(I had to use the photo, it may be the only stolen base of Jose Molina‘s life.)
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria comes in as the best third basemen in the division, and if Miguel Cabrera is playing first base, can make a case for being the best in the game. A three time All-Star, Longoria’s name has ended up on the MVP ballot each year he has been in the league except for 2012, when he only played 74 games due to injury. That even includes his rookie year, where he won Rookie of the Year honors. Longoria brings it both at the plate and in the field. His best competition defensively for the title of best third basemen in baseball comes from in his own division, but Longoria is a master in the field, winning two gold gloves. . His numbers over a 162 game average come out to a .275 average, 41 doubles, 33 HRs, 111 RBIs. A great stat line for sure. In 2013 he started 145 games at third base for the Rays. The Rays have the young star locked up through 2022, so don’t look to see him leave the division any time soon.
Rodriguez will once again be slotted as the backup in his utility role, with Logan Forsythe, who will be another utility infielder if he makes the team and Wilson Betemit also listed at the position. Betemit is trying to catch on with a team after being released by the Orioles last year.
2. Baltimore Orioles
Speaking of the Baltimore Orioles, they come in second with Manny Machado manning third base. Machado started 156 games in 2013 before suffering a gruesome knee injury in Tampa Bay in the last week of the season. However, the Orioles expect their young star to be healthy and ready to start the year, or only miss a few games. Machado hit for a league leading 51 doubles in 2013, to go with 14 HRs. Manny will never be the power hitter Longoria is, but will likely end up being a better average hitter. And his defense is superb. In fact, Manny is so good with the glove that he it seems like once a week he is on Web Gems on ESPN. In Baltimore his defense is constantly compared to that of Hall of Famer and one of the greatest third basemen ever, Brook Robinson. And Robinson himself says Manny is better defensively. Quite high praise! Machado won himself a Gold Glove in 2013 and was also an All-Star.
Flaherty, who I believe will start at 2B, slots as the reserve, and if Machado isn’t ready to go will likely play 3B until he is healthy. Michael Almanzar, a Rule 5 pick up from Boston, is not likely to make the team, but could if Machado suffers a major setback, which would be a major setback for the Orioles.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Another young player, the 24-year-old Canadian Brett Lawrie slots the Blue Jays in third at third base. Let’s face it, the Jays expect big things from Lawrie, who was a first round pick in 2008 by the Milwaukee Brewers. Lawrie has started the majority of the games at third base for the Jays in the last two seasons. None of the numbers jump off the page and wow you, in fact being under 50 RBIs in each of those seasons as the starter is low. However, Lawrie did score 73 runs in 2012, and is a guy who on his career averages out to be around a .265 hitter. The Jays expect more from Lawrie, and he will have the chance to deliver in 2014.
Izturis appears to be the Jays’ utilityman in 2014, but both Morel and LaRoche have spring training invites and will try to make the team at third base.
4. Boston Red Sox
Known more for his offense than his defense, Middlebrooks played in 94 games for the Red Sox in 2013. The 25-year-old struggled to a .227 average and struck out 98 times in 374 at-bats. Yet, the Red Sox are handing him the keys to the position and expecting him to seize it. Middlebrooks does have some pop in his bat, as evident by his 17 home runs in 2013.
With last year’s backup, Xander Boagerts, starting at SS, third base is all Middlebrooks. Herrera, who appears that he could be the Red Sox utilityman, is the reserve, but Snyder could also be the reserve if he can make the team for the Red Sox as someone who can play first and third base.
5. New York Yankees
Once again, the question marks about for the Yankees. This list is more about who isn’t on it, Alex Rodriguez. Johnson could start here, or could start at second base if Brian Roberts can’t stay healthy, or start at first base if Mark Teixeira can’t stay healthy. Nunez would also be candidate to start here, as you have to figure if Derek Jeter can play all season, Nunez will start somewhere as the Yankees like the 23-year-old. Johnson has next to no upside, and would be a utilityman on most teams. Ryan of course is as good defensively as it gets, and Canzler is a long shot to make the team.