We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about first basemen for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which 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 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
The position is nearly the polar opposite of the catcher dredge from last week. It’s deep, it’s wonderful at the top—there’s a lot to be happy about. There are even more first base prospects than usual (not that there are that many). Some of the depth causes may cause some surprising rankings—the larger the clump of deeper mixed league options, the lower some of my least favorite of the group will fall. That’s because if you own one and he’s bad, there’s another just waiting for you on the waiver wire or cheaply through trade. Whereas the few prospects here that have the potential to be top-15 options one day are less common. If you want to feel young, go to where the young people are.
The star power of this group awaits. Your list begins here, in the least surprising of places:
Not only is Goldy a slam-dunk to sit at the top of this list, but he’s so valuable right now that he gives some of the brightest and youngest stars of this generation a run for their money across other positions. In other words:
I’m on record saying that I don’t think Rizzo is quite as good as he’s currently being made out to be, and I’m not convinced he’s either a first rounder right now, or will be one over the remainder of his career. However, the only other guy here who is right now is Cabrera, and Rizzo has more than six years on him in the right direction. Abreu, on the other hand, is nearly four years younger than Cabrera and is not enough of an upgrade this instant to trade the end of a peak for the prime of one. Abreu will spend the next four years in U.S. Cellular and his contact rate improved during his second year in the United States. That leaves him with the potential for some .300-30 homer seasons before he reaches free agency. Cabrera still has the most 2016 value of this bunch, but even though he’s one of the great hitters of this generation, he’s still approaching his decline and injury phase—which will reduce his long-term impact.
In many ways, these are two similar ships passing in the night. Votto had the bounce back in 2015, which buoyed his dynasty league value mostly due to the resurgence of his power. Hosmer had his strongest fantasy season to date and still has plenty of supporters who believe that more power is yet to come. However, the great thing about Hosmer’s dynasty league value is that he doesn’t need to hit 25 homers to be a consistently high-end fantasy first baseman.
This one may be the first group that gets a “huh” from the crowd. Both Encarnacion and Freeman get plenty of support from their sides of the spectrum (E5 from the “now” contingent and Freeman from the “there’s got to be more here” crowd), yet they both sit behind Fielder, who is not held in the same esteem across many leagues. The question is why that’s the case. The question marks were valid heading into 2015, as he had come off major neck surgery, but played in 158 games (just as Fielder does) and continued his great contact rate (just as Fielder does), only with a tinge less power. Encarnacion is great and wonderful, but when the 30’s come, give me the player who has a better track record of health and batting average. Freeman, on the other hand, will mire in a terribad Braves lineup for the next couple of years and just doesn’t have the upside to surpass either 30-something slugger ahead of him.
This may seem aggressive, but as the depth on this list exposes itself to you—both in the aging and the only moderately interesting—the value of a potential top-five first baseman sticks out. That is what we’re dealing with, as Reed could be a .280-.290 hitter with 30-plus homers, and he could be in the majors as soon as the second half of 2016. In fact, he’s exciting enough that I had this commissioned from the one and only @holly_holl:
15) Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals
17) Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
And here starts the glut. Pujols and Gonzalez are aging and no longer put up the impact numbers of their primes. That said, Pujols did hit 40 homers last year, and if he can stay on the field, is a threat to approach that number again (though it comes at much more of a price than it did last decade). Gonzalez has been very consistent, but the batting average has drifted down to the barely helping range and expecting more than 20-25 homers going forward isn’t a great bet. Belt and Duda fall into the same bucket here but for different reasons. Belt’s health is always a concern and his strikeout rate requires more power output than he’s shown. Duda is generally on the field, but inconsistency has plagued him and held him back from taking a step towards the next tier.
Who knows what we’ll get from Morales in 2016, but the 2015 version was mostly the same one that Angels’ fans saw before his freak injury back in 2010. Of course he’s much older now though. Santana is still on the right side of 30, for now, but just can’t get enough traction with his batting average to move much higher than this. Gattis is DH-only, and unlike Prince Fielder, who knows when/if he’ll get any positional eligibility. My heart wants to put Zimmerman higher up on this list, but he’s just not a good bet to stay healthy. If you could guarantee me 135 games, I still think he could push .270 and 25 homers, but there are other wishes I’d ask for first.
For a player we know is retiring after 2016 to rank in the top-20 on a dynasty list, he has to be pretty special, and Ortiz is just that. I’m having a sad thinking that this is the last time I’m going to get to put him on this list.
21) Matt Adams, St Louis Cardinals
23) Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs
24) Pedro Alvarez, Free Agent
26) C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
Bell may not have the power of A.J. Reed or Dan Vogelbach, but his bat-to-ball skills may be the best of the three, and he could see time in Pittsburgh later this year. I’m not giving up on Matt Adams just because of his injury and the Cardinals’ apparent willingness to give Brandon Moss the first base job over him in 2016. As you can tell by their placements on this list, I think they’ll reverse course if they start the season that way. Power is glorious and Teixeira, Alvarez, and Carter all have reasonable chances to get to 30 homers in 2016. Of course, Alvarez needs a job first. Finally, don’t let the few jumping off the bandwagon affect your resolve—believe in the light within Dan Vogelbach.
27) Greg Bird, New York Yankees
28) Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
I’m not going to endear myself to Bird supporters here, but that power spike in September is not something I’m buying a repeat of and he has nowhere to play in 2016 thanks to the elder statesman of this tier. Essentially, he’s a 2017 ETA prospect without huge upside (maybe .260 with 25 homers). On the other hand, what’s not to love about A-Rod? I could watch him hit dingers and smile until he’s 50. There’s no reason he can’t repeat his 2015 season.
29) Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians
These are two of the most interesting first base prospects in fantasy leagues, and rather than summarize myself too much here, I’ll just point out that Greg Wellemyer is doing a Tale of the Tape on these two tomorrow and you should read it.
31) Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers
34) Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
35) Dominic Smith, New York Mets
37) Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays
38) Mike Napoli, Cleveland Indians
40) Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros
It saddens me to no end that Adam Lind has gone to Seattle, but the #AdamLindAppreciationSociety will roll on unimpaired. Rebound seasons could certainly be in the cards for Martinez, and Napoli, but even if they do return to some semblance of former glory, their ages prevent them from shooting up too high here. Byung-ho Park hit five more homers last year in the KBO than Yamaico Navarro did. The trifecta of prospects in the middle of this tier is a fun group because of their differences. Tellez has the power, Smith has the batting average and Olson has the OBP. The first one to get a second skill wins.
43) Yonder Alonso, Oakland Athletics
44) Josh Naylor, Miami Marlins
46) Adam LaRoche, Chicago White Sox
47) Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
48) Kennys Vargas, Minnesota Twins
49) Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
50) Justin Morneau, Free Agent
Justin Bour is not going to end up on any of my teams this year. Hoskins and Naylor both could make big jumps up this list—the former if he can prove that his steps forward in 2015 were legit, and the latter if he can continue to take to pro ball seamlessly. The precipitous fall of Joe Mauer makes me long for simpler days, when his batting average was as reliable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. I’m not giving up entirely on Yonder Alonso, and he’s exactly the type of person to just start hitting well once he shows up in Oakland. Craig can only hope that Kennys Vargas is next in that line, as he certainly isn’t going to get much run in Minnesota this year.