlins, Lowell was a three-time All-Star as well as a Silver Slugger Award winner in 2003 and a Gold Glove Award winner in '05. On the '03 World Series title team, Lowell belted 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 130 games. He missed the final month of the regular season because he broke a bone in his left hand after being struck by a pitch.

"It's a tough blow, but this is a good ballclub," McKeon told reporters after that game. "This team will pick it up for him. I think these guys will pick up the slack for Mike, battle the rest of the way and hope he's back for the playoffs."

Actually, Lowell did make it back for the playoffs, and he remained with the Marlins through '05. After that year, he was dealt to the Red Sox.

In his career with the Marlins, Lowell had a slash line of .272/.339/.462 with 143 home runs and 578 RBIs.

“He’d lead by example,” McKeon said. “Great attitude. He was a pro. He didn’t complain about anything.”

2. , 2003-07
Key fact: Four-time All-Star, two Silver Slugger Awards

Marlins fans can’t help but imagine, “What if Cabrera spent his entire career in Miami?” Based on how his career has played out in Detroit, Cabrera easily would have been the greatest Marlin ever. But it didn’t play out that way. Still, he spent his first five seasons with the Marlins, splitting time at third base and in the outfield. Cabrera broke in as a 20-year-old sensation, and in his first big league game, his first MLB hit was a walk-off home run on June 20, 2003, against Tampa Bay. In his Marlins tenure, Cabrera was an All-Star from 2004-07, and as a rookie in the World Series, he hit a home run off Roger Clemens after being brushed off the plate by “The Rocket.”

“He was a prize,” McKeon said. “I always said that I’d hope he could come up every inning because something good happened every time he came to bat. He’d hit the ground ball when you needed it, or the fly ball when you needed it to tie the game. He always found a way to do something good.”

Cabrera became the primary third baseman in 2006-07, after Lowell was traded to Boston. Cabrera also will be listed among the Marlins’ all-time left fielders in the upcoming weeks.

3. , 2017-present
Key fact: Had career highs with 20 home runs and 66 RBIs in 2019

Placing Anderson third is based partly on what’s he’s already accomplished and how he projects moving forward. A year away from being arbitration-eligible, Anderson hit 20 home runs and drove in 66 runs in 126 games last year. He missed the final five weeks due to a broken bone in his left hand after being hit by a pitch. Anderson was red-hot at the time of the injury. In the second half, he hit .284/.355/.568 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 39 games. In 87 games in the first half, he hit .251 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs.

One thing that changed was his average launch angle, which was 14.1 degrees after the All-Star break, according to Statcast. It was 9.8 degrees in the first half.

“I think his confidence was growing,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during Spring Training. “The second half, he had more success as the season got going. For me, I was seeing confidence, a guy that was more settled.”

4. Jorge Cantú, 2008-10
Key fact: Hit 29 home runs in '08 and posted 100 RBIs in '09

Who would replace Cabrera at third base was one of the biggest decisions the Marlins had to make entering 2008. Cantú won the job, and for two seasons, he actually was pretty productive. In '08, he connected on 29 home runs and drove in 95 runs, while sporting a slash line of .277/.327/.481. That Marlins infield became the first in MLB history to each hit 25 or more homers -- shortstop Hanley Ramirez (33), second baseman Dan Uggla (32) and first baseman Mike Jacobs (32) were the others. In '09, Cantú’s home run total dipped to 16, but his RBIs increased to 100. In 2 1/2 seasons and 401 games with the Marlins, Cantú had 55 homers and 249 RBIs.

5. , 1997-98
Key fact: Bonilla’s seventh-inning home run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series was a big moment in the Marlins’ eventual walk-off win

Bonilla didn’t have a particularly long tenure with the Marlins, but it certainly was impactful. A key part of the 1997 World Series title team, Bonilla posted a slash line of .297/.378/.468 with 17 home runs and 96 RBIs. He appeared in 153 games in the regular season, and his impact was essential in the playoffs. In Game 7 of the World Series, the Marlins trailed, 2-0, in the seventh inning when his home run made it a one-run game. The Marlins tied it in the ninth and walked off the Indians, 3-2, in 11th inning. Bonilla was traded to the Dodgers the following season, and in 181 games with the Marlins, he had a FanGraphs WAR of 3.1.

Honorable mentions
From 2015-19, Martín Prado assumed the role of unofficial captain. Highly respected, the veteran infielder made his biggest marks in 2015-16, hitting .288 and .305, respectively, in those seasons. But hamstring and leg injuries hindered him in his final three seasons before he announced his retirement after the '19 season. … Casey McGehee in 2014 had one of the more interesting seasons in Marlins history. Hitting cleanup, he had just four home runs that year, but drove in 76 runs and was a steady run producer, adding 29 doubles. McGehee’s slash line was .287/.355/.357 in 160 games. … A super-utility player who played everywhere from third base to shortstop to second base to center field, Emilio Bonifácio was a valuable all-purpose player from 2009-12. He stole 40 bases in '11 and followed that up with 30 more in '12. He had 103 career steals with the organization.