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2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: First Base

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 5, 2020
Cody Bellinger

It’s hard to find a flaw in Cody Bellinger’s game.

Gone are the days when first base was a shallow position. There are two elite options, some near-elite options, and a lot of interesting guys who can help you at first base or at least have the eligibility to slide them there if needed. Like we’ve done with other positions, we are going to take a look at how the players rank in tiers to help you with your upcoming drafts.

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2019 Recap

Using FanGraphs Auction Calculator, I took a look at the top 100 for roto leagues last year, and as you may imagine, there were 14 players who appeared on the list. Cody Bellinger had one of the biggest jumps of the season, as he was the perfect example of a guy that you should look to acquire off of a down sophomore season. The pedigree was there, and the skills were, too. 

Likewise, Rhys Hoskins took a major step back last season – especially for someone who we all had pegged as a breakout candidate in his third year. Instead, he crushed you in batting average. He, like Bellinger last year, is a prime target if you’re into bounce-back potential.

There were a lot of players who surprised last year, including Yuli Gurriell, who put together yet another great season of batting average help but also had out-of-nowhere power. I’m not buying him at his age and sudden power breakout. 

2020 at a Glance

No matter the format or league size, there are two first-round picks at the position in Bellinger and Freddie Freeman. Both are safe, but also have great upside, which is exactly what you want in your first-rounder. 

When you take a first baseman is really set up with how you approach your first couple of picks in the draft. If you go hitter, hitter, I’d recommend grabbing one of the last aces with your third-round pick. There are a ton of great first basemen, and some of the boring veterans allow you to wait on the position. Guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, and Carlos Santana give you the flexibility to fill other needs. 

The one thing I noticed when doing this exercise was that there weren’t too many exciting young guys at the position – outside of the obvious in Bellinger and Pete Alonso. Nate Lowe would be really exciting as an option, but if you draft anyone outside of Austin Meadows in Tampa Bay, be prepared to be disappointed.

Grade Legend*

A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
B: A solid, consistent contributor
C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
D: You can do better here
F: You’re getting NOTHING

(*Grades listed are relative to position and take positional depth into consideration.)

Tier 1

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Cody Bellinger LAD B A+ A A+ B+ It’s hard to find a flaw in Bellinger’s game. The only thing I question is if his average gains are real.
Freddie Freeman ATL A A A A B- I think Freeman is safer across the board than Bellinger, but I’m looking to take the upside, which gives Bellinger the slight nod. Both are first-round picks.

I’ve ended up with a lot of Freddie Freeman so far this year when I’m picking later in the first round of drafts. He has a nice balance of floor and ceiling, which is exactly what you want in your first-round pick. There’s a case for Bellinger at fourth overall, but I do have some pause with his gains in batting average. It was mostly front loaded with an insanely hot April (.431) and May (.319). Seeing him hit .280 against lefties, though, was a nice development.

Tier 2

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Pete Alonso NYM B- A+ A- A D- Insane power, but I think we have to bake in at least some regression in his second year. I’d expect 40 homers, which is still elite.
Matt Olson OAK B- A B B+ D- Olson doesn’t have first-round potential, but his power and ability to help you in other areas gives him a great floor.
Anthony Rizzo CHC A- B B B C- We overrate Rizzo every year. At least the consensus (45th overall) is adjusting.

These are the guys I’m looking to target in the third and fourth rounds when possible. If I go hitter, hitter, though, I’m usually looking at a pitcher in the third round, and I’ll wait a tier to grab my first baseman.

Tier 3

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Paul Goldschmidt STL B A- B- B- D+ He was still good last year, but the decline could be ugly and fast. No more steals really sinks his value.
Jose Abreu CHW B+ B+ B A D- Safest option every year. Not sexy, but underrated.
Max Muncy LAD C+ B+ A- B+ C- He proved his 2018 wasn’t a fluke with a great 2019. Second base eligibility really helps his value.
Trey Mancini BAL B+ B+ B+ B D- His 2019 was very similar to his 2017. He’s helped with the ballpark, but hurt with the terrible lineup around him.

This tier is filled with old guys, who are overlooked come draft day. Mancini is my favorite of the group and, like Muncy, has dual-eligibility. I’m fine with any of them as my starter in a standard 12-team league.

Tier 4

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Josh Bell PIT B B- C+ C D- Calling him James Loney Jr. after last year looks foolish, but I think he’s somewhere between the 2018 and 2019 version. Pirates should capitalize on his trade value.
Rhys Hoskins PHI D+ A- B B+ D It was a disappointing season for Hoskins last year, but there’s a lot of bounce-back potential. Hoskins should actually look to lower his launch angle. Added boost in OBP leagues.
Carlos Santana CLE C+ B+ A B+ C- I still trust Santana a lot more in points and OBP leagues than standard leagues, where he’d get a boost to Tier 2.

I’m 100 percent, completely out on Bell, and I think most would have him in Tier 3. Hoskins is a guy I’m targeting at post-hype value. He’s my current favorite value of anyone we’ve discussed so far.

Tier 5

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Edwin Encarnacion CHW D+ A B- B F You can bank the home runs each year, as he’s had eight straight seasons with 30 or more, and the walk rate is great.
Yuli Gurriel HOU A- C+ C+ B C- I’m not buying the sudden home run outburst from Yuli. Sorry, I’m not. I still think he’s mostly empty average.
Ryan McMahon COL C- C+ C+ B- C #FreeRyanMcMahon. If he gets the regular playing time, he could be at Bs across the board.
Christian Walker ARI C- B- C+ C B- The acquisition of Starling Marte bumps Walker down a bit – if Jake Lamb can make the team, that is. I mostly buy his 2019 season.
Luke Voit NYY C+ C+ B- B D- I want to put him higher, but I’m having a hard time squeezing him in. Miguel Andujar could time some time away.

I’m targeting E5 here as my utility in a lot of leagues, and if I really wait a long time, I’d be OK with him as my starter. That White Sox lineup is going to put up so many runs. I will have a lot of shares of McMahon, too, and I’ll be prepared to be let down.

Tier 6

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Michael Chavis BOS C C+ C+ C+ C- We saw Chavis come back to Earth after his scorching start to the season. He’ll be a defensive mess at second base, but it will get his bat in the lineup regularly.
C.J. Cron DET C B+ C- C- F He’s a Statcast darling, and he’s finally going to get all of the at-bats he can handle. He’s one of my guys this year. I really just wish he wasn’t in Detroit.
Daniel Murphy COL A C+ C+ B- D- Two straight injury-plagued seasons, and he’s nearly 35. I would love him as a corner infielder. Huge upside still in Colorado.
Mark Canha OAK B B- B C D+ It’s like we are forgetting how good of a second half Canha had. He’s older, but the peripherals back it up.
Joey Votto CIN C+ D B C+ C He’s basically a points-league specialist now. It’s sad.
Jurickson Profar SD C- C+ B- C+ B He overperformed in 2018, and underperormed in 2019. Let’s find a happy medium, shall we? Fantastic lineup as the everyday second baseman.
Hunter Dozier KC B- B B B C He’s another, like Canha, who we are ignoring for some reason. I’m in on him at any of his eligible positions.
Matt Carpenter STL D+ C- C C C Fool me once, you break out of it. Fool me twice, I stick with you. I’m over you, Matt.

I’m targeting this tier in a big way in the later rounds. There is a lot of hidden value here, but also a lot of names who are yesterday’s news. Canha, Dozier, and Profar are all guys that I’d be more than happy with, but probably as outfielders and at middle infield instead of first base. If my starting first baseman is coming from this tier, I messed up my draft horribly. 

Tier 7

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Travis Shaw TOR D C C- C C- Call me crazy, but I’m going to take a last-round flier on him. I believe in the offseason adjustments he’s made.
Ryan Braun MIL C+ C+ B- B- B More of a daily lineups play where you can adjust with his days off.
Eric Hosmer SD C- C- C- B C- He’s never met a groundball that he hasn’t liked. He’s Nomar Mazara, Sr.
Seth Brown OAK D+ C- C- C+ C- I’ll take the upside late if the A’s will give him a chance to earn the job.
Nate Lowe TB C C C- C D+  I had him 14th in my initial rankings, but then the Rays situation got even more cluttered. He has options, so looks like he may be stuck in Triple-A again.

None of these guys should be starting for you, but they can all be picked as lottery tickets. Well, not Hosmer. He’s just not good.

2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Catcher

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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