NL East Division position comparison: third base

My position-by-position evaluation of the Philadelphia Phillies and their rivals in the National League East Division moves today to the hot corner. In recent decades, the likes of Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, David Wright, and Anthony Rendon played third base in the division.

A year ago, the position was manned for those NL East clubs by Maikel Franco, Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier, Brian Anderson, and Rendon. Incredibly, only Anderson remains, and he may not end up playing there regularly for Miami in the coming season.

So far I’ve covered first base, second base, and shortstop. The Philadelphia Phillies finished third in each of those rankings. They are once again placed here in that middle-of-the road spot. But the position is so muddled at the moment that they could be at the top or bottom of these rankings by season’s end.

Tomorrow will see a move behind the plate to cover the division’s catchers. Next week, I’ll begin by working across the outfield, followed by separate pieces covering each team’s projected starting pitching rotation, bench, bullpen, and managers.

If it appears as though any particular position is unsettled or that a team may use a platoon situation, any potential starting players will be covered.

Once this evaluation process is complete, fans should have a better idea of where the Phillies actually stand entering spring training. Pitchers and catchers are due to begin reporting to Clearwater, Florida on February 11.

Let’s take a look now at what is easily the single most volatile, unpredictable position in the division for the upcoming 2020 campaign.

NL EAST – 2020 THIRD BASE RANKINGS

1) Jeff McNeil, New York Mets: Is McNeil a left fielder, where he played in 71 games a year ago? Is he a right fielder, where he played 42 times? How about maybe a second baseman, where he appeared in 37 games in 2019? Or will he finally spend most of his time at one position, third base, where he appeared in 31 games and made 16 starts for the Mets last season? Your guess is as good as mine, which may be as good as new Mets manager Luis Rojas as well. McNeil, who turns 28 in early April, is penciled-in as the starting third baseman. Of all the question marks at the position in the NL East, one thing is certain at this point – McNeil is the most proven, effective hitter of the bunch. He slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 homers, 38 doubles, 75 RBIs, and 83 runs scored while making the National League All-Star team in 2019. The Mets could also go with J.D. Davis, who played in 31 games and made 27 starts, and Jed Lowrie, a veteran returning from injury, at times in the coming season.

2) Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins: Is Anderson a right fielder, where he made 55 starts and played extremely well in 2019? Is he a third baseman, where he made 64 starts and appeared in 67 games? He will turn 27 in mid-May, and could end up bouncing back and forth between the two positions once again in 2020. Anderson slashed .261/.342/.468 with 20 homers, 33 doubles, 66 RBIs, and 55 runs scored. If the Fish choose to play him regularly in right field, then any of Jon Berti, Jonathan Villar, or Miguel Rojas could see time at third base. This could end up as another position at which the Marlins rank at the bottom of the division by the end of the season. However, Anderson’s talent and potential, should he settle in at third base, make this speculative ranking valid.

3) Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies: Stop me if you’ve read this type of thing already in this positional evaluation piece. Is Kingery a center fielder, where he made 57 starts and played in 65 games a year ago? Is he a shortstop, where he played in 119 games just two seasons ago and another 18 games last year? How about a second baseman, clearly his best defensive position, but where he has played in just 14 big-league games to this point? The Phillies version of a Swiss army knife to this point in his career, Kingery has also played 14 games in left field, four in right field, and even pitched once. For the 2020 season during which he will turn 26 years of age in late April, Kingery enters spring training penciled-in as the third baseman, and this could prove a generous ranking. He played 41 games and made 37 starts at third base in 2019, and overall did not play badly on defense. Kingery raised his slash line from the .226/.267/.338 he put up during his rookie campaign to .258/.315/.474 a year ago. In just 16 more plate appearances he banged 11 more homers and doubles, drove in 20 more runs, and stole five more bases. Does he have another level to his game? At this point, Kingery could go either way. He could also continue to get bounced around the field by the Phillies, whose top offensive prospect, Alec Bohm, plays third base and should be ready for a shot at some point during the 2020 campaign. There is also a possibility that new manager Joe Girardi decides to go with Kingery at second base, flipping Jean Segura to third.

4) Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals: Kieboom has been one of the Nationals top prospects since they made him their first round pick at 28th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. Kieboom broke into the big-leagues a year ago under emergency circumstances, called up from Triple-A to play shortstop in late-April and early-May when Trea Turner suffered an early-season injury. He didn’t play well defensively, making four errors while handling 40 chances across 10 games. He was also over-matched at the plate, slashing just .128/.209/.282 over 43 plate appearances. Sent back to the minors, he never received a recall. Still, Kieboom earned a World Series ring when the Nationals ultimately won it all. His Triple-A performance at Fresno continued to demonstrate his true ability. There he slashed .303/.409/.493 with 43 extra-base hits. Kieboom is considered Washington’s top prospect, and enters spring training prepared to try and take over the everyday job left vacant by the departure of Rendon to free agency. He could emerge as a leading NL Rookie of the Year contender. However, if he can’t handle the job, veterans Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick could see time here.

5) Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves: Who’s on third? It is a question that fans of every single team in the NL East might legitimately be asking themselves at this stage. Donaldson left via free agency, leaving a big hole in the Braves lineup. Camargo who appeared in 114 games and made 105 starts for a division-winning Atlanta club in 2018 at third base, is penciled-in as the starter for now. He played in 18 games, making nine starts, at third base for Atlanta in 2019 during a season in which he made appearances at five different positions. Camargo plays the fulls season at age 26. He owns a .269/.328/.438 career big-league slash line over parts of three seasons. Atlanta also has Austin Riley, formerly one of their top prospects, on the roster. During his rookie campaign last season, Riley played mostly left field, producing 18 homers, 49 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in just 297 plate appearances. However, he also hit just .226 and struck out 108 times. Riley played in five games at the hot corner, one of four different positions at which he was used.

 

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