Apart from Aramis Ramirez, the National League Central has a lineup of starting third basemen which is a veritable “Who’s Who” of mediocrity. Although MLB has him listed as the sixth best third baseman in the National League in their 2013 review, they have him as the best in the MLC. That is an understatement right now. He appears to be head and shoulders above the rest of this class. My top five sequence differs somewhat from the MLB review, let’s take a look.
1. Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Ramirez has 15 seasons logged in the majors and everyone of them has been with a team from the Central Division. He hits with both power and average, and in 2012 posted the highest WAR of his career at 5.4. He is pretty much in the middle of the road defensively, not winning any Gold Gloves but not being a total handicap in the field. At 34, he should be on the downhill drag but after reviewing his numbers from 2012 it isn’t noticeable yet. Ramirez has been selected to two All-Star teams and has won a Silver Slugger award. His career stats are impressive with 342 HR and 1227 RBI and a slash line of .285/.343/.503 and an OPS+ of 116. Bill James projects that he will hit 27 HR with 102 RBI in 2013 while batting .286. He has hit 25+ HR 10 times and has 100+ RBI seven times. Projected WAR 3.8
Big Question for Ramirez:
He has been as consistent as can be, so how much longer can his 34 year old body continue to perform at a top flight level?
2. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
At the runner-up spot, I split with the MLB preview and slotted Freese there. They had Alvarez as their second choice in the division, and eighth overall in the NL. Freese in my view is a more well-rounded player than Alvarez. Freese produced the second best WAR of this group, at 3.6 trailing only Ramirez. In his first injury-free season in which he played 144 games he carved out a very good season. He hit 20 HR and knocked in 79 while hitting .293/.372/.467 with an excellent OPS+ of 129. He is perhaps no better than average at the hot corner however he did lead that group in converting double plays in 2011 and 2012. Freese made the All-Star team in 2012 after an outstanding postseason in 2011 when he hit 5 HR and knocked in 23 while hitting .397. Bill James has him penciled in for 20 HR and 87 RBI in 2012 and sporting a BA of .301. In his four-year career he has amassed an OPS+ of 121. Freese is not a spring chicken at 30, and should be in the prime of his career. Projected WAR 3.6
Big Question for Freese:
Can he put together a complete season and show the world the David Freese that took charge of the 2011 playoffs?
3. Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
I did agree with the third, or middle choice in the division, Frazier. The MLB review has him as the ninth best in the National League. He had an outstanding rookie campaign and put some good numbers up in 128 games. He filled a huge void that was created when Joey Votto went down in July. He was the backup for Scott Rolen last season and we can certainly hope that some of Rolen’s defensive magic has rubbed off onto Frazier. At one point Frazier was said to be a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none.’ He is replacing a man who has won 8 Gold Gloves so he needs to be looked at with some expected latitude.
Last season Frazier hit 19 HR with 67 RBI and batted .273/.331/.498 with a WAR of 1.9. He possesses very good power, can hit for a decent average, and at 27, has a brilliant upside. His plate discipline is not what you want but again he is just a sophomore. Speaking of that, Bill James apparently expects a little of the sophomore jinx to creep upon Frazier. He has him projected with only 15 HR 51 RBI and shows his batting sliding down to .263. Projected WAR 3.2
Big Question for Frazier:
After a stellar rookie campaign, can he add some sterling defense to his toolbox? With the departed Rolen, he has the chance to shine and become the elite defensive third-baseman in the division.
4. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
In the fourth hole I have placed Alvarez. At this point he appears to be a one-dimensional player. It is mindful of Adam Dunn. He hits a home run or strikes out. He owns the worst SO/BB ratio of anyone on this list. In fact only Ramirez has a better than league average in that category. In fact he almost struck out more times than hits and walks combined. Alvarez hit a whopping 30 HR last season with 85 RBI. His 2012 WAR was 2.6 but his slash line did not look good: .244/.317/.467. Bill James projects him with 29 HR with 91 RBI in 2013 while bringing his BA up to .257. In his three seasons he has an OPS+ of 103. Projected WAR 3.1
Big Question for Alvarez:
Since he hasn’t even hit his stride yet, can he improve his plate discipline and become a complete hitter?
5. Ian Stewart, Chicago Cubs
The last place starting third-baseman for the NLC goes to Chicago Cubs’ Ian Stewart. With a 72 OPS+ last season along with 0 WAR, not too many laurels may be printed about him. He does possess more than warning track power as his 20 HR per 162 games indicates. In 2009 he smacked 25 long balls. At 27, Stewart is already in his seventh season. In his six years he has never batted higher than .259 and only once was his OPS+ above average at 102. Stewart is ranked behind four different Cardinal third-basemen, Freese, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and even Ty Wigginton. That is harsh right there. Bill James doesn’t think much of him either. He has him pegged for 6 HR, 20 RBI and an average of .238 in 2013. Projected WAR 2.0
Big Question for Stewart:
When another team has three replacements ranked higher than you it is a problem. Can he finally learn how to hit, or will he be relegated to a bench warmer?
Surprising to me on this list is the fact that there are no Gold Glovers whatsoever. Rolen was by far the best defender of the hot corner in the National League. He will certainly be missed. There are only two All-Stars in the division which is also unsettling with 30 years of experience between them all.