The “hot corner” in baseball has heated up for the Yankees this offseason but in the wrong direction. As everyone knows by now, Alex Rodriguez will not be manning third base for the Yankees in 2014. Even if A-Rod was in pinstripes, third base is one of the more talented positions in the division among the other four teams. This puts the Yankees even more behind the eight-ball at that position. With that being said, here are my top five third baseman in the AL East:
5. Yankees – Kelly Johnson/Eduardo Nunez: This is one of the only places in the division where there will likely be a platoon at the position. Johnson does bring power to the position considering he did have 16 home runs last season, but a quarter of his at-bats ended via the strikeout. The Yankees will need his power at the bottom of the order. Plus, Johnson could play a variety of positions depending on the Yankees’ health in the infield throughout the year. When one of your other options is Eduardo Nunez, you can see why the Yankees are 5th on this list. Nunez did hit .295 in the month of September, but a career .260 hitter with his fielding issues is a huge concern. You can see why Brian Cashman wanted no part of Nunez at third base. He would rather use him at shortstop, but his hands might be tied on this one.
4. Blue Jays – Brett Lawrie – The issue for the Blue Jays’ third baseman has been his health. In the last two seasons, he has not played more than 125 games in a season. That being said, there is a lot of potential in Lawrie. He brings a fiery personality to the game and shows some power. However, the Blue Jays are still looking for him to break out and reach at least 20 home runs. He has never hit more than 11 homers in a season. His WAR dropped from 4.1 in 2012 to 2.3 in 2013. With some of the losses in the Toronto lineup, Lawrie needs to elevate his game if the Blue Jays want to continue to drive in runs with their offense to help Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
3. Red Sox – Will Middlebrooks – Keep in mind that there is still uncertainty as to whether or not Stephen Drew will be back at shortstop for the Red Sox. We are going to assume for this list that the young phenom Xander Bogaerts will start the year at shortstop. That means Middlebrooks will get his opportunity at third base. Middlebrooks only had a .224 average last season, but hit 17 home runs in 94 games. Looking at his splits for last season, it was surprising to see he only hit four of those home runs at Fenway Park. He has the raw power and solid defense (.954 fielding percentage). It will be interesting to see whether a 25+ home run season is in the cards for Middlebrooks in his second full season.
2. Rays – Evan Longoria – In any other division, Longoria would be number one on this list. Last year, Longoria was top 10 in the AL in home runs (32) and runs scored (91). One of the knocks on Longoria has been his health, Last year, he proved that wrong by playing in 160 games during the regular season. The addition of Wil Myers helped Longoria in the lineup last season by giving him protection in the lineup. The team leader for the Rays is bound to have another great season if he is able to stay healthy. It bears mentioning that Longoria hit .338 with 9 homers and 20 RBI’s against the Yankees last year.
1. Orioles – Manny Machado – First off, Orioles’ fans are still in the process of figuring out whether or not Machado will be ready for Opening Day after having surgery on his knee back on October 14th. He has been cleared for some baseball activities and is hoping to be ready by Opening Day. Machado had a historic season last year with 51 doubles. He will only be 22-years-old in July. He has an outstanding glove as noticed by all of his Web Gem plays last season. It’s unknown whether he will be the same after his surgery, but this kid is a superstar in the making. Machado is an extra-base machine and has the potential for 20 homers and 90+ RBI’s. That is why he tops this list!