Last week, we ranked catchers for the next three years and this week we’re on to first base. If you read last week or you’re familiar with this exercise from years past, you know that these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. It’s important to state that these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other writers on this site and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
And with that out of the way, let’s get on with it:
I have to admit that I went looking for a reason to put someone else in this spot. As best I can tell, Goldy’s 32 stolen bases in 2016 were the most by a primary first baseman since Gregg Jefferies swiped 46 (46!) in 1993. A first baseman who derived a third of his value on the bases and is entering his age-29 season seems like a pretty good bet to back up over the next three years. That’s overly simplistic, of course. Goldschmidt was solid everywhere else even though his isolated power and slugging percentages were career worsts in 2016. He’ll need a rebound there to compensate for a shrinking stolen base total. He wins out in the end because I think that bounce back will come and the speed won’t fall off a cliff, but I don’t think Goldy leads the pack by much.
Come to think of it, Rizzo is a more extreme case study for what could happen to Goldschmidt as his speed dissipates. Rizzo’s 32 homers, 94 runs, 109 RBI, and .292 batting average in 2016 were all at least as good as what he offered up in 2015, when he finished as fantasy’s third best first baseman. The problem, such as it was, is that Rizzo’s stolen base total declined from 17 to three. In part because of that drop-off, seven players finished ahead of him at the position in 2016. Those steals aren’t coming back; the Cubs finished with only 66 steals as a team, a bottom third total. There’s really no reason to cut a guy like Rizzo loose on the bases with that lineup around him. Even so, there’s enough safety in the rest of the profile and he has youth on his side.
I’m on board with Mike Gianella’s ranking of this pair ahead of Rizzo for 2017. While top-five status tells you that I think they’ll both age perfectly well entering their age-34 seasons, I’m willing to push them down one spot to acknowledge the age-related risk over a three year horizon.
I feel confident with Encarnacion at the top of this distinct second tier but could be convinced of any permutation of the bottom three. Myers finally delivered a full season of performance that matches his once-lofty prospect status. He’ll need to stay healthy to validate this ranking and he’ll also need to run. I wouldn’t project anything close to 28 steals again, but mid-teens is a reasonable expectation. Abreu was awful in April and May and a beast from then on, slashing .319/.376/.511 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 107 games. He won’t be quite that good but I like him as a dependable option in the thick of his physical prime. This ranking of Freeman probably raises some eyebrows considering the season he just had. Even if I thought the power spike was going to stick (I don’t, despite the new park, which sounds like it will play favorably for left-handed power), I’m concerned about the batting average. Freeman posted a .302 mark in 2016 despite a .370 BABIP in the face of a career-high fly-ball rate and a massive change in approach that resulted in easy career worsts in chase and contact rates. Given the league-wide abundance of power, that’s not a tradeoff I favor.
11. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
I was looking at Hanley’s career as I was researching this and was reminded that he stole 51 bases in each of his first two seasons. My goodness what a monster. (I don’t have anything terribly useful to say about these players. You know who they are.)
Does this make me the high man on Bell? Barring an icy cold spring, Bell is in line to break camp with the big league club. I don’t think John Jaso is going to block him from holding down, at the very least, the strong side of a platoon. Further, given Bell’s on-base prowess and bat-to-ball ability, a lineup spot on the top third of the card isn’t out of the question, which would have him poised to rack up counting stats for a solid Pirates offense. It’s a well-rounded profile and I think Bell has the talent to hit for average right out of the gate and enough power to settle in the low 20s in short order.
And just like that we’re in to the range of players that have their owners looking to upgrade. Now 35 years old, you have to wonder whether Gonzalez’s power is gone for good, but he hasn’t played in fewer than 156 games in the past eleven years and won’t kill you anywhere. Belt is similar, offering bland production borne from plenty of volume. I actually like Carsley’s favorite comp, Cron. Turns out hitting behind Trout is nice; Cron tallied 69 RBI in 116 games last season and he has enough thump to get to 20 dingers if he can stay on the field long enough. Health is the key to Joseph’s value too. The 134 games he played in last season between Triple-A and Philly were the most of his seven-year professional career. There’s significant potential reward in the form of 25-30 home runs if he can manage a full season.
I think this ranking indicates that I’m somewhat bullish on Thames. Much of my optimism comes from my positive impression of the David Stearns era and the power hitting paradise that is Miller Park. Far less of my blind valuation comes from the MLEs and the early projections I’ve seen, some of which seem patently absurd. Discount them by a quarter and you still have a plenty useful player.
19. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
22. Chris Carter, Free Agent
I was dead wrong about Pujols this time last year. So maybe take it with a grain of salt when I say that I’m hard passing again. I’ll let someone else be left standing when the music stops, even if it means I miss out on some value in the meantime. Again. I like Bour even though he’s horrid against lefties. He’ll do enough damage in a platoon role especially if, for once, that Marlins core stays on the field together for an extended stretch. While we’re dishing out hard passes, let’s give one to Carter too. I just can’t abide a .218 batting average in 2,600+ lifetime plate appearances. Your mileage may vary.
23. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
24. AJ Reed, Houston Astros
25. Gregory Bird, New York Yankees
If I had to bet on one player not currently in the top five to be there by the end of this three-year window it would be Bellinger. Huge raw, swing path geared for liftoff, enough hit to get to the power in games, athleticism to swipe a few. Barring a trade, he doesn’t have a clear path to at-bats at present, so this is a bet on his pure talent forcing its way into playing time in the near future. Playing time is also a concern for Reed since the Astros are loaded up with corner types. And while it’s far too soon to go down this road, Reed’s major league trial put off a heavy Jon Singleton vibe. Bird was dynamic across three levels in 2015 before missing the full 2016 season with a torn labrum. Though he made it through the Arizona Fall League unscathed, I have some lingering concern about how soon his power will come all the way back. I think the swing and miss issues are overblown, but his fantasy value is predicated on over-the-fence power. Without it he’s just a guy.
27. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
28. Steve Pearce, Toronto Blue Jays
29. Pedro Alvarez, Free Agent
If I’m worried about a 24-year-old’s shoulder, you can probably imagine how I feel about 31-year-old’s back and a 38-year-old’s knees. The latter has enough preternatural hitting ability that I’m comfortable with him in 2017, but I’m taking it one season at a time. Pearce is solid on a per-game basis. He’s never played in more than 102. Alvarez mashed 22 taters in just 376 plate appearances. Baltimore hasn’t found its Mark Trumbo replacement yet…
30. Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
…unless it’s Mancini. I’m not quite as high on Vogelbach as some others on staff but I do think this placement is sufficient for me to keep my job. Gillaspie gets too little ink for a player with first round pedigree and performance at every level. I can’t quit Vargas even though the Twins have approximately 47 designated hitters.
35. Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
36. Mike Napoli, Free Agent
37. Adam Lind, Free Agent
38. Dominic Smith, New York Mets
39. Ryan O’Hearn, Kansas City Royals
40. Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays
With apologies to Rhys Hoskins, Ronald Guzman, Sam Travis, and (in case you’re feeling super-aggressive about his timeline) Matt Thaiss, Smith, O’Hearn, and Tellez are my personal preferences for combination of skill and proximity.
Thank you for reading
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