FbR debuted its Top 25 series last week with a look at the catcher position. Like usual, fantasy talent behind the dish is tough to find. However that’s not an issue at first, where it’s likely that the 10th best first baseman will produce comparable value to the best catcher. Given the depth at first one might be inclined to punt the position, but that’s a misguided strategy. Most fantasy leagues include corner infield or general infield spots, along with utility positions, so there are plenty of places to put your cornermen.
While we presented the catcher rankings in a conversational style, I will present the first base rankings as a “quick hit” variety that spends two to three sentences discussing each player in the top 25. Once again, these rankings are best utilized in a traditional 5×5, re-draft fantasy league.
01. Paul Goldschmidt: Yes, the humidor will probably negatively effect every D-Backs hitter, however Goldschmidt is near automatic for 100-30-100-15-300 from the first base position. His high average and stolen bases are really what differentiate him from the pack. He’s in a tier by himself.
02. Freddie Freeman: Freeman, who also possesses third base eligibility in most leagues, has rounded into one of the most complete hitters in baseball. He walks, doesn’t strike out much, hits for power and sprays balls to all parts of the field. Draft him in the first round with the confidence that you’ll get 35 home runs, great runs and RBI numbers and a 300 average.
03. Joey Votto: Votto has finished with a 450 OBP in two of the last three seasons and has a 428 career mark. The last player to post marks that impressive so consistently was Barry Bonds. I know we’re looking at a batting average league, but that’s still darn impressive and will ensure Votto’s run totals are always top notch. He also has a pretty darn good batting average because of his ability to take make contact and take pitches to all fields. While the power surge from last season will be hard to repeat, Votto is a virtual lock for 30 homers and a 315 average.
04. Cody Bellinger: Part of me is wary about Bellinger and the potential sophomore slump that could be hanging over his head. But digging into the numbers, Bellinger’s power seems real. He hits the ball hard and mostly in the air. He has the minor league pedigree. And the thing that vaults him to fourth is the athleticism and speed that will enable double digit stolen bases. 40 home runs with 10 steals is well within reach. He also has outfield eligibility to boot.
05. Rhys Hoskins: Homer alert: Hoskins is probably my favorite player in baseball. He also hits a lot of home runs. The batting profile is pristine: he hits the ball hard, he hits tons of fly balls and he rarely swings and misses. That combination is exceedingly rare, and makes for a player capable of competing for the home run title year-in and year-out. His average will never be great due to all the fly balls, but I think he’ll settle in nicely in the 280 range, which is plus for a first baseman.
06. Anthony Rizzo: Is Rizzo too consistent? Almost to the point of boring? The guy has had from 31-32 homers, 94-99 runs and 101 to 109 RBIs each of the last three years. My ranking of Rizzo is probably lower than most, and that’s because I think some lower-ranked first base have a decent shot at replicating his 95-30-100-280 batting line. Draft both Bour and Smoak and I bet one approaches those figures at a fraction of the cost.
07. Edwin Encarnacion: Edwin likely suffers from a bit of Rizzo-itis in fantasy owners’ eyes: he’s been around for a while and is super predictable in his performance. Put 35 home runs, 100 RBIs and 90 runs in the bank. In OBP leagues he’s potentially a top 15-20 player, as his 15%+ walk rate last year was a career mark, but his consistently low BABIPs and averages make him a cut below the rest at first.
08. Joey Gallo: This is a ballsy ranking for Gallo in traditional 5×5 leagues, as it’s unlikely that Gallo posts a batting average above 230. But the rest of his production will make up for it. 50 home runs is well within reach, and a mark Gallo could have achieved last year if he wasn’t so deprived of plate appearances at the bottom of the Rangers’ batting order. He also has the potential for high single digits, or maybe even double digit steals due to his underrated athleticism.
09. Jose Abreu: After a slow start to 2017, Abreu rebounded into the form we’ve come to expect and even added some additional power on top. His all fields approach and reasonable strikeout rate mean an average from 290 to 300 should be expected, while you can feel safe projecting 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
10. Wil Myers: With the Padres’ signing of Eric Hosmer, Myers will be relegated to the outfield in 2018, which only increases his value in fantasy due to positional flexibility. To be perfectly honest, I’m a not a huge fan of Myers’ batting profile. He strikes out a tad too much for the amount of power he generates. But the 15-25 steals he’s capable of providing from first really drive his value.
11. Matt Olson: What to make of Matt Olson, the guy who whit 24 home runs in less than 60 games last year? The 40%+ HR/FB rate will certainly come down, and his 13% swinging strike rate could mean more strikeouts. But the rest of the batting profile says that Olson is legit with a strong hard hit rate and lots of pulled fly balls. Olson’s upside probably resides in the type of season Gallo had last year.
12. Justin Bour: Bour’s breakout 2017 has largely been forgotten about due to injuries that scuttled the end of his season and the pillaging of Miami’s roster that has occurred this offseason. But let’s not forget that Bour’s 2017 figures extrapolate to 40 home runs and 110 RBIs in a full complement of plate appearances. He’ll probably slide down draft boards due to the state of the Marlins, so don’t be afraid to pounce even if you already have a first baseman picked.
13. Miguel Cabrera: Miggy burned a lot of people last season, myself included. He was a below average overall hitter, which meant that from a fantasy perspective he was garbage at first. But this is also the same guy who posted a wRC+ of at least 148 the previous three years. Cabrera was allegedly hampered by back problems all last season, so maybe an offseason of rest did him well. Not a bad a guy to target for upside later in the draft.
14. Eric Hosmer: Thank god Hosmer finally signed. After mulling multiple long-term offers for what seemed like forever, Hosmer officially inked with the Padres in mid-February. Worm-burning tendencies and low strikeout rate make Hosmer a good bet for a decent average, but we shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s .351 BABIP. More realistically we’re looking at a 280 hitter with 25 home runs and 80-90 on the RBI and run stats. Decent but not much to shake a stick at at first.
15. Justin Smoak: The former top prospect finally put it all together last season! He cut his swings and misses significantly and lowered his strikeout rate while continuing to hit the ball hard and in the air, with a 38 home run / 99 RBI season to show for it. Toronto should be decent this season with a bunch of underrated offseason additions, so a 90-35-95 line with a 260 average is certainly within the cards.
16. Josh Bell: Bell, known as a high-contact guy with okay power, surprised a lot of people by hitting 26 bombs last season for Pittsburgh. He did so with a 10%+ walk rate and a sub-20% strikeout rate, which combine for a very solid batting profile. Bell actually profiles similarly to Eric Hosmer, with a ground-ball heavy approach and contact ability that should enable a decent average. His 255 figure in 2017 was dragged down by an unlucky 278 BABIP, but both of those numbers should rise this year.
17. Greg Bird: Bird might have the most upside relative to draft position of any player on this list. While his 2017 regular season was hampered by injury and relatively unimpressive overall, he managed a 575 slugging percentage and 128 wRC+ in 87 post all-star break at bats. He followed this up with three home runs and a 151 wRC+ in the postseason. Bird’s lefty pull tendencies play very well in Yankee Stadium, and he has an outside shot at 40 home runs if he plays a full season.
18. Ryan McMahon: This site has been pimping the wares of Ryan McMahon since last season, and now it looks like he’ll have an opportunity to produce at the MLB level with the Rockies’ first base job within reach. McMahon arguably had the best hitting season in the minors last year, with a combined 355 / 403 / 582 batting line between AA and AAA. As a testament to his power potential, McMahon smacked an outstanding 63 extra base hits in 470 minor league at bats. Given the Coors effect and the Rockies potent lineup, McMahon is a real sleeper.
19. Matt Carpenter: Carpenter is someone whose value is totally league dependent – if you count OBP, his back-to-back 380+ seasons make him a valuable add. But in a batting average league he’s better off on the waiver wire. While Carpenter hits a lot of fly balls, and he hits them hard, he’s consistently under-performed on HR/FB rate in recent years. He’s also had lingering back and shoulder issues over the last 12 months which present some concern.
20. Ryan Zimmerman: There’s no doubt about it: Zimmerman had a fantastic 2017, posting the second best wRC+ of his career and helping push numerous fantasy squads over the top. But the degenerative shoulder condition that Zimmerman suffers from, as well as a the looming presence of Matt Adams, should temper expectations for Zimmerman this season. Adams is likely to snag an increasing share of at bats against righties, cutting into Zimmerman’s PAs and counting stats.
21. Chris Davis: The nearly 32-year old Davis seems to have lost a step last season, with a strikeout rate climbing into the high 30%s and a pedestrian slugging rate of 423. While a bit of rebound is in order this year, Davis will need to do more than hit 35 home runs to make up for a batting average that will be in the 215-230 range.
22. Carlos Santana: Santana is one of those guys that profiles as a much better real life player than fantasy player. His nearly 1:1 walk to strikeout ratio will be a real boon for the Philadelphia Phillies, but his 250ish average and 25 home runs is unexciting at best in 5×5 fantasy. In the end Santana is very similar to Carpenter – valuable in OBP leagues but barely roster-able otherwise.
23. Brandon Belt: See Carpenter and Santana. Belt’s fantastic walk rate doesn’t do much for him in batting average leagues, and AT&T Park’s spacious right field won’t be shrinking any time soon, thus keeping his power numbers suppressed.
24. Eric Thames: Thames took the baseball world by storm in April 2017, and despite a second half slow-down he still finished with 31 home runs and a 124 wRC+ in 138 games. His approach was good, with lots of hard contact and very few infield flies. Thames’ ranking this season would be higher if not for Milwaukee’s offseason additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, which will likely push Ryan Braun and Thames into a time share at first.
25. Jose Martinez: The 6’7″ Martinez burst onto the scene in the second half of 2017 with St. Louis, clubbing 14 home runs in 272 at bats and producing a 309 / 379 / 518 batting line. The 29-year old late bloomer probably deserves a bit of skepticism after never having made an MLB impact before, however he hit the ball exceedingly hard and showed great plate discipline. Playing time might be an issue though. Martinez is the backup first baseman and fourth outfielder for St. Louis, so unless an injury occurs he’ll struggle to get to 500 at bats.