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State of the Position: First Base

A survey of MLB first basemen with a fantasy baseball slant.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldy is now a St. Louis Cardinal.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into 2018, there was a clear-cut Top 6 at this position: Goldy, Votto, Freeman, Rizzo, Bellinger, Abreu.

My, how times haven’t changed. Matt Carpenter’s resurgence last year gives us a seventh name, though. And Jesus Aguilar and Rhys Hoskins also cemented themselves in the circle of trust—though Hoskins lacks first base eligibility to begin the year. If you’re counting, that gives us a solid grouping of eight names, nine if you count newcomer Matt Olson like I do. That’s a pretty strong group to start with.

I’ll have more on it later, but my favorite buy right now is Jose Abreu, who is the No. 8 man off the boards per NFBC data (after Aguilar but before Olson). Abreu missed some time last year due to testicular torsion—which I won’t elaborate on except to say it was a freak thing that had nothing to do with baseball. He also had a thigh infection that ended his season prematurely. Consequently, Abreu played in only 128 games, or the fewest of his professional career. The ill-informed will see “only” 22 home runs by his name in draft applets and mistakenly assume that Abreu’s skills are eroding. But you should take the injury discount and ride his across-the-board production all the way to victory.

BASIC STATS

.250/.328/.432 triple slash

9.6% walk rate, 22.5% strikeout rate, .182 ISO

.327 wOBA, 105 wRC+

Welcome to the most powerful position in fantasy baseball, folks. The above numbers are derived from the league totals of all first basemen a year ago. The next closest position in terms of power was third base, as the men from the hot corner sported a .174 ISO. So while it may seem that first base is more thin than usual, last year’s numbers show that plenty of guys are still producing at a high level.

THE ELITES: Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo

These three guys are worth the gold price, as the Ironborn say. Happy Game of Thrones trailer, by the way. Anyway, “Goldy” has Top 5 overall upside and can be had in the middle of the second round. Sign me up for that floor. Freeman generally won’t make it out of Round 2, and he shouldn’t based on his floor, either. Rizzo’s ice cold start a year ago seems to be depressing his ADP, which is at pick 39 per NFBC data. He likely represents the better value between he and Freeman, but if I’m choosing the best overall guy it’s still Goldschmidt.

THE SLEEPER: Luke Voit

Voit’s name isn’t a secret, but there aren’t true “sleepers” anymore, anyway. He fits the bill in that he has the potential to far exceed his ADP of 197 (per NFBC). I could wax poetic about Voit’s strong production from a year ago, or I could just copy a tweet from our own Joe Gentile, who is mildly obsessed:

Luke Voit stole this job from the oft-injured Greg Bird in July of last year, and if he holds onto it he’ll offer plenty of upside at a top-heavy first base position.

THE GUY TO AVOID: Eric Hosmer

I’ll keep avoiding Hosmer until the day I die. He’s entering his age 29 season, and he’s never hit more than 25 home runs at any level of professional baseball. He hasn’t sniffed double-digit steals since 2013, when he barely crested that plateau with 11 swipes. He had the worst strikeout rate of his career in 2018 with a 21.0% rate—which doesn’t sound that bad, but if Hosmer isn’t going to hit for power and he isn’t going to run, AND he’s striking out more...what is he good for? Last year his atrocious 60.4% ground ball rate was also a career-worst mark. In fact, in the whole of the MLB, only Ian Desmond’s 62.0% ground ball rate was worse. Yep, “Hoz” had a higher ground ball percentage than guys like Jon Jay and Dee Gordon. This tragedy is supported by his NEGATIVE LAUNCH ANGLE of -1.2 degrees from a year ago. Of all hitters with at least 125 plate appearances, Hosmer was THE ONLY HITTER with a negative launch angle. Even Ian Desmond checked in at 0.0 degrees—which is still well below the MLB average of 10.9 degrees. This wasn’t a fluke either, as Hosmer’s career launch angle mark is a mere 3.0 degrees.

[DEEP BREATH]

Seriously, why are we drafting Hosmer at all? The only positive I can say is that Hosmer’s price has come down about 100 picks from last year’s debacle, when he had a ADP of 68. This year he’s a much more palatable 170 or so, according to NFBC data. Still, give me the upside of Luke Voit instead.

THE PROSPECT: Peter Alonso

Alonso plays for the generally annoying New York Mets, so we probably can’t expect him in the big leagues until mid-April. The Mets will likely hold him down due to service time considerations, which is just awesome. To be fair, all MLB teams engage in this tomfoolery, though.

We’ll all just have to endure the suck, but when Alonso does arrive he’ll bring prodigious power to a Mets lineup that will then be able to relegate the shadow of Todd Frazier to a part-time role. Frazier can play first or third, while new addition Jed Lowrie can chip in at first, third, or second. Robbie Cano will need time off, too. Point is, I’m not worried about Alonso’s opportunity. The No. 1 first base prospect in baseball cracked 36 bombs in the minors last year, and tacked on another six in the Arizona Fall League. The power will play, the only question is “how soon?”