D-backs’ Top 5 third basemen: Gilbert'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 Steve Gilbert’s ranking of the top 5 third basemen in D-backs history. Next week: Shortstops.

• D-backs All-Time Team:  C1B | 2B

1) Matt Williams, 1998-2003

Key fact: Won four Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards while appearing in five All-Star Games, including 1999, when he was the starter at third for the National League

Fun fact: Does an amazing impersonation of Babe Ruth at the plate and running the bases

We can pick apart Williams’ numbers all day long, but he gets the nod from me based on his huge 1999 season and the leadership that he brought to an organization just starting up. Following his one season in Cleveland in '97, Williams told the Indians that he would have to retire if they couldn’t trade him to the D-backs. Williams had gone through a divorce and wanted to be near his three young children who lived in Arizona. The Indians dealt him to the D-backs just after the Expansion Draft, and he immediately took on the role of de facto captain of a young club.

“I’ve been lucky to have some pretty good third basemen on teams that I’ve been a part of as a manager or a coach, and Matt Williams is about as good as it gets,” former D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. “Matty did it all. He was terrific defender. He was a great offensive player. He came in on balls well. He had arm strength to go down the line. He had tremendous leadership skills and was one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever been around.”

Following his retirement in 2003, Williams filled a variety of roles for the D-backs. He had a small ownership share, served as a broadcaster and then as a coach. Currently, he is managing the Kia Tigers in Korea.

2) Jake Lamb, 2014-present

Key fact: Lamb and Williams are the only two D-backs third basemen to be selected to an All-Star team

Fun fact: Has “JD2” stitched into his glove for his family friend, Josh Dickerson, who passed away from rhabdomyocarcoma, a rare form of cancer, paying homage to Josh's high school number

The past two seasons have not been great for Lamb, who has been limited with injuries, and that may skew how fans look at his time in Arizona. But you can’t overlook what he did before that. Drafted by the D-backs in 2012 out of the University of Washington, Lamb arrived in the big leagues in '14. He was an above-average player for the D-backs from '15-17.

Lamb was an All-Star in 2017 and has delivered for the D-backs when it’s mattered. If you look at his Win Probability Added, which measures how a player’s hits change the win probability for his team, Lamb tops all D-backs full-time third basemen.

“Look, he kept working and this guy has All-Star talent,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said this spring. “We just believe in him and his ability to really hit.”

3) , 2007-10

Key fact: In his three full seasons in Arizona, he hit 104 homers at third base (and 121 for his career with the D-backs)

Fun fact: Nicknamed “The Sheriff” by D-backs radio play-by-play man Greg Schulte

Reynolds was drafted by the D-backs in the 16th round in 2004, reached the big leagues in '07 and became a key part of a team that won the National League West and reached the NL Championship Series.

“He had a huge impact on our team that year when he came up,” said Melvin, who managed that '07 club.

While Reynolds raised eyebrows with the number of times he struck out, he was ahead of his time in that regard with his power more than making up for his lack of contact. In his three full seasons with the D-backs, Reynolds hit 28, 44 and 32 home runs.

“It was crazy power,” Melvin said. “Nowadays, the strikeouts are accepted. He had some amazing power and we really didn’t want to try to take away from that power by having him shorten his swing.”

4) , 2018-present

Key fact: Has played every position except for first base

Fun fact: Is deathly afraid of cats, and his teammates will often sneak up on him with a stuffed animal cat to startle him

Escobar was acquired by the D-backs in 2018 from the Twins and has primarily played third base with the occasional start at second. The 2019 season was the best of Escobar's career, as he set milestones in hits (171), triples (10), homers (35), RBIs (118), runs scored (94), games (158), on-base percentage (.511) and slugging (.831).

If he puts up similar numbers over the next year or two, fans can expect to see him rise on this list.

5) , 2004-09

Key fact: Tracy’s game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning on July 5, 2004, halted Dodgers closer Eric Gagne’s MLB record streak of 84 consecutive saves

Fun fact: In 2018, he opened Ultimate Performance Sports, a 37,000-square-foot indoor training facility with 14 batting cages and 20,000 square feet of turf, in Matthews, N.C.

Tracy was drafted by the D-backs in the seventh round in 2001 and rose quickly through their system, reaching the big leagues in '04, when he slashed .285/.343/.407. While Tracy did have power -- he hit 27 homers in '05 and 20 in '06 -- he was more of a gap-to-gap hitter and compiled a lot of doubles, with 29 in '04 and then 34 and 41 the next two seasons, respectively. The left-handed hitter also had a good feel for the strike zone, compiling a .348 on-base percentage in his first four seasons while striking out over 100 times just once.

Tracy’s best season came in 2005 when he had an OPS+ of 132. Injuries would limit his playing time and effectiveness following the '06 season, otherwise he likely would have ranked even higher on this list.