Third base is a black hole.
Or so it seems of late throughout the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. While Juan Uribe, after two terrible years, finally had a strong season to bring some stability to the big-league squad at third, there was little behind him last year and even less for this coming season.
A total of six players appeared in at least 20 games at third base with the Albuquerque Isotopes and the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, yet only Ozzie Martinez remains with the organization.
Martinez has spent most of his career as a shortstop, though he has played 68 games at third in his career, including 49 last season between the Isotopes and Lookouts.
To make matters worse for the Isotopes, Josh Bell, a natural third baseman signed as a free agent earlier this offseason, has opted out of his deal to sign with the LG Twins in Korea.
As for the rest of the players expected to open with Albuquerque, there is either scant overall experience or little recent experience at third base.
Veteran Brendan Harris has 98 career starts at third in the Majors, plus 458 games there in the minors. Daniel Mayora has 315 games of experience at the hot corner, but none of those games were played last season. Jamie Romak has piled up 150 games at third, but only 13 of those came last year at Memphis (Cardinals). Justin Sellers (35 total, 11 last year) and Miguel Rojas (24 total, none last year) round out the short list.
The problem the Dodgers face is that there is not much behind this group. Only two of the four players who appeared in 20 or more games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga are still with the organization. Neither Bladimir Franco (.198/.261/.284) nor Scott Wingo (.227/.371/.336) are considered much of a prospect.
That means not only do the Dodgers not have a sure thing to play third base at Albuquerque, but Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga as well.
The three players who appeared in at least 20 or more games at third base at Low-A Great Lakes hardly inspire much confidence, either. Brandon Dixon, a third-round pick in last year’s draft out of Arizona, hit just .185/.227/.261 in 58 games at third base. Still, he probably has more upside than Paul Hoenecke (.230/.298/.336) and Leo Rodriguez (.256/.333/.286).
A wild card in all of this is the Dodgers’ top infield prospect, Corey Seager, who is considered a future third baseman by most baseball scouts, though the organization seems committed to keeping him at shortstop as long as possible in the hope he can stay at that equally important position.
If the Dodgers do decide to move Seager to third, he seems unlikely to move up to Chattanooga or Albuquerque just yet. After all, Seager only turns 20 in April and finished 2013 batting .160/.246/.320 in 27 games with Rancho Cucamonga.
The problem at this point in the offseason is that there is very little left out there in terms of free agents.
There are currently only five free agents who spent at least 20 games at third base with a Triple-A team in 2013. None is terribly inspiring.
Drew Sutton (.245/.348/.329 at Pawtucket) has spent most of his career as a utility player. Jim Negrych (.285/.360/.385 at Buffalo) has primarily played second base in his career, while Gregorio Petit (.292/.344/.380 at Tucson) has mainly been a shortstop. Combined they hit seven home runs last season. That is better than Petit’s former teammate Jesus Merchan (.254/.299/.315), who went homerless last season.
The final candidate is 37-year-old Mike Cervenak (.291/.330/.390, 5 HR, 36 RBI), who had a decent half season at Toledo (Tigers).
All told there is little help out there for the Dodgers and not much talent throughout the farm system. If Uribe goes down this season or turns back into a pumpkin, a team aiming for a championship could be in serious trouble.