The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League 1st Basemen, Nos. 21-50
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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With that, we’ll continue our look at first basemen, starting with a player whose name was spelled wrong by his own team for seven years. The complete list of 2017 consensus rankings can be found here.
21) Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 14)
Morales is far from the most exciting name on this list, but sometimes it’s the boring names that help you win games. Morales should enjoy hitting in the first real hitter’s park of his career in Toronto, and given the powerful lineup he’ll be hitting in, there’s a shot he hits the 100-RBI plateau. I’ll never forget when he broke his leg after hitting a game winning grand slam, or when he decided he preferred to be called by his actual name, so he’s always been one of my favorite players, and even in his ripe age of 33, I can see him having one of the better seasons of his career in Toronto next year—at least, from a fantasy perspective.
22) Chris Carter, Free Agent (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 40)
Power has never been an issue with Mr. Carter, and up until last year, neither was finding opportunities for at-bats. Whether it was something personal or just a sign of the changing times in this new, saber-friendly era of baseball, Carter was non-tendered by the Brewers this offseason so they could sign someone nine spots down on this list for $16M guaranteed. The hope here is that Carter can land a DH job in a homer-friendly stadium (Texas? New York? Baltimore?), allowing him to do his best Chris Davis impersonation while, of course, retaining 1B-eligibility.
23) Dan Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 35)
Vogelbach is looking to become the first Mariners first basemen to OPS above .750 since Russell Branyan back in 2009. Often compared to former-Royal Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler, Vogelbach’s appropriate nickname may be “Country Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” due to his size and body-type. Although his owners had been clamoring for a trade to the AL ever since he was drafted back in 2011, I don’t think Seattle was the place they were hoping for. Maybe all that coffee up in Seattle helps speed up Vogy’s metabolism and he slims down to become usable at first, but for right now, he is a strict DH-only, so he’ll really have to hit to be a fantasy asset.
24) Mike Napoli, Free Agent (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 36)
After hitting 34 homers and knocking in over 100 runs for the World Series runner-up, you would think it would be easy for someone like Napoli to find a job. But as alluded to earlier, the sport is changing, and one-dimensional power guys are proving to be more and more indispensable. Still, chicks dig the long ball, and so do fantasy owners, so as long as Napoli signs somewhere with a good ballpark and a decent lineup, he is a good bet to produce in the same neighborhood as what we saw last year.
25) Lucas Duda, New York Mets (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 13)
Lebowski is one of the bigger tumblers on this list after failing to continue his healthy and productive seasons the two years prior, with last season marking a steep drop in production. The Dude had his season cut short by a back injury, but hit just .229/.302/.412 while on the field and may no longer be the 30 home run threat he once was. Hopefully he can lay off the White Russians and bowling this offseason, though, and put in another healthy season or two for the Mets and his fantasy owners. The upside is here for a rebound in these rankings, but there’s considerable downside as well. I could see him following a similar career path to Brandon Moss, so take that for what you will.
26) Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 38, Previous Rank: 23)
Even though he’s no longer a catcher, Martinez has proven time and time again that he can be one of the more valuable pieces to assembling a championship-caliber roster. While he didn’t return to the super-human levels he showed before his injury-shortened 2015, 27 homers and a .289/.351/.476 slash-line served his owners just fine, and I’m sure both the Tigers and his dynasty owners would happily sign up for another season of that in 2017. While I wouldn’t rush out and trade for a 38 year-old, Martinez’s age has always made him undervalued. As long as he can stay healthy, or even semi-healthy (as we saw last year in David Ortiz’ case), these ageless wonders can provide teams a lot of single-season value.
27) Justin Bour, Miami Marlins (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 30)
An incredibly late bloomer, Bour exploded onto the scene as a 27-year-old rookie in 2015 with 23 home runs in 129 games. Surprisingly, he continued to hit last season, knocking out 15 home runs in an injury-shortened 90 games. Playing just over half a season may have masked another small breakout happening from Bour, as he managed to cut his strikeout rate by five percent while upping his walk rate by more than four, up to a stellar 11.8%. While his upside is limited by struggles against lefties, a full season could see this wild Bour gain some helium in these rankings.
28) Steve Pearce, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 34, Previous Rank: NR)
After flaming out with the Pirates earlier in his career, Pearce has been quite the productive hitter for two out of the last three years. Seen as the replacement to Edwin Encarnacion, Pearce has some big shoes to fill. However, as long as he does not regress to his dreadful 2015 ways, the 34-year-old should be a nice fantasy asset due to his ability to destroy left-handed pitching while also potentially gaining 2B-eligibilty, as he’s done the last two years with the Rays and Orioles. Due to the Jays’ trouble of finding a consistent, healthy second basemen, that remains a very real possibility, but you do have to account for Pearce’s own health issues. Perhaps the most important thing to note with Pearce, though, is that his middle name is Wayne, and I feel like ‘Wayne Pearce’ is way cooler name to go by. But to each his own.
29) Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 24)
While no one will mistake him for Big Papi, Moreland could actually replace the production of another recently departed Red Sox player. Although I don’t think anyone was expecting him to repeat his breakout 2015, Moreland actually regressed below his career averages last year, and I’m expecting M&M to bounce-back a bit when he takes his talents to Fenway next season. If for some reason the Red Sox give him everyday at-bats next season, invest.
30) Tommy Joseph, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
For those who don’t remember Joseph, he was a centerpiece in the Hunter Pence deal several years ago and was a former catcher until concussion problems derailed his career. After getting a contact lens in his right eye and doing exercises to relieve astigmatism this offseason, Joseph has started to SEE results. Joseph has a lot of things going for him: already named the everyday starter next year, he hit well both in AAA and the Majors last year. Tommy Boy is also younger than all six guys ranked ahead of him here, so he has an opportunity to climb up this list and keep providing value for dynasty owners. Stock: Up.
31) Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: NR)
Wild card time! It’s anybody’s guess as to what Thames could do in his return from the KBO. His has been the subject of some lofty projections which I honestly do not understand. The last time Thames played in Majors, he put up an 82 wRC+, striking out six times for every walk. The Ringer did a great interview with Thames that is worth the listen if you have a spare 25 minutes, and according to the slugger, he did make substantial adjustments during those three years in the KBO. Still, if you look at how Byung-Ho Park fared last year, and how well Yamaico Navarro has done in his two years in the KBO, you have to remain skeptical, even if the Brewers did just cut the NL-leader in homers to hand him almost $16M in guaranteed money. Anything can happen, though, and Thames did average a .347/.448/.714 line with 42 home runs and 21 stolen bases over three seasons in Korea, so there certainly is some upside there.
32) Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 38)
As Tellez climbs the proverbial minor league ladder, he becomes more and more divisive among prospect rankers. On one hand, he followed up his breakout 2015 campaign with an even more impressive 2016, swatting 23 homers in Double-A while raising his BB-rate, lowering his K-rate, and hitting for the highest average of his young career. On the other hand, Tellez lacks the bat speed you’d like to see from a power hitter, and the first baseman will have a lot of pressure on his bat if he wants to play every day in the big leagues. Tellez will have his biggest test yet in Triple-A next season, which could finally provide us with some answers on his true value as a prospect. Okay, fine, I’ll say it: Let’s get ROWDY!
33) Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 31)
With Kennys Vargas, Byung-Ho Park, and Miguel Sano all hanging out on the Twins’ 25-man roster, it’s safe to say that Minnesota is counting down the days, hours, minutes until Mauer becomes a free agent. It’s a shame that those sideburns aren’t as revered as they used to be in the Twin Cities, but Mauer did manage to up his ISO and BB% last year, signs that he may still have some life left in that bat. Still, at this point, you’re looking at a first basemen with poor power and a middling batting average, so maybe you should leave Mauer for a dynasty owner who’s stuck in the past.
34) Dom Smith, New York Mets (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 33)
The numbers started catching up with the scouting reports last season as Smith swatted a career high 14 homers in Double-A. The reports on his body still aren’t great, but hey, we aren’t running Miss America here. The swing is still pretty and the risk is lowering, so while Smith remains a polarizing prospect, he’s not a bad investment right now. If he can be ready to take over for The Duda in 2018, both the Mets and his fantasy owners will be happy.
35) Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 46)
While stats put up in Double-A Reading should be taken with several hundred grains of salt, there’s no denying what Hoskins did last season was impressive. 38 homers is 38 homers, and if Rhys’s Pieces can continue to hit in AAA, the Phillies may have a very good problem of “too many talented first basemen” to try and figure out. That said, the upside here isn’t much better than 2016 Chris Carter, so don’t get too excited about Hoskins’ eye-popping numbers.
36) Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 39)
Mancini started the year raking in 17 games at Double-A with a 1.112 OPS, earning a quick promotion to Triple-A Norfolk where he slashed .280/.349/.427 with 13 home runs in 125 games. Perhaps the most exciting part of his year was his 15 plate appearances in the majors where he managed three home runs. Mancini’s biggest issue is being blocked by Chris Davis, but if he continues rolling at the plate, the Orioles will have to find a way to get him into the lineup, either at designated hitter (if Mark Trumbo isn’t resigned) or perhaps even in the outfield.
37) Kennys Vargas, Minnesota Twins (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 32)
This big switch-hitter has plus raw power, and showed it off by mashing 15 home runs in 402 Triple-A plate appearances and another 10 dingers in the big leagues over 177 PA. That seems all well and good, but those round-trippers came with a 32.2% strikeout rate in the majors. Vargas has been trending in the wrong direction with strikeouts for two years now and his batting average has followed, so the former top prospect will have to make more contact if he wants to find regular playing time with the Twins. Still, with prodigious power, there’s reason to keep Vargas’ name in the back of your mind.
38) Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 25)
Zimmerman had a rough 2016 to say the least, posting a fWAR of -1.3 (yes, negative). Despite that, the Nationals seem to be giving him another shot at the job. He’s certainly capable of a bounce-back year, but the possible alternative is dwindling away into fantasy irrelevance for good. Considering Washington has World Series aspirations, Zimmerman won’t have a long leash to get his groove back, making his floor awfully low in this case. The ceiling isn’t all that exciting, but one can do worse than the 16 home runs in 95 games he put up in 2015.
39) Sam Travis, Boston Red Sox (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 43)
Like Zimmerman, 2016 could’ve been better for Sam Travis. He got off to a nice start in his first taste of Triple-A, slashing .272/.332/.434 in 47 games, but was felled by a torn ACL. While Travis has now hit well at just about every minor league stop, the power remains ‘meh’ at best, which is…not what you want from a first basemen. Travis should be able to provide a solid average no matter where he goes, but the power will have to take a step forward for him to become more than dynasty flier.
40) Matt Adams, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 21)
Adams didn’t have quite the bounce back year some were hoping for, as he hit just .249 with 16 home runs over 327 plate appearances. He claims to have already lost 25 pounds this offseason, but the Cardinals are still listening to offers for anyone who might want Adams’ services. A fresh start in a new place could be good for Adams and his fantasy value, because playing time will be hard to come by in St. Louis. In the case of a trade, there’s decent power to have here, but without a move Adams won’t be relevant in fantasy leagues next season.
41) Adam Lind, Free Agent (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 22)
Lind struggled in a Seattle platoon, with his on-base percentage nosediving from .360 in 2015 to just .286 last season. He still hit 20 home runs, but that doesn’t look as great when everyone else did too. Now, Lind could be headed for his fourth team in as many seasons. Perhaps a lefty-friendly park could help revitalize his hitting, but 2016 was awful enough that Lind will have trouble finding consistent playing time regardless of his final landing spot.
42) Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 45)
Bradley spent all of 2016 in High-A Lynchburg and hit .235/.344/.466 with 29 home runs. The power and on-base skills are intriguing, but a 29.7% strikeout rate could keep Bradley from ever capitalizing on his other skills. Given the presence of Edwin Encarnacion in Cleveland right now, though, the Indians can afford take it slow with Bradley, hopefully resulting in a decrease in strikeouts and improved contact rates in time.
43) Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
Guzman finally figured out that whole hitting thing last season, slashing a powerful .288/.348/.477 with 15 home runs over 102 games at Double-A. Promoted to Triple-A in the final month of 2016, he should begin next season there and has the potential to bump his ever-turbulent prospect stock up for good. The 6’5″ behemoth also carries significant risk, but he could prove worth the wait with another strong season in 2017.
44) Byung Ho Park, Minnesota Twins (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 36)
Park’s transition from Korea did not go quite as well as had been hoped. After three straight years with an OPS over 1.000 in Korea, Park hit just .191/.275/.409 over 62 games with the Twins. His 32.8% strikeout rate was a large reason for those rough numbers, and the contact issues could prevent him from receiving much playing time next season with plenty of other 1B/DH options in Minnesota. Maybe another year in the U.S. will help Park to adjust more to the MLB, allowing him to showcase that tremendous power potential, but it’s far more likely that he’s a non-factor at the plate again next season.
45) Casey Gillaspie, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 24, Previous Rank: NR)
Gillaspie split time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, hitting his way to an overall slash line of .284/.388/.479. The strong walk rate and solid power output (18 home runs and 34 doubles) have Gillaspie’s stock trending in the right direction, and the switch-hitter could be in for some big league looks next season. Still, Gillaspie’s power isn’t all that impressive, and, given the poor defense, he will really need to hit if he wants a big league role.
46) Josh Naylor, San Diego Padres (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 48)
Josh Naylor’s 2016 was fairly boring on the baseball field, as he hit .264/.302/.407. Off the field, things were a bit less boring, and he may or may not have been involved in an incident that involves the words “knife,” “teammate,” “prank,” and “injury.” Perhaps as a result of this, the Marlins sent their former 12th overall pick packing to San Diego. While he has huge raw power, Naylor’s bat is, uh, not good. The home run upside will keep him on this list, but the risk is sky-high given his poor approach.
47) Chris Shaw, San Francisco Giants (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR)
A first base prospect with a below-average bat and middling game power is exactly what every dynasty owner dreams of, right? No? Oh, well, uh, at least Shaw hit well last season in High-A, with 16 home runs in 72 games, along with a .285 batting average. He was then promoted to Double-A and responded with…a pretty disappointing performance, so I guess we’re back to square one with Shaw. While he does boast some solid raw power, it’s unlikely he can translate it into games at the upper levels, meaning we’re left with a pretty unspectacular player. That’s what happens when you decide to read the backend of a top-50 first basemen list, though.
48) Logan Morrison, Free Agent (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
Morrison is floating around the free agent market after slashing .238/.319/.414 for the Rays in 2016. A September wrist surgery suggests he may have been playing injured, though, and health could bring a bit of an offensive rebound next season. Still, LoMo hasn’t really been interesting in fantasy since 2014, so even if he can find decent playing time, there isn’t much to see here.
49) Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: NR)
Smoak has a shot at being the Blue Jays’ starting first basemen in 2017, which, while unlikely, would be enough to give him fantasy value without taking into account his (likely disappointing) performance. For the sake of Canada, though, hope that Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales can beat him out for the starting job, as Smoak’s .217/.314/.391 line is less than ideal.
50) Mark Reynolds, Free Agent (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 43)
Two years ago, Mark Reynolds was relevant because it was discovered that he was blind. One year ago, Mark Reynolds was relevant because he was a power hitter starting for the Rockies. This year, Mark Reynolds is relevant because first base is an incredibly weak dynasty position. I mean, he hit .282 with 14 home runs last season over 118 games, so that counts for something, even if it was at Coors Field. Alas, Reynolds is no longer a Rockie, so this is a player you should
probably definitely steer clear of.
Commentary by Ryne Alber and Dan Hogan