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Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen (2023)

Jan 25, 2023
Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen (2023)

There was a time when you couldn’t swing a Louisville Slugger without hitting a star first baseman.

Check out the other Fantasy Baseball draft rankings, tiers & strategy articles in this series:

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy

Twenty years ago, in 2003, three of the top six players in offensive WAR were first basemen: Albert Pujols, Todd Helton and Carlos Delgado. Six other first basemen mashed at least 38 home runs that year: Jim Thome, Richie Sexson, Frank Thomas, Jason Giambi, Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmiero.

That’s how it was in the 1980s and 1990s, too, with the Mattinglys, Hrbeks, McGwires and Fielders smacking 30+ home runs and/or batting .300 on the regular. There were plenty of stud first basemen to go around.

Not anymore.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: First Basemen

We’re down to 4-5 true stars at first base, with another 10-12 first basemen who can help you with either power or batting average, or give you modest amounts of both.

So, how should fantasy managers play the 1B position in 2023?

It makes sense to examine first base and third base in tandem since most leagues require you to roster one of each, along with a third player who can play one of those two positions. Third base isn’t exactly flush with marquee talent either. Between the 1B and 3B positions, there are maybe 10-12 true stars.

It’s worth aggressively targeting at least one star at either first base or third base. If you don’t get one of the stars, positional scarcity is going to make it hard for you to keep up with the Joneses at the corner infield positions,

Positional scarcity is also likely to make middle-class corner infields more expensive than middle-class outfielders or middle infielders. Why? Because fantasy managers need to fill those positions, and if they don’t fill them in the early rounds (or in the big-money phase of an auction), they’re more likely to overpay for middle-class corner infielders later on. Outfielder and middle infield production is more abundant, so it’s easier to get quality production at those positions without paying up for big stars.

As a result, when you’re in, say, the 12th round of your draft, the best available outfielder or middle infielder is likely to be a more productive player than the best available corner infielder.

You can address the 1B position inexpensively and still have a strong overall offense, but it will be difficult for you to be competitive in the offensive categories if you don’t pay up at either first base or third base.

The bottom line: Don’t cut corners at the corners.

Let’s get into the first base tiers. In addition to the rankings and tiers themselves, I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.

Please note that these rankings are limited to players who appeared in at least 20 games at first base or played more games there than at any other position.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: First Basemen

Fantasy Baseball First Basemen Tiers & Draft Advice

Tier 1

This is the star tier. You could justify drafting any of these guys in the first two rounds of a 12-team draft.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s 2022 season didn’t quite measure up to his ridiculous MVP runner-up 2021 season, but it was still a terrific campaign: 32 HRs, 97 RBI, 90 runs and a .274 batting average. Vladito even ran a little, swiping a career-high eight bags. Guerrero is entering his age-24 season, and it will be fascinating to see just how close to the sun he’ll be able to fly when he reaches his peak.

One of the best pure hitters of his generation, Freddie Freeman has betted .300 or better in each of the last three seasons and six of the last seven. The man is a human laser show. Batting in a star-studded Dodgers lineup for the first time, Freeman reached 100 RBI for the first time since 2019 and scored 117 runs. He “only” hit 21 HRs, but you can live with a modest home run total when Freeman is so exceptional in three other categories. And, oh, by the way, Freeman had a career-high 13 stolen bases last year at age 32.

Cartoonish raw power is Pete Alonso‘s calling card, and the slugger affectionately known as “Polar Bear” gives you all those HRs and RBI without bringing down your team batting average. Alonso batted a career-best .271 last year while belting 40 home runs and racking up a league-high 131 RBI.

There’s a case to be made that Paul Goldschmidt should rank higher than fourth at the position after a monster season in which he batted .317 with 35 HR, 115 RBI and 106 runs. I’m just factoring in a bit of age-related risk for a player who’ll turn 36 before the end of the season — although Goldy is aging very gracefully thus far.

Tier 2

Some people will avoid Jose Abreu after he went from 30 home runs in 2021 to just 15 last season. Abreu’s exit velocity is still elite, but with an uptick in groundball frequency and a slight change in launch angle, only 10% of his flyballs cleared the fences — well below his career rate of 19%. I tend to think it was an anomaly and not age-related. Abreu batted .304 last year, and he’ll be playing his age-36 season with the Astros, which should help his RBI and runs totals. Take the discount if you get one.

You know what you’re getting with Matt Olson: big power and a so-so batting average. The power is bankable, and if the batting average is closer to .271 (his 2021 BA) than .240 (his 2022 BA), now we’re cooking with gas.

Tier 3

Vinnie Pasquantino had 10 home runs and batted .295 in basically half a season. What’s most intriguing about his rookie year is that he had more walks (35) than strikeouts (34). That selective approach and command of the strike zone suggests that his batting average will continue to be well above league average, and his exit velocity hints that there’s more power coming.

Nathaniel Lowe resides in Tier 3 but is capable of Tier 2 production. Last season’s .304 batting average might not be repeatable, and his high groundball rate could make it difficult for him to match his 27 home runs from last year. But Lowe makes a ton of hard contact and will reside in the heart of the Rangers’ batting order. I’m bullish even though it’s hard to project Lowe’s 2023 numbers.

It’s slightly concerning that Rhys Hoskins had a career-high groundball rate of 36% last season and a career-low flyball rate of 42%. That’s a worrisome trend for a player you’re rostering solely for power, because if you don’t get 30 bombs from Hoskins, that sub-.250 batting average is tougher to bear.

It’s tough to come to grips with the idea of Anthony Rizzo as a batting average liability, considering that he batted .273 or better in 7-of-9 seasons with the Cubs. But over the last three years, Rizzo has batted .222, .248 and .224. He smacked 32 home runs last year, tying a career high, but his HR total is more likely to be in the 20s even with the short right field porch in the Bronx. He’s a riskier investment than he used to be entering his age-33 season.

Tier 4

Jose Miranda struggled early in his rookie season, got demoted, then came back in late May and mashed for the next four months. Still only 24, Miranda has a bright future and offers dual 1B/3B eligibility.

Rowdy Tellez enjoyed a big power breakout in 2022, smacking 35 home runs in a full-time role with the Brewers. Unfortunately, that power came with a .219 batting average. Tellez is more appealing in OBP leagues than BA leagues.

This may be too low a ranking for Ty France, who has a .279 career batting average, belted 20 HRs last year and is squarely in the prime of his career. The ceiling for France is fairly limited, however.

Tier 5

Andrew Vaughn is an interesting youngster who makes a lot of hard contact, but he also hits a lot of groundballs, which might keep him from taking full advantage of a hitters’ park.

Jake Cronenworth has produced consistently good RBI and runs totals over the last two years, but his batting average has been moving in the wrong direction, slipping to .239 last year as his strikeout rate soared. Approach with caution.

Former No. 1 draft pick Spencer Torkelson‘s prospect pedigree didn’t translate in his rookie season, as he batted .208 with eight home runs in 404 plate appearances. Torkelson will be cheap this year, and he could come on fast.

Tier 6

After putting up 27 homers, 98 RBI and a .277 batting average in 2021, Jared Walsh crashed to earth in 2022, hitting 15 home runs with a .215 BA. His woes may have been largely health-related, as Walsh was shut down early so that he could undergo thoracic outlet syndrome. He’s still expected to be the Angels’ primary first baseman and could be a bounce-back candidate.

Eric Hosmer‘s name might make him a late-round target for some people, but the 33-year-old now offers little more than a respectable batting average. At some point, the Cubs might decide it’s not worth letting Hosmer block power-hitting prospect Matt Mervis.

Joey Votto turns 40 in September. He’s clearly not the hitter he used to be, but he’ll probably do better than last year’s .205 batting average in what might be his MLB curtain call.

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