First base is and always has been a position of sluggers, and it remains so even as the game has changed around it.
It's not so much that first base has gotten worse. It's that every other position has gotten better, with power now prevalent everywhere -- most notably even at shortstop.
One of the big differences between shortstop and first base, though, is that when a shortstop outgrows the position, he can move to another, perhaps even first base. But once a player winds up at first base, he's there for the rest of his baseball life.
The upshot is that the position keeps getting older while all the others remain the same. It's an oversimplification, of course, but as long as these players keep hitting, they'll just keep hogging those jobs. It makes for a particularly old position that's rife with potential land mines.
Factor in the weirdness of 2020, with its hurried buildup, limited resources and small sample size, and it's hard to know what to make of half the position, whether the few who drastically over performed or the several who drastically under performed.
Guess wrong and you may be playing catch-up at a position where most of your competition is likely to have a stud.
I'm calling this group The Studs, but it doesn't mean they're entirely worry-free. Freddie Freeman is, and I don't have many concerns about Cody Bellinger either even though his short-season performance wasn't quite up to snuff. I suppose there's also the matter of him having some work done on his shoulder this offseason.
But who else is safer? There's DJ LeMahieu, whose 2020 validated his breakthrough 2019, but he'll likely be drafted as someone's second baseman. Jose Abreu and Luke Voit both performed at an MVP level last year, but Abreu is 34, for goodness' sake. Outlier performances from established players during a shortened season demand a certain level of skepticism.
Then, you have last year's underachievers: Pete Alonso, Matt Olson and Anthony Rizzo. I don't detect any underlying changes to their profiles -- at least nothing that needs to be taken seriously over such a small sample -- but the degree to which they fell short of expectations has to give you pause.
What comes after them, though, is even riskier, and with less upside by and large. Generally, I don't settle for less than Olson in a categories league or Rizzo in a points league.
This group also has its share of potential pitfalls and isn't as deep as it might appear at first glance. What's clear from the ADP is that someone's going to draft Vladimir Guerrero as more than just a "deserving starter", and maybe the 22-year-old will have his breakthrough this year. It's a big presumption, given the cost, but since we can already be certain he won't be drafted among this group, we're left with only six other names to consider.
Among them, Max Muncy will more likely be drafted to play second base. Ditto for Mike Moustakas. And maybe someone grabs Dominic Smith to play the outfield. Counting only the players eligible exclusively at first base, we're up to just 10 at this point -- and again, some of those picks are liable to miss.
Smith clearly stands out here for his 2020 production, but if the DH spot isn't available to NL teams this year, he could face a playing-time crunch given his deficiencies in left field. There's a point where the risk is worth the reward, but I don't know if it's at his current ADP.
The first basemen I'm most likely to draft from this group are Muncy and Carlos Santana, both of whom underachieved in 2020 but neither of whom has real reason for concern if you look at the underlying numbers. They're both better suited for points leagues, which is why I'd try for no less than Olson in Rotisserie, but they do seem like reasonably safe fallback choices, even acknowledging their struggles last year. I would say the same about Rhys Hoskins if he wasn't coming off an elbow injury that nearly resulted in Tommy John surgery.
|2021 ADP||2020 PPG||2020 BA||2020 OPS|
Ryan Mountcastle BAL LF
Josh Bell WAS 1B
Miguel Sano MIN 1B
Jared Walsh LAA 1B
Bobby Dalbec BOS 1B
Andrew Vaughn CHW 1B
Rowdy Tellez TOR 1B
Nate Lowe TEX 1B
*2019 minor-league stats
I particularly like players like Ryan Mountcastle, who made a smooth transition to the majors last year and would appear to have a high floor offensively, and Josh Bell, who has been unfairly cast aside after breaking through with 37 homers and a .936 OPS in 2019. But I don't think either is a sure enough bet to make him your top choice at first base. You could pair either with someone boring like Eric Hosmer, Christian Walker or Yuli Gurriel, but if it's a shallow enough league, there's no need. You roll the dice on the upside play, and if it doesn't work out, the waiver wire is replete with boring.
There may still be a 50-homer season in Miguel Sano's bat, and Jared Walsh and Bobby Dalbec both show the potential for big power with few impediments to their playing time. I'm not pushing hard for any of them this year, but if the cost and need line up, they offer the potential for real impact. Rowdy Tellez and Nate Lowe need to secure regular at-bats before they can be trusted in mixed leagues, and Andrew Vaughn is a prospect to stash away for later.
First basemen tend not to be the athletic sorts but Bellinger, who plays mostly center field now, is an exception to that rule. He's a pretty safe bet to lead the position in stolen bases, even if his usual 15 is a fairly modest sum. Jake Cronenworth, who's more likely to be drafted at second base than first, was generally good for double-digit steals in the minors and plays for a team that likes to run. His role is a bit up in the air, though, after the offseason acquisition of Ha-Seong Kim.
So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.