First base is one of the most frustrating positions in fantasy baseball – in an awkward sense. While it does sound counterintuitive that the most productive position brings so much struggle, it happens because you need your first basemen to be productive. It’s the position where you are expecting 30+ homers with big RBI chances, and any injury or slow start can seemingly derail an entire draft regardless of how many late round steals you got. Of course, these things do happen, and they happen frequently enough that you need backup options.
Plan B options can be based on position versatility, more playing time plus good rate stats, or a young talent finally maturing into a potential star. Here, we want to dissect a trio of players who are first base eligible that have enough reason to believe in them moving forward, as guys you may not expect initially to bring you that kind of value – but could.
Joe Mauer: Twins
It’s definitely a little late in his career for Mauer to develop anything more than we’ve already seen (although his power showing in 2009 sure would have been even nicer if it was longer term), but his peripheral numbers are suggesting some serious bouts of bad luck for the former catcher. Despite a sky-high 26.8% line drive rate, Mauer hit just .301 on all balls in play, which is incredibly low for that profile. He’s still maintaining hard contact on all hits too, with a strong 31.3% mark in 2016.
These would usually be the makeup of someone with a .300+ batting average, and of course with some bombs as well, but Joe ran into some bad luck hitting just .261, and .265 the year before. While it might be tempting to say that Mauer’s track record of keeping his numbers, peripheral and otherwise, almost the same for close to three calendar years, is perhaps indicative of general regression not applying to him. However, regression really does not wait for anyone, and in this case it’s a good one.
His contact swing has not been rewarded nearly as much as it should have been, and change is coming in 2017. His injuries and age may be somewhat worrisome, but Mauer should be available later in most drafts (or on waivers to start the season) where his value will shine.
Justin Bour: Marlins
Early ADP results have him sitting past the 300 mark in most drafts, which is pretty surprising for a 20+ homer hitter. His power is limited by his position, however, as 20 bombs is not so uncommon among other first basemen. But, while the counting numbers haven’t quite jumped out at anyone, his rate power numbers suggest Bour is an extra base machine, and at 28 should be mature and strong enough to start cranking out some more dingers.
His isolated power last season was a tremendous .211, and it was .218 the season before. Guys who put up power numbers similar to that are Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, and Adrian Beltre, some of the best hitters in the game. While Bour’s contact is not enough to be in the conversation with them as overall hitters, that’s some pretty fine company for power output.
The knock on Bour is his bad platoon splits, and to be honest it’s a real concern. He has a lot of trouble against lefties, and unless he can start making some ground in that area it’s going to be hard for him to get enough plate appearances to justify picking him up higher than where he is already going. But late 20s is generally when a players’ young skills mix well with the learned baseball IQ, so if it’s going to happen for Bour, this is the year.
Josh Bell: Pirates
This requires a few more pieces to fall in place given that, as it stands, Bell doesn’t actually have a job at the major league level yet. However this is about as much of a concern as Godzilla is in real life, since the Pirates’ current first baseman is actually a combination of John Jaso and David Freese, meaning the job could be his with strong showing in Spring Training.
Bell played for 45 games last season and had a 113 wRC+ over that short time frame, showing an ability to hit the ground running with little need to adjust. His power hasn’t shown much in the minors or in the majors yet, but he did just turn 24 years old which is when power starts to actually develop. He also is a switch hitter, helping bust platoon splits that so many others have trouble with, and guaranteeing him more starts. He has masterful control of the strike zone, striking out close to just 10% of the time in the minors, and that number was just 12.5% during his time last year in the show.
While his home run power is still developing, the ingredients for elite contact are there. Bell is an extremely exciting prospect, and his value will only increase as the season draws near, especially with a strong Spring. Try to grab him while you can as he has all the tools to be a star in this league.
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