Normally, when I begin ranking positions for the following season, I lead off with first base because catcher is so boring by comparison.
But I'm not sure that's true this year.
Don't get me wrong: Catcher is still pathetic, but first base doesn't offer the endless supply of mashers we've seen in the past. Part of the reason is some of the players we've come to associate with the position, such as Todd Frazier, Victor Martinez and David Ortiz, won't be eligible there to begin 2016. And it's not like a bunch of newcomers are in line to replace them.
Of course, it's all relative. I'm not saying first base is thin by any means, and I doubt mixed-league owners will have trouble finding a first baseman they like on Draft Day. Filling out a top 20 was still a breeze for me. But that's kind of the point. Usually, I'm wishing I could go 30 deep to showcase all the relevant names. I'm guessing no one's missing any of the players I left out this year.
Apologies to all the Wil Myers fans out there.
Top 10 first basemen for 2016:
1. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
4. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
5. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
6. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays
7. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
8. Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers
9. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers
10. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
I suspect a couple in this group may still raise an eyebrow, Cabrera being one. Yeah, he missed some time this year with a strained calf, but he's not the injury risk some people make him out to be. He's only 32, and that DL stint he just completed a couple weeks ago was the first of his career, if you can believe it. Plus, his percentages are still off the charts.
And then there's Posey at No. 4, which requires some clarification. He's on this list because he's eligible at first base, but nobody should actually draft him as a first baseman. You'd be wasting his greatest attribute: the fact he plays catcher. I'd prefer to exclude him from the list to avoid any confusion, but since it would technically be inaccurate, I relent. I won't relent on one point, though: Rankings are supposed to be a suggested draft order, and because he's eligible at catcher, Posey should be drafted ahead of Votto even if you'd actually play Votto ahead of him at first base.
Makes sense? You're all smart people. I'm sure you'll figure it out.
If the season ended at the All-Star break, I wouldn't have given much consideration to Encarnacion for the first two rounds of next year's draft even though he had been a fixture there in recent years. But that's why the season doesn't end in mid-August. But then came August, when he hit .407 with 11 home runs to bring his numbers all the way back from his bumpy start to the season -- one that may or may not have had to do with lingering shoulder issue. The late-season surge forced me to move him ahead of Abreu and put him in the same class as Rizzo and Votto. He's presumed to be the riskiest of the three, but he has had the exact same season now three years in a row.
Interesting trio at the end there. Pujols hit far more home runs than both Fielder and Gonzalez, but more and more, that seems to be all he does. He refuses to adjust for the infield shift, which drags down his batting average despite a high contact rate, and considering he'll be 36 next year, you have to wonder how many more 30-homer seasons he has left in the tank.
Gonzalez is getting up there, too -- he'll be 34 next May -- and has once again come back down to earth after a throwback April. Fielder has actually had the most encouraging performance of the three, striking out at a rate that makes his .310ish batting average believable. Looking at numbers like hard contact rate and average home run distance, I'm surprised he hasn't gone deep more often and wouldn't consider this year's total the new baseline for him post-neck surgery. Plus, he's the youngest and (at this stage of his career) best all-around hitter of the three. If Pujols or Gonzalez ends up outperforming Fielder next year, it won't be by much, and he probably has the highest floor.
Next 10 first basemen for 2016:
11. Chris Davis, 1B/OF, Orioles
12. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
13. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
14. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
15. Stephen Vogt, C/1B, Athletics
16. Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians
17. Lucas Duda, 1B, Mets
18. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals
19. Kendrys Morales, 1B, Royals
20. Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants
These 10 aren't as cut-and-dried as the last 10 and could vary based on format. You see it at the very top with Davis, who I'm giving the edge over Freeman and Hosmer even though, at his worst, his strikeout rate takes him out of the discussion in Head-to-Head points leagues. Maybe it was just a hot streak and I'm a sucker for buying into it, but his big second half reminded me what a force he can be when he doesn't get in his own way. He hasn't outperformed Freeman and Hosmer by much in terms of Head-to-Head points per game, but 40 homers obviously count for more in Rotisserie than whatever those two offer peripherally.
It'd be different if Freeman and Hosmer didn't have their own shortcomings. In particular, Hosmer is still something of a wild card. I suppose you could classify 2015 as a breakthrough for him given his career-best OPS -- and it's possible he has simply gotten stronger and more polished at age 25 -- but looking at some of the underlying numbers like pull percentage (same), hard contact rate (same), BABIP (unrealistically high) and average fly-ball distance (about the mean from previous years), I'm worried it's just a continuation of his prior ups and downs and not a genuine breakthrough. I'm not sure he has the upside for much more than this anyway.
Throw in Teixeira, and you have what appears to be a tier of four players with top-10 upside but clear impediments to reaching it. Teixeira actually did reach it in the first half before his lengthy injury history caught up to him in the second, and considering he'll be 36 next season and had looked like a lost cause the previous three, I have a feeling we may look back on 2015 as his swan song.
Or we may not. That's the thing about ranking players. You have to weigh the best-case scenario against the worst-case scenario and land somewhere in the middle. If I didn't think Teixeira had a chance of repeating, I wouldn't rank him ahead of Santana and Duda, who are more likely to bounce back to their 2014 numbers given that they're still in their 20s.
It's a pretty steep drop for Santana, I'll admit, but 2016 will be the first year he's first base-only. His third base eligibility this year kind of softened the blow of him losing catcher eligibility, but now it's out the window, too. And frankly, some of our past enthusiasm stemmed from the belief that, with his plate discipline, he couldn't possibly be just a .240 hitter and was clearly a victim of a poor BABIP. Six years into his big-league career, I think we can finally put that idea to rest, especially since he's competing with the big boppers now.
Did you notice Vogt in there? Yeah, he's another catcher I have to shoehorn into this array of sluggers. Same rules apply for him as for Posey. He'll deserve to go ahead of Santana and Duda in drafts next year, but you wouldn't want to draft him as a first baseman.
Rounding out the top 20 are three players who require some measure of faith. Is Zimmerman really as good as he looked for those six weeks in between the plantar fasciitis and strained oblique, batting .311 with 11 homers and a 1.024 OPS? Does Kendrys Morales' big September disguise what was another lackluster season for a player with so-so peripherals and barely adequate home run power? Will Belt's encouraging percentages ever translate to quality Fantasy production? Track record isn't in any of these three's favor, but each gives you some reason to believe.
Missing the cut are what would be the closest thing to up-and-comers at the position, Travis Shaw and Greg Bird, who each showed better-than-expected power as rookies. Both were injury replacements on big-budget teams, though, so I wouldn't say with any real confidence that they've locked up starting roles for 2016. Even if they did, I still think they'd miss the cut, but not by much. They'd be in the corner infield discussion in standard Rotisserie leagues.