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Numbers Game: Third Is The Word

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Kris Bryant at San Diego

With three weeks to go before the draft, Florida’s Jonathan India led the Southeastern Conference in both on-base and slugging percentage.

At that same juncture, Wichita State’s Alec Bohm led the American Athletic Conference in home runs and slugging.

The two college third basemen rank as the Nos. 5 and 6 draft prospects on the Baseball America pre-draft ranking—the BA 500—and if they are selected within the top 10 picks on draft day, then they will join productive company.

Fifteen college third basemen have been selected with a top-10 pick in the 31 drafts since 1987, which marks the beginning of the modern draft era. They are listed here in chronological order, along with their primary major league positions, All-Star Game appearances (ASG), Gold Gloves won (GG) and Baseball-Reference.com totals for wins above replacement (WAR) and park-adjusted batting production (OPS+).

College Third Basemen Taken With A Top-10 Pick Since 1987
YearNo.TeamPlayerCollegeMLB PosASGGGOPS+WAR
198810White SoxRobin VenturaOklahoma State3B2611456.1
19921AstrosPhil NevinCal State Fullerton3B111415.9
19944BrewersAntone WilliamsonArizona State1B35-0.8
19973AngelsTroy GlausUCLA3B411938
19981PhilliesPat BurrellMiamiLF11618.9
20015RangersMark TeixeiraGeorgia Tech1B3512651.8
20052RoyalsAlex GordonNebraskaLF3510533.3
20054NationalsRyan ZimmermanVirginia3B2111636.8
20055BrewersRyan BraunMiamiLF613745.1
20063RaysEvan LongoriaLong Beach State3B3312550.4
20082PiratesPedro AlvarezVanderbilt3B11086.8
20116NationalsAnthony RendonRice3B11717.3
20132CubsKris BryantSan Diego3B214321.4
20136MarlinsColin MoranNorth Carolina3B1130.7
20162RedsNick SenzelTennessee3B

The average draft position for top-10 college third basemen is 3.7 overall, indicating that these players were in demand on draft day. It’s easy to see why.

Setting aside the two players who have not yet established themselves—Colin Moran (2013) and Nick Senzel (2016)—all but one of the college third basemen from this sample went on to star in the big leagues. The one exception is Antone Williamson (1994), who received just 54 big league at-bats after never showing much aptitude for hitting or power in the minors despite a strong batting eye.

While a few of the players migrated to other positions when they reached the majors, more than half of the sample developed into impact third basemen in the majors. Chief among them are Robin Ventura (1988) and Evan Longoria (2006), who both amassed more than 50 WAR while winning multiple Gold Gloves at the hot corner. In fact, Ventura won six of them, which is more than all but three third basemen in history.

Two other college third basemen had distinguished careers after moving off the position in the majors. Mark Teixeira (2001) shifted to first base, where he won five Gold Gloves, and also joined Ventura and Longoria in the 50 WAR club. Ryan Braun (2005) won the 2011 National League MVP award and made six all-star teams, though he lasted only one season at the hot corner. He has accumulated 45 WAR in his career—all with his bat, because he’s an indifferent left fielder.

Troy Glaus (1997), Ryan Zimmerman (2005) and Alex Gordon (2005) all had long, productive careers with their drafting organizations, with Glaus and Gordon contributing to World Series championships. Kris Bryant (2013), the 2016 NL MVP, is well on his way to building a similar résumé with the Cubs, while Anthony Rendon (2011) is a lineup fixture for a Nationals team still trying to get over the hump in October.

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What is perhaps most surprising about this sample of college third basemen is the comparative lack of success for the two No. 1 overall selections—Phil Nevin (1992) and Pat Burrell (1998)—as well as Pedro Alvarez (2008), whom BA ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his draft class. All three players had significant big league careers and delivered big power—each has a season of 35-plus homers—but defensive limitations negatively impacted their WAR totals.

One West Coast crosschecker has theory as to why college third basemen drafted in the top 10 have such a strong track record.

"When you know the guy’s got no separator defensive value, you’re spending all your time watching him hit,” he said. "And knowing his defensive value isn’t going to push him over the top, and you’re still taking him in the top 10, it means you really think he can hit. Those guys are the best hitters, and the best hitters show up. I think it’s pretty simple.”

In other words, scouts set the bar high for college third basemen—in terms of expectations for hitting production—meaning that if the player clears that bar, then he will come off the board within the top 10 picks.

Teams will tell us on draft day whether India and Bohm have cleared that bar.

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