Before we get to our first base rankings Sunday, I wanted to take a few moments to dig into some of the first base thumpers a bit more. Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I think my teams are going to have a bit of an infield tilt this year as I feel like all the positions around the horn have a pronounced drop off after the top 5-7.
I really like Carlos Santana, but if you’re starting him against a team with a top-five first baseman, you’re likely giving up a lot and will have to win other battles by a wider margin. The depth at first base is still unmatched, but it is rather top-heavy. I would much rather have one of those deeper options at my utility or corner infield spot than starting at first base for me.
I’ve said many times in the past that tiers are more important than rankings. With that being said, I’m going to break down the top three tiers at first base to give you a better understanding how good these players are, why they belong there, and why you should target them as opposed to settling for what remains once they’re gone.
Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Votto, and Freeman
I take it that nothing needs to be said for Goldy or Rizzo. They’re both freakishly consistent, with Goldy being a true five-category contributor. As for Votto and Freeman, I will spend a few words explaining on why I believe they belong in that elite first tier.
Joey Votto: I know he’s older than the other three, but he just had arguably the best season of his career. He might be the best hitter in baseball period. Votto has a cerebral aspect to his approach that is unmatched. I have no qualms grabbing “Votto-matic” in the late first or early second rounds. This goes double for points and OBP leagues. Granted there is always the potential for a Miguel Cabrera 2017-type season — nothing you can do if this happens, but you can’t shy away from a top hitter showing zero signs of regression.
Freddie Freeman: Like Votto, Freeman should be considered part of the barbershop quartet at first base. He hits the ball as hard as anyone in the league. I was a little skeptical given his prolific strikeout rates, but it appears he is extremely legit. Freeman has actually performed at a higher level than Rizzo the last two years on a per-game basis. He has had a bit of an injury bug in his career, though, hence the ever so slight discount. Suntrust Park seems to have been tailor made for him. That, combined with his breakout, pushes him into the elite tier regardless of his surrounding cast.
Bellinger, Hoskins, Edwin, and Abreu
Rhys Hoskins: I want to include Hoskins with that top 4, but it would likely be jumping the gun. He burst onto the scene last year in a big way and carried more than one of my teams down the stretch. Hoskins obviously won’t be quite as good as he was last year, but all the underlying numbers say he’s legit. I am willing to pay the price here with the hope that he’s the next Anthony Rizzo. Playing the outfield everyday bugs me a bit, but not enough to fade him.
My ony real concern, which is probably an unfair one, is the Phillies had a guy like this not too long ago. His name was Maikel Franco. Franco was a high-contact power hitter who had an awesome debut, but he has yet to live up to the initial hype. Still, I’m willing to bet Hoskins is more Rizzo than Franco. And it’s worth mentioning that Franco is only 26, so maybe we shouldn’t quit on him just yet. Hoskins is actually my preference for this year even though I ranked Bellinger ahead of him. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love low K guys with power potential.
Cody Bellinger: Not much to say about the 2017 NL rookie of the year. This guy has a really fun swing that harnesses power from his head to his toes. He blasted 39 bombs in just 132 games last year and is dual eligible. The 26.6% K rate isn’t my favorite, but it is a manageable rate. If he repeats this year, then I would move him into the top tier next year. Did I mention he’s dual eligible?
Edwin Encarnacion: There were times last year where Edwin looked legitimately bad. The end of year numbers still ended up being really good, even if they were a step down for 2016. He’s still in an awesome lineup, and nothing in his underlying numbers or batted ball profile suggest that he lost anything in 2017. That said, I’m just a little concerned as he’s entering his age 35 season, and his propensity for streakiness is not bad for roto, but it’s maddening for H2H.
Jose Abreu: Abreu is the last first baseman I feel comfortable starting; for everyone else after him, I would rather use at utility or corner infield. He is really consistent and should continue to be a solid four-category contributor. The lineup around hm has taken a big dip, which is a bit of a concern. Still, Abreu should put up fine numbers as always. I prefer everyone ranked ahead of him, but his consistency over the last several years has earned him a place in this tier.
Cabrera, Carpenter, Santana, Hosmer, and Myers
Miguel Cabrera: This guy is an all-time great. He was the best hitter in the game for about ten years. Even over the past few years, he has shown the ability to hit with pop when healthy. That’s my biggest concern: will he ever be healthy? Will we ever even know if he’s healthy? He has played through so many different injuries that have diminished him, so it’s hard to tell anymore.
The underlying numbers from 2017 say he’s still a stud hitter and was just unlucky. Based purely on hunch argument, a lot of great hitters have that one last big season before starting to fade completely. 2018 could be that for Miggy. I still don’t want to start him at first base; there’s too much risk for me. I do want him, though, as a CI or Util guy.
Matt Carpenter: Much like Miggy, Carpenter had a down 2017 in spite of strong underlying stats and batted ball numbers. Gone are the days of multi-eligibility for Carpenter, at least on sites with a 20-game eligibility. He’s a weaker option for first base, though he has had runs where he looked like a truly elite player at any position. He did this as recently as the first half of 2016 before falling off after an oblique injury. The stats say he was unlucky last year, and I’m inclined to agree.
Carpenter is 32, which is still a good bit younger than Votto, Edwin, and Miggy. The Cardinals lineup also looks to have improved a bit with the addition of Ozuna, so maybe he can benefit from increased run production. Carpenter has also historically had an elite plate approach that put him on the same kinds of lists as Votto, Bautista, and Santana for being much more valuable in points and OBP leagues. I would be very happy with Carpenter at CI or Util.
Carlos Santana: Santana gets a lift in OBP and points leagues, but he has still been pretty useful in roto leagues over the years as well. I think he gets a slight bump playing in Philly this coming year. That park tends to play small, and I think he is a likely candidate to pop 30+ homers in 2018. I also think this Phillies lineup could be sneaky good this year and would not be shocked if they overperformed.
Eric Hosmer: He’s pretty good — never as good as you hope, but he did have a big year last year with a .318 average and 25 bombs. The average was likely powered by a BABIP spike of 30 points better than his career average, so I would bank more on the normal .280-.290 rather than over .300.
Hosmer is solid, but he isn’t what you want starting at first in fantasy, unless 2B, 3B, and SS are stacked with top-tier talent. If he’s your corner or untility guy, then I’m all for it. It’s hard for me to get excited about a guy who has hit over 50% ground balls during the past 4 years. Hosmer will never be elite unless there is an obvious approach change and/or a nice park change, given that he is still a free agent at the time of this article.
Wil Myers: The Rookie of the Year and big prospect sheen appears to be clean off of Wil Myers. He went 30/20 last year after going 28/28 the year prior. Steals are extremely scarce, especially from a corner guy, and if you can get that from your CI or Util along with a bit of pop, I’m all for it. People also seem to not like drafting him, so you should be able to get him at a good value. It’s worth remembering that Myers was once viewed the way that Hoskins and Bellinger are viewed now. It’s not out of line to suggest he could have a monster year in his own right.
You will be hearing this from me a lot this draft season, but I am going to go very hard after top infielders. I imagine I will take one very good outfielder and starting pitcher in the first 10 rounds or so, but the rest of my picks will be spent on difference makers around the diamond. There is depth everywhere, but I find each infield position to be quite top heavy. I will be targeting at least one tier-1 first baseman, and then I’ll be trying to fill my CI and Util with tier-2 and tier-3 guys. The guys farther down the list are useful as well, but I’m planning on getting at least 2 of these 13 players on every single team this year.
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