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Jake’s 2018 Positional Preview: First Base

Rhys Hoskins by lan D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Jake’s 2018 Positional Preview: First Base

Estimated Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Baseball! It’s almost time for the FIRST BASEball to be pitched. See what I did there? Anyways, it’s so close you can almost taste it. Release your inhibition. Feel the rain on your…what?!

Pitchers and catchers report to spring camp NEXT WEEK! Who’s excited? Probably not as excited as the eventual teams that will sign Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, JD Martinez, Mike MooseTacos, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, not the Toddfather, etc. You get the point.

If you haven’t been paying attention, baseball free agency is at a standstill. Dozens of quality players still remain unsigned (LoMo needs a home people), and literally, nothing is happening. It’s mad frustrating. However, Bartolo Colon signed a minor league contract with the Rangers this past week, which means that we are blessed with another year staring at his face.

In other news, the unsigned dudes won’t be twiddling their thumbs until April as it looks like The Scott Boras Spring Training Invitational has legs. Fun!

Free agents aside, this is a very exciting week in the world of The Turf’s fantasy baseball coverage. This is the week I take on the monumental punishment  task of starting positional rankings for the 2018 season. Rejoice!

This week, we start with one of the deeper positions in fantasy, first base. What you will find below are my tiered rankings of the Top 20 first baseman according to yours truly. This is solely for standard scoring, rotisserie leagues, but I do throw in mentions of guys who should be upgraded in OBP leagues. You’re welcome.

Before we get started, here are a few thoughts about the position beside the depth. Power is pretty easy to come by in this position, so look for those bonus categories like speed and average to help separate you from the pack. I will personally make sure that I have one of the Tier 1 players on every roster as I see all of them as cornerstones to success this season. As far as the rest of the pack, I don’t think there’s a whole lot that separates a Wil Myers from a healthy Ryan Zimmerman. Healthy being the keyword. Take a read and let me know your thoughts! Enjoy.

2018 First Baseman

Tier 1: The Big Guns

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

Projection: 100 R/30 HR/110 RBI/15 SB/.295

Ah, yes. Tier #1. Ol’ Faithful as I like to call them. Or the Big Guns as evidenced by the tier header. Whatever you want to call them, this is the cream of the crop. And Paul Goldschmidt has been probably the best of the bunch over the last few years. He’s been a lock for 25 HR/20 SB seemingly every year over the last 5, and it’s rare for him not to eclipse the 100 R/100 RBI marker as well. His OPS is always one of the highest in the league for those playing in the alternate universe aka OBP leagues. He’s the model of consistency, and if you prefer a little speed with your big bopper at 1st, then Goldy is your guy. In fact, and to go down this metaphorical rabbit hole, if fantasy baseball were like, and you put that you LOVE power/speed guys, the site would be like “Paul Goldschmidt+you=BLISS.” But I digress. I could rattle off the reasons why he’s better than the other guys behind him on this list, but you get it. Goldy is my #3 overall player going into this year. If you must find something to knock him for, it could be that the steals dip into the teens as he crosses over into his 30s.

2. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Projection: 90 R/30 HR/95 RBI/5 SB/.315

Though not the power/speed combo of the player right above him, Votto is still every bit as appealing to build a roster around on draft day. He’s got the power, the ability to drive in runs, elite on-base skills, and a .300+ average to boot. If you play in OBP leagues, Votto can be justified as a 1st round pick. In fact, “Joey Walks” has led the league in OBP 6 of the last 8 years. Also, did you know that Joey Votto actually posted his lowest K% AND BB/K rate of his career last year? So, you’re saying his discipline could be getting EVEN BETTER?! What a monster. Votto has the skills to be fantasy elite yet again this season, but the Reds scare the bejesus out of me. Votto will be hitting 3rd in a lineup that…well…may not win a whole lot of ballgames to say the least. The runs scored could be in question as there isn’t much besides Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett behind him. The fact still remains that Votto is about as safe as they come. The skills are elite heading into his age 35 (wait really?) season, and he’s been a fantasy asset for almost a decade now. He’s a tremendous option any time in the 2nd round in standard setups.

3. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

Projection: 85 R/35 HR/110 RBI/5 SB/.280

Goldy and Votto have rightly earned their place ahead of Rizzo and the next two, but I’d be more than happy to end up with any of these guys. I’m probably a little higher on Rizzo than a few other early rankers, but I believe he can be worthy of a late first-round pick. He’s got consistent power, a good ballpark, and a solid lineup. He’s also strung together 4 consecutive, incredible seasons producing around 30-32 HR, 100 RBI and 95 R. The batting average dipped down to .273 last year from .292 the year before, but let’s split the difference and call him a .285 hitter moving forward. Sound good? I knew you’d see it my way. I am encouraged by his 13% K rate from a year ago, which was the lowest of his career. Also, his BB/K rate went to a career-best 1.01, which was better than the previous seasons’ marks of something between 0.60-0.70. “Patience is a virtue,” he probably said at some point last season. He should be on your radar as early as the end of the 1st.

4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

Projection: 90 HR/32 HR/100 RBI/3 SB/.305

A wrist injury limited him to just 440 plate appearances last year, but he made the most of it with a line of 84 R/28 HR/71 RBI/.307 AVG. That ain’t half bad, folks! Now that he’s fully healthy, I expect a return to the stellar 2016 season he had where he smashed 34 bombs, drove in 91, and scored 102 times with a .302 average. Even though his 2014 and 2015 seasons were much more meager in terms of power, I feel 2016 is the true Freeman. He’s blossomed into one of the better pure hitters in the league, and now that he’s a legitimate 30 HR threat, Freeman deserves consideration with the likes of Rizzo and Abreu as a top 5 1B option. He won’t have much firepower behind him with Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis in the 4 and 5 spots, but this random named Ronald Acuna could shake things up in the lineup before too long. The Braves are a trendy pick to be sneaky Wild Card contenders in year 17 of their rebuild, but I’m skeptical. Regardless of what’s around him, Freeman is still a stud in all formats.

5. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

Projection: 80 R/30 HR/105 RBI/1 SB/.305

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Disregard 2016 Jose Abreu. Literally, cover it up with your hand or a sheet of paper. Whatever you gotta do. Now, look at his stats. Pretty good, right? This is a floor of 30 HR/100 RBI and a .300 average, people. I am extremely high on Abreu because of the consistency, and I’m further encouraged by the fact that his K% has fallen each of the last three years. And while that’s been happening, he’s managed to keep a consistent walk rate. Abreu had a big spike in hard contact last year as he jumped from 32.7% in 2016 to 40.5% a season ago and improved his contact rate overall. We like both of those things, for the record. Like Freeman, I have concerns about the lineup around him, so don’t be surprised if the runs scored feel a little light. But hey, he’s had monster years with trash around him before! Everything else should be right in line for Abreu to return 1st tier value.

Tier 2: I Wouldn’t Kick Them Out of Bed or I’d Make Them Breakfast in the Morning

6. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

Projection: 90 R/35 HR/95 RBI/10 SB/.260

I really want to put Bellinger higher on this list. I’ll admit, it was hard to knock him down to the second tier, but the guys in the 1st tier just have the track record. Bellinger, although brilliant last year, still has work to do especially in terms of K% and plate discipline in general. But let’s be honest, nobody cares when you jack 43 dongs on your first go-round. What he does have over the guys just in front of him, besides Goldy, is that sexy power/speed combo. 15 SB from a position generally reserved exclusively for power? Sign me up! A generous ceiling of 40 HR/20 SB would make me feel dumb for ranking him 6th, but I tend to lean towards the safe picks early in the draft. And that’s where you’ll have to take the Dodger slugger to get him. I have no concerns about the RBI and run opportunities as he will have a stacked Dodgers lineup returning intact from 2017’s World Series run. If I miss on all the names before him, I’m still going to be very confident building around him.

7. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians

Projection: 95 R/35 HR/110 RBI/1 SB/.250

One of these days, all those guys who have been saying EE is old and done are going to be proven right. That day is not coming this year. Sure, Encarnacion’s batting average has steadily declined over the last few years, but that didn’t stop the “geriatric” slugger from planting numerous bombs in the seats of Progressive Field last year. 38 of them, to be exact. I think you can expect a floor of 30 HR again this season, but take note that the fly ball percentage will more than likely continue its steady decline this year. Same goes for the falling contact rate. Is there evidence of decline? Of course. What 35-year-old isn’t experiencing that, honestly? SHUT UP JOEY VOTTO. Bottom line, there are warning signs, but I’m still confident he has at least a few more years before the skills completely fall off the table. Assuming health, of course, which is always dangerous. All in all, he’s still relatively safe (*coughcough after the month of April COUGHCOUGH*) in that ballpark with that lineup.

8. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Champs Baby Phillies

Projection: 80 R/30 HR/90 RBI/2 SB/.250

Here’s a note to the entire fantasy community from yours truly concerning Rhys Hoskins. Slow. Your. Roll. Let’s not vault him up to the top 5 just yet. Let’s also remember that the guy has still only had 212 career plate appearances. OK, so maybe he really f***ed some s*** up in those 212 times at the plate, but slooowwwww down folks. Pitchers will catch up. He’ll go through slumps. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows.

That being said, I do get it. Hoskins showed tremendous patience at the plate with a 17.5% walk rate, and he sported a .396 OBP and .618 SLG when it was all said and done last October. Ugh. Ok, fine guys. That’s really exceptional rookie or not. And I’m all about that 81.4% contact rate, which already has him knocking on the door of elite hitters. So, let’s recap: 18 HRs in 212 plate appearances. Great OBP and slugging numbers. Great contact. Good eye. I’ll say it. You’re all thinking it. I’m a negative Nancy on this one, and I’m trying to defend it but I kind of can’t. Hoskins’ brief season was pretty fantastic. I just have a hard time justifying spending the bones it’s going to take to get him on draft day with this small of a sample size. That’s not usually my gamble, but I won’t be mad if it’s yours next month.

Tier 3: I Mean They Have Flaws But Don’t We All?

9. Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

Projection: 85 R/30 HR/80 RBI/20 SB/.240

I feel there is a definitive drop off in between Hoskins and Myers. We’ve had some options with major upside to this point, and I feel that kind of ends with Myers. He has slight upside, but we pretty much know who he is at this point. The same can be said about Hosmer who is also in this tier. From here on out, there are inherent risks with everyone, and we’ll get to those. However, there’s still lots of value here.

So, back to Myers. He’s another strong option if you like a little side of speed to go with your power-hitting first baseman. His floor appears to be roughly something in the 85 R/25 HR/80 RBI/20 SB/.240 AVG, and that’s certainly usable. 20/20 in today’s game from this position is GREAT. His RBI fell off a cliff last year, which is concerning, but I blame the AAA lineup known as the 2017 Padres more than anything. However, you should see the glass as half full in 2018 as the Padres seem to have some upside with their young lineup. The strikeouts are concerning as his K% has risen each of the last three years, but I’m encouraged by the jump in flyball and hard contact percentages. There were almost 10% jumps in both categories respectively, and that feels like an adjustment rather than a fluke. 25-30 HR with a .250 AVG and 20 SB should be his new normal.

10. Eric Hosmer, Free Agent

Projection: 80 R/25 HR/90 RBI/5 SB/.290

Obviously, this will fluctuate based on where Hosmer ends up. Right now, he reportedly has offers from both the Padres and Royals in the 7 year/$140 million range. I’d imagine he will end up signing with one of those two rather than sit out the whole year. Free agent fiascos aside, you could do much worse than Hosmer’s floor. He doesn’t provide much upside in terms of power (expect 20-25 HRs), but he always hits for a high average and manages to provide safe counting stats. He’s also been very durable over the years tallying at least 540+ plate appearances since 2011. You know what you’re getting with Hosmer at this point. Good average, good on-base skills, and average power. He’s safe, but there’s no upside.

11. Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers

Projection: 80 R/25 HR/90 RBI/5 SB/.260

I slid him in here even though I feel most drafters will slot him in at third. Regardless, I really love what’s happening in Milwaukee right now, and that certainly influenced my ranking of Travis Shaw. Strangely, the metrics kind of say I shouldn’t be. The ground ball and flyball rates stayed virtually the same, and it’s not like he suddenly got a spike in plate appearances either. His hard contact only slightly rose to 37.1%, and there isn’t really a smoking gun metric I can see to explain the power breakout. Maybe Shaw is just one of those late bloomer types, and we should expect that moving forward. Clearly, I have jumped on board. I don’t think he will hit 30 HR and knock in 101 with a .273 average again, but the lineup is stacked. It’s in the range of outcomes is all I’m sayin’. Keep in mind he gets to feast on Miller Park in half his games as well.

12. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers

Projection: 89 R/39 HR/95 RBI/1 SB/.235

Hear me out. Yes. He had an astounding 36.8% strikeout rate last season. Yes. That was 110% his profile in the minors as well. Yes. He will hit the ball a country mile and have a floor of 35-40 HRs. Yes. He will absolutely bring down your average…if he doesn’t improve and make adjustments at all this offseason. But. What if I told you Joey Gallo actually has a pretty league average eye (BB/K rate) despite all the whiffs? What if I told you he’s actually not the two outcomes guy you think he is but really just a guy who only gets out via the strikeout? And what if I told you he actually has a pretty decent walk rate? In fact, if you cover up that batting average, you’ve got an average OBP with eye-popping slugging numbers and one of the best hard contact percentages in the majors. Also, peep that 54.2% flyball rate, y’all (insert eyeball emoji here). I’m not saying take Gallo over Votto, but I am saying this guy is a few less hacks away on strike two from being a Tier 2 or 1 talent. If you’re in an OBP league, he may already be there.

Tier 4: Feelin’ Lucky?

13. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays

Projection: 80 R/30 HR/85 RBI/1 SB/.255

This is me last week…let’s check on Justin Smoak from last year again and remember what he did. OH SNAP THAT’S RIGHT. Smoak “broke out” at the age of 30, and suddenly we have to ask ourselves if 38 HR was legit. I mean, after years of Justin Smoak bein’ Justin Smoak, we suddenly got this .270/.355/.529 triple slash out of nowhere. The wOBA went from .309 to .371. The K% went from 26.2% in 2015 to 32.8% in 2016 to just 20.1% last season! A lot of the metrics stayed the same, so let’s just say Justin Smoak took advantage of a juiced ball and extra playing time. In all seriousness, he finally got a full season’s worth of plate appearances and was able to damage with it. All in all, I expect the batting average to regress back to the .245 range. The power feels pretty legit, but there’s an obvious regression candidate here.

14. Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

Projection: 70 R/23 HR/82 RBI/2 SB/.275

It really feels like Trey Mancini is one of those guys in the Cardinals system who’s 27, has never broken through, and then randomly emerges to be a solid fantasy contributor while no one was looking. He’s not that. He’s 26 as a matter of fact. However, he did randomly emerge with a solid .293/.338/.488 triple slash in his first full MLB season. His profile in the minors was that of a high average guy, but be aware that he’s an extreme groundballer (1.72 GB/FB in 2017) who had a less-than-stellar 0.24 BB/K last year. You can probably expect the batting average to come down to about a .270 or lower with that in mind. With Machado likely heading out the door before the trade deadline, I don’t expect much in terms of counting stats.

15. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

Projection: 65 R/23 HR/80 RBI/1 SB/.265

WTF. The oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman experienced a renaissance in his age 32 season with a ridiculous .303/.358/.573 triple slash to go with his out-of-nowhere 36 HR/90 R/108 RBI line. He had 633 plate appearances last year, which is about 576 more than he’s had in any season since 2011. So, the real question is can he stay healthy again and do this all over? Maybe. Let’s look at the underlying metrics for more answers in the meantime. For one, his BB/K rate was relatively stable. Nothing to really see there. Sure, the BABIP was inflated, but whatever. F-U BABIP. You’re like the girl who gets mad about girls you’ve slept with before you guys were dating. You shouldn’t really care about it, but it’s inevitably on the radar. Anyways, the hard contact percentage was something to get excited about at 40.4% and his HR/FB% doubled from 2016, so don’t totally discount some kind of repeat. 25 HR/80 RBI/65 R feels reasonable.

Tier 5: Dust in the Wind

16. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Projection: 65 R/21 HR/70 RBI/1 SB/.265

I am so torn. I LOVE Miggy. I always have. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. No questions asked. It pains me to write that I think it’s over for him. I’m not mad at those of you taking him in the middle rounds praying for a bounce back, but please let me talk you out of it. First, as someone who has just one herniated disc, I can’t imagine even being a bat boy for 162 games. And he has two herniated discs he’s dealing with! What I’m saying is you can’t just assume he’s going to come back 100%. And there other factors pointing down. First, his K% has steadily climbed over the last three seasons while his walk rate has decreased. He also saw his batting average plummet to an un-Miggy-like .249. The end looks to be nigh. However, to play devil’s advocate, his hard contact has stayed relatively stable (and still elite) and the flyball rate didn’t exactly tumble to nothing either. It’s a big risk taking Cabrera and expecting 2016. Expect 2017, be merciless when it’s time to cut him, and you’ll save yourself some disappointment.

17. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

Projection: 75 R/25 HR/75 RBI/2 SB/.260

The young Pirates corner man had a nice debut season that garnered him a Rookie of the Year nomination. The power profile has been there with mid-50 grades coming into last year, and he feels like a perennial 20-25 HR hitter with 70-75 RBI and runs to boot. The biggest red flag was the K%, but that is certainly to be expected from a young hitter learning pro ball. His minor league track record suggests there is better plate discipline coming, so expect improvement in his OBP and average especially. Like Mancini, he puts a lot of balls on the ground, so I don’t think he will ever become a top-tier option at first base, but he feels like a safer option than some of the other names at the bottom. One word of warning: take a look at the Pirates projected lineup this season. It isn’t pretty. He’s going to be sandwiched in between Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco who both have tons of questions of their own. Counting stats could be hard to come by.

18. Gregory Bird, New York Yankees

Projection: 65 R/25 HR/70 RBI/1 SB/.253

I want Gregory Bird to be a thing so badly, you guys. I really do. We all see the skills there. We all know a perennial 30 HR threat is under there somewhere. Unfortunately, Bird cannot stay on the field thus far in his career, and it has severely limited his production and my happiness when I draft Bird as a sleeper every year. I mean can you imagine what he could do if he had been able to build off that 44.8% hard contact rate in 2015?! Anyways, let’s try to analyze what stats we do have. His 170 plate appearances a year ago produced a paltry .190/.288/.422 triple slash with 9 HR/20 R/28 RBI. That’s a small sample size if I’ve ever seen one, so no one panic. I will allow you all to be encouraged by his consistently decent walk rate. For a bit. Ok, now it’s over. He had a 24.7% strikeout rate last year. Told you it was over. He’s a true dice roll at this point, but be excited by that sexy pinstripe lineup where he’s projected to hit behind Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and in front of Gary Sanchez.

19. Matt Olson, Oakland A’s

Projection: 70 R/30 HR/75 RBI/.235

So, Matt Olson burst onto the scene last year with 24 home runs in 59 games, and if it weren’t for the poor average profile, he’d be much higher on this list. Like maybe Hoskins high. Ok, maybe not that extreme. But, alas. He had a 27.8% strikeout rate in 2017, and that’s consistent with his minor league numbers. Don’t ever expect that average to live over .250 is what I’m saying. However, OBP leaguers could use him as he has traditionally profiled as a 15% walk rate guy in his career. He is a high-risk/high-reward option, but be ready to suffer through slumps as he looks like a prototypical hacker.

20. Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros

Projection: 65 R/20 HR/75 RBI/5 SB/.270

The versatile infielder has seen his playing time steadily grow over the last few years, and it should be no surprise that his counting stats have as well. His playing time stabilized last year and his home runs, RBI, and triple slash all took big leaps forward. So, what changed for Marwin?? Well, for one, his BB/K improved from 0.19 to 0.49. Better patience and fewer strikeouts. That’s good! Also, he had an uptick in FB%, decrease in groundballs, and an improved HR/FB rate. Makes sense that the home runs went up I guess you could say. However you want to color it, Gonzalez was in a groove last year in a really good lineup. He’s always flashed some nice power, and if he gets consistent at-bats again this year, I could see taking him in the latter half of the draft as a super utility guy.

We made it, fam! Mad props to those who always write positional breakdowns. They are a task! Hope you enjoyed this thorough but not all-inclusive list. Got any qualms or questions? Hit me up on Twitter @jakebridges03!

Jake is an NYC based actor who loves to put off daily responsibilities by writing and researching about all things fantasy baseball and college football. He is a life long Auburn Tigers fan, and yes, he does have the same SEC bias as ESPN. Most days, he can be found reminiscing about the 1990s Braves teams or complaining about their rebuild. Auburn 26 Alabama 14. #WDE

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