Disclaimer: You’re about to read my personal positional rankings for the 2016 baseball season. Treat it as a “fantasy baseball for dummies” if you will. I try to keep my blurbs funny enough that even the most casual fans will find it interesting, but I acknowledge that the subject matter isn’t for everyone. If you have even the slightest interest in baseball, I hope you enjoy the article.
First basemen are the guys that you actually want to draft and will be excited to own. You also need a good starting first baseman in order to compete. There are no first base sleepers, because those are the guys that you want to take a flier on at your corner or utility spot. First basemen are the meat to your fantasy baseball team sandwich; they’re not the most vital (that’s the bread pitching staff), but if they’re good they will put you over the top.
I’ve ranked more first basemen than I did catchers because most leagues also start a corner infielder (1B/3B) and there are more relevant batters at this position. For the most part, the players within tiers are interchangeable and can be decided by personal preference. This is just how I would draft them. Stats are R/HR/RBI/AVG/SB.
Tier 1 – Filet Mignon. Needless to say, this is the best tier, but it’ll cost you.
1. Paul Goldschmidt: Goldschmidt is the best player in fantasy baseball. There, I said it! He has the least (if you can even use that word) upside but also the least question marks out of Trout and Harper, and plays the more premium position. He’s a lock for 100+ runs and RBIs, 30+ homers, a .300 average, and about 15 steals with his sneaky speed. The only downside is that he doesn’t have the 50 homer-30 steal upside of a Trout or Harper, though there’s something to be said about guaranteed stats. Projection: 105/37/120/.317/19
2. Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo is Goldy-lite, except he’s not full of empty calories. Looking at last year’s numbers alone (94/31/101/.278/17) makes him a first rounder. Given Maddon’s propensity to run, his steals shouldn’t fall too much. He’ll be 26. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) could easily rise about 30 points as his was only .289. Plus, he now gets a full year with an improving Kris Bryant behind him and two OBP monsters in Heyward and Zobrist in front of him. Rizzo is a strong contender for the number 4 overall pick after the elite 3. Projection: 100/36/116/.291/15
Tier 2 – Bacon. Have you ever heard anyone say: “I wish that sandwich didn’t have bacon”?
3. Miguel Cabrera: While Miggy may no longer be a Triple Crown threat, he’s still the best pure hitter in baseball, and has been for the past decade. Despite recent injuries, I believe he still has enough life in his bat for a more “vintage Miggy” season. He’ll be adding Justin Upton and a healthy Victor Martinez to lineup that already included J.D. Martinez as protection. Ranking Miggy in the late teens is a travesty, as he should not escape the top 12 picks. Projection: 110/28/110/.334/1
4. Jose Abreu: Jose Abreu gets slept on in drafts for being boring. And it’s warranted. Abreu is about as boring as Citizen Kane, but he’s one of the most consistent players in the game. Adam Eaton took a big step forward last year and now he finally has viable protection in Todd Frazier. Projection: 90/32/103/.300/1
5. Chris Davis: The Orioles offense is the definition of #toomanyhomers. This lineup will put up ten runs one day and then strikeout 20 times the next, and no one embodies those two true outcomes more than Davis. I believe his friendly home park and propensity for hard contact will buoy his average, and with an offense like that, the counting stats will be there. Is Davis riskier than anyone else in this tier? Yes, but he is one of two hitters (Stanton being the other) with a legitimate possibility of 50 homers and deserves to be ranked in the top 25. Projections: 95/42/113/.258/2
6. Edwin Encarnacion: For some reason, E2 is the forgotten slugger in the Blue Jays’ Murderers Row. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t give off the same flashy punk vibe as Joey Bats and Donaldson; like Abreu, E2 simply comes off as boring. E2 is battling a minor oblique injury in spring training and always seems to miss about 20ish games per year. Because I like Davis more and that seems to be against the consensus, I probably won’t own any shares of E2 this year. Projection: 87/36/98/.271/3 In sum:
7. Joey Votto: In any league besides 5×5, Votto’s elite OBP, SLG, and low Ks launch him up to the very top of this tier. Last year, Votto’s HR/FB% was the highest it had been in four years so expect some regression there. Votto also refuses to chase pitches and will gladly take a walk with runners in scoring position. Stuck in a horrific offense, Votto marches to the beat of his own drum; if he wanted to hit .335 with 20 homers he could, and if he wanted to hit .275 with 40 homers he could too. Projections: 94/25/84/.312/7
Tier 3 – Ham. Ham is really good. It’s essential for most sandwiches and it gets the job done. That said, no one has ever been ecstatic about a piece of ham.
8. Albert Pujols: Pujols reminds of a David Ortiz/Jim Thome type in that he is going to continue to post 30 homer seasons with a fluctuating average until he eventually retires. He finally had offseason foot surgery to fix a plantar fasciitis injury that had been nagging him for about 3 years now. He should be good to go on Opening Day, but is worth monitoring. Projection: 83/32/96/.264/2
9. Eric Hosmer: Eventually Hosmer has to break out, right? He took strides last year, but still hasn’t topped the career high 19 homers he hit in just 128 games as a rookie. Age is on his side as he’s still just 26 and his power should just begin to peak. The problem is that his fly ball percentage is only around 25%, which is on par with speedsters like Dee Gordon. The counting stats will be there, but even hoping for 25 homers is tough without a significant change in his batting profile. Projections: 93/21/86/.289/10
10. Buster Posey: I went over him in my Top 15 Catchers article earlier this month. If you draft Posey (you shouldn’t), you definitely shouldn’t be starting him at first base.
11. Adrian Gonzalez: A-Gon will give you consistent production across the board without doing anything flashy. You can draft him, plug him into your lineup, and then forget that you own him for three months. He’s also about to turn 34 so the decline could be coming. Projections: 80/25/94/.272/1
12. David Ortiz: Yay, the David Ortiz farewell tour! You know what he’ll give you at this point; it’s really just a matter of whether he is first base eligible in your league. In leagues with only one utility slot, I like to leave the slot open to rotate in whichever hot bat I can pick up off waivers for any given week. If he is first base eligible, bump him to the top of this tier. Projection: 70/34/103/.269
13. Prince Fielder: Fielder is in the same position eligibility boat as Ortiz. He’s also hit 25 and 23 homers over his past two full seasons, so he’s about a year away from becoming Lyle Overbay. The stacked Rangers lineup should continue to get him a healthy amount of counting stats. Projection: 74/22/90/.283
Tier 4 – Mystery Meat. A little undercooked, but tastes like chicken.
14. Freddie Freeman: All of the guys in this tier have the upside to be top 10 first basemen, but they all have something working against them. As for Freeman, he suffers from a bad case of sickly team disease (don’t abbreviate). Freeman himself isn’t bad, he’s just not good. Like Hosmer, Freeman is only 26 and was a former top prospect, so the power should begin to peak. Unlike Hosmer, he has no lineup protection so his counting stats will suffer. Projection: 74/21/81/.285/3
15. Brandon Belt: Belt, Freeman, and Hosmer should just morph together and form one ‘middling power with some speed’ first baseman. Of the three, Belt seems the most likely to tap into his power potential and belt (boo) more homers. In a lost 2014, Belt hit 12 homers in 61 games. Belt also hits more fly balls than Freeman & Hosmer, at around 42%. Belt will be 28 and it’s another even year for the Giants. Projection: 78/22/83/.281/8
16. Mark Trumbo: We’re now firmly into corner man territory. Trumbo is finally in a place to thrive now that he is healthy and in a hitter’s park. In addition, Trumbo should start in right field, giving him dual outfield and first base eligibility. At 30 years old he’s primed for a comeback year. Projection: 72/32/87/.259/2
17. Hanley Ramirez: After the disaster that was the Hanley Ramirez Left Field Experiment, we get one final year of Ramirez in the field before David Ortiz retires and Ramirez never touches a glove ever again. Judging by the fact that he showed up to spring training without a first baseman’s glove and needed lessons on how to stand at the base, Ramirez’s only real enemy this year is going to be himself. He’ll have opportunities, but if he cannot stay healthy, or his attitude impacts his play, Farrell will be quick to play Travis Shaw. Even when healthy, Ramirez simply is not the player he used to be: he hasn’t hit more than 20 homers or stolen more than 20 bases since 2012. He also hasn’t hit above .300 in a full season since 2010. If everything breaks right, he should have a strong year, but judging by the fact that he missed time after being struck by a line drive last year, Ramirez always seems to find some way to mess it up. Projections: 70/24/83/.261/8
18. Byung-ho Park: Byung-ho Park hit .343 with 53 homers in Korea last year, and lost the MVP to former Major League utility player Eric Thames who went had a stat line of 130/47/140/.381/40, which would be the best season in MLB history. In his last year in Korea, Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang went 103/40/117/.356/3 and he just had a productive albeit not elite year hitting .287 with 15 homers. The transition from Korea to the Majors is difficult, but Park should still be productive. His upside should be something near Adrian Gonzalez with his downside being that of an Adam Lind. Projections: 69/23/81/.265
19. Lucas Duda: Duda is what he is at this point. He hits a lot of fly balls and he’s big enough to muscle enough of them out of the ballpark. With the protection of Yoenis Cespedes he no longer has to be THE power bat in the Mets lineup. The one knock against Duda is that he seems to get hot for about 6 weeks, during which he gets all of his stats. Projections: 70/30/83/.248
Tier 5 – Spam. Simply unacceptable.
20. There are a lot of guys that I could have picked for this final spot, but each have their blemishes and are best left on the waiver wire until they get hot. Mark Teixeira hit 33 homers in two thirds of a season last year but can’t stay healthy… Carlos Santana is worth drafting in OBP leagues, but is a significantly worse option now that he no longer has catcher eligibility… Matt Adams hasn’t learned how to hit homers… Wil Myers forgot how to hit period… Victor Martinez could provide mid-teens homers and a .280 average so he’s essentially a fourth outfielder on a major league team… I love A.J. Reed and think he is definitely worth the stash, but won’t play enough games to warrant drafting if you don’t have the roster space.