Because dynasty league rankings are relatively league-dependent, I set up parameters for ranking the players below (and the ones who will follow at other positions). The list here presupposes a 16-team standard dynasty format, where there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever and owners have minor league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2014 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or only formats.
First base is a position that keeps trending downwards in dynasty formats, and makes for an interesting reboot of our conceived notions about the sluggers that are supposed to reside here. It seems like every time we make gains at the position, i.e. Paul Goldschmidt’s breakout and Jose Abreu’s appearance, we take steps back with the decline of Albert Pujols, and injury issues of Joey Votto and Prince Fielder. It was only two years ago that those three were the no brainer top three of the group—and this year, none slot into the top five.
Of course, the position isn’t helped by the fact that the first base pipeline has been dried up lately. Whether it’s guys like Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt who have not lived up to their lofty potential, or Jonathan Singleton falling on his face in his rookie season, the major league talent has not gotten any younger. And it likely won’t any time soon. There are no first base prospects in the top 50 of the Dynasty 101, or the top 25 of this list. Though, maybe things are on the verge of changing slightly, as the 2014 draft saw a number of first base prospects with real fantasy potential entering the minors.
And now, your top 50 first basemen (and designated hitters—they don’t get their own list) in dynasty league formats:
Without the health issues surrounding Miggy, he would likely slide ahead of Goldschmidt, though these two are as close as can be. The slugger in the desert contributes in all five categories, which is a rarity for a first baseman—and while a fully healthy Cabrera trumps Goldschmidt in all four other categories, it’s not something we can bank on at the moment. Goldschmidt may not have the major injury concern that Miggy has, but his finger injury is one that could linger and affect his power during the beginning of the 2015 season—though it’s not an issue long-term. If you own one of these two, you’re in great shape. If you own both, well, you can probably stop reading this column right about now.
The step down to the next three names isn’t enormous, but it is noticeable. Abreu was fantastic in his debut season, but it’s hard to tell if he can continue hitting for both power and average until he repeats the feat. Encarnacion is the elder statesman of the tier, but he’s been money in the bank over the last three seasons. With his low strikeout rates, he could continue to hit for power and not hurt your batting average (possibly even helping it if he can slide his BABIP up a little). Rizzo is the youngest of the group, and he may have the most to prove in his 2015 campaign. He turned around his performance against left-handers and took the next step in tapping into his power.
When you think about it, it’s really incredible that this is the 6-10 group these days. This tier is filled with players you built offenses around as recently as last off-season. Freeman is the boring guy in this tier—as even his relative youth doesn’t give him more upside than the other names on this list in the near-term. The trick is that he’ll likely outlast them all. Votto and Fielder are the big injury guys to watch here. Both could reasonably be top-three options at first base this year, but both could also slide outside the top-20. Fielder’s neck injury is a larger concern as far as returning to his previous form, but Votto’s continued maladies may be a larger concern as far as staying on the field. Gonzalez is incredibly consistent, but he’s getting older and his high-end is outside the top-five. Pujols is the low man here, as he has both performance slippage and injury concerns—but goddamn if The Machine doesn’t still live inside him.
The oldest of the old guys on this list, Ortiz and Martinez still carry immense 2015 value, which drives them up this list. Ortiz does not age, and it’s perfectly reasonable to continue to expect 30-35 homers and a pretty good average for another year or two. Martinez is unlikely to ever have a season again like his 2014 campaign, but the combination of low strikeout rate and power is a force to be reckoned with, and makes him a stalwart on a contending dynasty team.
No, I’m not throwing in the towel on Eric Hosmer. People will be quick to point out his strong line over the last three months of the 2014 season, but this isn’t about second half performances or playoff glory. Hosmer still has the skills to hit for average, decent power and steal bases—he just needs to tap into it consistently. Adams and Duda are both sluggers who struggle against same-side pitching, but Adams gets the nod because he can hit for a higher average (even though it comes with slightly less power than the Met first baseman). Belt is a tease who toggles between being terrible and being injured more than he hints at any potential greatness. He has upside, but this is a reflection of the age and question marks of the names behind him, rather than a statement about his talent.
Moss, on talent alone, would rank prominently in the tier above, but hip surgery on a 31-year-old power hitter isn’t ideal. Morneau and LaRoche are two more elder statesmen, and although they carry far less upside than the Ortiz/Martinez group a half-dozen spots higher, they are both good bets to be strong corner infield options for the next couple of seasons (barring a drastic change of scenery for Morneau). Trumbo is better than Carter at the plate, and by more than one spot, but his injury risk while attempting to play the outfield in Arizona knocks him down slightly. Of course, Carter has already lost his 1B eligibility, but 37 homers will gloss over a lot of issues.
I’ve made it a point of discussion in many places this off-season, but I’ll reiterate here: I’m going to be owning Mauer in plenty of leagues this year and targeting him in deeper mixed dynasty formats this off-season. I like him to bounce back into the .300 average range again and sneak double digits in homers—which would make him awfully valuable in this down period of first basemen. The other Twin here is Vargas, who has the talent and minor league track record to turn around an ugly BB:K rate and build into the raw stats he put up in 2014. I’m not about to give up on Jonathan Singleton, but his drop on this list is warranted, both for on-field and off-field reasons.
27) Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs
And after 26 names, we finally get to the first prospect on the list. My prospect crush continued to hit in the Florida State League this year, and although he’s incredibly blocked in Chicago, he will hit enough to force the issue.
28) Steve Pearce, Baltimore Orioles
29) Dominic Smith, New York Mets
30) Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals
31) James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
32) Michael Morse, Miami Marlins
33) Allen Craig, Boston Red Sox
34) C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
35) Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
36) Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres
37) A.J. Reed, Houston Astros
38) Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians
There’s continued depth at the position, but it becomes a real crapshoot at this point. Pearce was fantastic in 2014, but how real was his performance and will the Orioles even give him a full dose of at bats to prove it? Smith hit for zero power in Savannah, but it wouldn’t be the first time a left-handed prospect did that and bounced back the following season. Butler and Loney are boring in mixed leagues and Morse is a sizable risk, both in the health and performance departments. Maybe it was the foot injury, but Craig completely fell off the map in 2014, and although the talent is there to get it back, he’s not in a great position to solidify any value at the moment. The prospects all have their flaws, but don’t sleep on A.J. Reed—one of the picks the Astros actually did sign this year. He got off to a hot start in pro ball this summer and could hit for power and average in time.
39) Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals
40) Garrett Jones, New York Yankees
41) Greg Bird, New York Yankees
42) Ike Davis, Oakland Athletics
43) Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics
44) Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
45) Logan Morrison, Seattle Mariners
46) Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians
47) Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers
48) Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
49) Christian Walker, Baltimore Orioles
50) Corey Hart, Pittsburgh Pirates
There are a whole lot of has-beens in this group. Morales, Davis, Howard, Swisher and Hart all used to be valuable fantasy commodities before they either got old or bad. Any member of this group could have a dead cat bounce season in 2015 (though Swisher is unlikely to do so with the double knee injury), it’s that guessing which one will is almost certainly a fruitless exercise. Bird and Walker are closer to the majors than some of the first base prospects mentioned earlier, but lack the same upside. Jesus Montero has apparently lost 35-40 pounds this off-season, and just as I think I’m coming close to pulling away, he sucks me right back in again. Though it’s still more likely that he just sucks.