Right now if you want to look for the best players in Major League Baseball, after Mike Trout in center field for the Angels look to third base.
While Kris Bryant played third base primarily for the Cubs last season and won the MVP Award (after winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award before that, and Minor League Player of the Year before that, and Golden Spikes Top College Player of the Year before that…) – he would NOT be my pick for top third baseman in Major League Baseball.
My pick would be Colorado Rockies stud Nolan Arenado. He came into the Majors at 22 years old and in his first two years averaged just 14 home runs a year. Then came his monster 2015 where he tied for the league lead in home runs with 42 and last year hit another 41 and had over 130 RBI both seasons to boot. YES, he does play his home games in Coors Field, but over the last two seasons does have a 42/35 Home/Road split so it doesn’t really matter.
What sets him apart to me is his defense. He has a crazy strong arm, fields the slow roller better than anyone in the game, and gets to foul lines with the best of them as well. He has four years under his belt and is still only 26. I got to watch him in person in San Diego a good number of times and nearly every night you will him make a great play look casual. See his highlight reel.
Kris Bryant, who played half as many innings in the outfield (453.1) as he did at third base(857.1) in 2016 but will likely see less time in the outfield down the road – comes in second though I’m almost inclined to put Manny Machado here. Bryant though is one special talent. I’d like to see how develops defensively, though his baserunning is also a plus if not actually stealing bases. The X-Factor with Bryant is palpable too. He helped the Cubs end a 108 year drought to win the World Series last season after helping take them to the NCLS for the first time since 2003 a season earlier. The man knows how to win and help his teammates win.
In third place you have to debate between Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. I go with Machado just because of the age. Machado is just one year younger than Arenado and also played shortstop last year which was actually his natural position. Machado debuted at 19 and after several good years the last two years jumped up to 35 and 37 home runs respectively. On a Baltimore team that hits lots of home runs, he often didn’t have people on base though and so has yet to crack RBI which we know is an old stat but still something worth noting. What a top 3 so far, and we haven’t even gotten to the 2015 AL MVP or a future Hall of Fame player.
Fourth place Josh Donaldson finally breaks through. This after hitting 41 home runs in his 2015 MVP season and 37 last year in leading the Blue Jays to the playoffs and the brink of the World Series. He wasn’t a full time starter until his age 27 season will will slow him down from a career record standpoint, and with the youth of his contemporaries he may not stand the ultimate test of time. That said he is still a player worth paying to just to play third base.
Finally comes Adrian “Don’t Touch my Head” Beltre. If you haven’t seen the comedy routine between his shortstop Elvis Andrus and Beltre, it is worth catching here.
Besides that though Adrian Beltre does not mess around on the baseball field. Beltre debuted back in 1998 – Manny Machado was 5 years old – with the Dodgers and was known for his defense first. The Dodgers saw his offense be a little uneven until he broke out with 48 home runs in 2004, just in time for free agency where the Mariners signed him to a huge contract that was largely disappointing. He went to Boston for a season where he actually made his first All Star Game at age 31 in 2010.
From there he went to Texas where he played the last six seasons and some of his best. He is coming up on 38 years old, but last season he once again hit .300, 30 HR and over 100 RBI. He is up to 445 career home runs which with two more years of health would put him over 500. He is third all time in home runs by a third baseman behind just Eddie Matthews (486) and Mike Schmidt (509) and ahead of Chipper Jones who has 468 total but many as a left-fielder.
All in all, there is some huge talent at third base, and that’s not counting Justin Turner, Kyle Seager, Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier, Jake Lamb, or Anthony Rendon