canzler

via piratesprospects.com

A lot has been made over the last few weeks or so of Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Chase Headley.  Plenty of articles out there will tell you about the Red Sox proverbial logjam at third base, and tell you how many teams could have used Chase Headley (or could still use Stephen Drew) for the upcoming season.  Let’s talk about the teams that didn’t sign Headley, confirming the realities of player contracts.  Let’s say one or more of those teams have to take a flier on a guy because they have no viable options.

That’s where I come in.  In this series, I’ll take a look at some potential flier players that could be given a shot to provide something above replacement player value.  Every season, contending teams are giving more and more innings to guys like Ryan Raburn, Alfonso Soriano, or Chris Johnson.  At some point you’d think the GM of those teams would take a chance on someone having a really good season in AAA somewhere, or a perennial bench bat who hits from the side they need.

So what are the options out there for fliers at third base?  Who might be called upon for a two-three week stretch to see if they can break out, a la Brandon Moss in 2012, or Steve Pearce in 2014?  Let’s take a look.

First there’s Matt Hague of the Toronto Blue Jays. Hague is 29 years old, and played last season for the AAA affiliates of both the Pirates and the Jays.  While in Indianapolis playing for the Pirates, he was crushing AAA pitching for an .814 OPS in 93 games.  He did even better after being claimed by the Bluebirds with a .977 OPS in 13 games.  I don’t know if I’d take a chance on him full time, but he hit lefties for a .947 OPS on the year with an OBP over .400 while playing 52 games at third base, which is still new to him.  He’s been primarily a first baseman/DH for his career, so his defense won’t be stellar out there, but Hague could definitely be a guy who starts against lefties and gets lifted for his lefty platoon partner with better defense in the late innings.

Along the same lines is Russ Canzler, who is toiling with the Phillies, his 8th organization before the age of 27.  Canzler excelled in AAA after being picked up as a Minor League Free Agent when the Yankees let him go, as he also hit lefties for a .948 OPS.  He’s got 148 games at third base in his career, so he’d probably need some more seasoning, but he’s young enough where he could still be a depth option at AAA learning the position more and providing some pop from the left side.

If you’re looking for someone who might be a better defensive fit, perhaps Sean Kazmar of the Braves is an option.  Kazmar had a short cup of coffee with the Padres in 2008, but has since been buried down in AAA for years.  He’s a former 5th round draft pick whose stock is down after a number of years not even hitting at AAA.  Last year though he took it up a notch in Gwinnett, hitting for a .297 average while playing all over the diamond.  Kazmar has been primarily a shortstop/second baseman in the minors, but he destroyed lefties last year in AAA for a .980 OPS, so if he can become even serviceable at third base, he can certainly provide a utility option.

Mets fans might know the name Nick Evans, who came up big for the Venomous Snakes last year in 18 games.  He was unstoppable in AAA last year with a shocking 1.054 OPS and basically even splits.  He doesn’t have much experience at third base, as he’s mostly played first in his career, but he’s not even on the DBacks’ depth chart right now and he probably should be.

Remember Emmanuel Burriss?  The utilityman for the Giants had a surprisingly good season last year in AAA with an .824 OPS against righties for Washington’s AAA team.  He also needs time to see if he can hack it at third base, but if possible, I would think that he could hold down a job as long as people keep giving Munenori Kawasaki at-bats.

Another AAAA guy who continued to improve against AAA pitching is Nate Spears.  Spears is a lefty who has played second base primarily in his career, but has filled in at third base for 438 innings in the minors.  He has eight MLB plate appearances to his name and can not claim to have a hit. With the dearth of guys at the hot corner, maybe somebody will look at his .886 OPS against right handed pitching last year and give him a week to prove himself.

Still with me?  Well let’s stretch our wings even wider and try the Mexican League.  Jon Del Campo is a former Blue Jays farmhand who was a powerful force for the Pericos de Puebla, hitting for a .974 OPS with even splits as a switch hitter.  He played 94 games at third base there, and it’s probably his most natural position.  He’s still just 26, so he probably deserves a depth look in the high minors of somebody’s system, though he’s never played above High A in America, and that was in 2010.  Jesus Avila is basically the same guy if Del Campo intrigues you, except he only hits from the left side (but still split evenly last year).

Finally there’s the guy who very well could have been the Yankees opening day third baseman; Adonis Garcia.  Garcia is a former Cuban defector who hits from the right side but had a pronounced reverse split last year in AAA.  The Yankees have played him all over the diamond, but if he can learn the position quickly enough in the spring, then the Yankees will end up with a promising bench player behind Headley.  He had an excellent year for the AAA Yanks with an .827 OPS, and he’s a good enough athlete that he might be able to improve even at the big league level.

Should any team looking at these guys feel bad they missed at Chase Headley?  Absolutely.  Could they do worse than a Nick Evans or a Nate Spears/Sean Kazmar platoon?  I have little doubt of that.  These are the no-risk options for the desperate teams out there.  When your team with no depth at third base suddenly has an injury, maybe one of these guys could become your lightning in a bottle for a month and give you some spark of hope.

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