Historically, first base has been where Fantasy players find their home runs. But with more teams willing to play lesser defenders around the diamond, you'll find some of the hulking sluggers who used to be relegated to the lesser corner all over the diamond now. That's been great for leveling the playing field in Fantasy, but it's made first base a somewhat underwhelming position.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of home runs to be found here, and the runs and RBI that come with it. But there aren't many players you feel confident can be big power sources and be helpful in batting average. Beyond the top five in the consensus rankings, you start to have to make tradeoffs -- do you pay up for Pete Alonso's home run upside, knowing he might hit .240, or do you aim for someone like Vladimir Guerrero, with huge all-around upside but significant question marks, or maybe an aging star like Paul Goldschmidt, who could help you in average while sacrificing some pop.
Those are all valuable players, but you really have to squint to find truly elite potential production once you get past the first few options. What first base does have is a deep bench of potent hitters, with 30-homer potential well into the teens and 20s in the rankings. If you can't grab one of those potential superstars early, waiting out first base is never a terrible idea. It might be how I approach it in every draft.
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First Base Preview
ATL Atlanta • #5 • Age: 31
Freeman is on the wrong side of 30 now, but he's hit .306/.400/.557 over the past five seasons, with his worst showing coming in 2018, when he still hit .309/.388/.505 with 192 combined runs and RBI. When that's your floor, you're one of the elite hitters in baseball, and Freeman is showing no signs of slowing down yet.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #35 • Age: 25
Bellinger flopped in his first post-breakout season, but there was still a lot to like about his profile. He sustained his gains in plate discipline from the breakout, striking out just 17.3% of the time, and he still had a healthy hard-hit rate and barrel rate. It's not entirely fair to say he just got unlucky in 2020, but it would be equally unfair to say 2019 was just a fluke. That potential is still there, and it's worth paying up for.
DJ LeMahieu 2B
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #26 • Age: 32
If LeMahieu had signed anywhere else, it might be tough to justify paying his going rate for 2021, but he's back in Yankee Stadium, where that short porch in right field plays perfectly to his strengths. He's an elite contact hitter who gets the most out of his power, and the Yankees lineup helps get the most out of him, too. You might play him at second base, but he's a fine first base option, too.
Abreu is consistently a great source of RBI -- 100 or more in six of seven seasons, with a 150-game pace for 2020 -- and he's usually a pretty solid source of batting average, too. In 2020, he was elite across the board, with a 150-game pace that would have seen him hit 48 homers, drive in 150 runs and score 108. He is 34, so you want to be careful paying for his short-season career-best numbers, but even if you're pessimistic, it's hard to see him flopping entirely.
Luke Voit 1B
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #59 • Age: 30
You should be careful of buying in too much to Voit's league-leading homer total from 2020 -- after all, he hit more in 56 games (22) than he did in 118 in 2019 (21). But you shouldn't fade his 2020 season entirely either, because he's a legitimately great hitter in a great lineup who should give you strong production across four categories.
Pete Alonso 1B
NYM N.Y. Mets • #20 • Age: 26
It's more than a little alarming that Alonso is hitting .233 since the 2019 All-Star break. He still has 39 homers in that 128-game stretch, so you know you're going to get elite power and the run production that comes with it. The question is, can he get back to hitting .260 (or higher) as he did as a rookie? If not, there may not be much difference between Alonso and Matt Olson -- or even someone like Miguel Sano.
Matt Olson 1B
OAK Oakland • #28 • Age: 26
Speaking of Olson, if you're wondering why Alonso is ahead of him, it comes down to this: While their most likely outcome -- 40-ish homers, .260-ish average -- are pretty similar, we've seen both a higher ceiling and a higher floor from Alonso than we have from Olson. Olson has a bit more swing-and-miss in his game and plays in a worse park, but the key issue might be that he's a lefty with platoon split issues. They aren't enough to cost him playing time, but they make him a more volatile player than Alonso.
TOR Toronto • #27 • Age: 21
Guerrero hasn't come anywhere close to living up to the prospect hype, and at this point you're still paying a fairly high sticker price for that pedigree. Guerrero hits the ball extremely hard and doesn't strike out much, but we're still waiting for those tools to come together into a star player. If it does, he could be a prime J.D. Martinez/Nolan Arenado kind of offensive force, but there might always be someone in your league who likes him more.
STL St. Louis • #46 • Age: 33
Goldschmidt is aging rather gracefully. He's no longer an elite offensive force, but his plate discipline rebounded in 2020 nicely. He may have traded some power for that end, but that might be a tradeoff you can live with if the Cardinals offense takes an expected step forward with the addition of Nolan Arenado. Goldschmidt's best days are behind him, but if he can sustain his lower strikeout rate, a helpful batting average and plenty of runs and RBI could be in store. He's someone to settle for.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #44 • Age: 31
Rizzo obviously isn't as bad as his 2020 numbers, but for someone whose biggest calling card in recent years has been an unspectacular reliability, it's a bit of a concern. Still, there weren't many worrying signs of decline in his underlying numbers, so this was probably nothing more than a cold streak in a short season. Like Goldschmidt, you settle for Rizzo, who has additional appeal in a points or OBP league.
Max Muncy 1B
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #13 • Age: 30
Muncy's best trait might be his triple eligibility, allowing you to plug a hole at first, third or second base if one comes up. He'll need to play better than he did in 2020 for that to matter much, but after consecutive seasons of 35 homers and with little change in batted ball or plate discipline metrics, bet on a bounce back.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #2 • Age: 25
One of the frustrating things about the shortened 2020 season is that it robbed us of the chance to get more information about some of 2019's breakouts. Smith was even better in 2020 than in his breakout, sporting a .316/.377/.616 mark, however he failed to break 200 plate appearances in either, so there's still something left to prove. However, his platoon splits have been particularly promising in that span, and the Mets have been willing to play him at first base or left field to get his bat in the lineup, and that should remain the case this season. We'll find out how much of his breakout is for real, but look at it this way: If it was, you're getting him at an awfully steep discount.
Don't forget about ...
Eric Hosmer 1B
SD San Diego • #30 • Age: 31
Hosmer stormed out of the gates with a brand new approach, as the slugger finally started elevating the ball the way we've long hoped to see. He couldn't sustain all of those early gains, but his ground-ball rate never topped 50% in any of the months of the 2020 season, a marked improvement for a guy who has hovered between 55% and 60% over the previous four seasons. Hosmer could be an easy 100-RBI guy with a good batting average in this lineup.
Miguel Sano 1B
MIN Minnesota • #22 • Age: 27
Sano has played 158 games since the start of the 2019 season, hitting .233 with 47 homers, 104 RBI and 107 runs scored. The average is ugly -- and with a 38.7% strikeout rate, it's no fluke -- but everything else is pretty great. If you can stomach the average, Sano can be a difference making source of power.
Joey Votto 1B
CIN Cincinnati • #19 • Age: 37
Evolution is nothing new to Votto, one of the most cerebral players in the game. But now in his late 30s, Votto is having to find ways to make up for his physical decline, and we may have seen a new version late in 2020, as he sacrificed some of his legendary plate discipline for power. He struck out 26.2% of the time in September and October, but saw his power spike. It was, if nothing else, a sign that he might not be finished quite yet.
Brandon Belt 1B
SF San Francisco • #9 • Age: 32
Oracle Park played much more favorably to offense in 2020, and nobody benefited more than Belt, who had his best slugging season ever, finally topping a .500 slugging percentage. Skepticism is fair, especially for a player with Belt's injury track record who already has some questions about his opening day availability following offseason heel surgery. But the Giants could have a sneaky-good offense, with Belt right in the middle of it.
First Base Sleeper, Breakout, & Bust
Nate Lowe 1B
TEX Texas • #35 • Age: 25
Lowe hasn't been bad in the majors, but he hasn't made an impact yet, hitting .251/.322/.447 with an alarming 31.8% strikeout rate. He hasn't had the same plate discipline that made him so impressive in the high minors, but he also hasn't had the kind of consistent playing time that you normally want to see young players get. He should get that with the Rangers, who have him penciled in as the opening day first baseman. Lowe has plenty of pop and he'll get to play his home games in a much better park, so don't be surprised if there's a post-hype breakout here.
BAL Baltimore • #6 • Age: 24
The Orioles have been frustratingly patient with their top prospects, with Mountcastle failing to break the opening day roster in 2020 despite posting an .871 OPS as a 22-year-old in Triple-A in 2019. However, he got his chance eventually and looked the part, showing a plus hit tool that should play up for power in Camden Yards. There were some concerning plate discipline issues that the free-swinging Mountcastle may struggle with if he can't get them under control, but it's not hard to see him emerging as a .280, 25-homer kind of guy in this setting with his line-drive, all-fields approach. Mountcastle probably isn't a burgeoning superstar, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he was a similar performer to someone like Goldschmidt or Rizzo -- at least in batting average-based formats.
Abreu didn't change in 2020. There was nothing new about him. His approach at the plate looked largely as it has his whole career. He hit the ball hard, sure, but hey, that's nothing new either; he's had elite average exit velocities and hard-hit rates every year. Usually, it added up to a profile like what we saw in 2019: .284 average, 33 homers, and a ton of RBI thanks to a contact-oriented approach for a slugger. He was a superstar in 2020, winning AL MVP, and it's hard to see him truly bottoming out given his consistency, but you're paying for a career year performance that he's unlikely to repeat. Oh, and while he has been a model of consistency, let's not ignore the elephant that is, at least, peeking its trunk around the corner into the room: Abreu is 34 years old. Sometimes, the decline comes fast.
First Base Top Prospects
Age (on opening day): 22
Where he played in 2019: Rookie, low Class A, high Class A
2019 minors: .278 (205 AB), 6 HR, 17 2B, .832 OPS, 30 BB, 38 K
When a true first baseman -- and a right hand-hitting one at that -- goes third overall, as Vaughn did in 2019, the bat better play, and by all accounts, his will, putting him in line to be the next young stud welcomed to the White Sox lineup. Power and plate discipline are his game, earning him the Golden Spikes Award for best college player in 2018.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful
2. Triston Casas, Red Sox
Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2019: low Class A, high Class A
2019 minors: .256 (429 AB), 20 HR, 26 2B, .830 OPS, 58 BB, 118 K
The scouting reports for Casas always read like Cody Bellinger for me, with the natural leverage of his left-handed swing pointing to a massive power ceiling that hasn't fully manifested yet. He has a setup like Joey Votto, a follow-through like Freddie Freeman and glowing reports out of the alternate training site that suggests big things are coming.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: cup of coffee
3. Bobby Dalbec, Red Sox
Age (on opening day): 25
Where he played in 2019: Triple-A
2019 minors: .239 (472 AB), 27 HR, .816 OPS, 73 BB, 139 K
2020 majors: .263 (80 AB), 8 HR, .959 OPS, 10 BB, 39 K
Dalbec was a big find in 2020 for Rotisserie players looking to make up ground in the home run category, delivering on his 70-grade power right away and establishing himself as the Red Sox's new first baseman in the process. Still, he's an all-or-nothing hitter who may come closer to the "nothing" side with increased exposure.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: pencil him in
4. Lewin Diaz, Marlins
Age (on opening day): 24
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: .270 (455 AB), 27 HR, 33 2B, .851 OPS, 33 BB, 91 K
2020 majors: .154 (39 AB), 2 2B, .400 OPS, 2 BB, 12 K
Diaz's first audition for the Marlins' long-term first base job went poorly, but with his profile, there aren't many mysteries left to sort out. He should put the ball over the fence at a good rate and doesn't look like he'll have major strikeout issues, but as narrow as the path to first base is, he can't afford too many misfires.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful
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.