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2018 Positional Preview: Third Basemen

Competition is thick at la esquina caliente

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

You know how the story goes. As the sun sets on another day of Spring Training, the Marlins players make their way to the ole saloon in Jupiter, Florida. The camera pans in, and at a table in the corner, we find a group of five young players all huddled around a grizzled, old man in a black, ten-gallon hat. He’s the Sheriff; he’s sipping straight whisky, and he’s telling the kids about the days of old, when he used to play the hole in Atlanta, and when he used to roam the wide open spaces in New York City. The young guns eagerly listen on as the Sheriff waxes nostalgic. Although he still has the badge and the hat, the bar patrons know that his days are numbered; in his most recent run in with the law, the bad guys almost got him for good. But as long as he can help it, he’s not done yet; he tells the group that he’ll be back in the mix soon.

That’s when the double doors to the saloon swing open. The sound of new boots reverberates off the hardwood of the bar floor. The intermittent conversations are hushed as the shadowy, slender figure pauses at the entrance and scopes out the venue. It’s the Deputy. Tall, dark, and handsome, he clunks his way to the bar and orders a whisky of his own before heading towards the Sheriff’s table. The sunlight peering into the bar reflects off of his shiny, newly issued revolver; while it’s a little bigger than the Sheriff’s, it has been used far less. The Deputy pulls his chair out, and sits down across from the Sheriff.

As he chokes down his whisky, the theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly suddenly fades in.

He says: “Sheriff, this town ain’t ‘a big enough for the both of us.”

Martin Prado

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Prado is the Sheriff in this story. After having his third best season in 2016, Prado was given the title Captain. However, as a participant in the World Baseball Classic with Venezuela, the then 33 year-old pulled up lame running through first prior to the 2017 season. Prado would rejoin the Marlins as soon mid-April, but was then sidelined May 7th, and then shelved in mid-July. In total, he only played in 37 games, which opened the door for the young prospect Brian Anderson, (who we will address later).

Martin Prado Offensive Statistics

Year/System G AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR
Year/System G AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR
2016 153 .305 .359 .417 .335 110 3.4
2017 37 .250 .279 .357 .274 67 -0.1
2018 ZiPS 114 .271 .317 .370 .297 82 0.9
2018 Steamer 84 .274 .326 .400 .313 92 0.9
Fangraphs.com

Martin Prado PECOTA Projections

Year/System Playing Time AVG OBP SLG TAV VORP WARP
Year/System Playing Time AVG OBP SLG TAV VORP WARP
2018 PECOTA 60% .275 .324 .381 .252 9.6 0.6
Baseball Prospectus

Expectations are high for Prado coming into 2018, and deservedly so. At his best, Prado is the unequivocal captain of the team and leader in the clubhouse. But perhaps Prado’s most notorious association with the Marlins is that he is one of a handful of veterans who were grandfathered in from the Loria regime, and log-jammed the payroll, causing the new ownership to shred from the top. As such, while he was worth a surplus on the $8.0 million the Marlins were responsible for in 2016, he cost the Marlins a pretty penny in 2017, due much in part to his extracurricular injury. With two years left on the payroll and a whopping $28.5 million to pay him, expect the Marlins to try and get their money’s worth out of Prado. Taking a rough estimate of dollars-per-WAR at $8 million, Prado will have to churn out about 3.5 fWAR for the Marlins to get the benefit of their bargain over the next two years. And while that is not the loftiest goal, there are a number of confounding variables, such as health and competition, that may interfere with him reaching that plateau.

But there is certainly hope that Prado can and will perform this year. The Marlins are being very cautious with him; he is not expected to return to play until the middle of the month. Although compared with the majority of the team, he is considerably old, he is only 34, which is not terrible in baseball years. Justin Turner is now considered one of the game’s elite third basemen, and he is going to play in his age 33 season for $11 million. At just two years younger than Prado, the controversial Giants acquisition Evan Longoria is slated to make the same amount of money as Prado - $13.5 million. It appears then that the Marlins are paying roughly market value for him, assuming he can produce between 5.5 and 2.5 fWAR. If age is just a number, there’s no reason why Prado can’t repeat his 2016 performance this year.

However, as mentioned earlier, there are many question marks entering the season; hence, the extremely conservative projections. The playing time is there; the three systems cited all indicate that Prado should bear at least 50 percent of the burden this year. But will Prado stay healthy enough to play at 100 percent? Will sharing time with Brian Anderson affect his consistency? Will he get enough reps in Spring Training? Will the game have caught up to him in 2018? All of these questions tend to severely affect his ceiling and his floor.

Still, Prado’s role on the Marlins will be very important. Widely regarded as one of the most heady players in the game, the future manager Prado will certainly stake a leadership role in the Club, and will be quintessential in the upbringing of players like Anderson, J.T. Riddle, and others. And that will get him playing time; just as I mentioned in another article how managers take to veteran catchers to tutor their pitchers, the sure-handed Prado should get the chance to lead by example with considerable playing time. Thus, I would submit that Prado’s situation is win-win; excellent play will obviously be welcomed, but if he fails to own up to his fWAR burden, he should be appreciated for his leadership capacity in the dugout this year. He didn’t earn the nickname Captain by accident.

Brian Anderson

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

That means that Brian Anderson is the Deputy. After the Marlins infield depth acquiesced to injuries in 2017, Anderson was called upon to man the hot corner on September 1st. Coming into 2018, the Marlins are confident in the sturdy, 6’3” third baseman, and this spring, he will have a full and fair chance to take the job on his own.

Brian Anderson Offensive Statistics

Year/System G AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR wRC+ fWAR
Year/System G AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR wRC+ fWAR
2017 AA 87 .251 .341 .450 .361 14 129 N/A
2017 AAA 33 .339 .416 .602 .432 8 160 N/A
2017 MLB 25 .262 .337 .369 .309 0 90 0.2
2018 ZiPS 139 .241 .308 .386 .300 15 84 1.3
2018 Steamer 62 .246 .311 .400 .306 7 88 0.2
Fangraphs

Brian Anderson PECOTA Projections

Year/System Playing Time AVG OBP SLG TAV VORP WARP
Year/System Playing Time AVG OBP SLG TAV VORP WARP
2018 PECOTA 20% .245 .318 .419 .253 3 0.5
Baseball Prospecuts

According to sources like Baseball Prospectus’ 2018 Annual and Baseball America’s 2018 Prospect Handbook, the consensus on Anderson is that he is a high-floor infielder with more than adequate power at the plate and an impressive throwing arm, which profiles him as a third baseman. Despite mild concern about his game power in the minors failing to translate to the big-league level last year, there is firm belief that given the chance, Anderson will pound the gaps in Marlins Park, as well as strike for anywhere between 10-20 home runs.

As far as playing time, the projections are confusing. ZiPS has both Anderson and Prado playing over 100 games for the Marlins, with at-bat amounts comparable to that of a starter. On the other hand, Steamer seems more reasonable; they have Anderson playing in 62 games, and Prado playing in 84. Still a third system is pretty clear; despite his rise to the majors and his potential coming-about in 2018, PECOTA has Anderson getting just 20% of the season’s reps at third base this year.

So it’s safe to say that playing time is hard to predict right now. What we do know is that it’s going to be very responsive to how Prado plays. If Prado performs and stays healthy, then the Marlins are going to have to find ways to get Anderson in the lineup, such as by giving him some of Garrett Cooper’s presumably thin platoon at first base or perhaps sliding him into a corner outfield spot. On the other hand, if Prado doesn’t produce, then he should incur a heavier workload.

A third variable that only Anderson can control is how he plays this Spring Training. While Anderson is yet to record a hit in seven at-bats, he has received almost all of the starts at third base. It’s not about easing into the season for Anderson; while pitchers are doing just that, he needs to focus on living up to his reputation as the solid, line drive hitting five-hitter. If he wants to play on Opening Day, he needs to make an impact while he has the position to himself, before Prado returns around the Ides of March.

Still, as opposed to the uncertainty surrounding the return of Prado, (despite what the projections say), Anderson is a safer bet than ordering chicken tenders at a raw seafood bar; that is, you’re not going to get oysters, but you’re not going to get food poisoning. At his very core, Anderson is high-floor. While in his first full MLB season, it would be hasty to assume he won’t feel the effects of a learning curve, the longer term forecast is that Anderson will be consistently good in the future, if not immediately in 2018. Worst case scenario for this year, the MLB takes Anderson’s lunch money, but he follows Martin Prado around a-la-Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham. Either way, you can expect him to stick around with the Big Club for the upcoming season.

In the end, I think this roster will be a-big-enough for both Martin Prado and Brian Anderson. Instead of resolving in a duel, I like to picture this Western ends with Prado and Anderson charging on as partners, ready to face whatever happens in this 2018 season. Together, they produce higher-than-replacement level numbers at third base, and serve as the law and order in the clubhouse that the team needs. And in 2019, when the Sheriff gives his badge to the Deputy, they look back on the crucial stepping stone that was 2018; as Prado rides off into the sunset, Anderson leads the Marlins into the future.


Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseballprospectus.com

Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com and Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Contracts