TDG 2022 RISERS AND FALLERS: FIRST BASEMEN
Riser – C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies (Age: 32, Current Rank: 20, Previous Rank: 38)
It’s no mystery why Cron’s ranking has elevated. A year ago, he was a mediocre 1B without a team. Now he’s a mediocre 1B who starts half his games in the most hitter-friendly park in all of baseball. The 18-spot difference between his current and previous ranks can be explained mostly by Coors Field. I say “mostly” because Cron does deserve some credit for raising his walk rate – it reached a career-best 11 percent last season, and he even walked slightly more often on the road than at home. Everything else he did much better at Coors, where he had a 1.073 OPS, compared to a .734 mark away.
Cron signed a two-year extension with Colorado this offseason, and as long as he holds a starting job there, he should be a valuable fantasy player. When his time with the Rockies runs out, he’ll be an older version of the guy who was ranked 38th, and he’s not going to land in a better fantasy situation. Even if he ages well and latches on somewhere else at some point, the best years of his career are probably happening now. Enjoy them while they last. (Ben Sanders)
Faller – Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 25, Current Rank: 35, Previous Rank: 3 at 2B)
Hiura is only two years removed from being 33rd overall in TDG’s rankings, and now he’s not even that high at first base. That must be an overreaction. He’s a former top-10 pick who tore through the minors and slashed .303/.368/.570 in his 2019 MLB debut. He was bad in 2020, and terrible in 2021, but he’s still only 25. Surely this is a great time to acquire a future star for cheap, right?
Well, maybe not. It’s certainly possible that Hiura could rebound, but it’s not like there are any statistical indicators pointing in the right direction. His ghastly .168/.256/.301 MLB line in 2021 was very much deserved. He struck out 39.1% of the time. His 23.7% swinging strike rate was more than twice the league average. And it’s not as simple as learning to hit a specific pitch – he was terrible against fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed stuff. Even in AAA, where he spent a large chunk of 2021 and posted an .839 OPS, he had a problematic 33.5% K-rate.
His glove is also a big issue. Hiura simply wasn’t good enough to play 2B at the MLB level, and the Brewers have handed that position to Kolten Wong. The loss of 2B eligibility isn’t that big a deal for fantasy purposes, but the offensive standard for an MLB starting 1B is higher. Roster Resource currently projects Rowdy Tellez as the Brewers’ starting 1B. He has similar career numbers to Hiura, is only a year older, and is one spot ahead in our 1B rankings.
All that said, Hiura’s still not a bad speculative add or cheap trade target. Just know you’re getting a flawed player with a lot to fix just to secure playing time, much less approach his considerable upside. (Ben Sanders)
Riser – Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 25, Current Rank: 10, Previous Rank: 54 at OF)
First things first. If we were talking about prospects then I would give Mountcastle an 80 grade name. Second, and let’s be cheesy here, but if TDG’s fantasy baseball rankings were a castle then Ryan mounted them in 2021.
Mountcastle blasted 33 home runs with a .255/.309/.487 line. In looking at the sabermetrics a couple things jump out. The most notable change for Mountcastle is his massive uptick from a league average (51st percentile) in 2020 to the 93rd percentile in his max exit velocity. This means that one of the hardest hit balls all season last year was from yours truly.
One other area to justify this ascent that Mountcastle made in rankings using sabermetrics is by looking at his barrel percentage. In 2021, Mountcastle boasted a barrel percentage in the 79th percentile, a 36 percent increase from 2020. This means that when Mountcastle does make contact with the ball that he can barrel with the best hitters in the league. He has some areas to continue to grow, most notably not striking out or whiffing as much as he did in 2021, but for a 24 year old going into his second full-season as a pro there is plenty to be excited about. (Brett Cook)
Faller – Anthony Rizzo, Free Agent (Age: 32, Current Rank: 16, Previous Rank: 7)
Looking at our rankings here at TDG, I was surprised to see Rizzo drop to his current rank outside of the top 15. The thought crossed my mind that shiny unproven new toys may have surpassed an aging wonder.
After doing some research, I found that his average exit velocity improved from the 30th percentile to the 67th percentile from 2020 to 2021. His hard hit percentage increased from the 29th percentile to the 49th percentile from 2020 to 2021. The worst hit against Rizzo is his continued decline in walk percentage. Dating back to 2019, Rizzo’s walk percentage dropped from the top 82th percentile in the league to the 75th percentile in 2020, and then Rizzo’s walk percentage plummeted to a league average 52nd percentile in 2021. A 30 percent decrease over the span of two years in walk percentage doesn’t bode well.
The decline in his walk percentage is just one area of his game. I may be in the minority on this, but, in all honesty, I would personally have Rizzo in the top ten fifteen first basemen for one more year. More specifically, I would place him at 13 or 14, right above Jared Walsh and Ty France. After this deeper dive into Rizzo, my personal rank would then see a drop from 7 to the aforementioned. (Brett Cook)