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We are now four weeks into the State of the Farm series and move around to third base this week. The Cincinnati Reds currently have Todd Frazier as their third baseman and he’s locked up through 2017 if the Reds choose to hold onto him through the duration of his contract. He’s coming off of his best season as a professional, but his season was all or nothing, with the “all” coming in the first nine weeks of the season and the “nothing” coming from mid-June through the end of the season as he fell apart at the plate.
At the top of the chain the Reds had more than a few players work third base at Louisville, but all were older veteran types that are no longer prospects. In Double-A the majority of the time at third base went to Seth Mejias-Brean. He would play in 122 games for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2015 and while he improved from his previous half-season with Pensacola, he had some struggles at the plate. Despite walking 63 times with just 96 strikeouts, he hit just .247. His on-base percentage was good, coming in at .352, but his slugging percentage was just .360 on the year with 29 extra-base hits. There’s more power to tap into there, but he will be 25-years-old next season and time is running out on the bat to take big steps forward. He posted his worst fielding percentage since 2012, but he still stands out defensively where he’s got plenty of range and a good arm.
Daytona saw Taylor Sparks make a majority of the starts at third base for the Tortugas. Sparks would play in 125 games, almost all coming at third (with the rest as the designated hitter). At the plate and in the field he got out to a very slow start. On May 31st he had a .596 OPS and a boatload of errors. Things began a slight turn around in June on both sides of the ball and when July arrived things really turned around. There’s still a lot of work to do, particularly at the plate where his approach is still a work in progress. In the first three months of the season he walked just nine times and had 93 strikeouts. From July through the end of the season that changed though as he walked 21 times with 69 strikeouts. His tools are undeniable, as he stands out across the board here, but his tools are still a bit raw and need to continue to develop. The good signs were that the skills did start to develop after the slow start, but there’s still a long way to go.
Coming into the 2015 season there were two things we seemed to know about Gavin LaValley: He could hit and his defense was suspect at third base. Then the Dayton Dragons season began and it seemed that the script had flipped. LaValley was showing he was a much better defender than he had been given credit for, but his bat was really struggling to get going. At the end of May he had a .601 OPS with no power and a very high strikeout rate. Moving forward the bat rebounded well as he his .292 with a .761 OPS the rest of the way while cutting his strikeout rate significantly. The power still wasn’t showing up like we expected as he continued to slim down over the season. With the slow start it was nice to see him rebound well and he answered a big question coming into the year with his defense. He’s going to have to find the power moving forward to continue playing the position.
Brantley Bell got a majority of the playing time at third for the Billings Mustangs. The 11th round pick in the 2015 draft signed a well over-slot deal. He got out to a very strong start, hitting .328/.384/.456 in the first 31 games of the season, but he really struggled in the second part of the season, hitting .212/.317/.250 over the final 31 games. His power disappeared in the second stretch, but he did improve in some aspects. Bell had an improved walk rate and he went 8-for-9 in stolen base attempts after going 6-for-11 in the first part of the year.
The Reds seemed to have an “almost every day guy” at third base from Billings to Pensacola. The depth certainly seems to be good at the position, but there is also a lack of a guy who really stands out at the position. Both Seth Mejias-Brean and Taylor Sparks are very athletic and toolsy guys, but both have adjustments that they need to continue to make. The overall grade is going to suffer with no one standing out and being a top end prospect, but the depth helps and there’s some potential to be found if someone can get the most from their toolset.
Top Third Basemen Tools
It’s worth noting that these are based on the future potential for the tools and not necessarily the current tools for the players. Taylor Sparks stands out here. He’s got plus power potential, he’s an above-average to plus runner and defensively he’s got a strong arm and plenty of athleticism to make any and all of the plays. Seth Mejias-Brean’s ability to use the entire field and make solid contact could let his hit tool play the best among the group, though right now there’s still work to be done there. Defensively he’s in the conversation with Sparks, as he can also make all of the plays you’d want to see from a third baseman and also has a strong arm.