Since there are only six names that are third base regulars, I’m just going to list the players in a general list like my usual “top 5” categories. For the list, then, I would focus more on the top four as having solid/interesting potential, with the other two having lower or uncertain ceilings going into the season.
THIRD BASEMEN: 6 (9)
AZL: Chad McLanahan (3B/1B)
Helena: Weston Wilson (3B/UTIL)
Wisconsin: Lucas Erceg, Jacob Gatewood (3B/1B)
Carolina: Jose Cuas (3B/SS/1B)
Biloxi: Gabriel Noriega (3B/INF)
Colorado Springs: –
Others to Note: Gilbert Lara (Low-A, SS), Yadiel Rivera (Triple-A, SS/INF, Non-Prospect), Nate Orf (Triple-A, 2B)
1) Lucas Erceg (Low-A): The second round selection in 2016, Erceg demolished his first assignment in professional ball. Starting in Rookie League Helena, Erceg took just 115 PA’s to muster a .400/.452/552 line with 11 extra base hits, 8 steals in just 115 PA’s. After a promotion to Low-A Wisconsin, he posted a very respectable .281/.328/.497 line with 7 HR (19 extra base hits) in 180 PA’s. The only major change in his production came in his K-rate, which jumped about 7 points in Low-A (21.1%). While we only saw a half-season from him, the offensive questions he garnered after transferring to Menlo College were relatively answered. The left-handed hitter still has some holes in his swing and struggles with off-speed pitches, but his power potential is above average. Defensively, the 6’3″, 200-pound 21 year-old is athletic and can stick at third base. His arm is another big plus – he was noted to have thrown low-to-mid 90’s fastballs as a closer before he was drafted. Though his numbers may skew us all to think he’s a top-quality prospect right here and now, he still has to perform in his first full season and progress with the bat to really tap into any concrete offensive promise. However, his ceiling could make him a really nice corner power bat that could notch 20-25 HR’s a season with a .250-.270 batting average.
2) Jacob Gatewood (Low-A): Probably the most polarizing third base prospect, Gatewood is known for having both his ups and downs. He entered the 2014 draft as a big power bat, and the Crew paid over the slot value just to get him. The 6’5″, 190-pound right-handed hitter still boasts the strong power, but also has a lot of holes in his swing remaining (26.9% K-rate). His .240/.268/.391 line in 524 PA’s in Low-A Wisconsin was his best performance at that level, but the lack of walk-rate (only 3.4%) also warrants some worries about his ability to contribute aside from said power. Also going on around him has been the rebuild, which has pushed him off SS and 3B with the entrance of SS Isan Diaz and 3B Erceg – though he was projected to be a corner infielder anyways. He still has the solid athleticism he displayed in high school, so his strong arm and defensive abilities can be a plus (though he sometimes struggles with the routine plays). Overall, it’s all about the plate discipline: if the 20-year old can improve upon his plate discipline and fix the holes in his swing, we’re looking at a really special prospect. If not, he may get swallowed up by more advanced pitching and we might not even see him reach the 40-man roster.
3) Chad McLanahan (Arizona League): An 11th-round pick who nabbed 2nd-round money ($1.2 million), McLanahan has the potential to be a steal where he was drafted. A 6’5″, 200-pound 19 year-old out of Arizona was in-talks with multiple teams before he proposed his price tag (due to an enticing scholarship offer at Arizona State). In the end, the Crew nabbed a prospect with a lot of offensive upside. He got his feet wet in professional ball this season, posting a .208/.277/.333 line with 11 extra base hits (out of 30) in 159 plate appearances. He’s known to have a good feel for the bat already, and it could only increase as his body fills out more. The left-handed hitter also has dependable defensive capabilities with a strong arm – though many feel he’s destined to play at first base down the road. McLanahan is definitely a guy to watch in the coming seasons, as he could blossom into a really nice corner infield prospect in a few years.
4) Weston Wilson (Rookie League Helena): The 17th-round selection of last year’s draft, Wilson was touted by some as having all the tools to explode into the first few rounds. However, his college career wasn’t really screaming ‘early rounds’ despite solid numbers, so the Crew was able to nab him pretty late. The now-22-year old infielder ended up with better numbers than his college ones: .318/.390/.498 line with 27 extra base hits (4 HR, 74 total hits) in 269 PA’s in Rookie League Helena. He still has some work to harness his above average bat speed and athleticism – as well as his so-so defense – but the 6’3″, 195-pound infielder has drawn some positive ceiling comparisons to infielder Richie Schafer. He’ll be really interesting to watch in the coming years if he can continue to produce on the offensive end.
5) Gabriel Noriega (Double-A): Once a promising prospect for the Mariners in 2010, the 26-year old infielder has seen some better days. Once heralded as a top-10 prospect with slick defensive abilities and a promising bat. But the upper-minors proved to be his toughest test, as he struggled to gain any kind footing until 2013. But after coming over from the Diamondbacks last summer, he held down the infield (SS, 2B, 3B) while hitting to the tune of a modest .267/.301/.343 line in 255 PA. He may start to enter his prime seasons soon, but the 6’2″, 180-pound prospect still has some capabilities with the glove. It’s hard to envision him in anything above organizational depth at this point.
6) Jose Cuas (High-A): 2015’s 11th-round pick went for the 6’3″, 195-pound infielder – he displayed average-to-above average tools in his defense, arm, and speed with a great swing. But in his age-22 season, the under-the-radar draftee hit some serious snags in High-A, hitting a lowly .170/.263/.240 line in 441 PA’s. He did show some ability to hit the ball hard – seen in his 18 extra-base hits – but it also came with a 32.7% K-rate (and a woeful 53 wRC+). I’m not saying he’s a bust yet, though it certainly sounds like I am. He took a pretty hefty jump from Rookie League in 2015 to High-A in 2016, so simply preparing for the higher competition and workload would be a tall order to ask. Expect the team to let him take 2017 slow to retry this season so everyone can get a better idea of which direction his projections might be headed.