Photo Credit to Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports
Spring is coming as is another season of baseballs being mashed over the fence. It is always the best time of year when you can sit back and watch your first baseman fill out the scorecard for your fantasy team. 2017 was filled with a ton of breakouts for first base eligible players, but it also brought some hard decline to names that have sat at the top of draft boards for years. As much as drafters will want to own the biggest name for this position, it isn’t necessary with how deep the position has gotten. Some of this depth is due to the current home run environment thanks to the change in the ball, but also the new focus on launch angle by hitters.
In 2012, there were only 10 first baseman that hit 25 or more home runs. However, in 2017, there were 18 players that reached that mark. With all that power comes lots of responsibility… for the fantasy owner that is. Power is always nice to have, but that power usually leads to lower batting averages. Of those 18 players that hit 25 home runs or more in 2017, only 9 of them maintained an average north of .270, whereas 8 of the 10 first baseman in 2012 were able to perform this feat. The only two players to not do it were Adam Dunn and Ike Davis. Owners are going to need to plan for the lack of average that exists outside of the top 5 first baseman, but first base is still very deep because of the high power upside that does comes later in drafts. It just goes to show how much has really changed in 5 years time.
The rankings below were based on traditional 5×5 head to head leagues.
Tier 1- The Elite
1) Paul Goldschmidt- This one is should be no surprise. After reaching the .297/.400/.500 mark for the 4th time in 5 years, Goldy is once again at the top of world for first baseman. Not only is he great, but he hits in the middle of a powerful lineup that is only getting better. He walks at a 14% clip while having an elite average, which is hard to find in the later tiers, so you will have to spend a pretty penny on him. If you want a first baseman who can hit reach the .300/.400/.500 slash line while contributing 30 plus home run power and swipe 15 bases, Goldschmidt is as good as gold.
2) Joey Votto- For the 3rd year in a row, the Reds 1B surpassed the .300/.400/.500 slash line while hitting at least 29 long balls each of those years. Votto doesn’t have the same speed or lineup help that Goldschmidt does, but Votto is the model of consistency. Since 2009, Votto has ended a season with an OBP below .400 one time and that was in 2014 when he only played in 62 games. Tokki 2 is never a bad option and should be the top option at first in OBP leagues.
3) Freddie Freeman- Freeman snuck into tier 1 this year even with all the question marks surrounding the Braves lineup. The power fell off for Freddie in the 2nd half of 2017 after missing half of May and all of June with a wrist injury, but he has had all off-season to get his wrist back to 100%. If the young talents of Albies and Swanson can play up to the hype by the time that Acuna reaches the majors, Freeman will have the chance to match his 2016 season production in terms of runs and RBI. Expect the 30 home run pop to return for the Braves first baseman.
Tier 2- The Next Best Thing
4) Anthony Rizzo- Even though the Cubs offense wasn’t as scary in 2017 as it was the previous year, Anthony Rizzo was consistent regardless of his spot in the lineup. His fantasy owners even saw Rizzo hit lead off in 14 games last year, which netted him some extra at-bats. The Cubs offense shouldn’t see as many struggles as they did this past season and that will only help Rizzo push his 30 HR and 100 RBI streak to 4 seasons staight. Rizzo also has shown some speed, so you can expect 5 or more swipes with his 280 batting average.
5) Jose Abreu- Abreu is as consistent as they come in tier 2. He is a slugger that can easily pop 30 or more home runs a season while providing you a .290-.300 average. Jose won’t be the OBP king of your team with his 6% walk rate, but he has improved on striking out less every year since entering the league in 2014. The White Sox offense is improving with all the young talent, which only helps Abreu sustain his recent production.
6) Cody Bellinger- Bellinger is a superstar in the making and a lot of people are worried about a sophomore slump. Don’t be! Bellinger had some struggles in his rookie year, so he knows how to adjust once pitchers have adjusted to him. He hits the ball with authority every time at the plate as shown by his 43% medium and hard contact rates. He is in line for another year of 35 home runs and will add at least 5 stolen bases to your squad.
7) Edwin Encarnacion- Encarnacion at 35-years-old is still one of the best power hitters in the game. E5 will drag down your batting average a bit, but owning him guarantees you at least 35 home runs with 100 RBI. If Jason Kipnis can return to part of what he used to be, the top of the Indians lineup will provide Encarnacion plenty of RBI opportunities in 2018.
Tier 3- Middle of the Road
8) Wil Myers- Myers is in tier 3 because all of the hype for the Padres offense is still stuck in the minor leagues. If Myers were on any other roster, he would easily jump into tier 2. The top of the Padres lineup is questionable at best right now. The runs and RBI upside is fairly limited in San Diego for him, but he has the speed to lock up a 25 HR and 20 SB season once again. Owners will need to find average elsewhere as his average isn’t likely to go north of .260, even though he gets to play in Colorado and Arizona during the season.
9) Rhys Hoskins- Hoskins burst onto the scene in 2017 and surprised the entire baseball world as he slashed .259/.396/.618 while hitting 18 long balls and driving in 48 over his first 50 games. Regression is in order for the young 1B/OF as he hit home runs at an unprecedented rate. 31% of his fly balls turned into home runs last year and that rate is unsustainable. There is upside with Hoskins because of his elite bat speed, but there will be a lot of ups and downs as Hoskins grows this season.
10) Eric Hosmer- Hosmer still hasn’t signed as I write this little blurb, but the two teams that seem the most interested are the Padres and the Royals. Neither offense is bound to be spectacular in 2018 and Hosmer doesn’t bring over the top power either. Hosmer’s power upside is limited by his groundball rate that is consistently above 50%. One last concern is Hosmer’s soft contact went up by 3% during 2017 while his hard contact went down by 5%. The average will be there since he sprays the ball to all fields, but without knowing where he will land, it is hard to truly judge his fantasy value.
11) Ryan Zimmerman- Zimmerman was one of the biggest surprises in 2017, mostly because he was able to remain healthy, but also because he had his best offensive season since 2009. After having a poor 2016 campaign, in which Zimmerman averaged launch angle of 7.9 degrees and having the 12th highest average exit velocity, teammate Daniel Murphy helped Zimmerman get some loft in his swing. It proved to work as he was hitting balls at a 20 degree angle much more often. Zimmerman hit for a .303 average and 36 home runs while driving in 108. I wouldn’t expect the exact same production, but I project him at .277 with at least 28 home runs and 90 RBI in 2018 as part of a stacked Nationals lineup.
12) Carlos Santana- Slamtana is now a part of the Phillies organization and it only boosts his value. He struggled to hit well at Progressive Field last year as he mustered a .747 OPS at home versus a road OPS of .883. The move to Citizens Bank Park will benefit Santana while also being dropped into the middle of an improving Phillies lineup. Santana is an OBP machine, so he should be bumped up a couple spots in any OBP league.
13) Miguel Cabrera- Cabrera is a volatile player going into 2018 after struggling with back issues this past season. All of his peripherals show that Cabrera should bounce back, but it all rests on Miggy’s back. Cabrera actually hit 2% less ground balls in 2017 while hitting line drives 5% more often. Even though that Detroit lineup is going to have lots of struggles, no one should be giving up on Miggy just yet.
14) Justin Smoak- The former first rounder had a stellar 2017 in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup, where he put up 38 HR, 85 R, and 90 RBI with a .270 average. Smoak will hit behind Josh Donaldson once again, so the RBI chances will be aplenty. Smoak had a sustainable 19.7% HR/FB rate and even if it does drop slightly, Smoak did hit the highest amount of fly balls in his career, which will lead to a high floor for power.
15) Matt Carpenter- The Carp looked like a fish out of water at times last year as he struggled to perform up to his usual level. Finishing 2017 with a .241/.384/.451 line disappointed many of his owners because of how deep the corner infield positions are. His BABIP was over 40 points below his career mark of .321 and a lot of that was due to the 7% spike in fly balls by Carpenter. The nagging shoulder injury seemed to be a big part of the problem this past year, but Carpenter has been below average in counting stats the past 2 years with 68 and 69 RBI. Carpenter can still pop 20 home runs, but I worry everywhere else because of the shoulder.
16) Greg Bird- The off-season hype surrounding Greg made it sound like he was a bird ready to take off and fly into the top 10 first baseman. However, Bird got hurt early in the year and couldn’t get back onto the field until late August. From there, he proved that he belonged in the majors and could be a major contributor to the Yankees offense. Bird slotted into the 6th and 7th spots of the lineup most of the time. From late August until the postseason, Bird had 98 plate appearances, in which he hit .253 with 8 home runs and 25 RBI. Bird won’t steal you any bases, but similar to the Astros, you want any piece of this Yankees lineup that you can get your hands on.
17) Joey Gallo- Gallo is an absolute average killer, but he has all the power in the world for your fantasy team. His 36% strikeout rate is the part that hurts, but if he is able to work on that during his age-24 season and bring it down to 30%, we could see him as a .235-.245 hitter with 40 plus home run power.
18) Eric Thames- After returning from playing overseas in the KBO league, Thames returned to the MLB and lit the league on fire for the first month. In his first 24 games, he slugged 11 home runs and 19 RBI to the tune of a .345 average. He never got that hot again as he hit 20 home runs over the next 5 months. His at-bats are in question with the Brewers loaded outfield and Ryan Braun likely to see time at 1B as well.
19) Josh Bell- Bell had a surprising first full season in 2017. After being known for his plus hit tool throughout the minors, Bell showed some pop in his bat with his 26 home runs. With men on base, Bell was great at driving in his teammates with a .301 average and a .582 slugging percentage. The Pirates have already announced they are rebuilding, so the upside is limited since no one knows what the rest of the Pirates lineup will look like by the end of the 2018 season.
Tier 4- The Scrap Heap
20) Logan Morrison- Logan was one of the bigger breakouts at first base in the first half, but that’s where the breakout ended. Morrison smacked 24 home runs and drove in 57 RBI, but was only able to muster 14 home runs and 26 RBI in the remaining 64 games. He still hasn’t signed as I write this, but if he ends up back in Tampa Bay, the Rays roster has a lot of holes which limits his RBI and run upside.
21) Ian Desmond- Desmond didn’t show as much power as fantasy owners would have liked while playing in Coors, but Desmond showed he still has the speed. If Desmond is fully healthy this year, he could slot in as a 15 HR and 25 SB first baseman in a great Rockies lineup. He could see time in the outfield as well, which always helps with roster flexibility.
22) Matt Olson- Olson hit 24 home runs in his 59 games last year, but only 2 doubles and 23 singles. I didn’t even know that was possible. Olson is going to have plenty of opportunity to play in Oakland, but the 41.4% HR/FB rate is obviously not sustainable. He does come with a 10% walk rate, which boosts his value a bit, but don’t expect an average north of .245.
23) Yuli Gurriel- Gurriel doesn’t have great power, but will provide you with a batting average close to .300 while being a part of that Astros lineup. Yuli won’t have the best counting stats, but is a great player for your team’s utility slot as he is currently going outside the top 200 in drafts.
24) Joe Mauer- Mauer still has the great batting average and good on-base skills, but Mauer would be lucky to crack double digit homers in 2018. Mauer is only good in the deepest leagues at this point.
25) Yonder Alonso- The move to Cleveland boosts his value a bit, but Alonso is consistently inconsistent. Alonso will be below average across the board in nearly every statistic, but is a good guy to keep an eye on as a streamer throughout the year.
26) Ryan McMahon- McMahon is a guy to keep an eye on this season. He could easily break into the top 20 first baseman this year, but no one is sure whether or not McMahon wins the first base job in Colorado to get the at-bats he needs. I clearly wouldn’t expect him to carry a 20.8% walk rate for a season, but he has above average power to go along with a decent hit tool that will obviously play up at Coors.
27) Chris Davis- Father time seems to have caught up with the 31-year-old because he looked old on the field in 2017. Chris Davis watched a lot of called third strikes last year and there doesn’t seem to be a bounce back season in sight for the Orioles slugger. The strikeout rate for Davis has increased each of the past 3 seasons and took its biggest jump in 2017 from 32.9% to 37.2%.
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