TDG 2023 RISERS AND FALLERS: FIRST BASE
Every year in the preseason we in the fantasy world try to identify players who are risers and who are fallers. Now predicting the future is tough because we don’t know, and never will know what a player went through to get to where they are, nor do we know how they are going to respond, let alone if they are going to avoid injury. But the signs are there and rest assured we are all looking for that advantage. As such we have identified a few players who I think fit the bill: one as a riser, and one as a faller. Two factors weigh in when making our choices. One: The player was someone who fit the description based on our observations during the 2022 season. Did they rise to the moment? Did they let the moment pass them by? Two: Our experts here at TDG were also up/down on them. They had either fallen or risen significantly in our ranks between 2022 to 2023. Without further ado, here are the Risers and Fallers at First Base for the 2023 Season.
RISING: VINNIE PASQUANTINO, KANSAS CITY ROYALS (AGE: 25, RANK: 6, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 24)
Going into the 2022 season, Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino were frequently mentioned in the same breath when discussing the future of the first-base position for the Kansas City Royals. On MLB.com, they were both top prospects with Pratto coming in at No. 3 and Pasquantino at No. 6. Fangraphs had Pratto as their No. 47 prospect and Pasquantino as No. 111. As far as draft pedigree, Pratto was selected at No. 14 overall in the draft, and Pasquantino was drafted at No. 319. On paper, it appeared that Pratto was the superior player, but I guess that is why they play the games. While Pratto struggled at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Pasquantino excelled and took our first-base rankings by storm.
Pasquantino’s 2022 season turned heads. Over 611 total plate appearances, Pasquantino hit 27 doubles, 28 home runs, knocked in 96 runs, and impressively walked more than he struck out. At Triple-A he ran a 139 wRC+ and nearly matched it in the Majors (137 wRC+). He was awarded Player of the Week for both the weeks of May 29, 2022 (International League) and August 14, 2022 (American League). He also won Player of the Month for May 2022 (International League).
Pasquantino’s plate discipline is one of the major reasons why dynasty owners should be buying in (Note: I used 250 at-bats as my statistical threshold). Including Pasquantino, there were only eight hitters that walked more than they struck out. His 92% Z-Contact% (rate of contact for swings at pitches in the strike zone) was in the 90th percentile. Additionally, his contact rate of 86.1% was in the 91st percentile. And the last plate-discipline statistic that I will mention is that Pasquantino’s CSW% (called strike plus swinging strike) of 22.7% was in the 94th percentile. With elite plate discipline, dynasty managers can be confident that he will swing at good pitches and make contact when he swings.
Pasquantino’s Statcast numbers are very strong as well. His 91.2 MPH average exit velocity would have been in the 86th percentile and his 112.7 MPH maximum exit velocity would have been in the 87th percentile. His hard-hit percentage would have been in the 84th percentile. Additionally, his expected slugging percentage (xSLG) of .476 would have been in the 89th percentile. It is not all roses; he barreled the ball 8.8% of the time, which would have been in the 59th percentile. Also, with a sprint speed in the 15th percentile, Pasquantino will not add much to the speed department.
At this point, the only thing holding Pasquantino back is the team that he plays for. While Kauffman Stadium tends to slightly favor hitters, the Royals ranked toward the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories. They were 24th in runs, 23rd in doubles, 26th in home runs, 24th in RBI, and 24th in OPS. The limitations of Pasquantino’s teammates will affect his counting numbers. For 2023, Steamer projects him to score 73 runs and knock in 81 runs, however, THE BAT is less optimistic, projecting him to score 62 runs and knock in 66 runs. After Sal Perez, Bobby Witt, and MJ Melendez, there is a lot of work to do for the Royals to build a lineup around their young first basemen.
So while Pasquantino may not light the world on fire for fantasy owners in 2023 because of a lack of counting stats, dynasty managers should sleep well knowing that Pasquantino has the skills to be an elite, four-category contributor who will improve if his supporting cast improves. With Freeman and Goldschmidt in their thirties and Pasquantino at the ripe age of 25, it may not be long until Pasquantino rises into the top 5 of our rankings. Not bad for an 11th-round round pick! (The Roto Red)
FALLING: JARED WALSH, LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM (AGE: 29, RANK: 24, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 13)
After being taken 1185 overall in the 2015 draft, Jared Walsh’s ascent to the Majors could be labeled as steady. Even when he struggled at a level initially (Double-A in 2017 and Triple-A in 2018), he would repeat the level and then excel. That pattern continued when Walsh finally made The Show. He struggled in 2019, striking out just over 40% of the time on his way to a .203 batting average and 57 wRC+. Then, in the shortened 2020 season, Walsh hit nine home runs in 108 plate appearances and lowered his strikeout rate to just under 14%, resulting in a 150 wRC+. He finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Walsh continued to play well in 2021, hitting 29 home runs, scoring 70 runs, and knocking in 98 RBI. While his strikeout rate increased to 26%, his wRC+ was still a strong 126. Walsh made his first All-Star Game. All signs pointed to the Angels having a good, young first baseman for the foreseeable future. Our rankers agreed as he ascended to No. 13 on our first-base rankings. Optimistic Angels fans believed that Mike Trout, Shohei Otani, Jared Walsh, and Anthony Rendon were going to carry the team to the postseason.
But then 2022 hit and now Walsh’s future is uncertain. All of his numbers plummeted in 2022. His strikeout rate continued to climb, he only hit fifteen home runs, he batted .215 with a .269 OBP, and his wRC+ was well below average at 78. His Statcast numbers tell much of the same story, with all of his expected statistics in the bottom third of the league. On a positive note, he hit the ball relatively hard, but does hitting the ball hard matter when Walsh whiffed as much as he did? As a result of his poor 2022, Walsh tumbled to No. 24 in our rankings.
The culprit? Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Interestingly, according to Walsh, he believes that he may have injured himself in 2019 while pitching as a two-way player and that things finally worsened in 2022. On September 1, 2022, Walsh underwent Thoracic Outlet Surgery and is hopeful to be ready for Opening Day in 2023. Walsh says that his rehab is going well and this procedure is likely less concerning for a first baseman than it would be for a pitcher.
Even assuming that Walsh can make a full recovery for Opening Day, as a dynasty owner, I would be concerned about Walsh’s at-bats in a crowded Angels infield. The Halos have been aggressive this offseason, bringing in Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury. That leaves Walsh, Anthony Rendon, Drury, Luis Rengifo, David Fletcher, and Urshela all vying for at-bats. Each one of these players has been a positive contributor to his team at some point over the past few seasons. If all six players are healthy, that may leave Walsh as the strong-side platoon at first base because he has historically hit righties much better (.272 v. RHP; .198 v. LHP). Looking at Steamer’s projection, I would personally bet the under on 465 at-bats for Walsh.
We all hope that Walsh overcomes this injury and can pick up where he left off in 2020 and 2021, but there is no guarantee. Based on the Angels’ depth building this offseason, Walsh’s playing time will likely be managed, to both keep him healthy and limit his at-bats against lefties. Dynasty owners need to pay close attention to how Walsh looks in the spring and beginning months of the season, knowing that if Walsh ends up in a platoon, or performs like he did last season, it may be time to let him go to the wire. If that is the case, his fall down our rankings will likely continue. (The Roto Red)
RISER: RHYS HOSKINS, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (AGE: 29, RANK: 8, PREVIOUS RANK: 11)
Rhys has climbed up in our rankings but there is definitely room for growth. Hoskins still struggles with his strikeout percentage in sabermetrics. You could actually argue that Hoskins has a lot of room for growth as he declined slightly in many areas of metrics. Those areas include: xwOBA, xBA, average exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard hit percentage, xSLG, and barrel percentage. He did improve in walk percentage and chase rate significantly. Don’t get me wrong. Sabermetrics are not everything. I believe that Hoskins will continue to get better and be a highly effective first baseman. (Brett Cook)
FALLER: RYAN MOUNTCASTLE, BALTIMORE ORIOLES (AGE: 25, RANK: 17, PREVIOUS RANK: 10)
Let me just mount my castle with this juicy take. Yes, Mountcastle dropped in our rankings this year. Here is the thing though. You shouldn’t worry. Ryan Mountcastle is still a stud. You are going to get around 20 home runs out of this guy on a year-to-year basis. One area that Mountcastle needs to improve on is his plate discipline. He strikes out too much , chases too much, and doesn’t have good walk numbers. If Mountcastle can clean up this part of his game then he can be back in the top ten first baseman conversation. I believe this because all of the other metrics for Ryan are off the chart. Don’t sleep on this guy in dynasty! (Brett Cook)