Now that it’s finally the offseason, it’s time to start putting out our rankings. We’ll start off the week with first base and I plan to roll out top 20’s for every infield position this week.
Note: All hard contact rates quoted in this post are from Baseball Savant.
1. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Some people may be surprised to see Rizzo in the number one spot, but he easily has the safest floor among his other colleagues at the position. He had one of the best walk-to-strikeout ratios among qualified batters last season and has the ability to put up 30+ home runs in a season. This past season we saw Rizzo increase his line drive, which should help him post a BABIP higher than the .287 we saw last season. According to Baseball Savant, his batting average was twenty points lower than his expected batting average. Now Rizzo being a left-handed hitter, he will likely always have a lower batting average than his expected batting average due to the shift. A BABIP above .300 is still a likely outcome for the 29-year-old first baseman. At the end of the second round, I’m fine with taking a .295 hitter with 30/5 potential.
2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Freeman had another exceptional season in 2018 that ended with a .309/.388/.505 slash line. So it isn’t surprising that he is the number one first baseman off the board in many mock drafts, but we could start to see a decline in production in 2019. With 32.3% line drive rate and a 39.8% hard contact rate last season, his BABIP will likely remain remarkably high, but that could come with a drop in home run production. Last season we saw his fly ball rate drop 9.3%, so there’s a chance we may never see Freeman reach 30 home runs again. With that being said, a .300 hitter with 25-30 home run potential is still a valuable asset to end your second round or start your third.
3. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt had another outstanding season which saw him hit 33 home runs while also maintaining a .290 batting average. With that, however, came a very concerning 25.1% strikeout rate. With an increase in swing percentage and contact rate, however, we should expect that strikeout rate to drop somewhere around 23.0% next season. I do expect his BABIP and home run rates to drop a little bit due to the humidor, but I still expect a .330 BABIP season with close to thirty home runs. With his upside, Goldschmidt should still be looked at as a quality second to third round pick in any draft.
4. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger followed up his tremendous rookie season with a somewhat disappointing 2019 season, which saw him hit fourteen fewer home runs than the year prior. He did have some positive peripherals like an increase in line drives and a decreasing strikeout rate. This lower strikeout rate was backed by an increase in swing percentage and contact rate. With a high amount of fly balls and above-average strikeout rate, however, his batting average will likely never go above .260. Even with a mediocre batting average, Bellinger still offers the 40/15 upside that is worth a flyer to start the fourth or fifth round.
5. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Votto had his third straight season leading the National League in on-base percentage. Sadly this isn’t much help for your fantasy team unless you are playing in points or OBP leagues. The biggest disappointment for Votto owners in 2018 was his lack of power. In 2018 Votto hit only twelve home runs. Luckily for Votto owners, his expected slugging percentage versus his real slugging percentage had over a .100 points difference. Now we may never see Votto reach the thirty-six homers he had in 2017, but somewhere in the mid-twenties still seems very likely for the 35-year-old.
6. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Carpenter had a very interesting season that saw hit for an outstanding batting average of .323 in June and July, but he only hit .223 for the rest of the months. These hot and cold streaks led to him finishing off the season with a .257/.374/.523 slash line. His low batting average can be mostly attributed to his patient approach at the plate and a ridiculous ground ball to fly ball ratio. His patient approach will often cause him to take the first strike, which obviously will lead to a higher strikeout rate. While his line drive rate is near elite, his massive amount of fly balls will make it hard for his BABIP to stay above .300. With his amount of raw power, however, we could see another thirty home run season from 32-year-old in 2019. Carpenter’s ability on the diamond is more suited for the real game rather than fantasy, but he still makes for a great pick somewhere in the fourth or fifth round.
7. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
We saw Abreu fall off a little bit in 2018 as his home run rate and batting average both took a dive. Even with that fall in production, Abreu’s peripherals, for the most part, stayed the same. He still has a solid floor of a .270 batting average and a home run total somewhere in the high twenties, which would make for a safe pick in the sixth round of a twelve team league.
8. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
After hitting only five more home runs in 2018 than he did in 2017 in 444 more plate appearances, Olson will likely come at a discount in 2019. I like Olson more going into to 2019 drafts than I did in 2018 because all his peripherals look a lot better than they were in 2017. His hard contact rate is up, line drive rate is up, strikeout rate dropped 3.1%, his contact rate is also up, and his O-Swing% is also down by a considerable margin. With all these peripherals coming together he looks like a .250 hitter who can also put up 30-40 bombs in 2019. My bold prediction and probably a very unpopular opinion is that Matt Olson will bring fantasy owners more value in 2019 than Khris Davis himself, and it likely be a six to seven round difference in ADP.
9. Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee Brewers
Aguilar had a breakout season in 2018 that put him on many fantasy owners’ radars. His power is undoubtedly here to stay as he has posted a hard contact rate of precisely 42.6% the past two seasons. With this power, a tremendous line drive rate, and a healthy amount of fly balls, he should be able to overcome an above average strikeout rate due to his high hit probability on batted balls. With this amount of upside, don’t be surprised if Aguilar is being drafted in the top 100 in your 2019 drafts.
10. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
Last season there were only three batters with at least 100 plate appearances and a negative launch angle according to Baseball Savant. Hosmer was one of these players. His poor launch angle is the most likely reason we saw have his worst season offensively since he was a sophomore back in 2012. Now even with a .253 batting average and one of the worst launch angles in major league baseball, I still believe Hosmer offers a safe floor for fantasy owners in 2019. Although his launch angle is horrendous, his raw power still gives him the potential to hit 25 home runs this upcoming season. It wouldn’t be the first time we saw a player with a lousy launch angle hit for power as Juan Soto, Christian Yelich and Nomar Mazara all had decent power numbers last season despite having some of the lowest launch angles in the game. If Justin Mason’s mock drafts’ ADP of 156.3 this offseason sightly resemble how fantasy owners are looking at Hosmer this season, then there is a chance he could end up on a couple of my fantasy teams on going into 2019.
11. Jose Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Martinez was one of the industry’s fantasy sleeper sweethearts this past season due to a tremendous line drive rate, healthy strikeout rate and decent amount of raw power. All these factors should help him post a batting average close to .300 while also hitting around 20 home runs in 2019. Martinez isn’t going to be the sexiest pick in your draft, but he offers one of the safest among fantasy options going outside the top 100.
12. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some may be surprised to see Muncy ranked so low on this list, but the fact remains that he will be way more valuable in points and OBP leagues than in the standard 5x5 scoring leagues. With a tremendous amount of plate discipline and patience, he will draw a lot of walks, but that will likely come with a strikeout rate above 25.0%. This will ultimately hurt his batting average, and he could struggle to keep it above .250. Even with that low batting average and lack of stolen bases, Muncy should be an excellent source for home runs, runs and RBI’s. If you can get Muncy somewhere around pick 150, then I would recommend pulling the trigger on the 28-year-old breakout. Anytime before that though, and you could be very disappointed in his fantasy output next season.
13. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
I feel like as an industry we still don’t know what to do with Gallo in the standard 5x5 scoring format leagues. He’s hit at least 40 home runs the past two seasons, which is no fluke due to an astounding fly ball rate and one of the best hard contact rates in baseball. Sadly this home run production comes with one of the worst strikeout rates in all of baseball. This strikeout paired with his fly ball rate could keep him from maintaining a batting average above .200. Gallo will still be a valuable asset for your fantasy team going into 2019, but don’t fall head over heels for that raw power without taking a look at the some of the negatives that could come with it.
14. Luke Voit, New York Yankees
Voit came over to the Yankees from the Cardinals this past season and was a major contributor once he joined the team, but somehow will still be underrated going into next season. Out of all the players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, can you guess you had the best xwOBA, hard contact rate, and Brls/PA%? Mookie Betts? Nope. Mike Trout? Nada. J.D. Martinez? No way. It was actually Luke Voit. The most amazing part about all this is that xwOBA doesn’t take into account park factors. If Voit will be playing half his game in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, then we could see Voit emerge as a household name in 2019. I’m not going to say to draft him in the 4th round, but if he gets everyday at bats, then we could see him become a top 50-75 player in fantasy. This would be a steal considering he had an ADP of 245.5 in Justin Mason’s 2 Early Mock Drafts.
15. Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
After years of seeing Profar on top prospect lists and fantasy sleeper lists, he finally had that breakout season we have all been waiting for. With 20/15 potential, Profar will likely be a hot name going into a lot of drafts, but I do have my concerns. A lot of people will see that 37.3% hard contact rate on Fangraphs and fall in love with his power potential. Although he has a decent amount of raw power, it is worth noting that his hard contact rate according to Statcast is nearly 6.0% lower at 31.8%. He also stole ten bases in just 594 plate appearances last year, but without a tremendous speed in today’s environment, this is probably more like his ceiling rather than his floor. I am fine with Profar being drafted inside top 200, but I believe he will be heavily over-drafted due to the number one prospect tag people gave him just a few years ago.
16. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Cabrera has really struggled the past two seasons, but I think we can chop that up to injuries. A lot of people will probably look at his age and believe that Cabrera’s career is about over, but his 25.0% line drive rate and 53.7% hard contact rate from last season beg to differ. These factors should help him post a high BABIP, but he is not without concerns. With his recent injury history, it is likely that the Tigers will give him more days off than years prior. There’s also a concern about his power output. Although his hard contact rate tells us that his raw power is still at an elite level, I fear that he may become more of a mid-twenties home run guy rather than the thirty-eight homers we saw him post in 2016. With an ADP of 168.4 in Justin Mason’s Too Early Mock Drafts, the asking price seems very reasonable for a former Triple Crown winner.
17. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
Edwin’s production has been slowly declining for the past four seasons, and last year was his worst offensive season since 2011. His .244 batting average was also the worst he posted since 2010. Even at 36-years-old next season, Encarnacion still has tremendous raw power, which is evident by a 41.1% hard contact rate according to Statcast. With that being said, he has never been a big BABIP guy and with an ever climbing strikeout rate, I fear that Encarnacion could struggle to maintain a batting average above .240 nonetheless one of .250.
18. Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays
Bauers will likely make many experts’ sleepers lists going into the 2019 season. He has a decent amount of raw power which pairs nicely with his above-average speed. His plate discipline should also draw a lot of walks, which should make him even more valuable in OBP leagues. Sadly this patient approach at the plate will make it hard for him to post a strikeout rate below 25.0%, which will ultimately hurt his batting average. Even with a possibly below average batting average, Bauers’ upside makes him hard to pass up once you get into the later rounds of your draft.
19. Tyler White, Houston Astros
White’s late-season breakout has seemed to catch the eyes of many fantasy owners going into 2019. With above-average power and more fly balls than ground balls, he has the potential to hit 30+ home runs at the major league level. His below average line drive rate last season is a little concerning, but with line drive rates above 20.0% for most of his minor league career, I’d expect that number to rise in 2019. He has shown the ability to make a consistent amount of contact through out his time in the majors, which included a career-high 82.9% contact rate last season. With his ability at the plate, White should be a relatively safe pick to round out the later rounds of your draft.
20. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Santana had his second worst season to date after hitting for .229/.352/.414 with a 109 wRC+. Luckily just like a BABIP .081 points above average, a BABIP .081 points below average is usually not sustainable. Now, Santana has never had a BABIP above .268, but a .231 BABIP is just ridiculous. According to Baseball Savant, his batting should have been .021 points higher, which would have given him a batting average of .250 to finish out the season. With that in mind, Santana is very pull heavy. This will hurt him when he is batting from the left side of the plate due to the emergence of the shift. With more walks than strikeouts and a good amount of raw power, Santana should make for a quality fantasy option to round out your corner infield spot.