Over the history of Major League baseball, only 17 third basemen have made it into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. That is the fewest number of any position, including pitchers.
The last third sacker to be inducted was the late Ron Santo of Cubs fame, who was chosen by the Golden Era Committee in December of 2011 and was part of the Class of 2012.
I bring that up now, because I truly believe there is a deeper pool of quality third basemen in the Majors now than there has been in years. The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera is coming off a Triple Crown year and is the best, but let's face it, he wouldn't be playing third if the Tigers hadn't signed Prince Fielder to play first base before last season.
The National League has at least seven quality third basemen. Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, the Mets' David Wright, the Cardinals' David Freese, Pedro Alvarez at Pittsburgh, the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez and of course in the NL West you've got the Giants' Pablo Sandoval and the Padres' Chase Headley.
There are a couple of more in the American League West as well, in the Rangers' Adrian Beltre and Seattle's Kyle Seager.
This brings us around to the American League East, where I believe there is the greatest concentration of good young third basemen in the Majors.
In Baltimore, 20-year-old Manny Machado was tabbed as the O's shortstop of the future. But when Buck Showalter needed a third baseman, Machado was installed in the latter part of last season and cracked seven homers and drove in 26 runs in just 191 AB's. Now he looks like a fixture at third and a star in the making.
Boston has 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks, a right-handed hitter like Machado who hit .288 last season as a rookie with 15 homers and 54 RBI's in just 267 at-bats. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough, but the Sox believe the plate discipline will come in time.
Brett Lawrie had a tumultous first full season with the Blue Jays after setting the baseball world on fire in the second half of 2011 in his "Big League Debut".
His power numbers dropped off, as the 23-year-old hit .273 with 11 homers and 48 runs batted in to go with 13 stolen bases. Lawrie made over-aggressive baserunning gaffs at times, was suspended for bouncing his batting helmet near an umpire and was injured when he tumbled into a deep camera bay at Yankee Stadium.
Still with all of that, Lawrie's range at third, his tremendous glove work and incredibly strong arm bode well for the future. The Blue Jays new manager John Gibbons saying he still has the potential to be one of the best players, not just among third basemen but in the game.
Tampa Bay has the best of the bunch right now in 27-year-old right hand slugger Evan Longoria. Longoria missed more than nine weeks last season with a hamstring tear. His absence likely kept the Rays from going on a long post-season run. In just 273 at-bats Longoria still hit 17 homers and drove in 55 runs. Cy Young winner David Price insisted the Rays would have won at least 10 more games - possibly 20 - if their third baseman had played the entire season. As it was they finished 90-72.
The Yankees are the only team in the East without a quality young third baseman. Alex Rodriguez, in the twilight of his career at 37, is out at least until the All-Star break after his hip surgery and he's also dealing with another round of PED allegations. Six-time Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez opted to sign with Arizona in the off-season as a free agent. So it's up to soon-to-be 34-year-old Kevin Youkilis to hold the fort. Though a tremendous gamer and fierce competitor, "Youk" is on the downside of a solid career. The right-hand hitter only hit .236 with the White Sox after being forced out of Boston, with 15 homers and 46 runs batted in.
Another interesting point on third basemen. Since the current World Series MVP award was first presented in 1955, a third sacker has won the honour 11 times. Oddly enough, it's happened three times in the last six Fall Classics, including Mike Lowell of the Red Sox in 2007, David Freese of the Cardinals in 2011 and the Giants' Sandoval last season.