The Dynasty Guru’s 2021 Top 50 Dynasty League First Basemen: Players to Avoid
First base is a weird position in fantasy baseball right now. Traditionally a deep reservoir for major league power and production devoid of many top prospects, the position is currently turned upside down. Two of the best hitting prospects in baseball, Andrew Vaughn and Spencer Torkelson, are likely to end up at first with Vaughn having no other positional options. At the major league level, Freddie Freeman is still the top dog, but 2020 saw several promising young first basemen falter, complicating the ranks heading into 2021. With this context in mind, here are a few first basemen who I will be avoiding this season.
NATE LOWE – TEXAS RANGERS – CONSENSUS RANK #13
Nate Lowe owners rejoiced this offseason when the Rays shipped him off to Texas. Lowe had been rotting on the Tampa bench, in the minors, and at the alternate site for several seasons despite putting up prodigious batting lines at nearly every level. The trade to Texas will certainly offer Lowe the opportunity to play major league baseball every day. However, when I look at the composite rankings created by the TDG, which put Lowe 13th overall at the position and ahead of some consistent producers, concerns over his cost flood in. If Lowe had set the world on fire in his first 71 games in the show, the Rays might not even have traded him. Frankly, I am starting to find myself concerned when the Rays trade anyone away given how incredible they are at getting the most out of every asset they deem worthy of at-bats or innings. Keeping all that in mind, the initial returns for Lowe do come with some red flags, specifically his K% and his ability to hit lefties. In 50 games in 2019, Lowe saw his K% rise all the way to 29.6%, the highest of his professional career. In 21 games in 2020, that number ballooned to 36.8%. Lowe has struck out 22 times in 45 MLB plate appearances vs. left-handed pitching. He holds his own vs. righties, but when I look back over his 2018 and 2019 minor league stats, his struggles at Triple-A in 2018 standout. Add to that the specter of the juiced ball in the 2019 season and Lowe’s overall production at the Triple-A level is not quite as glowing as it initially appears.
What excites me about his prospects for 2021 is the chance to play regularly. The value of everyday at-bats is real and it could be all Lowe needs to really take off, but at the current cost, I am more likely to grab a reliable standby near him on the rankings like Jose Abreu (#14) or Max Muncy (#11). Looking deeper down the ranks reveals several potential breakouts in 2021 that are much cheaper than Lowe. Hitters such as Jared Walsh (#22), Evan White (#19), and Rowdy Tellez (#23) are all primed to surge in value in the upcoming season. The “Free Nate Lowe” crowd rejoiced when the trade occurred, but there are enough concerns around Lowe’s potential to push me towards avoiding his cost on draft day and seeking either old reliable options or waiting until the later rounds to try and steal some young bats on the rise.
JOSH BELL – WASHINGTON NATIONALS – CONSENSUS RANK #16
The rankings were compiled before Josh Bell had been traded to Washington, which makes me very curious as to what his consensus ranking would have been had the Pirates shipped him off a week earlier. The narrative of, “Player X leaves Pittsburgh. Player X becomes All-Star,” has more than enough recent examples to create some excitement around Bell’s arrival in DC. That said, after a giant first half in 2019, several holes emerged in Bell’s swing that were exploited in the second half of 2019 and the sprint season in 2020. Bell’s launch angle plummeted to a career-low 5.9 last season. All of his expected stats from the sprint are troubling and his whiff% jumped to his highest level ever recorded (33.5%). When he did connect, Bell put significant hurt on the baseball with an average exit velocity of 91.7mph. However, starting in the second half of 2019 – where Bell hit .233 – he simply hasn’t been able to make enough contact to be considered a useful fantasy player.
Will getting out of Pittsburgh change his swing? I don’t think so. The Nationals aren’t exactly on the cusp of another competitive window, either. If being on a winning baseball team was supposed to be a panacea for Bell’s downturn in production, I am not so sure that DC was the best landing spot for him. Enough time has passed for other managers to look at the totality of Bell’s 2019 as reason to buy-in. In reality, Bell hasn’t been worth rostering in standard 5×5 leagues for nearly 110 games. The final piece of concern I have is that Bell, like Javy Baez and JD Martinez, struggled mightily without the ability to watch video of their at-bats mid-game. The Astros and Red Sox sign-stealing scandals appear to have some collateral damage here. Will the ability to watch at-bats in game return? Only time will tell on that, but I am out on the post-Pirate boost that Bell will be receiving this draft season.
BOBBY DALBEC – BOSTON RED SOX – CONSENSUS RANK #21
Dalbec is a true 3-outcome player. He regularly sported a walk rate north of 10% in the minor leagues with an accompanying strikeout rate over 30%. In his 23 games last season he blasted eight homers but struck out a whopping 42.4% of the time. In short, you know what you are gonna get from Mr. Dalbec. He reminds me a lot of Daniel Palka from the right side. Remember him? Probably not. That’s because Palka couldn’t make enough contact to translate his profile from Triple-A to the majors. Don’t let Dalbec’s power from the short season fool you, he could easily struggle to hit over .200 next season and be much worse than several options below him in the rankings. This is just a profile that I always tend to avoid. Fangraphs has his hit tool graded as a 35 and you just don’t see many examples of hitters who can be successful at the major league level with a hit tool under 40. Dalbec has done most of his damage versus left-handed pitching, and I fear that his best path to playing time will be on the weak side of a platoon. I will happily take veterans like Brandon Belt (#29) or Carlos Santana (#33) much later on and figure out the future of my 1st base position on the prospect dartboard.