First base is and always has been a position of sluggers, and it remains that way 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 overperformed or the several who drastically underperformed.
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, but even Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, is trying out a new stance and had his start of spring training delayed by shoulder surgery.
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 and Matt Olson. 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.
What's clear from the ADP is that someone's going to draft Vladimir Guerrero higher than I will, and maybe the 22-year-old will have his breakthrough this year. It's a big presumption, given the cost, but we're seeing some early indications in spring training.
|2021 ADP||2020 PPG||2020 BA||2020 HR|
Paul Goldschmidt STL 1B
Anthony Rizzo CHC 1B
Max Muncy LAD 1B
Dominic Smith NYM 1B
Mike Moustakas CIN 2B
Josh Bell WAS 1B
Rhys Hoskins PHI 1B
Eric Hosmer SD 1B
Carlos Santana KC 1B
This group also has its share of potential pitfalls and isn't as deep as it might appear at first glance.
Case in point: Max Muncy will more likely be drafted to play second base. Ditto for Mike Moustakas. And maybe someone grabs Dominic Smith for the outfield. Counting only the players eligible exclusively at first base, we're up to just 12 at this point -- and again, some of those picks are liable to miss.
Smith clearly stands out here for his 2020 production, but with the DH spot unavailable 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, Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana, all of whom underachieved in 2020 but none of whom has real reason for concern if you look at the underlying numbers. They're 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.
Josh Bell, who has been unfairly cast aside after breaking through with 37 homers and a .936 OPS in 2019, is a favorite target of mine as well.
|2021 ADP||2020 PPG||2020 BA||2020 OPS|
Ryan Mountcastle BAL LF
Miguel Sano MIN 1B
Jared Walsh LAA 1B
Andrew Vaughn CHW 1B
C.J. Cron COL 1B
Bobby Dalbec BOS 1B
Rowdy Tellez TOR 1B
Joey Votto CIN 1B
Nate Lowe TEX 1B
*2019 minor-league stats
I particularly like how a top prospect like Andrew Vaughn, who was drafted third overall two years ago and has no real flaws in his offensive profile, other than a lack of speed, isn't being hyped to the hills even though the White Sox have telegraphed that they want him as their DH. Sure, maybe they'll send him down for the first couple weeks for service time reasons, but you can make do with a boring Christian Walker or Yuli Gurriel type in the meantime.
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 are deeper sleepers and need to secure regular at-bats before they can be trusted in mixed leagues.
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.