We’ve officially crossed the threshold in 2020, so expect the fantasy baseball content to tick up a notch from here on. Our annual positional rankings schedule will be as follows:
2020 Positional Weeks Schedule
|Catcher||Jan 25 - Jan 29|
|First Base||Feb 1 - Feb 5|
|Second Base||Feb 8 - Feb 12|
|Third Base||Feb 15 - Feb 19|
|Shortstop||Feb 22 - Feb 26|
|Outfield||Mar 1 - Mar 5|
|Starters||Mar 8 to Mar 12|
|RPs/Draft Guide||Mar 15 - Mar 19|
And since the season doesn’t start until March 26th, we’ll have another week and a half of draft strategy, bold predictions, and various and sundry. Our own Zack Waxman should be defending his Fake Teams and Friends title from Garrett Atkins and the rest of us, too. I’m certain that will be good for a post (or three) and some good old Twitter banter. Anyway, my first pass at the first basemen officially commences. The position drops off a cliff, so be warned.
1 Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019’s NL MVP is a rare power/speed combo at first base, and he qualifies as an outfielder. In his three big league seasons, Bellinger has managed to go 39/10, 25/14, and 47/15...all while slashing .278/.368/.559. It is noteworthy that his strikeout rate is on a downward trend, too—26.6% (2017), 23.9% (2018), and 16.4% (2019). In an era where hitters are striking out more than ever, that’s encouraging. He also boosted his line drive rate in 2019, while pulling the ball a bit more and making far less soft contact. His contact rate has increased each year—69.6%, 72.4%, and 78.1%—and his 26.8% chase rate from 2019 was the best of his career, and about 5% better than the league average mark of 31.6%. Lastly, Bellinger’s swing rate on pitches in the zone was the best of his career in 2019, too, at 70.4% (about two percent better than average). The only knock on him is that his swing rate is a hair below average—but that means his walk rate is going to be healthy (14.4% in 2019). Statcast agrees that this man is a beast, too. Bellinger is inside the Top 5% for XBA, XSLG, WOBA, XWOBA, XWOBACON, and BB%. He doesn’t turn 25 years old until July of 2020. The man is a beast.
2 Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
This will be his age 30 season, and by now you know what you’re getting. Freeman will offer a .300 batting average and 25+ home runs, as well as 5-8 swipes. Like Bellinger, his Statcast page is straight out of Rounders (alllllll reds). In fact, Freeman ranks inside the Top 8% of the MLB in XBA, XSLG, WOBA, and XWOBA. He’s among the safest choices in fantasy baseball.
3 Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Dingers, dingers, and more dingers. Alonso has prodigious power, as evidenced by the strapping 15.8% barrel rate (Top 3% of the MLB). A double-digit walk rate gives him some floor, and the 12.4% swinging strike rate isn’t all that bad. Alonso just turned 25 in December. His ADP of 28 or so is a little steep compared to similar guys farther down the list, but we’ll get to that momentarily.
4 Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
He is only 30 and is an all-around asset. His launch angle has declined every single year since 2015 (when Statcast became a thing). The fly ball rate has cratered, from 43.6% (2015) to 31.9% (2019). Maybe part of the downturn is Rizzo’s two-strike approach, when he chokes up and attempts to make contact (a la Joey Votto). But that’s not a new thing, so the downturn in launch angle is still a concern. All this said, he’s savvy enough to swipe a few bags every year, he plays a ton, he’s a batting average asset, and he’ll have a prime spot in the batting order. Maybe 35+ bombs is out of the question, but Rizzo should hit 25-30 and be solid everywhere. He was 95th percentile in xBA and 94th percentile in xwOBA in 2019. That is Top 5% of the MLB type of production. Aside from Freeman and Bellinger, he’s one of the top plays for batting average and OBP at this position. I like his floor around pick 60 or so in drafts—if floor is what you’re drafting for.
5 D.J. LeMahieu, New York Yankees
You can bank on batting average and runs scored even if his homers dip a little bit. Still, his opposite field power in Yankee stadium is for real, given the short right field porch. For reference, LeMahieu had the 3rd highest opposite field rate in baseball in 2019, at 33.7%. Only Yolmer Sanchez (34.2%) and Leury Garcia (34.1%) ranked higher. LeMahieu comes with the added benefit of also being eligible at 2B and 3B. I’m banking on him as a second baseman, but the extra eligibility is nice and will probably be useful in most formats. He’s probably going to be drafted before Rizzo in a few drafts...and if you’re locking up the keystone while giving yourself his BA floor, I suppose I’m good with it. If you’re like me, batting average is something I typically ignore—so snagging a guy like this isn’t the worst idea.
6 Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
He’ll turn 26 in March. He’s a bopper, with higher fly ball and pull rates than Josh Bell. His ability to barrel the ball is also superior to Bell. He cracked 36 homers—one fewer than Bell—in 127 games last year (547 PA). Bell played in 143 games and had 613 PA. I dig that Olson’s swinging strike rate has been pretty steady recently, with marks of 11.3% and 11.1% in his last two seasons. Bell makes more contact overall and did have a big jump in his zone swing rate in 2019, but Bell’s swinging strike rate is trending in the wrong direction: 7.6%, 8.8%, 9.7%, 11.1%. I think these two—and this entire Olson to Bell grouping—are close, but given the discrepancy in ADP I’ll probably have more Bell in 2019. Olson’s ADP has skyrocketed up to the 60s, while Bell’s is now hovering around 90 or so (all ADPs are per current NFBC data).
7 Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Abreu re-signed with the White Sox, which is looking like a wise play given the strength of that offense. Abreu has been dependable when healthy, with the only “knock” on him being that he turns 33 in January. He also missed part of the 2018 season due to injury (giving us a nice draft day discount last year). I still feel we are getting a bit of a discount at his current ADP of 78 or so, as Abreu is pretty close to Anthony Rizzo in my book. A batting average of .275+ and 30 bombs is what you’re likely getting. In fact, I’ll have to do some comparing with Rizzo to see why I would pay the Rizzo price when I could just wait on Abreu. More on that during First Base Week, I suppose.
8 Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy is officially in the circle of trust after another great year in 2019. He’s now slugged 35 homers in back-to-back seasons, and the scary thing is he still has some room to grow. His chase rates these last two years are among the best in baseball, at 21.5% (11th best) and 23.1% (10th best) respectively. Those marks are backed by a swing rate that is below average, at only 40% last year (the MLB average was 47%). Anyway, Muncy has posted excellent walk rates due to this passive approach, at 16.4% and 15.3% during 2018 and 2019. His swing rate increased from 37% in 2018 to 40% in 2019. He has plenty of room to swing more in 2020, which is a scary thought for opposing pitchers (and for those who pass on him in fantasy baseball). I’d rather play him at second base, and can see draft scenarios where I’m drafting him aggressively to fill that spot given the relative weakness of the keystone in 2020. I could definitely see drafting Muncy ahead of Abreu, like I did in this Pitcher List mock draft...
9 Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
He turned 27 in August, so he’s squarely in his prime and coming off his best season as a pro. Bell slashed .277/.367/.569 with 37 homers, 94 runs, and 116 RBIs. Sounds pretty awesome, but he only hit .224/.313/.448 against lefties. That, and his first half vs. second half splits are fairly concerning. His hard contact fell from 49.4% to 38.4%, and his line drive rate fell from 20.0% to 16.6%. In fact, the 16% mark was the common threshold for Bell in 2019 with the exception of the first two months of the season, when he logged marks of 20.5% and 23.7%, respectively. Bell logged 6 and 12 homers over those two months, and they were his best months by far. For a guy with a career 18.8% line drive rate, it’s a tad concerning given that he was essentially at 16% in every other month of 2019. There’s plenty of good news, though. His ground ball rate has declined in each of his MLB seasons. Here are the marks: 50.0%, 51.1%, 48.5%, 44.0%. He’s seen a corresponding increase in fly balls: 28.6%, 31.2%, 32.5%, 37.3%. Lastly, his pull rate kind of bounces all over the place, but last year he jumped up to 42.5% after being at a mere 33.8% the year prior. Less grounders, more fly balls, more pulled balls...that’s generally a good recipe. His Statcast page is also pretty impressive. Bell is 90th percentile or greater in exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA, and xSLG. He’s also 82nd percentile in xBA. Again with the Rounders reference, we say “alllllllllll reds.”
10 Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
32-year-old “Goldy” batted .260/.346/.476 with 34 homers in his first year with the redbirds. Not too shabby, but less than we are used to from the former first round mainstay. One piece to figure out is his career-worst .303 BABIP—and I mean worst by FAR. His previous low was .323, all the way back in his rookie year of 2011. Since that time he’s not been below .340 and has a career .348 BABIP. The other piece (that may or may not correspond) was a career-high 39.4% fly ball rate in 2019. For a guy whose speed is eroding, this seems to make sense. In his heyday we were used to seeing ground ball rates in the 44% to 46% range, but during the last two years Goldy’s ground ball rates are 38.6% and 38.5% respectively. This makes sense when you consider that his speed has faltered, from 66th percentile (27.4 ft/sec) in 2015 to the 44th percentile (26.6 ft/sec) in 2019. That was the difference between Alex Bregman and Shin-Soo Choo in 2019, for reference. The speed is gone, folks. He’s 5-for-10 over the last two years in steals and he only attempted four swipes in 2019 (he stole three). Maybe we can’t chalk it all up to eroding speed—he was in a new park, after all—but it’s clear we aren’t getting the same caliber of fantasy player anymore.
11 Luke Voit, New York Yankees
Voit exploded down the stretch of 2018, and followed that up with a promising 2019 campaign that was marred by a sports hernia in late summer that likely affected his finish to to season. He’s still just 28 years old (29 in Feb) and I frigging LOVE his plate discipline for fantasy purposes. He swings plenty, right at league average (47.4%) but he doesn’t chase. His eye has improved each year in the majors, with his chase rate at a below average 33.0% in 2017 to 27.5% and 26.6% in the last two seasons (both above average marks). What I really dig is the zone swing rate, though. Voit is a good 10% better than the MLB average at swinging at pitches in the zone. Sure, he’s got some swing and miss to his game. But this is deadly-looking plate discipline when you couple it with his power. Voit’s 13.2% barrel rate ranked inside the Top 9% of the league last year, and is more than twice the MLB average. Add in the stacked Yankees lineup, and this guy could crush 35 homers while giving you 200 runs/RBIs in 2020. I’m all aboard the bandwagon.
12 Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
He gets a boost due to the home park, but that’s all but nullified based on his surrounding lineup. He’ll turn 28 in March, so age isn’t an issue. Last year’s 106 runs and 97 RBIs seem unwise to bank on given the surrounding cast, but 25+ bombs seems really safe, as does a .275+ batting average. For reference, Mancini’s .283 XBA last year was in the 82nd percentile. He was also ‘all red’ in exit velocity (72nd), hard hit (74th), xwOBA (85th), and xSLG (82nd). He’s a draft day value around pick 105. I have so much more faith in Mancini than I do in Yuli Gurriel, who has an inexplicable 111 ADP. I’m ranking Goldy one spot ahead of Mancini, but I’m way more apt to own Mancini at his ADP, which is 40 picks after Goldschmidt right now.
13 Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Santana had a career year in 2019, slashing .281/.397/.515 with 34 homers, 110 runs, 93 RBIs, and 4 steals. He turns 34 years old in April, but I’m buying what he did a year ago. He swung a bit less overall than he had the two years prior, but he upped his zone swing rate to a career-best 66.2% and his chase rate held steady at an elite 21.2% mark. In short, his plate discipline is fantastic, and his corresponding 15.7% walk rate ranks inside the Top 3% of the MLB. Santana also made quality contact in 2019, with his 91.8 mph average exit velocity ranking inside the Top 7% of the MLB. I have tempered expectations slightly due to his age and his history of under-performing his xBA marks. However, his career .250 batting average is tolerable in today’s era and is a reasonable expectation for 2020. I’ll take that floor at Santana’s ADP of 144, which is two picks ahead of his teammate Franmil Reyes (who has a god awful swinging strike rate and will bat at least two spots below Santana in the order.
14 Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
I may get slammed for this one, but I’m a bit worried about Hoskins. He’ll turn 27 in March, and he’s coming off of a year in which he batted a mere .226. His xBA of .221 ranked inside the bottom 4% of the MLB, too—so he actually outperformed his expected batting average a tad. His 16.5% walk rate is epic, even better than Santana’s. However, he’s passive at the plate and is well below average in zone swing rate (something that would make me feel more comfortable acquiring his services if he was better in this regard). He’s also not hitting the ball hard—Santana was significantly better in 2019, for example. You can hang your proverbial hat on the upside of “youth” if you like, but I’m unlikely to own Hoskins in 2020. If I don’t have a first baseman by this juncture, I’ll take whatever dart is a good value in the draft.
15 Edwin Encarnacion, Chicago White Sox
Fade him at your own risk, and the cool this is that I’m not fading him despite ranking him 15th. His ADP is 212 at the NFBC, in Eric Hosmer territory. Yikes. Encarnacion turns 37 years old this week, but he’s entered into a full-time DH role with the resurgent White Sox—who now boast a terrifying lineup. Encarnacion has EIGHT STRAIGHT seasons with 32+ home runs, and it didn’t matter if he was in Toronto, Cleveland, Seattle, or New York. Moving to hitter-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field certainly won’t hurt. His barrel rate is double that of the MLB average, at 12.6%. He’s also “all red” in exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA, and xSLG. You’ll have to tolerate a batting average in the .240 to .260 range, but with consistent double-digit walk rates and a better-than-average swinging strike rate (10.4%), he’s got a heck of a floor.
Aside from the Top 15, I’ll touch on a couple more.
I’m fading Yuli Gurriel at his 112 ADP. I’ll buy the batting average, but I’m not banking on a repeat of last year’s power. With a measly 3.8% barrel rate and no uptick in his average exit velocity, Gurriel seems like a guy that was really helped by the bouncy ball of 2019. He’s also entering his age-36 season. Pass.
I’m into Yandy Diaz and Christian Walker at their respective 207 ADPs. These two are basically tied. Diaz will probably still bat leadoff against southpaws, and we’re getting a discount from last year since his counting stats were depressed by a couple of injuries. Walker is a Statcast hero just like Diaz, though Diaz is a better bet for batting average help. Both are really solid corner infield bats, in my opinion. Diaz also gets the added bonus of 1B/3B eligibility in plenty of leagues.
I’ll pass on Eric Hosmer (217) for Diaz or Walker. I’d rather take a shot on Daniel Murphy if considering first base help in Hosmer’s vicinity. At least I can talk myself into it given the Coors backdrop and a possible return to more health. But I’d rather pass on Murphy, too, for Diaz or Walker much later.
Michael Chavis at 226 doesn’t make sense to me, not when I can snag Nate Lowe 30 picks later (again, all this is per NFBC data). I also prefer Chavis at the keystone, so his 1B/2B eligibility might factor in for some drafters.
I’d rather have some lefty-killing power in Renato Nunez (270) than take a chance on Joey Votto (271) again. But I’ll pass on both of these for C.J. Cron, whose 286 ADP should continue to rise a bit now that he has signed in Detroit. Cron has no competition for playing time on that horrible roster, so he should be able to put his “all red” Statcast profile to good use. Cron also quietly won’t murder you in batting average, with marks of .253 in each of his last two years and a career .258 mark. For reference, last year his .277 XBA was in the 75th percentile of the MLB. This isn’t some .200 hitting bopper, y’all. His 11.8% swinging strike rate last year was only a hair worse than the 11.1% MLB average. His strikeout rate fell from 25% in the two previous years to only 21.4% in 2019. He doesn’t walk a ton so he takes a hit in OBP leagues, but in leagues where you aren’t worried about that and just want dingers, he’s a strong play.
I omitted Yasmani Grandal, as it would be insane to play him anywhere other than catcher. Other “omissions” include Danny Santana (you can have that 30% K-rate), Joc Pederson (I’ll consider in daily leagues as an OF), Travis d’Arnaud (catcher only), and Howie Kendrick (daily leagues only and as a 2B). Joey Gallo didn’t log a game at first base last year, so he probably won’t qualify in your league. If he does, I’d slot him after Trey Mancini.
There are so many guys with multiple eligibility (the more I look into it). J.T. Realmuto (catcher only), Whit Merrifield (2B), and Max Muncy (2B) are all guys I prefer at other positions. I probably left off a name, and if I did so just let me know and we can have some good banter to see where your guys lands!
Get ready for positional weeks, folks! They are coming!