First base is an interesting position this year. The first tier is made up of some of the best hitters in the game, some providing additional pop and others speed at a position not well known for it. After that there are players who are coming off career years like Freeman, others who struggled with an intriguing profile (Davis), and those with bothered being bothered by injury but put together a strong overall campaign (Carpenter). Later in the draft, players with high upside will be available (Bird) as well as consistent veterans (Hosmer), in addition to the Brad Millers, cheap batters who made an adjustment that are worth finding out whether said adjustments stick.
Before I begin, here’s a quick rundown of Risers and Fallers in on base percentage (OBP) leagues.
Many of the top first baseman are proficient at getting the free pass because they are generally power threats. Carlos Santana, Chris Davis, and Mike Napoli are three examples of players who benefit more in OBP leagues than batting average. Brandon Belt’s patience at the plate has seen him become a better option in OBP leagues than someone like Eric Hosmer. On the flip side, Pujols and Joseph lose value in OBP leagues. The former has not been adept at drawing walks since his final year as a Cardinal and the latter has shown little patience in the minors and in his first MLB season.
1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): Bryant put all his skills together in 2016 playing a key role in the Cubs first World Series win in over 100 years. Bryant saw a decrease in his strikeout rate while increasing his ISO and batting average without going into unsustainable territory. 2017 should bring another strong season from the Cubs star. What separates him from Goldy is the multi-positional eligibility.
2. Paul Goldschmidt (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks): Goldy is as good and consistent as they come. He’s one of the very few five category producers at first base and owns a pretty good case for being drafted number 2 after Trout. The Diamondbacks first baseman had a down year in terms of power, finishing the season with an ISO below .200 for the first time in his career. Goldschmidt had an uncharacteristic pop-out rate, more than double his career average and the flyball rate should be closer to his career average giving him a greater chance at sending them out of the park. He’s likely to steal less this season but the home runs should return into that 27-32 range.
3. Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit Tigers): One of the all-time great hitters, Miggy hasn’t slowed down. The power returned in a big way as he posted his highest ISO and home run total since 2013. Moreover, Miggy had the second highest barrels per plate appearance further showcasing his strong ability to make contact with an impressive power stroke. Furthermore, Cabrera’s walk and strikeout rates remained consistent with his career. He’s also only had fewer than 600 plate appearances in a season once since going full time.
4. Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago Cubs): Rizzo has made a name for himself over the past three years as one of the best hitters in the league. He combines power with a good batting average and bats in the heart of a dangerous Cubs lineup. After stealing 17 bases in 2015, Rizzo disappointed owners in this department finishing with just three. I’m not confident they return given he’s a year older, averaged around 6 pre-2015, and I don’t think Cubs manager Joe Maddon will have the heart of his order run a whole lot. At the end of the day, Rizzo’s value primarily comes from his bat making him one of the premier players at first.
5. Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds): Votto is arguably the smartest hitter in the game. He’s an OBP god and almost never pops out! He routinely takes the ball the other way, rarely pops out, which are only two of the factors that has helped him keep a .359 BABIP despite not having much speed. Votto’s 2016 season was incredible. After a relatively poor start by his standards, Votto exploded for a 201 wRC+ in the second half. Votto’s 2015 season was amazing. Due to his high OBP, Votto will have a shot at 100 runs. The lineup around Votto isn’t anything special. He’s shown for two straight years he can do lots of damage.
6. Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, Washington Nationals): Murphy’s rise as one of the better hitters in the game has been well documented. A swing change led to an explosion of power not before seen and combined with his already elite contact skills. Murphy’s career high batting average was aided by a career best BABIP. A career .296 hitter with a career .348 BABIP, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Murphy to hit around .310 this year. Furthermore, Murphy’s HR/FB% was 12.4% which is very much sustainable for the new Daniel Murphy.
This chart sums up what’s so exciting about Daniel Murphy: elite contact ability with a good power base.
7. Edwin Encarnacion (1B, Cleveland): EE will be looking to make his mark on the AL champs. He’s in a good situation; the Cleveland team has a strong lineup. While the former Jays slugger saw an increase in his strikeout rate, Encarnacion’s .266 ISO and .263 average show he’s still a very good hitter. Encarnacion benefited from the highest plate appearance total of his career leading to the most counting stats of his career. Expect another good year from Encarnacion although not as impressive as 2016.
8. Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves): Freeman played an integral role in the Braves having one of the best offences during the second half of the season. Freeman set career highs in multiple categories including home runs and hits. Freeman struck out more, hit more flyballs, and hit the ball harder showing the three signs that generally lead to greater power generation. The Braves first baseman also had the tenth highest barrels per plate appearance. To put simply, Freeman is capable of once again hitting the 30 HR mark likely being in that 27-32 range. The most intriguing development for me was Freeman’s location of batted balls. Freddie has always managed to make stellar contact evidenced by his strong line drive rate, one of the best in the league. This year Freeman went opposite field in close to 30% of his batted balls as opposed to his career 26%. This development may very well play a key role in determining how high his batting average goes. Freeman’s .370 BABIP was well above his career .341 BABIP. I don’t think he will be a .300 hitter in 2016 rather something closer to his career .288. The Braves offence still has some ways to go which may limit counting stats. With that said, Freeman is a fantastic hitter with impressive tools.
9. Chris Davis (1B, Baltimore Orioles): Here are Davis’s past four batting averages: .286, .196, .262, .221. The inconsistency of Davis is the biggest issue for him. You don’t know which version you’re getting. He has immense power, capable of 40 HR, and finished 17th in barrels per plate appearance. The high strikeout rate will limit his batting average and have him more prone to inconsistency. Davis’s pulled ball rate decreased from 56% to 41.7% suggesting he was trying a different approach. The reason he may have strayed from his pull happy ways? It very well might be the left-hand injury he dealt with since April. The injury certainly hand an impact on how comfortable he was when swinging throughout the season. At this stage, it’s best to treat him as a .240 hitter with lots of power. Based on his inconsistency and lackluster campaign, Davis looks like a candidate who may be undervalued heading into the season and return a good investment if healthy.
10. Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals): Carpenter is a player who transformed himself over the past couple of years. Once a low home run, high average type of hitter, Carpenter has managed to maintain a respectable batting average while delivering 49 home runs over the past two years. Carpenter also has tremendous patience at the plate shown by his low swing percentage and above average walk rate. He’s shown good zone control, waiting for “his pitch”. The biggest concern I have with Carpenter is the back issue that has cropped up in spring training. Back issues are tricky; I can understand the reservations thus drafting a batter with a better track record. Carpenter’s season fell apart in the second half of the season where he posted a .312 wOBA. This was partly due to a below average BABIP and increasing strikeouts. I trust Carpenter will manage to figure out how to continue getting the best of both worlds which he has shown in the past if he is healthy. With that said, here’s a chart of Carpenter’s dominance over the past two seasons:
11. Hanley Ramirez (1B, Boston Red Sox): For Ramirez, it’s all about opportunity. He should see plenty of chances to drive in runs with Betts, Boegarts, Pedroia, and potentially Andrew Benintendi batting ahead of him. Ramirez posted a HR/FB% about six points higher than his career average. He also saw his strikeout rate increase. Nevertheless, Ramirez has a good bat, good position in the lineup, and looks to have re-discovered that power stroke he had before 2014. There is an injury risk with Ramirez, an issue that can crop up. We’ve seen it in Spring Training with the shoulder.
12. Jose Abreu (1B, Chicago White Sox): Abreu managed to save his season after a disappointing start ultimately still finishing with his worst offensive season thus far. Abreu has averaged 30 home runs in his first three MLB years and has eclipsed 100 RBIs as well. He did post a below average HR/FB% for his standards. 2014 looks to be the outlier where he posted a .356 BABIP and 27% Hr/FB% making his past two years more indicative of his talent going forward. If he hits .285 with 30 HR, that’s a fine first baseman to have.
13. Carlos Santana (1B, Cleveland): Santana posted a career high 34 home runs as he played a key role in the AL East champs campaign. Fun Fact: He was one of five players to have a batting average higher than his BABIP. With the addition of Encarnacion, Santana’s situation does improve. He has a high walk rate making it likely he bats atop the order (most plate appearances batting first) so chances are better than ever that he can eclipse 100 runs. Santana has shown an ability to stay on the field having played fewer than 152 games once since 2011 (and in that season, he played in 142 games). He’ll steal a base here and there while putting up good power numbers. He’s got a good floor. Santana is certainly capable of building off his 2016 campaign.
14. Todd Frazier (1B/3B, Chicago White Sox): Frazier was one of the more frustrating players to own last year. On one side of the coin, Frazier hit 40 home runs with 98 RBI. On the other side, Frazier hit .225 spending most the season hovering close to the Mendoza line. He’ll likely settle into the 30-35 range for home runs this season and should can provide good counting stats. The batting average should be better considering Frazier had a career worst line drive rate and BABIP. With 48 stolen bases over the past three seasons, Frazier is a rare source of steals at first base. Lastly, Frazier has appeared in 150 or more games in each of his last four seasons.
15. Wil Myers (1B/OF, San Diego Padres): The former top prospect battled injuries, poor half seasons, but did eventually have a breakout campaign. The biggest difficulty with Myers is projecting stolen bases. It’s unlikely he picks up 28 again. 15 steals look like a safe floor for Myers with 25 steal upside assuming the Padres continue to run more than most teams. Myers exhibited good contact skills. The strikeout rate might just get under 20% after accounting for his swinging strike rate being 8%. Here’s a plot of players who had a swinging strike rate at 8 or below and their strikeout and walk rates. The next step for Myers will be to combine that 20+ HR power with a solid batting average. The upside here is a Goldy-lite. Or he could end up injured and not steal many bags…
16. Buster Posey (C/1B, San Francisco Giants): I went over Buster here. Ideally, he will be playing catcher on your team.
17. Tommy Joseph (1B, Philadelphia Phillies): Joseph has missed an abundance of time over the years. He suited up for 107 games this season and played well. 21 HR and a .257 average is nothing to scoff at. The HR/FB% might be a tad high although Joseph was pegged as a power first guy. The Phillies first baseman finished 22nd in barrels per plate appearance; I do get the sense Joseph will vie for 30 balls out of the park. His BABIP of .267 was a tad low. Joseph was a shade better than league average against righties. Further improvement here will yield better results for Joseph. Moreover, Joseph could use more patience at the plate and not hit into as many popups as he does. This will be something that comes with additional MLB experience. I see him building on his 2016 season.
18. Matt Holliday (1B/OF, New York Yankees): Deeper thoughts on Holliday here, I don’t think Holliday will fall of the cliff this year. The power was consistent, the batting average being poor was based moreso on a poor BABIP than skills decline.
19. Albert Pujols (1B, Los Angeles Angels): The future hall of famer has settled into being a 30 HR threat with an OBP of .325. Pujols managed 600+ plate appearances in all but one season in his career. There’s not much in his profile that makes me think Pujols will decline to a high degree. He should once again reach that 90 RBI range while challenging for 30 HR. Of course, he is 37 so there is an inherent risk with Pujols.
20. Greg Bird (1B, New York Yankees): This is all about the upside. Bird mashed in his brief MLB stint before injury to the tune of a .261 average and 11 HR in 46 games. In the minors, Bird was a consistent power threat and showed a strong walk rate. He has strong plate coverage for someone his age. Spring Training has been great for Bird as he’s hit 3 home runs in 21 plate appearances. Playing time might be an issue as there are many players vying for the 1B and DH role in New York. Considering Bird’s age, he does seem like a natural front runner. The former MVP of the Arizona Fall League surely has the tools to rake in the AL East.
21. Eric Hosmer (1B, Kansas City Royals): Hosmer will likely have more luck with balls in play this year but unlikely that carries over to balls that leave the park. Hosmer posted a career high 21.4% HR/FB%, well above his 13.4% career average. He hits too many groundballs to be a consistent home run threat.
22. Jonathan Lucroy (C, Texas Rangers): I went into greater detail on Lucroy here. Like Posey, in most scenarios Lucroy is your catcher.
23. Kendrys Morales (1B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays): Morales might just be a sneaky pickup this year. The Jays offence will continue to be very good and Morales will likely have many opportunities to drive players in. He likely won’t hit 30 HR again as it was only the second time in his career he’s done that although 25 is certainly plausible. Morales might benefit slightly by going to the AL East where there are 3-4 hitters’ parks.
24. Brandon Belt (1B/OF, San Francisco Giants): Belt’s a better real-life hitter than fantasy because of his home park. He’s pretty much will hit between .270-.280 with 15-20 HR. Anything more is a cherry on top. He’s made legitimate attempts to be more patient shown by a decreasing swing percentage at pitches outside the zone and an increasing walk rate. Belt has greater value in OBP leagues. In batting average leagues, it might be best to take a run at a higher upside batter such as Greg Bird or Tommy Joseph.
25. Adrian Gonzalez (1B, Los Angeles Dodgers): Gonzalez traded flyballs for groundballs which showed in his homerun output hitting his fewest since 2012. The strikeouts went up slightly as he posted his second straight year with a line drive rate of 26%. 2 months from being 35, I wouldn’t bet on Gonzalez getting back to his old ways.
26. Brad Miller (1B/SS, Tampa Bay Rays): Who saw this type of explosion coming from Miller? He hit 30 HR in his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Miller made mechanical changes adding more movement to his leg kick. The results have been impressive thus far. As shown by a higher strikeout rate, pull percentage, and flyball percentage, Miller made a concerted effort to get the ball out of the park. With his multi-position eligibility, Miller is the type of player worth investing in near the end of the draft to see if his breakout season carries over into 2017.
27. Justin Bour (1B, Miami Marlins): Playing time is an issue because he usually sits out against lefties. In around 400 plate appearances, Bour is capable of putting up a respectable batting average with 20+ HR. Key to a breakout is improved production against southpaws. If he begins to show such signs, he very well could be a solid waiver wire addition.
28. Victor Martinez (1B, Detroit Tigers): V-Mart won’t be as good as 2016. The HR/FB% will regress and the strikeout rate being up is bad news for making contact. He’s 38 but is in a good Tigers lineup.
29. Mike Napoli (1B, Texas Rangers): Napoli had a big year with 34 HR and 101 RBI. The HR/FB% will likely decrease in addition to his Isolated Power. Napoli over performed in 2016 and was the beneficiary of the highest plate appearance total of his career.
30. Mitch Moreland (1B, Boston Red Sox): A career .254 hitter who has averaged 23 HR in his last three full seasons (2013, 2015-2016), Moreland can potentially provide some pop. Depending on where he bats in the Red Sox lineup, he may rack up a bunch of runs or RBI. It has been reported that he might be in platoon.
- Chris Carter (1B, New York Yankees): One of the best power hitters in the game; unfortunately that’s all he really can do. If he can get a starting job or the Yankees show that he will get plenty of appearances, Carter will be a good pickup for power.
- Steve Pearce (1B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays): If Pearce can somehow manage to get into the Jays lineup consistently, and be healthy for a change,
- CJ Cron (1B, Los Angeles Angels): Cron like Bour, lacks the necessary playing time to be an every day 1B in most leagues. He has good power and average. If he is able to play the full season, Cron can hit 25 HR with a .280 average to go along with solid counting stats.
- Danny Valencia (1B/3B/OF, Oakland Athletics): Valencia has managed to transform himself into a pretty good hitter over the past couple of years. The growth has come from being able to hit right handed pitchers. Upside is limited due to an Athletics lineup that isn’t overtly impressive. Playing time may be an issue throughout the year.
- Josh Bell (1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): Young Pirates prospect, Bell isn’t a masher but makes consistent contact with a good walk rate to get on base. If he hits near the top of the lineup, there will be plenty of run scoring opportunities.
- Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): Bellinger is a very good hitter who combines his ability to make contact with an impressive power stroke. I’m probably higher on Bellinger than most; I think in his prime he can be a 35 HR player. Playing time is unclear at the moment; he very well could get looks in the OF at some point during the season. Bellinger has the tools to make an impact.
This concludes the top 30 first baseman. Some players may potentially gain first base eligibility such as Jose Bautista or Mark Trumbo. Be on the lookout for prospects who could make an impact like Cody Bellinger.