I feel like we’re really getting into the thick of the fantasy baseball season as our second positional week draws to a close. Catchers and first basemen are now in the books. Up next (beginning tomorrow) is a full week of second basemen. The season will be here before we know it—assuming of course that there is an actual MLB season.
Moving on...what follows is each writer’s preferred target at first base as things stand right now. Sure, there are targets at various levels, but each man here is someone we each feel strongly about, for one reason or another. As always, we welcome your respectable dissent in the comments.
DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees (Andrés Chávez)
NFBC ADP: 118.25
Draft Rank: 9th
A lot of people are writing DJ LeMahieu off after having a 100 wRC+ and slugging a putrid .362 in 2021. However, we can’t ignore recent past performance, and the fact he had a 136 wRC+ in his career-year in 2019, and a 177 wRC+ in 2020. The Yankees, additionally, are moving on from Marcus Thames as a hitting coach and hiring an analytics-driven Dillon Lawson, who preaches the “hit strikes hard” philosophy and will surely use a myriad of tech resources and his own expertise to help LeMahieu and other struggling stars in the Bombers’ lineup regain their form. LeMahieu is no spring chicken, but at 33 years old he is not ancient, and should have a rebound season.
Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres (Garrett Atkins)
NFBC ADP: 126.95
Draft Rank: 10th
I’m the high guy on the site with Jake Cronenworth so I guess I need to explain myself. Consistency and reliability are often overlooked. Cronenworth offers both at a decent price tag. He’s a plus contributor in batting average and runs scored. His power production isn’t stellar but it’s also not a negative. His positional flexibility helps both fantasy managers and his real life playing time. Cronenworth posted an xBA of .280, good for 36th in baseball. He had a 90th percentile K-rate, which means he barely strikes out. His 86th percentile sprint speed hints at untapped stolen base potential as well.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Skyler Carlin)
NFBC ADP: 143.80
Draft Rank: 14th
Joey Votto turned back the clock in 2021, smashing 36 home runs (tied for 2nd most in his career) and 99 RBIs for the Cincinnati Reds. The veteran first baseman also produced career-best marks in EV (92.9), barrel percentage (17.2%), and hard-hit percentage (53.2%). On top of Votto’s improvements in the power department, he still produced a solid 0.61 walk-to-strikeout ratio, which was good enough for the 10th best mark among first basemen that saw 500+ plate appearances last season. There are going to be people who avoid Votto due to him being 38 years old and they believe he’ll show signs of decline in 2022. But for me, he has the makeup to be a massive value at the first base position—and if he produces similar numbers as last year, he could easily finish as a top-10 performer at his position.
Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles (Heath Capps)
NFBC ADP: 201.35
Draft Rank: 20th
Mancini’s ADP has fallen about 20 picks in NFBC 50s since news of the left field fences being moved in Baltimore. He faded in the second half last year, but he was returning from CANCER so I’ll be giving him a pass on the fatigue part. He still hit 21 homers and 33 doubles in 2021, and his second half K-rate (23.2%) and .254 BA were in line with first half marks. A little more energy and consistency seems realistic for the 29-year-old in 2022, and the left field fence shouldn’t affect him as much as it affects Ryan Mountcastle. Check out our own Camden Chat for a deeper dive on the fences. In short, Mancini has the ability to hit for average and power, and the home park should still be a positive given Mancini’s ability to go to center and to right field.
As for batting average, Mancini’s .266 xBA was inside the 71st percentile last year. And in his banner 2019 season, Mancini had a .277 xBA (and a real life .291 BA). The Steamer projection says .255 for 2022, but I think that’s an extremely safe projection. A .265+ BA with 25 homers and 160+ runs and RBI would not surprise me. I’m all over that production at pick 200. Do you know how many first basemen batted .265 with 25 dingers in 2021? Only eight: Vladdy, Freeman, Olson, Goldy, Votto, Walsh, Cron, and Belt. That’s a heck of a list to be on, and I think Mancini can do it. And props to Brandon Belt as a deeper sleeper—he’s a great play on the back-end of things, too.
Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers (Mark Abell)
NFBC ADP: 256.60
Draft Rank: 27th
Over his time in MLB, he has improved in plate discipline, hard hit rate, batting average, and OBP. He now owns a max EV and walk rate among the top 10 % in the league, and an average exit velocity among the top 25% of the league. Last season he got better as the season progressed, culminating in a .286 average in August and a .277 average in September/October. There is a strong possibility of a sizeable step forward in 2022.