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Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen (2024)

If your first baseman strategy for 2024 amounts to, “Acquire Freddie Freeman at any cost” … well, that’s not a bad strategy.

First base is a tricky position for fantasy baseball managers. In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Major League Baseball was teeming with first basemen capable of bopping 30 home runs, batting .300, or both. No longer is that the case. Freeman is the current gold standard at the position — a throwback to the era of heavy-hitting first basemen.

The 1B position isn’t completely bereft of upper-echelon talent, but several of the top first basemen are likely to be overpriced. (More on that in a bit.)

An influx of good young first basemen is raising hopes that the position will be deeper than it’s been in recent years, but which of those youngsters are ready to take a major step forward, and which of them won’t be able to match or improve upon their promising 2023 campaigns?

And speaking of age, with Atlanta’s Matt Olson turning 30 in March, all of the top three first basemen in the FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings are 30 or older. A few other trusted brand names — Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Abreu, Anthony Rizzo — are now in their mid or late 30s and could go tumbling over the age cliff at any time.

It probably makes sense to meld your first base strategy with your third base strategy since most leagues require you to roster one of each, along with a third player who can play either of those two positions. Third base is a rather challenging position, too. Between the 1B and 3B positions, there are maybe 10-12 true stars.

It’s a good idea to acquire at least one of those true stars 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 competition at the corners. Since Freeman is the best player at either position, that wouldn’t be a bad place to drop your anchor.

Positional scarcity is also likely to make middle-class corner infields more expensive than middle-class outfielders or middle infielders. If fantasy managers don’t fill one or two of the corner spots in the early rounds of a draft or in the big-money phase of an auction, they’re more likely to overpay for middle-class corner infielders later on. Outfield and middle infield production is more abundant, so it’s easier to get quality production at those positions without paying up for big stars. Once you get to the middle rounds of a draft, the best available outfielder or middle infielder will probably be better than the best available corner infielder.

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.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen (2024)

(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.)

Tier 1

Freddie Freeman (LAD)

Steady Freddie Freeman is a tier unto himself. He’ll turn 35 in September, but Father Time hasn’t started blowing fastballs by Freeman yet. The Dodgers first baseman had a career-high 211 hits last season, posted the second-best batting average (.331) and on-base percentage (.410) of his career, led the league with 59 doubles, and had a career-high 23 stolen bases. Freeman has driven in 100 or more runs in each of his two seasons in Los Angeles, and he’s scored at least 117 runs in three consecutive seasons. Simply put, Freeman is an offensive warlord. According to FantasyPros ADP data, Freeman is coming off the board in the middle of the first round in 12-team drafts. I would consider taking him as early as No. 2 overall, behind only Ronald Acuna.

Tier 2

Matt Olson (ATL)
Bryce Harper (PHI)

One of the most dependable power hitters in the game, Matt Olson led the league in home runs (54) and RBI (139) last season while posting a career-best .283 batting average. You can’t count on BA help from Olson, a career .256 hitter, but he never disappoints in the power categories. Since 2018, Olson has averaged a home run every 14.9 at-bats. He’s delivered at least 34 home runs and 103 RBI in each of the last three seasons. And Olson is remarkably durable. He hasn’t missed a game since 2021, and he’s played every single game in four of the last six seasons.

Bryce Harper certainly isn’t as durable as Olson, but when he’s healthy, Harper is going to mash. Offseason elbow surgery delayed the start of his 2023 season until early May, but Harper still put up strong all-around numbers, batting .293 with 21 home runs, 72 RBI, 84 runs and 11 stolen bases. Harper had only five HRs going into August but then blasted 16 more over the final two months of the season and five more in the playoffs. Harper’s average and maximum exit velocities are consistently elite. His ability to stay healthy is the only concern, and now that Harper is in his 30s, the injury risk has to be accounted for when deciding whether to pay the sticker price.

Tier 3

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR)
Pete Alonso (NYM)
Paul Goldschmidt (STL)

The fantasy managers who paid a steep price for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. probably aren’t eager to re-up after a relatively disappointing season in which Vladito batted .264 and posted his lowest HR, RBI and runs totals of the past three seasons. But this is a player who batted .311 and smashed 48 home runs in 2021, and he’s only entering his age-25 season. Guerrero’s average exit velocity last season was in the 91st percentile, and his hard-hit rate was in the 88th percentile. Guerrero’s ADP (25th overall) suggests there won’t be a discount coming off a letdown season, but there’s a case to be made that a hitter who’s turned in several good seasons and is still at a pre-peak age is a worthwhile investment.

If home runs and RBI are the meat and potatoes of fantasy baseball, Pete Alonso is MLB’s version of Guy Fieri. The Mets’ slugger has been dishing up comfort food ever since he bashed 53 home runs as a rookie in 2019. In four full seasons (not counting the abbreviated 2020 COVID-19 season), Alonso has averaged 44 home runs and 115.8 RBIs per year. He finished third in the league in home runs (46) last season and second in RBI (118). Don’t fret about Alonso’s uncharacteristically low .217 batting average last season, which was driven by a fluky-low .205 batting average on balls in play.

Paul Goldschmidt gave his investors a great season in 2022, winning the National League MVP Award. But Goldschmidt stakeholders had to settle for a merely good season in 2023. Goldy’s .268 batting average was his lowest since 2019, and his .810 OPS was his lowest since his rookie season in 2011. Should we worry that the 36-year-old Goldschmidt is headed for the age cliff? His 93rd-percentile hard-hit percentage suggests his bat is still potent, and with an ADP outside the top 60, Goldschmidt is much more affordable than he was a year ago.

Tier 4

Christian Walker (ARI)
Josh Naylor (CLE)
Yandy Diaz (TB)
Triston Casas (BOS)
Nathaniel Lowe (TEX)
Spencer Torkelson (DET)

The Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker mashed 33 home runs last season and topped the 100-RBI mark for the first time in his career. Walker has become the discount version of Pete Alonso, providing bankable power numbers. The only minor concern is that Walker is entering his age-33 season.

With his fire-hydrant physique and burgeoning batting skills, Josh Naylor is a fun player to roster. Just don’t overpay for the privilege. Naylor had a .326 BABIP last year and hit .363 with runners in scoring position, so expect some batting average and RBI regression.

Triston Casas got off to a horrible start in 2023, batting .133 in April. He rallied to post a .263 batting average for the season with 20 HRs and 65 RBI before being shut down in September with a shoulder injury. Assuming the shoulder is fine, Casas offers 30-homer potential as a Fenway mainstay.

After a disappointing 2022 debut, Spencer Torkelson fully arrived in 2023, hitting 31 home runs with 94 RBI and 88 runs scored. The only question is whether the 24-year-old Torkelson will tank your team batting average. He batted .203 as a rookie and .233 last season. If Torkelson can just get his average up to .240, his power will make him well worth the investment.

Tier 5

Rhys Hoskins (MIL)
Jose Abreu (HOU)
Spencer Steer (CIN)
Justin Turner (TOR)
Vinnie Pasquantino (KC)
Anthony Rizzo (NYY)
Andrew Vaughn (CWS)

Former Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins missed the entire 2023 season after tearing his ACL in March. Hoskins, who’s topped 30 home runs in three of his last four full seasons, will now take his talents to Milwaukee, which has one of the league’s most power-friendly parks.

Jose Abreu’s bat might be slowing down. The 37-year-old Abreu had a career-worst .233 batting average last year, and his average exit velocity took a nosedive. On the bright side, Abreu’s run production perked up after a sluggish start. He had 17 HRs and 70 RBI from June on. Abreu has two years left on a big contract, so the Astros figure to keep playing him in 2024 unless there’s a total collapse.

Spencer Steer was a pleasant jack-of-all-trades surprise for the Reds last season, with 23 home runs, 15 stolen bases, 74 runs, 86 RBI and a .271 batting average. Can we count on a repeat? Steer’s Statcast data — a 37th percentile average exit velocity, a 26th percentile hard-hit rate, etc. – doesn’t provide a ringing endorsement. Fading Steer in 2024 might be the right play.

I was hoping 26-year-old Vinnie Pasquantino would come at a discount in 2024 drafts after the majority of his 2023 season was wiped out by a torn labrum, but Pasquantino is typically coming off the board in the 12th round of 12-team drafts — not much of a discount. If there are no ill effects from the shoulder injury, Pasquantino should be good for 20-plus home runs and a solid batting average.

Tier 6

Alex Kirilloff (MIN)
Josh Bell (MIA)
Ryan Mountcastle (BAL)
Ty France (SEA)
Christian Encarnacion-Strand (CIN)
Jake Cronenworth (SD)
Rowdy Tellez (PIT)
Elehuris Montero (COL)
Wilmer Flores (SF)
LaMonte Wade (SF)
Ryan O’Hearn (BAL)

Wrist and shoulder injuries have slowed the ascent of Alex Kirilloff, a former first-round draft pick. Those injuries have also made Kirilloff a draft value. The 26-year-old Kirilloff is a line drive machine who batted .324 during his years in the minors. He’s slated to start at first base for the Twins and could be a sneaky source of production.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand clubbed eight home runs and batted .301 in September after making his MLB debut in July. He has big-time power, but Christian Encarnacion-Strand is blocked (for the time being) by Jeimer Candelario, who was signed in the offseason to play first base for the Reds. Don’t overpay.

Josh Bell was much better for the Marlins than he was for the Guardians last season, batting .270 with 11 home runs in 53 games for Miami. At age 31, Bell is basically a league-average first baseman, but his lack of sizzle might make him a good value to fill your corner spot in the late rounds.

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