2017's Top 10 third basemen right now
MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series, looking at the best players at each position headed into 2017, will air two positions each Sunday night through Feb. 12. As each position is revealed, MLB.com's Mike Petriello, a participant in the show, will unveil his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average was not considered. We'll also include the rankings of "the Shredder," the MLB Network research department algorithm based on player performance that accounts for both offense and defense.
Position overview: Is this the best group of third basemen we've seen in decades? Collectively, they hit better than we've seen from the hot corner since 1966, and we were only a month into the 2016 season when we started thinking about how historic this group was. While it's not the deepest position -- that was center field, easily -- it's the most top-heavy, as the first eight names are all legitimate stars. You might almost argue that there was a four-way tie for first, as there's no wrong answer among that group.
Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time at third base in 2016 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include Matt Carpenter (1B), Javier Baez (2B), Jonathan Villar (2B) and Matt Duffy (SS).
1. Kristopher Bryant, Cubs (Shredder rank: 2)
How do you pick a No. 1 name out of this group of studs? It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, and there's no "right" answer here like there is at catcher or center field. We went with Bryant's expected 2017 by an eyelash over Josh Donaldson's, in part because he's seven years younger -- Donaldson was hitting .238/.336/.476 as a Triple-A catcher at the age Bryant just dominated the National League MVP Award balloting -- and because Bryant, who just hit .292/.385/.554 (149 wRC+), offers the best all-around package of hitting, fielding and baserunning value, not to mention positional versatility.
Gif: Kris Bryant smiles during final out
2. Donaldson, Blue Jays (Shredder rank: 1)
However, if you preferred Donaldson, who basically just repeated his 2015 AL MVP Award-winning season with a fantastic line of .284/.404/.549 (155 wRC+) and 37 homers to go with plus defense, no one would blame you. Donaldson's been in Toronto for only two years, and he's already basically the most valuable third baseman in Blue Jays history. Maybe that says more about the history of the hot corner north of the border more than it does Donaldson, but he's one of the 10 best players in the Majors -- even if he's not No. 1 on this list.
3. Manny Machado, Orioles (Shredder rank: 3)
4. Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Shredder rank: 4)
We're lumping these two together because in many ways, they're extremely similar players. Machado (.294/.343/.533, 129 wRC+, 37 homers) and Arenado (.294/.362/.570, 124 wRC+, 41 homers) are both elite defenders with roughly four full Major League seasons under their belts, and they both turned OK power production in their first two years into huge homer explosions in 2015-16. While concerns over Arenado's home field are overblown (his 42/35 home/road homer split the past two seasons shows he's not a "Coors Field creation"), Machado gets an extremely slight edge here because he's more than a year younger and more than held his own when asked to play shortstop in 2016. The gap, however, is minimal.
5. Adrian Beltre, Rangers (Shredder rank: 6)
Four of our first five names are 26 or younger, and yet here comes Beltre, still chugging along despite his 38th birthday coming up in April. "Chugging along" perhaps undersells how great Beltre still is, as he just put up a .300/.358/.521 (130 wRC+) season with 32 homers that was among the finest of his career, thanks in part to his always sparkling defense. He's almost a slam-dunk Hall of Famer at this point, and he might be one of the five best third basemen ever. While these rankings only consider what's likely to happen in 2017, there's still no signs of slowing down here.
Gif: Beltre one knee homer GIF Against Astros
6. Justin Turner, Dodgers (Shredder rank: 5)
Now three full years into his career renaissance with the Dodgers, Turner has hit .296/.364/.492 (138 wRC+) with Los Angeles after hitting only .260/.323/.361 (93 wRC+) in parts of five previous seasons. Pair that with what's become very good third-base defense, and it's easy to see why the four-year deal Turner signed to remain with the Dodgers was viewed as something of a bargain. There are mild concerns here about the fact that his performance has dipped in each year with Los Angeles, but even his "worst" year was still extremely valuable, and the Dodgers are thrilled to have him back.
7. Kyle Seager, Mariners (Shredder rank: 7)
Reasons Seager is underrated include: playing in Seattle; sharing an infield with Robinson Cano; not being Corey Seager. That's somewhat unfair, because he's upped his home run total every year he's been in the bigs, reaching 30 in 2016, he's a solid defender and he's good for 650 plate appearances of above-average offense every year, with 2016's line of .278/.359/.499 (133 wRC+) representing a career best. Seager is not Bryant or Donaldson, but he's closer than you think.
8. Evan Longoria, Rays (Shredder rank: 10)
Believe it or not, Longoria is about to enter his 10th season with Tampa Bay, and a pair of decent-but-not-great seasons in 2014 and '15 seemed to make him something of a forgotten man. Longoria bounced back with a huge '16, hitting .273/.318/.521 (123 wRC+) with a career-high 36 homers and his usual capable defense. Still only 31, Longoria could have several above-average years left in him.
Gif: Evan Longoria hits long home run
9. Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks
Lamb (.249/.332/.509, 114 wRC+, 29 homers) quietly outslugged Turner, Seager and Todd Frazier in 2016, and while his home ballpark helped him somewhat, he was a bright spot in a disappointing Arizona season. Lamb faded down the stretch (.197/.283/.380 in the second half), and there are questions about his defense, but he's also a 26-year-old coming off a very successful first full season. It's not difficult at all to see a 30-homer season (or a few) in his future.
10. Anthony Rendon, Nationals (Shredder rank: 9)
Rendon's past three seasons have gone from "outstanding" (2014's .287/.351/.473, 130 wRC+) to "poor and injury-plagued" (2015's .264/.344/.363, 97 wRC+) to "very good" (2016's .270/.348/.450, 112 wRC+). Assuming health, we can expect that a "normal" Rendon season will be above-average on both sides of the ball, and while it seems like he's been around forever, he's only a year older than Bryant and Lamb.
Gif: Anthony Rendon's fantastic grab at 3B
Just missed (in no order):Jose Ramirez, Indians; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Frazier, White Sox; Martin Prado, Marlins; Alex Bregman, Astros; Jungho Kang, Pirates (Shredder rank: 8); Nick Castellanos, Tigers
These are some impressive names, and that they don't make the Top 10 tells you a lot about how strong this position is. Ramirez had a breakout season for Cleveland that was very similar to Rendon's, and we gave Rendon the edge only because of Ramirez's limited track record. Moustakas might have made the list if not for the uncertainty of how he recovers from the knee surgery that ruined his 2016, while Bregman and Kang haven't yet had full-time everyday seasons, and Frazier's excellent power is muted somewhat by his inability to get on base (.302 OBP in 2016).