Fantasy draft tiers: Third basemen
Power, depth, versatility to be found at hot corner
Of the infield positions, the hot corner is the biggest rival to first base in terms of depth and quality of talent.
Plenty of big mashers can be found at third, but it also boasts a few players who qualiify at other infield positions, such as Ian Stewart and Jhonny Peralta.
While there is a significant amount of depth at third base this year, it's still a top-heavy position. In standard mixed leagues, owners will want to take note of where the drop off in talent begins and acquire a hot cornerman before it nears.
Tier 1: Alex Rodriguez
The 2009 season was undoubtedly the most turbulent one of A-Rod's career. But even though he appeared in just 124 games, he still found a way to arrive at the vital benchmarks of 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the 12th consecutive season. Now that he has returned to full health and shaken the postseason monkey from his back, Rodriguez is once again worthy of a Top 5 pick in every draft.
Wright's disappointing power output in 2009 knocked him down a few pegs. Once unanimously regarded as an early-first-round selection in mixed drafts, the Mets third baseman is now projected to go somewhere in the second round. That could be good news for owners who believe he's poised to come back strong with a far superior lineup around him in 2010. Longoria, conversely, has seen his stock go nowhere but up after a pair of tremendous campaigns to kick off his big league career.
This may be the most interesting triumvirate at any position. All three are under 27 and coming off eye-popping 2009 campaigns. Reynolds delivers some speed to go with his impressive power, Sandoval may be the hefty second coming of Vlad Guerrero and Zimmerman is the complete hitting package. Simply put, you can't go wrong by selecting one of these burgeoning stars to man the hot corner for your team.
Health concerns headline Tier 4. To varying degrees, each of the exceptionally skilled players in this group has struggled to stay on the field in recent years. Ramirez has missed an average of 41 games over the last three seasons, while Figgins (32) and Youkilis (20) also have spent a fair share of time on the sidelines. Weighing the risk/reward factor is always tricky for owners, but these guys make the decision a bit easier because of their established track records when healthy.
It speaks to the depth of talent at the hot corner that a pair of career .300 hitters and one of the game's rising stars can be found this far down in the rankings. Of the three, Chipper is the biggest question mark. He's coming off a season in which his average dipped to .264, and he'll turn 38 shortly after the start of 2010. Young is a hitting machine who never slips too far on draft day because of his consistency. Beckham isn't a household name in the fantasy realm just yet, which means he may be the steal of the bunch.
Because there are so many capable performers at the hot corner, most of the guys in this tier will still be around well into the late rounds of most drafts. That gives owners the chance to catch lightning in a bottle with a potential 30-home run bopper.
The importance of finding versatile and productive players in the late rounds can't be stressed enough. For that reason, guys like DeRosa, Teahen and Prado offer quality late-round value as solid ballplayers with multi-position eligibility. Owners combing for sleepers should keep their eyes on McGehee and Wood.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.