It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
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1) Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 29, Rank: 1)
Power is up across the league. If we assume this is a trend, then a lot of what makes the average fantasy first basemen special–namely, a bunch of RBIs and homeruns and maybe a decent average–will be less special. Imagine Syndrome from the Incredibles gave everyone the ability to hit for power so that no one actually had “power.” In this scenario, Paul Goldschmidt is definitely still the best first baseman. Maybe even better. Goldschmidt’s ability to hit for average and get on base, to swipe bases at an absurdly high rate–for the league, not just for his position–and to get runs despite the flotsam and jetsam surrounding him in Arizona are super. And the value of steals and average will only increase as home runs become cheaper. Goldschmidt may not always be the best fantasy first baseman (see below), but for now, and for at least the next few years, he remains the most incredible.
2) Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 2)
At perhaps no other position is the line between the best- and second-best player in fantasy baseball as close as first base. Looking over the past three years, the two players have been going back and forth with Goldschmidt maintaining a slight edge:
|Performance since 2014||G||HR||R||RBI||SB||AVG||OBP||SLG|
Rizzo took steps forward in 2016 and, given his slight advantage in age and extreme advantage in team, is poised to take additional steps over the next few years as he continues to improve his slash line. The 17 steals of 2015 appear to have been just a phase, but even without steals Rizzo is the only first baseman challenging Goldschmidt for the number one spot at the moment, and it’s not hard to imagine him eventually taking over as the Best First Basemen in BaseballTM.
3) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 3)
Hot takes are the currency of sport- and game-writing, so here’s one: the only reason Cabrera isn’t still a top 10 overall player for dynasty is age bias. If for some reason you wandered onto this site looking for rankings for a redraft league, here’s a word of advice: take Cabrera in the first round. Otherwise, if you’re relying on this list for trade value, keeper selection, or drafting in a new dynasty league, here’s a word of advice: any serious contender should pay for Cabrera as if he were a first rounder.
34-years-old is scary for dynasty baseball players, who largely abide by hippie-era “Don’t trust anyone over 30” slogan. Last year Prince Fielder was a top 10 dynasty league first baseman on our consensus rankings, this year we swear he’s playing on a farm upstate we know it’s sad but he’s happy now just believe us.
So yes, mortality is scary and this too shall pass, but Cabrera has just come off yet another season where he hit over .315 with over 35 home runs and over 100 RBI in over 150 games. Until he has an injury that legitimately costs him a season or is diagnosed with something congenital, he is going to be a top tier player. The bottom may fall out in 2021 or sooner, but for this year and likely the next two or three years he belongs on a contending team and those contending teams should be paying face value for the privilege.
4) Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 7)
If you take away April, Freddie Freeman was one of the five best hitters in all of baseball by wOBA, wRC+, and slugging percentage (min 500 PA). The slow start and bad team may mean some owners slept on Freeman’s breakout season, which saw Freeman increase his strikeout rate while at the same time pushing his contact rate way up. A slight word of caution–taking away April, Freeman was also one of the five top hitters in BABIP. BABIP doesn’t really have anything to do with the power spike, though, so if you believe the power, assume the average will come down a bit while Freeman keeps hitting over 30 bombs. If you don’t believe the power, you can talk yourself into seeing Freeman as a hard-contact hitting 1B who will still hit at least 20-25 home runs and hit over .300. It’s perhaps unlikely that Freeman will improve across the board on all of this 2016 numbers, but continuing to improve one direction or the other between power and average is likely.
5) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 4)
Joey Votto’s 2016 was slightly better than his 2015, and yet he still slipped a spot in the ranking. That’s largely due to Freeman having a breakout year, the top tier of 1B getting deeper as a result of this breakout, Votto being a year older, and consistency getting a bad rap as a hobgoblin of the small minded. Votto has been nothing if not consistent across his career, with an injury shortened-2014 being the one outlier. He has never had elite power, but he’s more than made up for it with his ability to hit and get on base (ask us where he’d rank on an OBP list, the answer may surprise you: probably fourth). The lineup around him has gotten progressively worse, and yet he has been unfazed, driving in his most RBI since 2011 last year. Votto’s skills are the kind that age well, and he’s the rare veteran who has a place on any dynasty league team as he will have value either as a trade chip or productive player for every team–contending to rebuilding.
6) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 6)
In his age-33 season, Encarnacion played in a career high 160 games and batted in an AL-leading 127 runs (tied with David Ortiz). While the move to Cleveland this offseason might cause some worry over a slightly less power-friendly park, Encarnacion’s profile as one of the game’s best tater mashers should offset that concern. If you expected 42 home runs again, maybe you’ll need to make do with 38 or so instead. Over the course of his three year contract with Cleveland he may come close to losing first base eligibility depending on your league’s settings, but he should have no problem continuing to produce and drive in runs surrounded by a roster that is every bit as dynamic and productive as Encarnacion’s old team in Toronto.
7) Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 5)
First, the bad news about Jose Abreu:
- As the White Sox rebuild around him, the opportunity to bat in runs will continue to decline, as will the odds of him ending up stranded on base
- At this point in his career, you need to wonder if his rookie season-35 homers will be his career high
- He’s had the kind of up-and-down 2016 where you just wish there were an arbitrary end point in his season splits to explain his performance
Now, the good news: he’s still Jose Abreu, and while he had hiccups last year (some of them lasting a month or more), there are no tangible signs of decline to explain it, so the prolonged slumps may just have been flukes. With that in mind, while you shouldn’t expect the Abreu of 2014, there’s reason to expect a bounceback next season. He should find middle ground between that amazing debut and disappointing 2016…perhaps his 2015 season when he hit 30 home runs with a .290 average. Give or take a little on either side of those numbers and Abreu is still a very good bets to produce value at first base going forward.
8) Wil Myers, San Diego Padres (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 37, OF)
What is Wil Myers doing here? The former top prospect had made a decent life for himself as the next poster child of the “all prospects are risky” PSA campaign. Go back in the archives of every fantasy baseball site and look for the expert who predicted that Wil Myers would be a top-10 first baseman, by age 26. We’ll wait. For what it’s worth, we did think he’d have a bounceback season, but not like this.
Myers drove his contact rate up to 80%, while also doing some weird thing where he swiped 28 bags while crushing 28 bombs. Someone should probably tell Wil that first basemen aren’t supposed to challenge for a 30/30 season. His 83% success rate could be unsustainable, though, and counting on nearly 30 steals again is about as risky as expecting his wrist of glass to forever remain intact. Then again, the Padres are throwing in the towel for next season and have no reason not to let Myers run wild. Perhaps 15 stolen bases is a more reasonable expectation, but pair that with nearly 30 dingers and you’re still looking at a young top-10 first basemen.
9) Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 17, OF)
Last year, Davis was our poster child of TDG position eligibility rules (TDG stands for Tough Draconian Guidelines). Davis has always been seen as a first basemen, but he consistently managed to play just enough games to qualify for the outfield, and had been ranked there as a result in the past. He’s finally played fewer than 20 games anywhere else, and is exclusively first base eligible, but that’s about the only thing that’s changed with Davis. The profile remains the same–prodigious power, consistently league-leading whiffs, and the potential for 100 runs/RBI in the middle of the consistently-underrated Baltimore lineup. In a way, then, Davis can serve as the constant by which you can convert 1B value to OF value: the back half of first base’s top-10 is about the same value as the second tier of outfielders. Every year these lists have their Chris Davis’s, who will by our metric be ranked at a position where they have no business playing. Maybe this year, instead of whining about it in the comments, we can all sit back and appreciate the utility of these conversion factors. Or not, whatever.
10) Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 30, OF)
Lest there be any confusion or doubt: Hanley Ramirez is, decidedly, a top-10 first baseman. The loss of eligibility at more premium positions may be interpreted as a subsequent loss in overall value, but on the contrary Ramirez took well to the position and produced his best year since possibly 2009. We can probably expect some decline in average, as Ramirez has been trading contact for power over the past few years, leading to an increased strikeout rate and slightly depressed average, but given the 30 home runs he produced last season, that is still good enough to be a very good first basemen in fantasy leagues. There is an undeniable bias among fantasy players to connect real-life value to fantasy value, and this could hurt his perceived stock, but HanRam is a great first baseman/DH in a hitter-friendly park surrounded by one of the best lineups in baseball for the next few years, making him plenty valuable. Take advantage of the bias in your league, and consider upgrading to Hanley for 2017/18/19.
11) Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 12)
Brandon Belt is the line between first basemen you want to roster, and the first basemen you roster when you don’t have one of the top-10 guys. Belt has yet to surpass the 20 home run plateau or hit for a .290 batting average, and he didn’t steal a base last season. As a result, fantasy owners won’t be itching to draft Belt, but he does get the job done if you miss out on the elite names. The 29-year-old presents some safety given a lack of present weakness, and has a bit more upside left in the tank if he can continue to improve his plate discipline and turn some of those 41 doubles (12th best in baseball) into home runs. The Baby Giraffe won’t carry your dynasty team to a championship, but he certainly won’t sink your dreams.
12) Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 15)
Despite Santana dropping a career high 34 bombs, his stock didn’t take much of a jump in our rankings. He is going to be 31, and being the master of plate discipline just isn’t as flashy as the slugging talents of some of the names above. Santana, similar to Belt, is not going to betray you, but it isn’t likely he pulls you to victory either. Given the lack of steals and a poor average, Santana is a one-dimensional player unless you’re in an on-base percentage league. The good news is that Santana has excellent power, and should bring a solid amount of runs and RBI while hitting next to Edwin Encarnacion in Cleveland’s lineup.
13) Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 10)
Hosmer saw a drop in his stock, and a lot of it was his own doing. While he did hit a career-high 25 homers, it came at the expense of contact with his average plummeting to .266 after an outstanding .297 mark in 2015. Hosmer’s strikeout rate also jumped nearly four points to go along with the drop in average and increase in power, a tradeoff that looks to be more detrimental than helpful at this point. While the 100 runs batted in are great, it’s impossible to predict as a repeatable category. There’s room to grow if Hosmer can lift more balls (a high groundball rate is hampering his power) and steal bases again, but the 27-year-old’s underwhelmed for a few years now, so don’t get your hopes up. He’s a fine hitter, but ‘fine’ isn’t good enough in today’s home-run-driven landscape.
14) A.J. Reed, Houston Astros (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 17)
Our first real first base prospect is here. While his MLB debut was a tire fire, surely disappointing all his owners, Reed showed he could still mash minor league pitching in the first two months of the season. Because of this, there’s reason to believe he remains the same advanced hitter, and simply needs more time to adjust in the big leagues; every hitter isn’t going to go Gary Sanchez on us in his big league debut. That being said, the Astros are looking to win now, so Reed will have a lot of pressure to produce next season if he wants to remain a starter. There is, of course, risk, but Reed might be one of the better buy-low opportunities out there, even if it takes longer for him to get acclimated to the majors than you’d like. That kind of power and plate discipline doesn’t grow on trees, and Reed should be worth the wait.
15) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 8)
A down year and advanced age slammed Gonzalez in this year’s dynasty rankings. His groundball and hard-hit rate both went in the wrong direction, something you don’t want to see for any player, let alone a guy who is 35 and plays in Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers being the Dodgers means he’ll have a good lineup around him, giving something to grasp onto when it comes to hoping for improved production next season. Otherwise, it’s a scary investment, and while another rebound is a possibility, this may just be the beginning of the end.
16) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 37, Previous Rank: 11)
Speaking of the beginning of the end, Pujols seems hell bent on keeping his fantasy relevance up no matter what the cost of the rest of his game. The Machine continued selling out for power last season, watching his on-base percentage plummet as a result. Still, the pull hitter has managed to keep his hard/medium/soft hit percentages relatively constant over the past 5 seasons, and he still has the power to surpass 30 home runs for the third season in a row. The Pujols of yore is a fantasy legend, and that is gone, but even with his foot problems, the former 13th rounder still managed to log 152+ games in the past three seasons. The guy is going to hit you homers, and Mike Trout sprinkling his magic Trout dust in Anaheim will help Pujols continue to stay relevant. We don’t know when this incredible career is going to launch into a real tailspin, but with the data we have, there isn’t a reason to expect that drop off to happen in 2017.
17) Josh Bell, Pittsburg Pirates (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 27)
Bell’s power is the lone problem here. He’s athletic enough to be an outfielder, but the endless stream of plus options the Pirates have out there has shifted him to the infield. Through his various assignments in the minors he has been a strong hitter (.303/.373/.454), and the top prospect continued this trend in a 150 plate appearance audition (113 wRC+). Still, for him to truly be an impact player, Bell will need to see his raw power realized. Given the switch-hitter’s swing, which is better geared toward line drives at present, it’s far from a guarantee that he’ll be able to translate his strength into games. Then again, scouting reports of late have been glowing, and it’s hard to argue with Bell’s performance.
18) Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 49)
After assassinating minor league pitching for a full season, Bellinger took a massive jump up our ranks. With risk comes reward, and when you see a cut like this, it becomes obvious what Bellinger’s plan is. Now the swing is not normal for the MLB and, like Javier Baez, he may have to tone it down since contact could be become problematic with his current set-up. Still, his strikeout rates have actually dropped as he’s risen through the minors, so there’s optimism that he can be an effective big-league slugger without drastic change. Triple-A should be a nice test, as it will be his first exposure to real MLB sequencing and big league depth, so his stock could just as easily stall as it could continue to climb. Still, Bellinger has 56 home runs over the past two seasons, and his massive power potential is hard to ignore.
19) C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 26)
On the surface, sticking Cron in the top-20 seems like a mistake. A 27-year-old who has yet to hit more than 16 home runs in a season and boasts an anemic walk rate with minimal speed, Cron doesn’t have the greatest of track records nor flashy upside. Still, Cron was amidst a minor breakout last season before being felled for a month by a wrist injury, as he had managed to both increase walks and cut down on strikeouts while hitting .278/.325/.467 with 16 home runs in 116 games. The power isn’t prodigious, but Cron should easily surpass the 20 home run mark next season with health and playing time (which he should receive with Albert Pujols mostly confined to DH) while tossing in a solid batting average. Given his current price on the market, that’s not a bad value at all.
20) Greg Bird, New York Yankees (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 18)
After a scorching start to his career, Bird suffered a major shoulder injury that cost him all of 2016. His stock hasn’t taken much of a hit, though, because of that outstanding major league debut. Bird was pulverizing baseballs at a Gary Sanchezian 20.4% HR/FB rate and had 11 home runs with a 137 wRC+ in 46 games. He’s demonstrated very solid pitch selection in the minor leagues, and that hit tool was one of the better in the minors while he was a prospect. Still, the power is not nearly as strong as Bird showed in his debut, and the rookie year OPS of .871 may be small sample size theater. Hopefully over a full season in the bigs he can remain healthy, maintain his solid eye at the plate, and continue to use his power, but there’s plenty of inherent risk given the year off and potential contact issues (29.8% strikeout rate in his debut). The talent and the risk are both present in copious amounts, and hopefully that balance can be accurately found at 20th in these rankings.
Commentary by Tyler Baber and Jack Cecil