First Base

HEATH’S EARLY LOOK AT 2021 FIRST BASEMEN

1Cody Bellinger 1B,CF,RF (LAD)

Cody Bellinger overcame a sophomore slump with a .305/.406/.629 slash line, 47 home runs, and 15 stolen bases en route to becoming one of the best players in baseball in 2019. An elite five-category contributor at a position that is no longer as deep as it once was…this justifies a pick in the top half of the first round.

2Pete Alonso 1B (NYM)

Pete Alonso led all of baseball in home runs with 53 on his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year. A 15.8% barrel rate leaves little doubt that he should once again be among the league leaders in home runs. However, the batting average may not be any higher than the .260 he put up last season, which brings his draft cost into question.

3Matt Olson 1B (OAK)

For three consecutive seasons, Olson has trimmed his ground ball rate while raising his line drive rate. This is exactly what you want to see from a hitter that has an average exit velocity of 97.1 MPH on line drives and fly balls. Improving on the .223 batting average vs. left-handed pitchers could go a long way towards making Olson a more complete hitter.

4Freddie Freeman 1B (ATL)

The top tier of first basemen stops at Freddie Freeman, who had possibly his best season yet in 2019 with 38 home runs, 113 runs, 121 RBI, and a .295/.389/.549 slash line. Freeman is showing no signs of decline heading in to his age-31 season and should continue to put up stellar numbers in one of the best lineups in baseball. ***Freeman is back in summer camp after missing time due to COVID-19***

5Jose Abreu 1B,DH (CWS)

The perennially underrated Jose Abreu may be entering 2020 surrounded by the best supporting cast of his career. Abreu posted career-bests in hard hit rate (48.2%), barrel percentage (12.8%), and average exit velocity (92.1 MPH) last year. He’s showing no signs of wear heading into his age-33 season.

6Josh Bell 1B (PIT)

It was a tale of two halves for the Pirates’ slugger. Bell hit .302 with 27 home runs and an MLB-best 84 RBI in the first half, but slumped to a .233 average with only 10 homers after the All-Star break. According to Bell, a focus on breaking balls was to blame for his struggles. A dip in his ground ball rate for two consecutive years shows a concerted effort to hit for more power. I’m buying the first-half breakout more than the second-half flop.

7Max Muncy 1B,2B,3B (LAD)

The positional flexibility Max Muncy provides is incredibly valuable. That, and the 35 home runs in back-to-back seasons. Muncy could benefit by playing a few more games in that stellar Dodgers lineup with a universal DH. Lastly, an elite walk rate of 15.3% last year (15.1% career) gives him a boost points leagues.

8DJ LeMahieu 1B,2B,3B (NYY)

If you’re going to leave Coors Field, what better place to go than Yankee Stadium? LeMahieu had a big power breakout his first year in pinstripes, slugging a career-high 26 home runs. The underlying skills support it, as LeMahieu posted a 92nd percentile average exit velocity (91.7 MPH) and a 47.2% hard hit rate. His versatility, home park, and surrounding lineup make LeMahieu one of the most intriguing players in fantasy baseball.

9Paul Goldschmidt 1B (STL)

Last year, Paul Goldschmidt had possibly his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign. It’s been a slow and steady decline for Goldy, with his walk rate dropping every year since 2015 accompanied by a downward trend in his batted ball quality. While a bounce-back is not out of the question for someone as skilled as Goldschmidt, his days of being an MVP-caliber player seem over.

10Anthony Rizzo 1B (CHC)

Anthony Rizzo has been a model of consistency, hitting .273 or better with at least 25 home runs and over 600 plate appearances in every season since 2014. Rizzo continues to be one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball with a 2.4% K-BB rate. His xBA of .300 in 2019 was his best yet. However, a declining exit velocity on fly balls and line drives for two consecutive seasons brings into question how much longer the skills can be sustained.

11Rhys Hoskins 1B,LF (PHI)

Hoskins hit .226/.364/.454 with 29 home runs in a disappointing season. An overemphasis on fly balls hurt Hoskins in 2019, with an average launch angle of 24 degrees perhaps leading to a drop in his barrel rate. He did have an elite walk rate of 16.5%. A launch angle adjustment could go a long way towards fixing what went wrong last season.

12Carlos Santana 1B,DH (CLE)

Carlos Santana had his best season yet at the age of 33, setting career-highs in batting average (.281), runs (110), RBI (93), and tying his previous high in home runs with 34. The skill set remained mostly the same, but with a BABIP of .293 (well higher than his career norm of .268). I wouldn’t count on a repeat year for Santana. However, his plate discipline remains one of the best, making him a better pick in points leagues at his ADP.

13Luke Voit 1B,DH (NYY)

From 2018 through June 30th of last season, Luke Voit had a slash line of .294/.394/.562, with 32 home runs in 510 plate appearances. But then a core muscle injury landed Voit on the DL, and from June 30th onward he hit .228 with only four home runs. Voit now enters 2020 healthy and as the starting first baseman for the Yankees. He could be a big value with his ability to barrel the ball, as last year’s 13.2% barrel rate (top 9% of the league) attests.

14Hunter Dozier 1B,3B,RF (KC)

Dozier was a bright spot for the Royals last season, breaking out with a .279 batting average and 26 home runs in 586 plate appearances. A rising trend in his contact rate in the zone and a drop in his chase rate aided Dozier in a big way last year. He also trimmed his strikeout rate and set a career-high with a 91.1 MPH average exit velocity (top 15% of MLB). If he carries those gains over to 2020, he will be a great value.

15Miguel Sano 1B,3B (MIN)

Miguel Sano has never accumulated over 500 plate appearances in a season, nor has he ever had a strikeout rate under 35%. What Sano does have going for him is his ability to hit the ball harder than just about anyone. He led all of baseball in barrels per batted ball event last year, with a 21.2% rate. As volatile as Sano is, there’s a wide range of outcomes in a shortened season…one of those outcomes being elite production, especially from a power standpoint.

16Edwin Encarnacion 1B,DH (CWS)

Edwin Encarnacion has hit 32 or more home runs every season since 2012, and there’s no reason to believe the power will stop now. Encarnacion finds himself in an improved White Sox lineup and should be a cheap and reliable source of power and RBI.

17Yuli Gurriel 1B,3B (HOU)

Yuli Gurriel went on an absolute tear last summer, hitting .376 with 19 home runs between July and August. It would be a lot to ask a 35-year-old that has never profiled as a power hitter to repeat that level of production. Nonetheless, Gurriel is a safe bet to hit for a good average and provide counting stats in a stacked Astros lineup.

18Ryan McMahon 1B,2B,3B (COL)

Ryan McMahon goes into the season with assurance from manager Bud Black that he will be a full-time player. Like many Colorado hitters, McMahon has big home and road splits, hitting .270 at home and .226 on the road last year. While he does hit the ball hard with a 95.8 MPH exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, he can help himself tremendously by reducing his 50.8% ground ball rate.

19C.J. Cron 1B (DET)

CJ Cron has increased his barrel rate every year since 2016, and his 44.6% hard hit rate last year was a career-high. Yet, he was one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball, vastly underperforming his expected statistics. Cron could be on the verge of a breakout in Detroit with guaranteed playing time.

20Brandon Lowe 1B,2B (TB)

A .377 BABIP and 34.6% strikeout rate does little to support the .270 batting average. But Lowe did hit the ball exceptionally hard, with a 96 MPH average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, and a 9.2% rate of barrels per plate appearance that would have ranked fourth among first basemen had he qualified.

21Danny Santana 1B,2B,3B,SS,LF,CF,RF (TEX)

Danny Santana burst onto the scene in 2019, hitting .283 with 28 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He also had some of the worst plate discipline, striking out 29.5% of the time with only a 4.9% walk rate. Even if Santana plays full time for Texas, he’s got a profile that screams volatility. That said, a wide range of outcomes is possible, especially in a shortened season.

22Daniel Murphy 1B,2B (COL)

Murphy played much of last season with an injured finger, but still managed to hit .279 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI in 132 games. His 94.2% zone contact rate remains elite, so a bounce-back season isn’t out of the question for Murphy in Colorado.

23Christian Walker 1B (ARI)

Walker exceeded all expectations in 2019 with a .259/.348/.476 slash line, 29 home runs, and eight steals. The 13.1% barrel rate and 48.4% hard hit rate support the breakout. The implementation of a universal DH could also alleviate concerns of a platoon situation.

24Joc Pederson 1B,LF,RF (LAD)

Pederson remains with the Dodgers after a trade to the Los Angeles Angels fell through. He should be a mainstay in the lineup against right-handed pitchers, as all 36 of his home runs last season came against righties. He’s a better play in daily leagues.

25Mark Canha 1B,LF,CF,RF (OAK)

First base and outfield eligibility gives Canha some valuable versatility. The right-handed pull hitter launched 26 home runs while hitting .273 last year. He also improved his plate discipline with a 13.5% walk rate. A career-best 25.0% chase rate and career-low 40.4% swing rate factored in. Still, Canha’s .396 OBP from last year is one of the quietest feats in recent memory. For reference, among qualified hitters from 2019, that .396 mark would have ranked 9th in the MLB.

26Eric Hosmer 1B (SD)

Eric Hosmer has stated that he will make a concerted effort to hit more fly balls. But is it too little too late for the veteran with a declining contact rate?

27Evan White 1B (SEA)

The Mariners signed White to a six-year contract, all but ensuring he will open the season as the club’s first baseman. Aided by a significant drop in his ground ball rate, White hit .293 with 18 home runs and two steals at Double-A last season.

28Renato Nunez 1B,3B,DH (BAL)

Nunez is a right-handed, pull-heavy power hitter in Camden Yards. As such, he’s an undervalued source of home runs. With Trey Mancini out for the season, Nunez should play every day and hit in the heart of the order.

29Joey Votto 1B (CIN)

Feels risky to fade him this much, but we haven’t seen an impact season from him since 2017…and he turns 37 this September.

30Niko Goodrum 1B,2B,SS,LF,CF,RF (DET)

Seems like the Tigers need to play him, and it looks like he’ll bat second in the order most days. The industry is probably too low on him…though the career 28.5% strikeout rate is a legitimate concern.

31Wil Myers 1B,3B,LF,CF (SD)

Can the universal DH help keep him healthy?

32Michael Chavis 1B,2B,3B (BOS)

While Chavis did hit 18 home runs in 95 games, he did so with some of the worst contact rates in baseball. If Chavis gets off to a slow start in a shortened season, we could see Jose Peraza take over at second base.

33Eric Thames 1B,RF (WSH)

34Yandy Diaz 1B,3B,DH (TB)

It’s hard to trust the playing time in Tampa Bay for Yandy Diaz. But there is a bit to like going forward, as he’s make incremental improvements to his launch angle, helping him raise his barrel rate to 10.4%. And last year’s xBA of .284 says his .267 batting average was a bit unlucky.

35Justin Smoak 1B,DH (MIL)

The DH rule and the injuries to Ryan Braun (neck, back, oblique) could mean Smoak has a lot of leash in 2020.

36Miguel Cabrera 1B,DH (DET)

He’s not dead yet? And hey, he did look pretty darn fit in Spring Training 1.0…

37Brandon Belt 1B,LF (SF)

If only he played in a different home park.

38Nate Lowe 1B (TB)

Playing time concerns.

39Jesus Aguilar 1B (MIA)

He should get playing time?

40Howie Kendrick 1B,2B,3B (WSH)

41Daniel Vogelbach 1B,DH (SEA)

42Ji-Man Choi 1B,DH (TB)

42Jose Martinez 1B,RF (TB)