First up, we have to get something out of the way, and that something is Max Muncy.
There were 15 NFBC 50 drafts in November, followed by 15 more (so far) in December. Here are Muncy’s ADPs:
Muncy Nov. ADP: 99.47 (min. 81, max 152)
Muncy Dec. ADP: 169.47 (min. 88, max 256)
Muncy injured his shoulder during the last game of the 2021 regular season, and he gave this ominous injury update on MLB Network on November 29th, which is the reason for the stark difference in ADPs:
Max Muncy revealed injury details to @alannarizzo on MLB Network just now.— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) November 29, 2021
"I'm not recovering as quick as I would like, but that's what happens when you do some serious damage to your body. A torn UCL is a slow process."
A torn UCL? Yikes. The “good” news is that no surgery report means it wasn’t fully torn? Consequently, no Tommy John surgery was necessary, and instead Muncy is just rehabbing. Of course, there’s always the chance that doesn’t work, and surgery is necessary anyway? I’m not a doctor. But this situation seems like it could cut one of two ways.
Muncy went at pick 215 in my latest draft, sandwiched in between Austin Hays and Andrew Benintendi—aka two sturdy outfield pieces. That’s a fair amount to give up if Muncy is going to miss significant time. You’ll have to weigh out how comfortable you are with your roster before you take a risk on Muncy’s power bat. A full return to health would obviously make his December ADP an amazing bargain. Any sort of setback and you’re out a decent pick.
Now that we’ve made that situation as clear as mud, it’s time to check out a few ADP bargains at first base.
Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
Nov. ADP: 181.27 (min. 163, max 202)
Dec. ADP: 183.07 (min. 155, max 220)
There haven’t been any news reports to affect Mancini’s outlook, so the ADP has been stable. He’s being drafted nearly a full round after Max Muncy, which just seems crazy. Playing for right now is an underrated strategy in the fake game. Given his return from freaking CANCER, I’d say last year was a resounding success. His power dissipated in the second half of 2021, but he still batted .254 with a 23.2% strikeout rate—both marks that were in line with his first half (.256 BA, 23.2% K-rate). And while 21 homers sounds underwhelming, the 33 doubles were nice and he’s currently being valued as a corner infield bat.
Stamina being an issue in 2021 after missing 2020 due to CANCER makes sense to me. And honestly, Mancini alternated useful months in 2021, anyway. It wasn’t like the first half was all good and the second half was all bad. Check out his monthly numbers by wRC+: 99, 167, 69, 143, 47, 105. A little more consistency after being another year removed from missing an entire season seems really, really viable. Some of those doubles turning into homers makes sense, too. His batted ball quality (if you dig into Statcast) was really similar to prior seasons. He was still inside the top 10% of the league in max EV, and he still had a double-digit barrel rate and a healthy .266 xBA. His hard hit rate was in line with previous years. Mancini’s worst split in 2021 was facing RHP on the road, and it’s anecdotal but I wonder if travel was a bit tiresome for the slugger last year. Lastly, Mancini fared much better as a DH in 2021 (.187 ISO, 128 wRC+) than as a first baseman (.159 ISO, 81 wRC+) and right now he’s penciled into the DH role, while the youngster Mountcastle is slated to handle first base.
He’s in his final year of control, and he’s just 29 years old. There’s a slim chance Baltimore moves him, but they could be selling low and missing out on a full return to form. Mancini is young enough to have a banner 2021 and still be a part of Baltimore’s rebuild. I think he’s solidly in that hitter’s haven of Baltimore for one more year and presents a solid bat in the middle rounds of your fake drafts this year.
Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers
Nov. ADP: 268.13 (min. 198, max 366)
Dec. ADP: 258.67 (min. 230, max 294)
I like Lowe’s playing time pathway and his ensuing ability to compile stats over a long stretch of time. You need depth plays in the fake game, too. Lowe swiped eight bags last year after never stealing more than one in any previous MLB or MiLB season. His 27.3 ft/s sprint speed put him in the 56th percentile—so he’s not a 20-steal threat, but some chip-in speed could still be possible for a team that will still need to manufacture runs despite the two big free agent signings. Lowe is a career .260 hitter with a career .338 BABIP. And in 2021, he batted .264 with a .339 BABIP, so right in line with the floor we can expect from him. He did this after a history of healthy BABIPs and high batting average marks in the minors, so I tend to believe in the .260+ batting average and think there’s room for more growth for the 26-year-old. Lowe has also ranked inside the top 9% of the league in max EV in each of his three seasons. His walk rate has improved each year, culminating in a robust 12.5% mark in 2021, putting him inside the top 10% of the league. In short, he’s doing a lot of things well.
Lastly, the Rangers already spent big in the middle infield (Marcus Semien, Corey Seager) and have big holes in the starting rotation—so Lowe’s spot at first base seems assured—i.e., if Texas spends big-ish anywhere else, it should be to fortify that rotation. For his part, Lowe should be a useful everyday piece—he managed to be above the league average against both LHP (112 wRC+) and RHP (116 wRC+) in 2021. I think the playing time floor is assured, and Steamer agrees with a projection of 626 plate appearances, 23 homers, and five swipes for 2022. I’m all in at his ADP. A season with a .270 BA, 25 homers, and 8-10 steals would not be a surprise. And as one Paul Sporer mentioned in the Rangers roster review on Fangraphs, that’s solid Paul Goldschmidt impression. And maybe the door is closing a bit on Lowe—check out how much smaller his range became in December. Maybe that’s a one-month blip, or maybe it’s a sign of drafters realizing that Lowe could be a diamond in the rough this year.
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Nov. ADP: 452.73 (min. 386, max 546)
Dec. ADP: 409.33 (min. 333, max 473)
Walker is a hard hit machine. Or at least, he was, as recently as 2019-2020. So either 2021 was an aberration, or it was the beginning of a steep decline for the 30-year-old first baseman. Working in Walker’s favor is the fact that he was tendered a contract by Arizona a few weeks ago, despite other first base options like Jordan Luplow and Pavin Smith lurking on the roster.
Also working in Walker’s favor is that Luplow is a noted lefty-basher that will have to sit against RHP (career .205 BA and 78 wRC+ in that split). On the flip side, Pavin Smith struggled mightily against LHP last year (.239 BA, .060 ISO, 67 wRC+) and graded out negatively defensively.
Walker, meanwhile, was a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, and has historically fared better against right-handed pitching despite being a right-handed bat. He also cited an oblique injury last year that sapped him of some power. His second half numbers were more in line with his 2019-2020 levels, though.
1st half: .223/.280/.340, .117 ISO, 66 wRC+
2nd half: .265/.346/.422, .157 ISO, 106 wRC+
Sure, the second half isn’t setting the world on fire. But the strength of Walker (potentially) will be in his ability to compile stats. And if he’s fully recovered from the oblique injury, with the added hard hit rate/power in tow, I think the ISO/SLG could rebound to previous levels (think .190+ ISO). Furthermore, Walker set a career-high in contact rate last year, while also setting a three-year high in swing rate. He swung more, while increasing his zone swing rate and decreasing his out of zone swing rate. In short, his plate discipline improved. Lastly, he was faster in 2021 than he was in his banner 2019, when he swiped eight bags (27.2 ft/s in ‘19 compared to 27.4 ft/s in ‘21). So all of the trends with Walker are NOT going in a negative direction. At his nonexistent ADP, you could be getting a massive bargain.
In summation, first base is pretty freaking deep this year. You can cobble together a solid little group with upside in your draft and holds, even if you miss out on the early picks.
What sticks out to you at first base, gamers? I’m also a fan of C.J. Cron (137.73) and of taking a late stab at Yoshi Tsutsugo (377.47). Chime in with your favorite plays, so we all do a bit more research for our favorite fake game...
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