We may be witness a changing of the guard at first base as we head into the 2020 Fantasy season, with a youth movement taking over the top of the position last season. Cody Bellinger emerged as one of the top hitters in Fantasy, Pete Alonso set a rookie record for homers and Josh Bell broke out as a massive power threat. Meanwhile, we seemingly said goodbye to the era of Paul Goldschmidt and especially Joey Votto and Matt Carpenter as elite Fantasy options.
The question now, of course, is how much of what we saw last year was for real?
Bellinger put himself in the conversation for the top pick in Fantasy by cutting his strikeout rate and emerging as an elite five-category contributor, but he was also a major disappointment in 2018 and couldn't quite keep up his elite play in the second half of the 2019 season. Is he set to suffer the same fate that befell Giancarlo Stanton following his breakout in 2017 when his strikeout rate regressed back to career norms and fell from the ranks of the elite to the merely very good?
Alonso and Bell both followed similar trends, putting up huge first halves before stumbling a bit after the All-Star break, leading to questions about whether they were for real. If these three can prove they are up to their first-half standards, the top tier of first base will look as strong as ever — and both Bell and Alonso could prove pretty nice values for Fantasy, to boot, since they going off the board later than their 2019 production would be worth.
On the other side of the coin, if those formerly elite bats find a way to bounce back in 2020, the position could look even deeper. There isn't much optimism around Votto or Carpenter, whose prices have fallen through the floor, making both nice values as cheap lottery tickets, even if they are unlikely to overcome age-related decline. Goldschmidt is in a bit of a better position, coming off an .886 OPS after the All-Star break, however with steals disappearing from his game, the onus is on his bat to carry the profile.
The good news is, if you take a risk on either side, first base is deep enough to find production even on waivers if you need it. This time last year, for instance, Alonso was a mid-round pick, Bell was a late-rounder and guys like Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel and Miguel Sano weren't on most Fantasy radars. Chances are you'll pull at least two starters from the first base player pool in a H2H points league with shallower rosters, and possibly as many as four in Roto (counting players with multiple eligibility). Even if first base isn't what it once was, it's still going to be a big part of your Fantasy lineup.
First Base Preview
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #35 • Age: 25
Bellinger's second half saw him hit .263/.371/.546, which would still be a fine outcome, but it wouldn't be nearly worth what you're going to have to pay for him. Maintaining his contact gains will be paramount, though any loss of steals would also make his margin for error thinner.
ATL Atlanta • #5 • Age: 31
The lineup around Freeman has improved so much that his 234 combined runs and RBI in 2019 look pretty replicable. The question, as always, comes down to the power — his 38 homers were a career-high, and 15 more than 2018.
Pete Alonso 1B
NYM N.Y. Mets • #20 • Age: 26
The power comes easy for Alonso, who hit at least eight homers in five of six months as a rookie. His season is going to come down to whether he hits closer to his .280 pre-All-Star break average or his .235 mark after the break.
DJ LeMahieu 1B
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #26 • Age: 32
The rare hitter who actually got better away from Coors Field, LeMahieu's 26 homers represented the combined sum of his previous two best seasons.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #44 • Age: 31
At 30, Rizzo has is now the sub-elite first baseman you settle for in the early-to-mid rounds. He is no longer a sneaky source of steals, but his solid all-around skill set means you'll never have to worry about him, even if other guys have more upside.
Josh Bell 1B
WAS Washington • #19 • Age: 28
Bell saw a massive decline in production after the break, with his OPS tumbling from 1.024 to .780. That's alarming, but was mostly the result of a .241 BABIP and a midseason power slump — he had a .927 OPS in August. His swoon may not be as much of a red flag as it seems.
Matt Olson 1B
OAK Oakland • #28 • Age: 27
Olson had two things working against him in 2019: His home park and a broken hand suffered just before the start of the season. Neither was enough to slow him down, and his pull-heavy, flyball-oriented swing is perfectly suited to play anywhere.
Abreu is a fine option at first base, but he's well on the wrong side of 30 and doesn't really stand out anymore. He'll be a good source of run production for sure, and should hit for enough average and power to keep pace at first base.
Max Muncy 1B
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #13 • Age: 30
Muncy proved 2018 was no fluke, and he once again proved he can more than hold his own against left-handed pitching. With triple eligibility for 2020, Muncy is one of the more versatile assets in Fantasy, and the Dodgers gave him a contract extension, a bet that he is a core player for one of baseball's best teams.
STL St. Louis • #46 • Age: 33
That's two years in a row where Goldschmidt needed a strong second half to salvage his season, and he's at the age where it's fair to wonder if the next slow start might not get turned around.
Rhys Hoskins 1B
PHI Philadelphia • #17 • Age: 28
We're a long way from Hoskins' debut, when he looked like a potential superstar. He took a step back across the board in 2019, but he still hits the ball hard and still walks plenty, so there's room for better days ahead if he can stop hitting so many popups. He debuted a re-worked swing early in the spring that makes him a promising candidate for a bounce-back.
KC Kansas City • #41 • Age: 35
Long more of a H2H or OBP-league specialist, Santana started hitting the ball on the ground a bit more in 2019 and became a more complete hitter as a result. Not only did he post a career-high .293 BABIP and .281 average, but he also had his best barrel rate since 2016 and his highest average exit velocity since Statcast tracking began. It may not have been a fluke.
Don't forget about ...
Yuli Gurriel 1B
HOU Houston • #10 • Age: 36
Was it just a couple of good months for Gurriel, who hit 19 of his career-best 31 home runs in July and August? It's a fair question to ask of Gurriel since he didn't have an OPS over .758 in any other month. However it's also possible that Gurriel's extreme contact-heavy approach makes him perfectly suited for a late-career breakout in an era when seemingly every other ball hit in the air finds the stands. Even if Gurriel's 2019 was a fluke, he's a safe bet for a high batting average and plenty of RBI in that lineup, so the floor is pretty high, even if the ceiling isn't as high as it appeared last summer.
ARI Arizona • #53 • Age: 30
Walker came out of nowhere for his breakout, but the underlying numbers suggest he might have even been a bit better than the surface numbers: He had close to elite hard-hit rates, exit velocity and expected wOBA marks.
STL St. Louis • #13 • Age: 35
Fittingly, Carpenter followed up his long-awaited career season with an abysmal 2019. The batted-ball metrics mostly back up his struggles, but there could be value in betting on a bounce-back, given how good he was in 2018.
First Base Sleeper, Breakout, & Bust
Justin Smoak 1B
MIL Milwaukee • #12 • Age: 34
It seems likely we'll have universal DH in 2020, and Smoak could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Smoak figured to see inconsistent playing time in the NL with the Brewers set to play Avisail Garcia in the outfield more often than not, pushing Ryan Braun to first base when he was in the lineup. However, with the DH, Braun can keep his bat in the lineup while leaving a spot for Smoak to play every day. His numbers from 2019 won't make you excited about that prospect, but Smoak was one of the most unlucky players in the game and should have had significantly better production. Smoak was in the 86th percentile in expected wOBA and 76th percentile in expected slugging percentage, so he seems like a good bet to see a big boost in power production in 2020, especially in Miller Park.
Luke Voit 1B
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #59 • Age: 30
Ultimately, Voit's 2019 will go down as something of a disappointment, but if you look back, he was better than you probably remember. A hernia injury suffered at the end of July derailed his season, but before that he was hitting .278/.392/.493 and was on pace for a 30-homer season with nearly 200 combined runs and RBI. Playing time is always a concern on a team like the Yankees, but Voit was essentially an everyday player before the injury, and the hope here is he'll hit well enough to keep that kind of role after undergoing offseason hernia surgery. If he does, he could provide similar production to Josh Bell at a 10-round discount.
There are plenty of options at first base, given all of the players mentioned in the intro coming off breakout seasons with some warning signs in their profiles, but I'll pivot to Abreu here, who is going off the board just ahead of Bell in early ADP. Abreu did manage to drive in 123 runs to lead the AL in 2019, but finished just eighth at first base in Fantasy scoring, a sign of how pedestrian his production was overall. He was 12th at the position in OPS, and while his batting average bounced back a bit, it was still the second-lowest of his career. Abreu is a decent first base option, but paying for him coming off a career outlier in RBI — a notoriously difficult stat to predict — is just bad process. You're paying a premium for production you can get elsewhere cheaper, and you're paying for it from a 33-year-old.
First Base Top Prospects
Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2019: Rookie, low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .278 (205 AB), 6 HR, 17 2B, .832 OPS, 30 BB, 38 K
When a true first baseman with a limited defensive profile gets drafted as high as Vaughn did, you know that bat has some waggle to it.
Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .312 (520 AB), 25 HR, .871 OPS, 24 BB, 130 K
A team with something to play for probably would have called up Mountcastle already, but the rebuilding Orioles will have every incentive to play him when they finally do pull the cord.
Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .289 (450 AB), 26 HR, 103 RBI, .904 OPS, 46 BB, 113 K
The Astros seemingly struck gold again by snagging a bat with immediate payoff as late as Pick 28 two years ago, but their willingness to include Beer in the Zack Greinke trade is reason for pause.
4. Triston Casas, Red Sox
Age (on opening day): 20
Where he played in 2019: low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .256 (429 AB), 20 HR, 26 2B, .830 OPS, 58 BB, 118 K
The scouting reports for Casas are sounding an awful lot like Cody Bellinger's at a similar stage of development, meaning he has a swing perfectly tailored for home runs even if the numbers aren't shouting it from the rooftops.
5. Evan White, Mariners
Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .293 (365 AB), 18 HR, 13 2B, .838 OPS, 29 BB, 92 K
White will show up on basically every top prospects list as a standout defender with a high-floor bat, but he's sort of J.T. Snow throwback in that he may never generate the sort of power needed to stand out at a position replete with it.