Remember when first base's defining characteristic was its abundance of power bats, such that its depth dwarfed that of every other position?
You've been playing Fantasy Baseball for a long time if you do, because the juiced ball era, which spanned a solid six seasons, basically did away with that, making home runs just as accessible to smallish middle infielders. Position scarcity became a thing of the past as production became decoupled from mobility, and there were years when first base even seemed weak by comparison.
I wouldn't say we're all the way back to the days of yore when first base reigned supreme, but we're trending that way, its low defensive bar once again gives it an advantage in the development of sluggers.
That's a double-edged sword for Fantasy purposes, though, because not everyone who breaks through with a big home run total goes on to repeat it year after year. If first base is only now returning to its former prominence, then few at the position have established that sort of track record. Is it worth paying the premium for Matt Olson so that you can avoid rolling the dice on Christian Walker? It feels more secure, sure, but if this year plays out like last year, their production will be more or less the same, in which case you've wasted serious draft capital that could have gone to scarcer positions.
I'm more in the take-your-chances camp because not every position affords you the opportunity to do so. You only get so many early picks. Better to use them on positions where they're sure to matter. Besides, first base is also the position where you're most likely to find the next Christian Walker on the waiver wire, so a Draft Day miss wouldn't set you back as far.
Of course, if everyone decided to wait at first base, there would come a point where the stud surcharge was worth it.
I haven't decided exactly when that point is. Probably once Jose Altuve, Marcus Semien and Ozzie Albies have all been drafted at second base, one of the scarcest positions of all. Nolan Arenado would also probably be gone at third base by that point, so OK, I'd consider taking Pete Alonso if he's still there. The ADP would suggest he's not. There was a time when Matt Olson was thought to be his peer, but after his strikeout rate regressed while Alonso's continued to improve last year, a gap emerged. Still, at cost, Olson is the one I'm more likely to draft.
Freddie Freeman and Vladimir Guerrero are both first-rounders by ADP, and if any first basemen deserve to be, it's them -- Freeman for his sheer consistency (he was the No. 3 hitter in both points and categories leagues last year even with a disappointing home run total) and Guerrero for the monstrous ceiling he showed two years ago. But realistically, I'm going to secure third base with a Rafael Devers or Manny Machado before drafting either of them.
I'm being rather aggressive with Vinnie Pasquantino and Jose Abreu here, and you may notice I grouped them differently in the first edition of my . What I'm trying to convey is that it isn't worth paying up for the top five at the position when you can get players just as good 70 picks later. I have high confidence in both a Pasquantino breakout and a Jose Abreu bounce-back, based on their Statcast numbers, but of course, neither is guaranteed. (What is?)
Nate Lowe TEX 1B
Rhys Hoskins PHI 1B
Christian Walker ARI 1B
C.J. Cron COL 1B
Andrew Vaughn CHW RF
Anthony Rizzo NYY 1B
Ryan Mountcastle BAL 1B
Rowdy Tellez MIL 1B
Ty France SEA 1B
Jake Cronenworth SD 2B
Josh Bell CLE 1B
Luis Arraez MIA 1B
Combine this group with the previous one, and we're up to 19 players, which is of course more than enough to go around in a 12-team league. Are you at a disadvantage with Ty France as your starter rather than Paul Goldschmidt? Sure, but I did say more than enough. You're really pushing it by waiting for France. And if you're inclined to do so, I'd say the better choice is Josh Bell anyway. We've seen him verge on stud production in the past. His miserable stay in San Diego last year really tanked his numbers.
He's still more of a last resort for me, though. Most of the time at first base, I'm aiming for Rowdy Tellez or higher, wanting to secure myself a true 30-homer threat at a position where there are so many. I'm not including Ryan Mountcastle as part of that. Seems to me he's being over-drafted.
Passing over Nate Lowe and Rhys Hoskins is easy enough. After all, both have a higher ADP than one of my studs, Jose Abreu ... which doesn't really make sense. Lowe's breakthrough last year was built on a high BABIP, and Hoskins' batting average is generally painful. But anyway ... once I see Christian Walker or C.J. Cron come off the board, I start to get antsy. I might go straight for whichever wasn't picked first, but I also don't mind settling for Anthony Rizzo or Tellez seeing as they're prime candidates to benefit from the shift ban taking effect this year. I envision both hitting .240 or better.
Jose Miranda MIN 1B
Joey Meneses WAS 1B
Josh Naylor CLE 1B
Triston Casas BOS 1B
Spencer Torkelson DET 1B
Joey Votto CIN 1B
Brandon Belt TOR 1B
Matt Mervis CHC 1B
All the competent choices at first base leave little room for sleepers, and yet this list is still surprisingly long. It includes some that are maybe harder to get excited about at this point, like Joey Votto and Brandon Belt (who may have simply aged out, but I won't presume as much given that both have health-related excuses). I'm also not confident that Jose Miranda's and Josh Naylor's upside goes far beyond what they've already revealed, and 30-year-old Joey Meneses screams a small-sample fluke even if the Statcast data generally supports it.
What excites me, though, are the three rookies: Triston Casas, Miguel Vargas and Matt Mervis. All three bring bat skills beyond just pure power, with Casas being an on-base machine and Vargas and Mervis delivering impressive contact rates. Casas and Vargas seem like better bets to make the opening day roster and are the higher-priority picks as a result. There's even been talk of Vargas starting at second base, a much scarcer position. He could also pick up third base and outfield eligibility before the year's done.
I do want to put in a good word for Wil Myers here, too, even though my enthusiasm for him isn't on near the same level as the three rookies. He's been a non-factor in Fantasy the past few years, with the pandemic-shortened 2020 being the lone exception, but at 32, he's not so far gone that he can't take advantage of the majors' most homer-friendly park in Cincinnati. It worked wonders for Brandon Drury last year.
Again, it's been a few years, but Myers has twice been a 20-steal guy in the past, and his sprint speed is still in the 75th percentile. The new stolen base-friendly rules set to take effect this year could bring out that skill in him again. He's not any worse of a bet for stolen bases than anyone else at the position. Freeman and Goldschmidt are the only ones to reach even double digits in the past two years, and of course, you have to pay a premium for their services.
The potential for stolen bases is yet another reason to like Vargas, who is quickly becoming my favorite sleeper at the position. He's an extremely fast runner, and though it didn't lead to huge stolen base totals in the minors, as I've said, the major-league stolen base environment is about to improve.