Sunday, March 30, 2008

NL West breakdown: 3rd base

Now it’s time to look at the hot corner, 3rd base.

1. Garrett Atkins (.301 AVG, 25 HR, 111 RBI)
Colorado Rockies

Atkins by far leads the list of one of the weaker positions in the West. He had a monster 2006 where he broke out in a huge way (.329, 27, 120), and while his AVG dipped, his run production remained high. He is the real deal.

Entering his 6th year in the league, he has placed himself in the top tier of 3rd basemen. Back in 2005, he gave a glimpse into what kind of a player he could be when he hit 13 HR and 89 RBI in 138 games. The last 2 years have solidified his status as a notch below the top guns (A Rod, Wright, Cabrera). With more seasons like the last couple, his numbers could be just as good.

As is the case with the rest of the Rockies, his defense is superb. He committed only 14 errors in 484 chances mainly at 3rd (with 10 appearances at 1st). He’s part of the young left side of the diamond with Troy Tulowitzki that will be part of the foundation for the Rockies in years to come.

2. Kevin Kouzmanoff (.275, 18, 74)
San Diego Padres

Kouzmanoff shook off an absolutely horrific start of the year to post respectable numbers when the season was all said and done. April was a month he’d love to forget. In 71 AB, he collected a measly 8 hits for a .113 AVG. Wow. Thankfully for him, he hit .338 in August and September to regain respectability.

It’s not hard to figure out why he’s had plenty of hype surrounding him. His minor league stats with the Cleveland Indians organization are really good. In 2005 at various levels of A ball, he hit .333 with 12 HR and 58 RBI. In 2006, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit a fantastic .379 with 22 HR and 75 RBI. He was shipped to the Padres at the end of the ’06 season for Josh Barfield.

His hot streak to end last season should only serve as a sign for things to come. The Padres will need his production if they want to win the West, because their pitching will remain top-notch. He could be the next breakout star in the league.

3. Chad Tracy (.264, 7, 35)
Arizona Diamondbacks

After very encouraging 2005 and 2006 seasons, Tracy went into last season with high hopes. Instead, his season was doomed by a right knee injury that limited him to 76 games. He eventually went through microfracture surgery in September.

2005 was his breakthrough year with final numbers of .308, 27, and 72. Even 2006 saw great numbers with .281, 20, and 80. It’s amazing to see how well the Diamondbacks did in his absence, which speaks to how tight of a team they were. While he may not be ready to start the season, he looks like he’s getting close. When he’s fully healthy, it’s not unrealistic to think of him gathering around 20-25 HR and 75-85 RBI.

If he’s not able to fully recover for whatever reason, Mark Reynolds will be waiting in the wings again, and he filled in very nicely last season. With 17 HR and 62 RBI in 111 games, Tracy might feel the heat to rush back before Reynolds takes the job for good.

4. Nomar Garciaparra (.283, 7, 59)
Los Angeles Dodgers

While he will start the season on the DL, Garciaparra will be back well before Andy LaRoche, which gives him the nod as the starter. He knows he has a lot to prove after a very mediocre 2007 campaign.

Battling injuries to pretty much every part of his body, he saw all of his major numbers take a hit. In the first 3 months of the season, he hit only 2 HR. If not for hitting one out on the last day of June, he would have gone through the entire months of May and June without one. He’s never been a big power threat, but he did have 20 in 2006. Injuries have simply crippled his career.

Even when he is back on the field, once LaRoche comes back, it will be a battle for playing time between the 2. LaRoche has shown great promise in the minors, but he has a bad injury history as well. Both men have plenty to prove this season.

5. Jose Castillo (.244, 0, 24)
San Francisco Giants

Poor San Francisco. They are constantly at the bottom of my position previews. Their offense is really that poor. A combination of bad players and injuries have forced them to claim Castillo off of waivers from the Marlins, and he’ll probably be the starter at 3rd. Sad.

He’s spent his first 4 years in the league with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s never hit above .268 and never hit more than 14 HR. His play was so bad that he was actually benched for last season in favor of Jose Bautista. After only getting in pinch-hitting and running appearances, he was released after the season.

It’s hard to imagine him having much, if any, impact with the Giants. Their offense is really bad around him, so it’s not like anybody can pick him up. This is definitely not a good time to be a Giants fan.

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