If you’re at all familiar with "The Game of Life" — the iconic board game originally created in 1860 — then you will recall it begins by demanding that you immediately make a critical choice about your path.
At the onset, just as you are familiarizing yourself with the game’s rules, you are required to make a decision with far-reaching implications about debt, risk, reward and potential long-term outcomes. The vicious realism basically slaps you in the face inside the first minute.
Right at the top of your draft, in the opening rounds, you will need to decide if you want to fill the position with a bankable blue-chip option — someone from the José Ramírez-Manny Machado range — or if you’d like to proceed dangerously.
If you choose the dangerous-yet-exhilarating path … well, we respect it. But things could get scary in a hurry.
Essentially, third base offers some of the safest (and priciest) high-end names in the fantasy player pool as well as the most extreme boom-or-bust candidates in our game. This roster spot is probably the wildest choose-your-own-adventure that fantasy baseball can deliver this season.
As is generally the case, power can be found at third this year, up and down the ranks. Ten different players with third-base eligibility hit at least 25 bombs last season, while another 11 reached the 20-homer plateau. Stolen bases aren’t part of the typical third baseman’s profile, however, as just six players at this spot swiped 20 or more bags. In a year when base-stealing surged, most of the roster-worthy players at this position weren’t running. Only five of the top-20 fantasy third basemen stole double-digit bases in 2023.
Still, we have a deep reserve of 20-75-.265 guys at this spot, so there’s a decent enough safety net available to those of you who intend to take a big draft-day swing on fantasy’s most polarizing player …
Elly De La Cruz is a party, but not every party ends well
It’s pretty rare that we enter a season thinking that a specific player might reasonably finish No. 1 overall for fantasy purposes, or he might be sent to Triple-A early in the year. De La Cruz is an outlier in all sorts of ways.
First of all, anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention last season should already know that De La Cruz possesses superhero-level tools. In terms of sprint speed, arm strength and exit velocity, he’s like a cartoon — he’s at or near the top of the charts in multiple Statcast categories. An absurd human being and a joy to watch. He has a chance to deliver an absurd percentage of all stolen bases produced by third-base-eligible players in 2024.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) July 8, 2023
Let’s please just keep in mind that De La Cruz only recently turned 22, he struck out 144 times in 98 games with the Reds last season and he had very little success at all against breaking pitches. His most productive month at the plate last year was June, when he first arrived in MLB. After the MLB All-Star break, he slashed .191/.272/.355.
Again, De La Cruz is an exceptional talent, unlike almost anyone else in the game. Improvement over time is pretty much guaranteed. As long as he’s an everyday player, he clearly has the skill set necessary for a 20/60 season, even if the batting average is dreadful. But right now, the Reds infield has more dynamic young players than available starting spots, so anyone who isn’t raking in April could find themselves on a bench — or in Louisville.
So, yeah, De La Cruz’s range of potential fantasy outcomes is as wide as anyone’s in recent memory. It’s easier to take a big swing on a player like this in shallow leagues, where replacement value is high. If you chase Elly’s upside in a deep format, let’s hope you have a pivot available, just in case the downside makes an early appearance.
Hot corner breakout candidates
Noelvi Marte is one of those very young and highly skilled Reds infielders who’s expected to make a splash in 2024. Last year, over 89 games in the high minors at age 21, Marte hit .280 with 11 homers and 18 steals — and when he arrived in the big leagues, he was even better. He slashed .316/.366/.456 over 35 games and basically hit rockets from the moment he reached Cincinnati (46.1 hard-hit%). Marte didn’t quite match De La Cruz’s best in terms of exit velocity and sprint speed, but he’s actually not far off. He is not to be slept on. It’s easy to make a case for him as the best value among the young Reds in terms of ADP.
It feels like cheating to call Royce Lewis a potential breakout, because he more or less broke out last year for Minnesota despite playing only 58 games. Lewis hit 15 bombs in the regular season and another four in the playoffs, plus he delivered a .309 average and .921 OPS. When healthy, there’s simply no question that he’s a dangerous hitter (with a dash of speed). He’s a former No. 1 overall draft pick and longtime top prospect, so it was hardly a shock to see him thriving in the bigs at age 24. Injuries are all that’s held him back (including two ACL tears); he’s been productive at every minor league stop.
Michael Busch is another longtime minor league mauler who never really had a chance to crack the Dodgers’ absurd major league lineup. Busch needed to relocate in the worst way, so he was a clear offseason winner after being flipped to the Cubs. He should have multiple paths to an everyday role in Chicago. Busch absolutely wrecked PCL pitching last season, hitting .323/.431/.618 at Oklahoma City with 27 homers among his 57 extra-base hits. At 26, he requires no additional minor league seasoning. He should be a cheap source for 20-plus bombs with run production.
Top-12 3B draft rankings
Elly De La Cruz