Do you know where the power lies in the infield? Why, it's at the hot corner, of course. Five third basemen put together six win seasons in 2012, more than the rest of the infield (including catchers) combined. And even with those five great seasons in 2012, third base also features immensely talented players that missed time with injury in 2012. This list is the strongest one we've done so far, and could be the strongest overall at the end of the week.
Remember: this list (and all of the lists we'll be rolling out this week) reflect the order I'd prefer to have the players for the 2013 season. I don't care about 2016, I don't care about 2010, I care about 2013. Got it? Good.
10. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
The Canadian-born Lawrie struggled a bit in 2012 after an explosive start to his career in 2011, but he's still a very talented player. Lawrie's glove is probably the best in baseball, with DRS and UZR advanced stats shooting absolutely off the charts. Lawrie only had a .739 OPS in 2012 with 11 homers, but a huge spike in his groundball rate likely had a lot to do with that. I think Lawrie will improve tremendously in 2013, and at just 23, the sky is the limit for him, especially in that talented Blue Jays lineup.
9. David Freese, Cardinals
Postseason heroics aside, Freese is a fantastic player for the Cardinals. However, he'll be 30 in April, and has just one full season as a starter under his belt. I'm not sure if that due to his age and relative lack of experience, he'll be a starter for a long time. He's not as good as Allen Craig, the Cardinals starter at first base, but he's still a four win guy with solid pop and plate discipline. What worries me about Freese though, is how out of whack his batted ball numbers are in comparison to his production. Freese has hit 52% of his balls on the ground in each of the last two years, and has had an under 30% flyball rate over the last three years. The 20% HR/FB and .352 BABIP last year just look like a warning sign for the future regarding Freese's production.
8. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
The 6.5 fWAR season Ramirez had in 2012 at age 33 was the best of his career, due largely in part to his defense taking a U-turn from the direction it had been heading in prior years. But while Ramirez did have a monster season for the Brewers on offense as well (posting the best wRC+ of his career), I'm wondering if he'll be able to keep the production train moving for another season as he continues to grow older. He definitely had a great season in 2012, but I'd be wary of him going forward, especially in comparison to the younger players that populate this list.
7. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Four seasons into his career, Sandoval remains an enigma. He's had one healthy, awesome season, one injury-plagued, awesome season, one healthy, disappointing season, and one injury-plagued, disappointing season. But three of those four seasons have been very good for the Giants, I think we can write off Sandoval's disappointing 2012 because of his broken hamate bone, and that injury will likely be pointed to if he struggles this year as well. But Sandoval is an extremely talented hitter overall, and he'll be a huge part of this Giants team in 2013.
6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
After starting his career like wildfire, Zimmerman has come back to Earth over the last two seasons, missing 61 games in 2011 and having a healthy but middling 2012. His once-vaunted defense has taken a step back over the last two years, and he's no longer the top defender at the position in the game. Zimmerman still has solid power and plate discipline, but both facets of his game have also taken a step back over the last two years. Maybe holding him to the standards he set for himself over 2009 and 2010 isn't fair, but he hasn't shown over the last two years that he's still that seven win player. Maybe he can rebound this year with a full season of Bryce Harper in the Nationals lineup. We'll see.
5. Evan Longoria, Rays
I love Evan Longoria. I think he's one of the most talented players in the game. Yet, he hasn't taken the leap to the next level like I've expected him to. Longoria has dealt with injuries in three of his five major league seasons, including missing half of last year with a torn hamstring. When healthy, he's a rare talent, a seven win player that can hit 30 homers, walk 80 times, and win the Gold Glove. Yet, he hasn't put it all together for a full season. It looked like he was going to get there in 2012 after a molten start to the year, but the hamstring injury dashed those hopes and dreams quickly. If he's fully healed from the injury, 2013 could be *that* year for him…or something else could happen to prevent him from turning into the best player in baseball.
4. Chase Headley, Padres
Here's an odd guy. Headley blossomed as a player in 2012, bashing 31 homers after hitting just 36 in his prior 2114 plate appearances. Headley also stole 17 bases and walked 86 times, powering an anemic Padres offense through the 2012 season. But I get the sense that a huge crash is coming in 2013. 21.4% of his flyballs went out of the park in 2012, which is on the extreme end of the spectrum. Headley also has a groundball rate approaching 50%, another potential alarm for his production in 2013. If you cut Headley's offensive production to ten homers, what would he look like as a player? I'd wager he'd be around a five win guy, which is all fine and well, but isn't good enough for a player to be one of the best at this loaded position.
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Beltre has done a hell of a job at rebuilding his value after five disastrous years in Seattle. Over the last three seasons, Beltre has combined for 96 homers, a .314 batting average, two Gold Gloves (to add to the two he won in 2007 and 2008), and 19.0 fWAR. Not bad for a guy who will be 34 in April and has walked 50 times once since he signed with the Mariners after the 2004 season. Beltre's consistency and overall talent level as a player is extremely underrated, and he's continuing to fly under the radar even with his awesome three season surge.
2. David Wright, Mets
The Wright that the Mets saw in 2012 did a lot to erase the last three years from the memories of fans, when Wright struggled across the board and lost a lot of fan support in Flushing. But with a renewed vigor in 2012, Wright had a 7.8 fWAR season and was really just an all-around complete player. While he didn't excel anywhere aside from with his glove (which was excellent in 2012 after three awful seasons), Wright did everything you wanted this past season: 21 homers, 15 steals, 81 walks, and a .306 batting average. Wright's 2012 brought back memories of Chipper Jones in his prime, and led to the Mets giving him a long-term contract extension to keep him in New York for life.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Cabrera had a terrible year defensively in 2012. Now that we got that out of the way, the rest of his season was incredible. Cabrera won the AL's Triple Crown and as a result, the MVP of the league after a .330/.393/.606 year, his sixth year in the last seven with a wOBA over .400 and a wRC+ over 140. While a player like Wright is much more well-rounded than Cabrera, Cabrera's advantage as a hitter is so extreme that there's no way I can put anyone aside from him at the top of this list. He's just too good of a hitter to go with anyone else.