First base is where fantasy owners usually look to for power. Over the years, a good number of fantasy owners have been able to roster two solid first basemen with little trouble. While the position is deep enough to still do so, some of those more stable options have started to decline with age. A few younger names have stepped up, but overall you are looking at an aging position of guys on the wrong side of 30 mixed in with a bunch of question marks. In the past you might have been able to wait on a first baseman, but this year you might want to consider acting early if you want someone who will deliver numbers you can depend on.
Like I stated last week, I will not be doing these early rankings alone and have brought in some help. Joining me for these early rankings (along with where you can find them) are:
Seth Klein (@SethDaSportsMan) from Fantasy Pros and contributor at RazzBall
Doug Anderson (@rotodaddy) from Fantasy Sports Network
Timothy King (@TKing978) from The Sports Script and host of Fantasy Forecaster on Blog Talk Radio.
David Kerr (@AskROTObaseball) from Fantasy Squads and host of the Ask ROTO baseball Livecast
Each week we will be bringing you our top (and bottom) players at each position for those baseball junkies who crave fantasy baseball all year round. Before we get to the rankings, lets take a look at this years free agent class (and it is a small one). Victor Martinez, Corey Hart, Michael Morse, Greg Dobbs, Lyle Overbay and Carlos Pena. Adam LaRoche, Billy Butler and Adam Lind are free agents as well, but they have a club and or player option so their status is up in the air. Not a very large or game changing group here. I expect Martinez to either sign a new contract with his current team or to be playing for a contender next year. Corey Hart is always a sleeper but hasn’t been healthy the past 2 years. Butler, Lind, Morse and LaRoche should also find work somewhere and their value is tied to where they will call home in 2015. The few other names you can hit the ignore button on, even in deep leagues. There will be enough 1B eligible outfield players you can field over those men.
The rankings below represent the top 25 First Basemen for the 2015 season. We used a 20 game minimum for games played to qualify so several players who may be eligible in your league might not have made the cut. Since David Ortiz and Chris Carter are the only true DH’s in the American league who do not qualify anywhere but are worthy of ranking, they will go here (check eligibility in your league and act accordingly with these 2 players). On with the rankings.
There is no debate on who the top 4 players are. The next four, while we may not all agree on the order were all ranked in the top 10 making them great choices once the big dogs are off the board. After that, opinions start to vary. Some players like Eric Hosmer were ranked fairly close by everyone, but the group was divided on others like Todd Frazier. The one thing we all basically agreed upon were the top 25 as a whole with the following exceptions. Seth and David did not rank Brandon Belt and thought Kennys Vargas or Mark Teixeira were worthy of a spot. Jim doesn’t think much of Adam LaRoche and felt Ryan Howard deserved to be ranked.
There are several other first basemen who may not have been ranked, but you still might want to keep an eye on them early in the season or maybe even take a late round flyer on. Youngsters like Jonathan Singleton could make an impact but there is a question about his ability to hit for average. C.J. Cron has the same issue along with the fact that the Angels seem unwilling to commit to him right now. Allen Craig fell apart in 2014 but could easily turn things around and be a solid corner infield player. Billy Butler is a free agent and with the right team could make an interesting flier or waiver wire pickup. Mike Napoli’s numbers are sporadic but could be worthy of a roster spot if everything lines up correctly for him. Then there are the retreads, the guys you either draft late or pick up off waivers and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with. Players like Adam Lind, James Loney, Garrett Jones, Kendrys Morales and Cory Hart can be rosterable at times, but odds are they will go undrafted in all but deeper leagues. Finally we have Joe Mauer who’s value plummets without catcher eligibility, but if the average can get back up to .300 he could be a decent source of runs and RBIs.
Player(s) that you would reach for in the draft
Seth: Matt Adams – Adams’ hot start faded after the All-Star break, which should cause his draft stock to fall, making him a perfect pick in the later rounds. His BA (.288) was nearly identical to last year (.284) and his BABIP was the same, meaning those are numbers you can probably count on. His K-rate dipped by 5 percent, his line drive rate went up, and his ground ball rate went down – all signs of maturation at the plate. His power numbers (15 HR) left owners wanting a little more, but at 26 years old, there’s no reason to think he won’t finally crack that 20-homer plateau in 2015. Also considered: Chris Davis and Adam LaRoche
Doug: Chris Davis – He had a terrible year and he seems to be everybody’s whipping boy. Yet prior to this year’s abysmal .196 average he had hit .270 or over the three previous years. And we all know about the power. I’ll take the small risk for the huge reward if he rebounds.
Tim: I’m all in on Anthony Rizzo. In 2014, Rizzo hit 32 homers and recorded a .913 OPS in 524 AB. “Little Joey Votto” has elite plate discipline and oh yeah, had a higher batting average against left-handed pitchers (.300) than righties (.281) last season. The slugger just turned 25 years old in August. Could easily see him cracking the top 5 in 2015.
Jim: Todd Frazier & Adrian Gonzalez – If I don’t get one of the top 4 first basemen I’ll reach for one of these two men. I know Gonzalez isn’t going to hit another 27 home runs, but 20 homers with 90 runs and RBIs with a .300 average pays the bills and there is little risk involved as far as decline and injuries are concerned. Gonzalez is always underappreciated, but I would take him any year. Frazier some may not agree with, but I have been waiting for the day the Reds had a manager that would know how to use him. The speed is for real, and while I expect some regression in the HR department, he should still put up a 20/20 season. Other than Goldschmidt, you’re not going to find speed at first. I’d rather own Frazier for third, but getting him early gives me an option of drafting the best corner infielder and not just a first or third baseman.
Player(s) you will avoid drafting
Seth: Michael Morse – I loved me some Morse during last year’s drafts. Coming off an injury-riddled 2013, he was a big sleeper, what with all his power potential and all. Morse got off to a sizzling start, smacking 11 homers in April/May, but he hit just five dingers the rest of the season, and continued to be plagued by more injuries. We saw his power on display in 2011, when he hit 31 HR and drove in 95 runs, but since then, he’s played in just 320 of a possible 486 games (66%), severely limiting his upside. Morse enjoyed AT&T Park this year, a known right-handed hitters’ haven, but he is a free agent this winter, and it’s possible he lands in a less favorable spot. Morse will always be a sleeper pick at the end of drafts, but he’s not worth taking, as he’ll likely end up on your DL before you have a chance to reap the rewards. Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard are also players I might avoid.
Doug: Freddie Freeman – A fine player, but is he really that much better than a Matt Adams? Yet Freeman will likely go off the board around the third round. I don’t see much upside for the cost. So, while avoid may be a bit strong, Freeman is very unlikely to find himself on my teams in 2015.
Tim: Prince Fielder is not the same hitter he once was. I don’t care if his home park is a Little League wiffle ball field (well, that might be OK). Contrary to popular belief, Globe Life Park is not all that much more suitable for left-handed power than Detroit was. Not including his horrid injury-shortened 2014, Fielder has suffered three-year slides in SLG%, ISO and FB%. Did it just get cold in here?
Jim: Justin Morneau – The soon to be 34-year-old had a nice comeback at Coors, but I’m not putting too much stock in that. He has hit .267 or lower since 2011 so I don’t expect anything close to .300. There isn’t much power left in the tank and 17 home runs isn’t enough for a guy with a bad average. Add in the low run totals and you’re left with backup/injury fill in material. Honorable mentions go to Chris Davis. He could bounce back, but the strikeouts and decline resembles more of Mark Reynolds than it does Adam Dunn. I can’t condemn anyone for taking the chance on him, but he won’t be on my team.
Average Joe, the player that you would wait on and settle for.
Seth: Joe Mauer – Who better to represent the “Average Joes”, than Mauer? I mean, it’s even in his name. Things could’ve been better in 2014 for the three-time AL batting champ. Mr. Minnesota began the season in typical fashion, slashing .301/.395/.368 through his first 34 games, but it was right around mid-May when things took a turn for the worse. His batting average began to plummet, yet former manager Ron Gardenhire decided it was a good idea to move him from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, to third, which only made things worse. He ended the first half on a bad note, injuring his oblique and missing the next 34 games. When he returned, it was clear he hadn’t fully recovered, but he continued be utilized in the three-hole. By looking at his stats, he was clearly a better hitter batting second (.299/.379/.396) than he was hitting third (.261/.347/.354). He also fared well when he was the Twins’ DH, hitting .304, compared to .272 as their first baseman. Whoever replaces Gardenhire needs to consider these stats. If he is smart, he will hit Mauer second, and possibly give him more rest by using him as a DH. With Kennys Vargas playing so well, why not use him at 1B? Mauer won’t ever hit 28 HR again like he did in 2009, and he may never even hit 15, but he’s far better than his four home runs suggests. With an influx of talent already in the Twin Cities (Vargas, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia) or on their way (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano), Mauer should have much better overall numbers next year. Also considered Adam Lind and Garrett Jones
Doug: Justin Morneau won’t get much credit for the great year he had, but I’d be fine with him at first base. There’s even a decent chance that he hits with more power in 2015.
Tim: I’d be completely fine settling on a Gonzalez, Votto or Pujols. All three are capable of pushing the top 5 if healthy and possess relatively high floors. If you want to build elsewhere early on in your draft, feel comfortable in knowing that one of the sluggers from this tier will be available in the middle rounds.
Jim: Joey Votto & Prince Fielder – Both men were injured last year so many are down on them, were former staples in the top five for first base and they will both be 31 so there is still something left. If for some reason their names still garner a high pick and they’re scooped up early, I’d settle for Matt Adams. He had a decent rookie season, can hit for average, should deliver around 20 homers and we should see an uptick in runs and RBIs. He has issues against lefties, but so do almost all rookies when they come up.
Late round pick that could make an impact
Seth: Chris Davis – Ok, you’re gonna think I’m crazy here, but Davis represents a fantastic buying opportunity in the later rounds of drafts. Will he fall that far? It’s possible. 2014 couldn’t have gone any worse for the Orioles’ slugger. After smashing a league-leading 53 HR in 2013, Davis struggled mightily this year, batting .196 with 173 strikeouts. By August, his stock had fallen so far that he was dropped by many of his owners. He capped off his miserable campaign by getting suspended for PED use. This is a guy who was a consensus top-10 pick coming into the season. On draft day, owners will need to answer the following question: will his 2015 season be closer to the 2013 model or will he have a repeat of 2014? I’d say it’ll be somewhere in the middle. Despite his awful batting average, Davis did hit 27 HR. That was far off from the previous year, but is it possible for him to stay within that home run range? Sure. Will he hit below the Mendoza Line again? Probably not. Prior to last season, his career BA was .266, which suggests there should be at least some increase next year. In owners’ eyes, Davis was a catastrophe, and rightfully so. If that personal hate carries over to his ADP, which it should to some extent, Davis will be a great 1B target in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts. The potential for 25-30 HR and 80+ RBI in the 10th round or later? Sign me up. Other late round picks to consider are Kennys Vargas and Yasmani Grandal
Doug: The extrapolation game doesn’t always work, but C.J. Cron should be able to repeat his 2014 stats over a whole season. He doesn’t walk much, so the average may not be pretty, but in that lineup 20-plus HRs, along with 60-plus runs and RBIs is easily doable.
Tim: I’m not sure if there are really any unknown commodities on this list. You pretty much know what to expect from all of the players I ranked at this position. However, when Eric Hosmer finally decides to break out, you’re going to want him on your roster. He’ll be 25 at the start of next season. He’s really got to get that groundball rate in check though. Oh, and if Chris Davis can cut down on his thirty-something percent whiff rate, he’ll be a big time value selection. Of course, that’s a big if.
Jim: Ryan Howard – I know, the average this year was (expletive deleted), but he still hit 23 home runs and knocked in 95. You can find better for a starting first baseman, but for a corner infielder or utility player Howard might not be a bad choice if he can bring that average up a few points, .250 isn’t out of the question. He did everything Brandon Moss did in 2014 and most of you loved him so cut Howard some slack.
Early 2015 Rankings
Want to hear more about the players ranked here, listen to David, Seth, Doug, Tim, Chris and Jim discuss their rankings every Wednesday on FantasySquads Radio – AskROTObaseball Livecast hosted by David Kerr.
Still need more rankings, head on over to Fantasy Rundown where Goose will be compiling rankings for the 2015 season as well as prospect rankings and the best baseball links available this off-season.