SO...DAMN...GRINDY. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Now that the three outfield positions (as well as DH and 1B) have been accounted for, our attention shall shift towards the hot corner. There is a youth movement occurring at the position in the AL Central, with three of the projected starters beginning the season aged 26 years old or younger. Brandon Inge will be the only member of the over-30 club as soon as Mike Moustakas is ready to replace Mike Aviles in Kansas City. This group may lack the power of some of their positional comrades (Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman), but for the most part are more than capable of ending up on Web Gems on any given night.
Well now it's a competition.
Detroit: Brandon Inge is going to be 34 years old this May. The Tigers third base prospects are nowhere near ready though, so the Angry Inge gets to keep his job in the Motor City for the next two seasons. Inge's bat was never very good during his prime years, so it's rather unsurprising that age has caused it to become even less palatable. He's essentially a weaker Juan Uribe. Luckily for him, he can still play some fairly good defense. His range is in rapid decline, but he makes the play on just about every ball he can get to. Inge is a few seasons away from replacement level at this point in his career and most likely won't be a starter after his current contract ends.
Minnesota: Danny Valencia had quite the rookie season for the Twins, managing to accumulate 2.7 WAR in just 85 games and finish third in the AL RotY voting. Valencia also projects to have an average OBP, gap power, and an above-average glove. The 26 year old will reach double digits in the homerun department, but is a bit slower than you'd expect someone of his body type and skill set to be. Valencia should provide a solid if unspectacular third base option for Minnesota over the next few seasons to the tune of 2.5-3.5 WAR a year. Nothing amazing, but pretty nice for the league minimum nonetheless.
Chicago: Unless something goes horribly wrong over the next month, Brent Morel will be the starting third baseman for the White Sox come April. Morel is very similar to Valencia, just two years younger and with at worst average speed. Morel also has gap power with 10-15 homeruns seeming to be his range this year, with 15-20 being his probable ceiling in the future. Morel is quick enough and has the acumen to steal 10-15 bases as well. He'll rarely have an OBP much higher than league average though. He has displayed plus defense in the minors, even getting in some reps at shortstop last season. It would be very nice and only somewhat surprising to see him have a rookie year like Valencia did last season.
Conclusion: Almost the entire time I was writing this I had Brandon Inge slotted for the second spot on the hierarchy. The more I think about that, I just can't see it any more. If his range declines again this year, his plus defense will creep even closer to average, practically negating any worth he has. Valencia gets the top spot, based on potential and last year's results. Morel sneaks by Inge for second, as I'm almost always going to go with the upside player over the hitter in his mid-30's. Aviles comes in fourth due to concerns over how the shift to third will affect him. Donald takes the bottom spot. Next Thursday, Gordon Beckham makes his stand against the rest of the AL Central second basemen.