2017 Rankings: Top 25 First Basemen for Fantasy Baseball
I went over the Top 25 Catchers earlier this week and it’s time for some more rankings. The preseason prognosticating here at Pitcher List continues with a rundown of the fellows who play first base you’ll want to keep at the forefront of your fantasy brain for their prowess at the plate.
Tier 1: Take Me Out To The Bank Vault
1a. Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) — Every name mentioned in this tier has a fearsome fantasy outlook that will be worth its weight in a precious metal of your choosing, and Bryant kicks things off. A genuine superstar is just beginning to show us what he’s capable of, and frankly, I think it would be rather a difficult task to argue that the reigning NL MVP doesn’t belong near the pinnacle of your draft order. While Anthony Rizzo does tend to man first more often for the Cubbies, Bryant’s right beneath him on the depth chart and is eligible in Yahoo leagues. Bryant has monstrous upside and is a threat to score triple digits in RBI and runs all over again, all while probably accumulating an average in the .280s neighborhood. 40.3% hard contact in 2016 is simply obscene. Constructive critics will want him to boost his Z-contact percentage a bit, but it clearly hasn’t limited him thus far. If Bryant falls past the No. 5 overall pick in your draft, multiple people in your league are drunk. You are to acquire him with a vicious quickness and prepare for an onslaught of offensive output from Bryant. He is the crisp $100 bill stack of 1B-eligible fantasy studs.
1b. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) — He might be 33, but Cabrera is still making the competition look silly with ludicrously elite power and efficiency as a batter. In nine seasons with Detroit, his worst year hitting for average was his first: .292 in 2008. For context and reference—because to be this good this long defies logic— Cabrera’s BABIP has been .330 or higher ever since. A mortal lock to crush it for you day in and day out, don’t be shocked if he pushes for a .315 BA. The guy has won four of the last six AL batting titles, and some people won’t want to handle the truth that he’ll be in the hunt for another all over again. Cabrera should easily fly by the 25 HR mark, too. He doesn’t steal bases but is going to have you constantly contending for league-bests in other offensive metrics. A first-round pick in leagues of any size, I hereby proclaim “In Miggy We Trust” should adorn the $50 bill if Ulysses S. Grant’s ghost is cool with it.
2. Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks) — As synonymous with fantasy baseball success as a Reese’s factory worker is with the smell of peanut butter, Goldy is one of the most dominant and versatile players you could possibly dream of having on your team. He should unwaveringly be counted on to hit between .285 and .300, and that could end up being a conservative prediction. Goldschmidt WILL steal a minimum of 20 bases with potential for more and will thereby lead that statistical category at the position. He’d score 80 runs and 80 RBI blindfolded so feel free to desire marks in the 90s. The Gold Standard is a national treasure, a commodity that must be drafted as someone’s first-round selection, likely in the No. 3 to No. 8 range.
3. Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs) — We’re only two positions into these preseason rankings, but the Cubs have four guys who occupy Top 5 spots in both lists. Rizzo is the final member of Tier 1 first basemen and manifests excellence right along with the trio slotting in above him. These four guys are the only ones projected to post more than 130 weighted runs created AND a wOBA of greater than .380, so it is pretty elementary to delineate between them and the occupants of Tier 2. Encouraging is the fact that Rizzo’s been getting better at the power aspect of his job by boosting his ISO rating for five successive seasons; he treated fans at Wrigley to a blistering .252 clip last year. I like Rizzo for 85 runs and 90 RBI easy, and cross your fingers for the delivery of more. Of all eligible 1B across the league, it’s going to be a three-way shootout between Rizzo, Bryant and Cabrera when it comes to who will go yard more over the season. I’d be stunned and a little confused if Rizzo isn’t one of your league’s first 10 players taken, and you must move to get him if he is weirdly skipped. Whether Andrew Jackson or Harriet Tubman is adorning the $20 in the coming years, consider Rizzo to be the 1B fantasy version of said denomination in a rubber-banded bundle. If you nab him after Pick 10, he’d be the unexpected stroke of luck that is a $20 bill you stumble upon in an old jacket pocket.
Tier 2: Time to Open a Checking Account with Jars Full of Change
4. Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds) — The fact that monetary analogies are the route I decided to go with comes in handy here, as it’s essentially a coin toss between these next two guys who figures to have a better 2017. This next tier features guys that are wonderfully valuable: bringing jars of them to a Coinstar would make you quite a prosperous person indeed. There’s plenty of evidence to argue in favor of either Votto or Freddie Freeman here, so it comes down to a gut feeling as to which data and trends you are more motivated to reason with. During preseason roundtable discussions, the Pitcher List staff actually ranked Freeman above Fiery Red Joe, but that gut feeling and a couple more obscure numbers in the latter’s favor has me executively deciding to flip-flop them. Votto, like Cabrera, is 33 and still at the top of his game, earning 101 Runs and 97 RBI last year by way of a resplendent .326 BA. The guy usually enjoys a BB/K ratio approaching 1.00 and thus experiences an implicit boost to OBP. Add in the ensuing stolen bag he earns every now and again, and you’re talking about an offensive juggernaut. Having excellent power and that combination of plate discipline and occasional speed comprise a package that is hard to bet against. Only a fool would permit Votto to fall to the third round in a 12-teamer. It gives me physical discomfort and anxiety to consider that this might happen in any league.
5. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves) — As discussed above, you can’t help but appreciate how evenly matched Votto and Freeman seem to be on paper in advance of the season. Votto should have the scoring edge as well as a higher average, wOBA, weighted runs created and BB/K by a small margin, while Freeman is slated to outdo his Cincy counterpart in HR, SLG, ISO and RBI. So, again, if you put a gun to my head, I’m PROBABLY picking Votto but it’s by no means an easy decision. Freeman’s hard contact numbers ascended to an unfathomable 43.5% last year from high 30s during the four previous seasons: I expect a “regression” down to the 37-40 range in 2017, if it can even be fairly called that. His 2016 BABIP of .370 was clearly in a top gear that probably isn’t sustainable, but Freeman should be empirically able to hit 25 bombs with no questions asked (vice 34 from last year). I mentioned ISO, and his registering above .200 should not be beyond consideration. Despite playing for a rebuilding Atlanta franchise, he does project to bat third after a budding young talent in Dansby Swanson; having fresh legs on base for his at-bats hopefully helps spur Freeman’s RBI total on well into the 90s. 80 RBI is the absolute lowest floor imaginable for him. And, by the grace of God, Matt Kemp has decided he likes getting RBI himself again in ATL’s cleanup spot, so that helps Freeman’s chances to cross the plate personally with frequency. He will and should be owned before 30 picks happen in your draft. (Side note: the Braves now have Brandon Phillips in the mix after acquiring him from the Reds over the weekend, so Atlanta could be on the up-and-up if these bats all get hot together.)
6. Edwin Encarnacion (Cleveland Indians) — Arguably the biggest free agency signing of the offseason, Cleveland has landed itself a bona fide bomber in Encarnacion. Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona are truly hoping his $20M/yr bat can start cranking balls out of Progressive Field en route to another year of being a legitimate contender for a deep run into October. Fortunate fantasy owners obviously stand to benefit from Encarnacion’s robust swing as well if they are able to roster him. The only reason he dips to this spot and tier is his average: he’s good for mid-30s in HRs, plus or minus several either way, but will probably be batting no better than .260 on the year for the Tribe (and that’s even if rum and cigars are offered as tribute to the right voodoo idol). 80-85 runs and 90ish RBI sounds about right on the money. An additional thing to especially love about the Dominican star is his plate discipline. His career Z-contact is 87.8% and he was only swinging at approximately 24% of pitches thrown outside the zone last year. It’s obviously worth mentioning that Progressive Field is more antagonistic toward RHB than Toronto’s Rogers Centre, but that’s already been accounted for because 42 homers isn’t a mark Encarnacion figures to repeat in 2017. He has DH eligibility too, which means you could still reap the benefits of his offense while snagging another competitive 1B on this list to flesh out your lineup. Assuming a 12-teamer league, his value increases exponentially at the start of the third round.
7. Hanley Ramirez (Boston Red Sox) — If Encarnacion is a roll of quarters inside your team’s hand that’s suddenly packing a much harder punch and inflicting crushing damage, Ramirez would be the roll of dimes in the other hand that’s jabbing with force and knocking teeth out. Fresh off a 30 HR showing, the guy could conceivably rate well hitting for average this year too, with .270-.275 being the bare minimum expectation and .280ish probably being right on the money. He constitutes the third and final leg of the tripod upon which Goldschmidt’s first basemen steals title trophy will sit: Rizzo, Votto and Ramirez should all get anywhere from 7-10 steals if they run intelligently. Ramirez anchors what is debatably the best middle third of a batting order league-wide, in between Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr., with Xander Bogaerts in place before them all to set that corps up for success. Expect Ramirez’s run total to be solid and his RBI number to be fantastic—to the tune of 80 and 90, respectively—if he gets the playing time he deserves at both 1B and DH. Soft contact percentage needs to go down into the teens where it was during his Dodger days, but his production in Boston cannot be disputed so this is a small bone to pick. Steamer predictions have him marked down for SLG comparable to Votto’s and 23 HRs, and he’s capable of more. Encarnacion’s HR total with a lower average necessitates him being in this mix of guys, but the truth is that Ramirez is not far behind the skills and numerical optimism circulating around Votto and Freeman. He belongs right here in these rankings and while he COULD be considered for an overall pick in the 40s, you might oddly see him drop to the fifth round unless you’re playing fantasy with either Boston fans or in a non-keeper league with somebody who had him last year and already gets it. Like what was said about Encarnacion, Ramirez’s value skyrockets if he drops past No. 50.
8. Daniel Murphy (Washington Nationals) — A preposterous 2016 average for Murphy saw him come within a thousandth of a point of the NL batting title, losing to Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu after needing some time off to recover from a buttocks strain. Even if a fortuitously inflated BABIP of .348 “crashes” down to .315, Murphy should still be one of the most efficient hitters in all of baseball. His hard-to-soft contact ratio was impeccable last year. Anticipating a step back in HR/FB to the 8-10% range from a career-high 12 last season seems sensible, and even at that rate Murphy will be in great shape to create at the plate for Washington. Pure power has not historically been Murphy’s forte, however, so I can’t justify an expectation of anything anywhere near his 2016 mark of .249 ISO. Perhaps we’ll see that his style is actually evolving and he’s overhauling an already offensively prolific approach, but I would truly be blown away if he sends 25 into the outfield bleachers and gets 100 RBI again this year. Let’s safely say 20 and 85, and that’s a check worth inking. Bryce Harper is the cleanup man behind him, so that adds weight to a projection of a significant number of runs scored since his OBP should be slightly better than Ramirez’s. The most outstanding Murphy sabermetric of which you should be aware is a mindboggling career Z-contact of 94.8%, also known as the stuff of pitchers’ nightmares. Murphy plays 2B primarily but is 1B-eligible, and roster flexibility makes him more valuable than you may have already thought. Flip-flop him with Ramirez and I won’t fight you. Nobody has any business bypassing him if it’s the fourth round and he’s inexplicably still on the board.
9. Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians) — I was initially tempted to drop Santana to Tier 3 because it felt unnatural to place him in the same echelon as Encarnacion, but the data do not ultimately support the move to separate them. Steamer projects the two to hit for the same average of .254, to have almost precisely inverse numbers of runs and RBI—94 and 79 for Santana, 79 and 91 for EE—and to offset a deficit in steals or HRs with an identical advantage in the other category. Still with me? They exhibit comparable disciplinary behavior at the plate, and Santana is doing all the right things of late to improve his contact and HR/FB ratios. A slight chink in his armor might seem that he pulls to same-side field over half the time…until you remember he’s a switch hitter, meaning his bat is just plain versatile and to not pay attention to that deceiving statistic. STATS, Inc. puts him as a Top 12 first baseman but with shockingly low ADP, so stay watchful and get the second half of the Cleveland 1B/DH tandem for wonderful value if you use your earlier pick on another position and miss Edwin.
10. Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles) — To quell any protestation from those who would accuse me of Cleveland bias or think I’m conveniently cherry-picking logic with which to assign rankings spots, I’ll go ahead and say Davis probably deserves to be higher than tenth in this list with his monumental power. But his average is wholly terrible when stacked up against the Tier 2 competition. Just as when a Top 25 college basketball team’s poll spot stays the same after upsetting a Top 5 team at home and then losing a tough conference road game in OT to a competitive unranked opponent in the same week, my thinking is akin to that here. Crush Davis should hit 30-35 jacks without question in 2017, so that sends him to the top of the heap in that 5×5 category among 1B. But to hit for .221 last year and possibly no better than .240 this year makes him a worthy member in this posse of baseball demigods, but he’s one with a singularly brutal flaw we must accept and come to terms with. Everybody should outpace him in BA, so that truncates his ability to help you win H2H matchups singlehandedly if the HR dominance is coming at a severe cost. His ADP has one of the biggest standard deviations of anybody worth considering at 1B, making Davis an awesome pick if you like the tradeoff for no SB and horrendous average for Top 5 power and run production. Tough to tell you where to take him, since the interest in his unique mixture of fantasy appeal will vary for everybody depending on whom you’ve already rostered. Fourth round is too early, fifth or sixth is likely way too late. All I know is I would rather have the guy above him for his particular balanced blend of output but I’m taking Davis over Abreu, so that seals his placement right here.
11. Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox) — In prognosticating what will happen during Abreu’s fourth season in MLB since defecting from Cuba in 2013, it becomes less blind forecasting and more data-rich analysis we can engage in now that we have a substantial sample set of him playing ball on American soil. He rebounded with both a slightly better batting average and BB/K ratio in 2016, and he has never NOT hit 100 RBI during his White Sox tenure. However, his ISO is way down and his soft contact percentage is creeping up into the 20s, while hard contact has descended to 32.7% as of last year. So have we seen Abreu’s best already? He just turned 30, and you’d like to think the regression line plotted through his BABIP data points signifies he’ll be playing at a .320 level in 2017. That’s still excellent, but it also feels deep down as though he has the physical tools to be an even more colossal weapon for Chicago than he already is. Sixty-seven runs scored is a shade lower than what Tier 2 caliber talent should be bringing to the table: Abreu should definitely score more than that this year, perhaps high 70s with some help from Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier. He was trending in the right direction during the second half of 2016 if you take a look at his splits, so that also hopefully bodes well. A .280 average and 90 RBI could be accurate. Perhaps it’s overly critical, but being alone in the century club for RBI is what made Abreu uniquely valuable at the position for 5×5 format consideration. Consequently, if that doesn’t figure to happen again, he is absolutely not a Top 10 grab at the position. Still a great choice but he is no better than a fifth-round acquisition with the current status quo.
Tier 3: A Summer’s Worth of Allowance? Your Piggy Bank is Decently Full
12. Wil Myers (San Diego Padres) — This tier is made up of all the guys I have some reservations about but who could ultimately show that patience does sometimes pay off—mind the pennies and the dollars will mind themselves, and that sort of thing. Myers is the first to pose a bit of a quandary. He is a better-than-decent but seemingly inconsistent hitter for average over his career in the bigs, and while he did not sport an unusually deviant BABIP last year he managed to score 99 times, drive 94 runs in and steal 28 bases in 2016. Wait, did I read that correctly? I beg your PARDON, sir. If these numbers hold up into 2017, this guy is going to indefatigably rise up and entrench himself in the top tier with no ifs, ands or buts. And therefore, because I overthink things and want to solve problems rather than just accept things for what they may be, I am searching for what the catch is with Myers. Does he escape national attention because he plays for the terrible Padres? Is this a fluke? Is he just putting himself into uncommonly good situations with smart baserunning? Is it wise to interpret his numbers as an earned inflation of his 5×5 stock without pure reliance on his bat? Do we trust him to do it again? So many questions. This is the ranking I’m most willing to label as fluid because baseball NEEDS Myers to be this dynamic. The downtrodden city of San Diego needs so badly for the Padres to elevate it to a relevant caliber of sports town again. Stubborn skepticism and stodgy commitment to a pure approach to looking at statistics don’t lend themselves to emotionally giving a guy a Top 10 ranking just because it seems nice. Mediocre BB/K, respectable ISO, excellent weighted runs created, magnificent HR/FB, and hard contact percentage is right where it needs to be. Steamer has him getting into the 70s in runs and RBI with 18 steals to go along with a .256 BA and 24 HRs. He PROBABLY belongs in Tier 2 based on the steals count alone, but we will perhaps ill-advisedly sit tight for the moment and have our hand on the red handset waiting for the governor’s phone call. STATS, Inc., has him going before the completion of most conventional fifth rounds and as early as 32nd overall. There’s no way I’d recommend using anything better than a fourth-round pick to get him, but don’t risk letting his value slide into somebody else’s roster later on if you don’t have some speed accounted for yet. He’s got OF eligibility for Yahoo leagues too, which sweetens the pot a little bit for owners.
13. Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals) — If anybody wanted to declare Hosmer meritoriously deserving of a spot in Tier 2, I would consider honoring that nomination. Hosmer’s a solid run creator for Kansas City and he has done me numerous fantasy favors in the past. His descent all the way to here comes purely from the inkling that he underperforms in 2017, compared to the bar he has set so high for himself the last two seasons. 104 RBI last year? He gets fewer, perhaps 90. 98 runs in 2015, 80 last year, and we’ll follow the pattern and set 85 as his ceiling with an expectation for 77. He’s never been an exemplary power guy, so the 25-bomb barrage he’s coming off seems like an aberration and I am increasingly suspicious of a career ISO of .151. Santana is trending up, Abreu is trending down and Hosmer is a soul stuck in purgatory in my weird metaphysical fantasy baseball universe. It’s good for baseball when he’s on his game, helping make Kansas City relevant and AL Central ball a pleasure to witness. Picture it this way: he’s driving a matte-finish DIY muscle car that sounds like it’s got the chops to go the distance and I’m waiting for the light to change to see what he does before I try to hop behind him and enjoy the aerodynamic thrill of being tucked within his ample wake. Hosmer could have a season on par with a red-hot Ramirez, or he could be just respectably decent and properly placed outside the circle of trust reserved for elite and well-rounded 1B. Hoz’s average will be highly competitive: let’s go with .275 as a best-case scenario, coupled with 20 HRs and low-to-mid 80s for runs and RBI. Teetering on the edge of glory but he literally plays in Missouri so he’s going to have to show me something more first before I anoint him. If he steals 10 bases, he earns an automatic promotion. Decent value in the fifth round and a true gold mine in the sixth.
14. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals) — Carpenter is too good at everything to be considered less than a top 15 guy at all three positions for which he is eligible in both ESPN and Yahoo fantasy leagues. Hosmer is projected to outdo him in four of the five criteria for 5×5 formats, so this is a comfortable nestling place for a hyper-useful fantasy asset in Carpenter. A rare and exquisitely deployable 1B/2B/3B, he bats third for St. Louis after Aledmys Diaz. He’s an extra-base hit machine, so I like him to smoothly sail into the 70s in RBI and 90 runs represent an attainable, if challenging, goal. He’s one of the few hitters boasting a hard contact percentage in the 40s that’s attractively paired with a soft contact percentage in single digits. Sixth-round acquisition is recommended and seventh-round is mandatory because of how much you can move him around and not have anything to worry about sabermetrically other than steals.
15. Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) — Already discussed in Pitcher List’s Top 25 Fantasy Catchers for 2017 was how Posey is a simply fantastic fantasy prospect year in and year out in spite of playing in one of the league’s most brutal batting venues in AT&T Park. The fact that he is a threat to impressively cross the .300 threshold while posting somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-odd runs and RBI both is what snuck him in to Tier 3. Carpenter’s HR/FB ratio, Z-contact, aforementioned hard/soft ratio and good eye not swinging at stuff outside the zone are all better than Posey’s. However, ADP will get confusing because there are so few elite catchers in the game: Posey will go far earlier in most drafts than Carpenter and others mentioned, even though he’s a less well-rounded a hitter than some 1Bs above him on this list, so bear this in mind.
Tier 4: I’ve Got One Hand In My Pocket
16. Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels) — We have now reached the layer of players where you are not necessarily out of viable options at 1B to be able to survive in your league, but you are definitely sweating whether you’ll have to shore up other areas given the résumé and potential of your everyday starter. Your fantasy car ran out of gas in an unfamiliar town, but the good news is you’re mobile with some change and crumpled bills in your jeans. You’re at the crossroads of deciding whether to hop on a bus or perhaps hail a taxicab: everything’s going to be fine, you just don’t know with supreme confidence how this Choose Your Own Adventure is going to play out just yet. Pujols is perfectly fine if you are lacking for production at your 1B slot, and the 37-year-old should be able to promise you a .260-plus average and mid-20s in HRs. He’s going to get a fair amount of starts at DH, and you can’t count on him for steals at all. Feel free to hold me accountable if I’m proven wrong here: a reprise of last year’s 119 RBI is not happening. Angels fans should just accept that that was a fun, one-off spike on the seismograph tracking their team’s offense because the earthquake has subsided and Pujols projects to drive no more than 90 in this year. I like him for 70 runs as well. So, to summarize, if 20ish jacks are accepted as possible, I want Myers’ steals, Posey’s BA, Carpenter’s runs or Hosmer’s RBI upside before I decide to claim what Pujols will generate as my own. I’m keeping an eye on the silent killer that is a slowly ballooning soft contact percentage, but his hard numbers are still good. Z-contact is still in the low 90s so I’m happy if I still have need at 1B and get him wearing my jersey in the seventh round. Reaching for him earlier just won’t pan out for the opportunity cost of what you’re surrendering.
17. Brandon Belt (San Francisco Giants) — Belt is one of the better remaining options at the position, as far as projected wOBA numbers of guys slated to sit fewer than 30 games throughout this year. He is a good value grab if you need depth too or really even just require a 1B bat that will help and not hurt, at this point. Simply put, he’s a poor man’s Hosmer, sporting a lower average and less productive power than his fellow lefty. Expect only teens of homers from Belt with a serviceable BA that’s perhaps in the high .260s and 70-plus runs and RBI. Stealing is a skill set you’ll have to pursue elsewhere if drafting Belt. Not a scrub by any stretch of the imagination if you didn’t land a gentleman ranked higher.
18. Tommy Joseph (Philadelphia Phillies) — There is one reason only that Pujols and Joseph outrank Joseph on this list. We’re just 107 games into Joseph’s career in the majors, and one should avoid making overly bold predictions with extrapolated data when a sophomore slump or a searing breakout season are each possible. He’s still a young guy and clearly eager to connect at the plate, perhaps explaining why his swing rate at pitches outside the zone is a troublesome 34.7%. The good news is that meaningful contact is still happening for Joseph, and plate discipline could and should absolutely improve as he gains experience. A corollary of this is that his BB/K situation is also not where it needs to be, which in turn limits his OBP and wOBA. He’s got some things to tweak to become more of a household name but we fantasy nerds are already paying attention. With the critique out of the way, he should be very valuable to Philly this year. If Steamer’s projections come anywhere close to being remotely accurate, Joseph will pierce through to Tier 3 with ease. 28 HRs seems high but his HR/FB rate was at 18.9% last year. Let’s split the difference and say 15% happens for 25 HRs and if he can pull off even a .255 average, he’s leapfrogging some guys. Extremely potent sleeper pick to be your backup 1B, at worst, because of this power potential. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, two and three spots back from him in the order, could help his cause by reaching base for his at-bats: 75 RBI looks nearly guaranteed at this point. Dark horse candidate for a unexpectedly fantastic 2017, but again, it’s wise to play conservatively and not draft him above his current value.
19. Adrian Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers) — Batting cleanup right now in Dodger Stadium is a pretty sweet gig. Corey Seager and Justin Turner are going to feature at prominent spots in our shortstop and 3B rankings later in the week, and AdGon gets to step up to the plate and rack up the RBIs when they’re in scoring position. His BA registers in the mid-.270s range when he has a down-BABIP year, and he should have a decent chance of getting 20 or more home runs. He turns 35 this year but still distributes the ball pretty evenly around the park with low-to-mid 30s in hard contact percentage. Yasmani Grandal jacking homers with him on base would help Gonzalez’s run total, so let’s forecast in the 60s for that particular measurement. Quite a solid option for not being too flashy and a hitter in a great situation: you could be in good shape if you have him as part of a two- or three-man platoon with 1B eligibility.
20. Mike Napoli (Texas Rangers) — Just signed to a one-year deal with Texas just one week ago today, the man who paired with Santana to be the poster boys for power in Cleveland in the successful 2016 that led to their World Series appearance could be in a fun spot to produce decently for you. The only reason he is anywhere outside the Top 15 is because it’s tough to get a feel for a) how well Texas will utilize his skill set if he does indeed fit in to that lineup and b) how much of 2016 was career-best stuff we can’t rely on happening once more. 34 HRs with 92 runs and 101 RBI means that you can bat an annoying low .239 and nobody will care. Nap also played in 150 regular season games, which may also not happen again. If everything goes according to plan, he should have a year no worse statistically neck-and-neck with a Pujols. Belt offers a better BA but Napoli has more power with comparable scoring/RBI predictions in the 70s so I like him in this tier tentatively. It is going to be a damn pleasure watching him bat cleanup at DH after Adrian Beltre with Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy on deck behind him: Napoli is surrounded on all sides by hitting excellence so if his numbers take flight he will ascend to Tier 2 or 3 and make owners squeal with joy. Again, I expect this ranking to maybe seem ludicrously low if and when he finds his stride in Arlington, Texas, but you have to temper expectations from a 2016 of all-time personal bests. On a positive note, hard contact percentage has clocked in north of 36.5% in three of his last four campaigns. Unproven in Ranger blue, but Napoli is brewing a perfect storm of upside and opportunity. Get him as low as the ninth or 10th round and you could look like a genius come September.
21. Greg Bird (New York Yankees) — He could steadily and industriously produce in the ballpark of 60-plus for both RBI and runs for the Pinstripers. Slated to bat for an average comparable to that of Joseph and Pujols with some solid power. Bird has opportunity knocking on his door, as New York has been developing him within its exemplary farm system since 2011 and the kid showed flashes of brilliance in 47 MLB games two years ago. A surgically repaired torn labrum is what he has laboriously worked back from, so the small sample size of his work and our lack of knowledge as to how his motion will look now is why I’m being so cautious with the ranking. Bird could very well be one of the steals of your draft if you’ve done more research than your leaguemates and know to snag him (remember how clever people seemed last year when they drafted Trevor Story, before he went down with injury? That’s what this scenario seems reminiscent of). I personally am going to target him later if possible in my drafts as a streamable option, a project to cultivate and perhaps watch bloom in my UTIL spots while I cement my 1B spots with others from the Top 20. Upside
Tier 5: Starsky and Hutch Want To Get Lucky
22. C.J. Cron (Los Angeles Angels) — To explain this tier’s title, you are pretty desperate at this point and will take anything you can get without any modicum of decency or chivalry. Luis Valbuena is projected to start with Pujols at DH for the Angels, but Cron deserves a look here because I see him getting more and more opportunities for playing time throughout the year. It’s the conservative move to have him down here and not locked in as your starter until the Angels confirm him as theirs. He’s a sneaky late-round guy to snag for decent average nudging .270 and competitive RBI totals. His splits from 2016 show consistency between the two halves of the season down to one thousandth of a point in batting average and he was certainly turning heads later on. Not a great ISO rating as things stand right now so he shouldn’t get further than midway through the teens for home runs. Some fantasy folk may avoid him if they don’t like the starting lineup situation, so you could come up smelling like roses with a bench stash that provides a boost from the UTIL spot as needed. To get 113 hits in 116 games last year isn’t bad at all, so keep him on your radar for sure as his young career looks to burgeon.
23. Lucas Duda (New York Mets) — You’re treading water in the draft, but your legs are getting tired and you really want to not completely screw the fantasy baseball pooch this year. Duda is just not a dynamite pick as a starting 1B because he doesn’t hit for a sexy average at all and you’re not sure if you can count on him regaining his 20-plus-homer form from 2015. An ISO in the .190s would be nice, as would touching what seems like a ceiling of 60 runs and 65 RBI; there are just too many question marks for me to place my fantasy hopes and dreams in the hands of a .246 career hitter who may not compensate me with as many bleacher torpedoes as I desire. Duda strikes out a ton for someone who doesn’t figure to reward you with the power that normally makes that worth struggling through (see: Napoli). Projected wOBA is in the neighborhood of Pujols but I’m having a hard time letting last year’s disgusting OBP of .302 go. His solid history of hard-to-soft contact ratios that are better than what he posted last year is one of the things keeping him above a Justin Bour for me. You should easily be capable of landing a guy with more statistical upside but the theme here is either desperation or a desire for depth so I guess picking him up if you have voids that need filled is acceptable.
24. Chris Carter (New York Yankees) — This ranking is entirely a byproduct of me being a Carter hater. sure, he got 41 homers for Milwaukee last year but need 160 games to do so. I refuse to get excited about a career .218 batter, even when he tries to heal that gaping fantasy wound with the salve of raking homers. I was dogging Mike Zunino in our catcher rankings for being a complete batting average chump while offering some power upside, considering. My beef with Carter is identical. He’s not in the starting lineup as of right now in New York, since the aforementioned upstart Bird will go at 1B and Matt Holliday is the preferred DH. Carter inked a one year $3M deal last week to effectively be the right-hander to stream for favorable pitching matchups when LHB Bird sits. He could struggle to reach the high 50s in RBI and runs. 40.5% hard contact last year is nice and all, but check it out: Carter’s power numbers in the fantasy world are essentially the physically attractive member of the opposite sex whom you immediately regret talking to after you realize how vapid they are and how unfulfilling it is to spend time in their presence. Avoid the one-dimensional Carter if you crave offensive balance from your hitters and have power spoken for with other bats, but Carter is a plug-and-play for some guaranteed jacks if you have the patience to figure out which days he’s in the lineup.
25. Justin Bour (Miami Marlins) — Bour is a safe selection for backup at 1B, plain and simple. He doesn’t come with a lot of bells or whistles attached but is a mid-.260s hitter who could set his sights on the targets of both 18-20 HRs and 60s in runs/RBI and reasonably accomplish all three. An appealing 19.2% HR/FB means he could do good things for you, hopefully in conjunction with a strong pick from earlier in this list. The tag team approach of having Bour along for the motorcycle ride in your UTIL or INF sidecar while another primary 1B is doing the steering could end up quite nicely.
The On-Deck Circle — Honorable Mentions
Josh Bell (Pittsburgh Pirates) — I went with Bour at No. 25 just because the predictive analysis being implemented to see where his 2017 goes has a little more bedrock of MLB reps beneath it than Bell’s. It was a struggle to not slap a number next to a guy’s name when Steamer projects that Bell could bat for a juicy .280 and accrue a better wOBA than Joseph. However, the fact of the matter is that his career is just beginning and he’s a power liability right now: three home runs in 45 games with Pittsburgh last year is not terribly inspiring, and that ignores his knee surgery he endured over the off-season. He’s either a bold late-round pickup or becomes a decent free agency scoop under the radar when your league is not paying attention. Mid-50s for runs and RBI are in Bell’s future, as are a healthy handful of steals. I’m digging this guy for streaming potential.
Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals) — While Daniel Murphy hogs the offensive spotlight in the Washington infield, Zimmerman could put up moderately decent numbers worth consideration for depth purposes. 50 runs and RBI should be byproducts of what looks to be a rebound year after an anomalously low BABIP in 2016 for Zimmerman; at the end of the day, he’s a career .278 hitter but has just floundered of late, hence the conditional caution that’s advised when picking him up.
Brandon Moss (Kansas City Royals) — This guy got PAID at the end of January. KC signed Moss to a two-year, $12M deal with an option for 2019 and I think he was deserving of the purse, considering he slammed 28 rocks into the stands for St. Louis last year while passing the 60 mark for RBI and runs. Also pretty high on this guy’s chances to shoot up into the Top 25 listed here, and I would be more than happy to see him do so well with his potential that it bumps an underwhelming Duda or a slumping Carter from the ranks. I’m all about optimism and confidence in a fantasy player, and Moss could very well instill some in owners if he gets off to an encouraging start. To clarify, he’s the starting Royals’ DH but has both 1B and OF eligibility, the flexibility of which I also dig. Final fun fact is that he has $50K incentive milestones built into his contract for reaching every interval of 25 plate appearances between and including 275 to 500. Ergo, it would be fiscally irresponsible for Moss to bat poorly and lose playing time.
Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) — Projected to bat .273 for 61 runs and 65 RBI with 10 bombs, per Steamer. Why not give him a whirl out of free agency?
LEMONs — Leading Every Manager On, Not Startable
Logan Morrison (Tampa Bay Rays) — Morrison may be a starter in real life, but you want no part of his fantasy repertoire. If you’re not going to get your owner at least 45 runs and RBI guaranteed, you have become waiver wire fodder. Compared to what else he is slated to do, the four projected steals for Morrison feel like the “LOL” at the end of a text from your aunt announcing the death of your uncle because she meant “lots of love.” Don’t be surprised if Casey Gillaspie gets called up this year from AAA Durham to start pressing Morrison for his big-league chance.
Yonder Alonso (Oakland Athletics) — Both Alonso and Morrison are 29, so not old enough to be past their primes but not young enough to be producing inconsistently for their teams as full-time members of MLB lineup. Just numbers from Alonso’s 2016 alone will put you off your breakfast: .253 (“OK, go on”), 52 runs and 56 RBI (“I mean, I want better but it could be worse, what’s your point?”), 7 home runs in 156 games (“Oh, God, all right, you convinced me”), a .114 ISO (“PLEASE stop”), and a 5.1% HR/FB ratio (*cue footage of Owen Wilson being my spirit animal again*).