First base is not as deep a position as it once was, but it is still a strong one. There are many great options, and in most 12-team formats, managers should wind up with at least one solid option. There are, however, a few options that are being drafted a bit too high that have a high likelihood of busting, as well as some options that are being drafted in the later rounds that could end up being better than some higher-drafted options. Let’s take a closer look at some of these options.
Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians)
ESPN: 103 ADP, #13 1B
Yahoo: 138 ADP, #14 1B
Can a hitter really be a sleeper when they are getting picked somewhere around the top-100 picks as Carlos Santana is? Probably not in the traditional sense of the word, but when compared to where he is being drafted, as the 13th first baseman off the board after the season he had in 2019, he looks more and more like a sleeper. There seems to be some suggestion in fantasy circles that Santana won’t exactly be able to replicate his career-best season of 34 home runs, 91 RBI, and a .281/.397/.515 slash line, and while that’s probably true, Santana still remains underrated, as he should still provide a lot of pop to go along with his excellent plate discipline. His strong numbers a season ago were pretty much justified, as he set a new career-high in average exit velocity at a 91.8 mph clip that placed him in the 93rd percentile, he also set a new career-high with a 44.9% hard-hit rate. Combine that with plate discipline skills that were as strong as ever, and Santana had a .380 wOBA that was 23rd-best among all qualified hitters a season ago, and a strong .367 xwOBA that placed him 27th. These are extremely encouraging signs on their own, but he also did some things under the hood that helped him achieve career-best slugging marks. Most notably, he started pulling the ball nearly 50% of the time starting in June, and from that point on, he really became a power hitter:
Other than a poor month of September, Santana generally was a better power hitter when his pull rate increased to these new highs. While he may not match his career-best rates from a season ago, this new and improved version of Santana looks legitimate. Santana is not just a points-league option anymore; he is a more complete hitter these days. He should be drafted higher than the 13th first baseman.
Luke Voit (New York Yankees)
ESPN: 208 ADP, #26 1B
Yahoo: 198 ADP, #20 1B
It was a tale of two halves for Luke Voit last season. While he was never going to match his absurd stretch to end the 2018 season, in which he slashed .333/.405/.689 in 148 plate appearances with the Yankees, he tried his darnedest and was sitting at an extremely comfortable .280/.393/.509 mark during the first half of the season. Everything was going well until hernia and abdominal injuries kept him out for most of July and nearly all of August, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire upon returning, with just a .194/.326/.347 slash line in September. The emergence of Mike Ford and DJ LeMahieu’s ability to handle first pushed Voit down the pecking order on a very deep Yankees team, but he appears locked in to (or as close as he can be) to the everyday first base role in 2020. That should be the right decision, as the bad end to the season and injuries are taking away from how good of a 2019 he had. Voit hits the ball hard, barrels the ball up, and will take a good helping of walks. His superb plate discipline is the area of his game that gets most overlooked. His 13.9% walk rate was the 13th highest among all qualified hitters, which will keep him relevant. Yes, he will strike out a lot, but the counting stats will come with it, and he’ll make up for it with a strong OBP. Don’t let a bad end to the season fool you: Voit is a great and underrated option at first base.
C.J. Cron (Detroit Tigers)
ESPN: 184 ADP, #18 1B
Yahoo: 313 ADP, #47 1B
Cron is similar to Voit in many ways. He was also bogged down with injuries late in the season, as he only had 168 plate appearances in the second half, and was also showing that his 2018 season wasn’t a fluke either. While not as impressive as Voit, he still managed a useful .266/.326/.495 line in the first half of the season with 17 home runs, and was well on pace for another 30 home run season. His weaker second half drags down his overall numbers, but this was still an impressive season for Cron. A simple look at his Statcast profile will tell us most of what we need to know:
Looking specifically at the batted-ball related metrics, that is a lot of red. Cron set new career-highs in barrel rate (15.0%), average exit velocity (91 mph) and hard-hit rate (44.6%). Specifically looking at his barrel rate, he had the sixth-highest rate (on a plate appearance basis) in baseball last season, sandwiched between Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez on the leaderboard. Add that up, and that is a pretty good way to have a whopping .548 xSLG mark, which ranked 16th best among qualified hitters last season. All the names you’d expect to be in the top-20 are there, and Cron. You’re not going to find metrics like these this far down the draft board, but there’s a sweet option ripe for the taking in Cron. Who says you need to draft one of the studs nice and early?
Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals)
ESPN: 48 ADP, #4 1B
Yahoo: 54 ADP, #4 1B
It wasn’t a bad first season for Goldschmidt with his new team, but it was perhaps an underwhelming one, as Goldschmidt had the lowest wRC+ and wOBA of his career. He did salvage his year for fantasy managers with yet another season of 30 home runs, and 90 or more runs and RBI. Those counting stats sure are very nice and he was also a rock of stability, as he had a fifth straight season of at least 660 plate appearances, but the decline has clearly started. Goldschmidt’s hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, and xwOBA were all the lowest they’ve been in the Statcast era, and have dipped two years in a row now. All this helps explain the decreases in the power department, as Goldy’s .476 SLG was the lowest it’s been for him since his rookie season way back in 2011, and his .216 ISO was his lowest since 2016. And that is all before we get into the plate discipline and speed declines. Goldschmidt’s 11.4% walk rate was his lowest since his first full season in 2012. He was also an underrated option for stolen bases, eclipsing 32 in 2015, but that no longer appears to be the case, as he’s stolen just ten bags in the last two seasons combined. Decline catches up to everybody, and while Goldschmidt is still going to be a good player, his profile does not suggest he is deserving of where he is being drafted, especially as the No. 4 first baseman off the board (and possibly No. 3 now, due to the uncertainty of Freddie Freeman). After all, his replacement in Arizona, Christian Walker, had a nearly identical slash-line last season and is being drafted around pick 200, and is somewhat of a sleeper as well:
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 30, 2019
Rhys Hoskins (Philadelphia Phillies)
ESPN: 96 ADP, #11 1B
Yahoo: 111 ADP, #12 1B
Hoskins’ inclusion here is less about him as a player, but rather those going around him. Hoskins is essentially the first first baseman coming out of that “next tier” of first base options, being drafted after the more desirable options of Josh Bell, Max Muncy, and Jose Abreu, and before other options who can be waited on, such as Miguel Sano, Edwin Encarnacion, and the aforementioned duo of Carlos Santana and Luke Voit. Hoskins is not a bad option at his ADP, but there are options I like more who will be readily available later on, and I wouldn’t want to be the one who jumps the gun on Hoskins when the other players still available are likely to be better. You should know what you’re getting when you draft Hoskins though, and that is a lot of raw power, a lot of walks, and not much else. His power output decreased in the year of the juiced ball, with an SLG mark of just .454: A far cry from his electric 2017 debut. Perhaps even more concerning is his rather ordinary-looking .426 xSLG mark and declining hard-hit and barrel rates. Add in the negative effects of a super-high launch angle and you get a 13.9% pop-up rate that was the second-highest in baseball. and a strikeout rate that should be in the mid-20% range. That’s going to add up to a lot of automatic outs. Hoskins does have a chance to bounce back some if he can return to his 2018 (or even 2017) form, and he has been tinkering with his swing, but I’m just not super into Hoskins at this ADP when there should be a lot of other solid options sitting not too far behind him. Hoskins is a volatile player, with a big chance for a boom with a hot start in a shortened season, but also a big bust chance if he’s more like 2019’s second-half Hoskins (.204/.323/.385, 87 wRC+) to start the season. If you can live with that volatility in such a shortened season, then go for it, but I’m likely to stay away.
Yuli Gurriel (Houston Astros)
ESPN: 121 ADP, #14 1B
Yahoo: 163 ADP, #17 1B
Similar to Hoskins, Gurriel’s inclusion here is more speaking about how consistently solid the top options at first base are, although it is notable to point out the discrepancy between Gurriel’s ADP at ESPN to his at Yahoo, which suggests some split opinions about him going into 2020. Gurriel, of course, enters this season at age 36 and is coming off his best season of the four he’s been a part of in the majors. It was also a tale of two seasons for Gurriel, who was managing a pedestrian .267/.303/.423 line through the end of June before completely transforming into one of the league’s best hitters from that point on, with a .335/.390/.681 line and a 179 wRC+ that was the fourth-best in baseball. Gurriel accomplished this partly by pulling the ball more:
Combine this with Gurriel hitting in a park that is an exceptionally strong one to the pull side for right-handed hitters, and this looks like a decent enough explanation for career-high power numbers at an advanced age. The thing is, though, that it doesn’t look all that sustainable. Unlike another Astro who follows a similar blueprint, Alex Bregman, Gurriel’s overall Statcast metrics aren’t exactly great. His average exit velocity of 89.3 mph is in the 54th percentile, his .422 xSLG is in the 33rd, and his 37.5% hard-hit rate is in the 41st. Most alarming is the 3.8% barrel rate, which puts him in the 15th percentile. This certainly doesn’t look like it’s all that sustainable, but if he keeps pulling the ball, it could still work out. Gurriel is still useful though. He’s had a .290+ batting average over the last three seasons, he only strikes out about 11% of the time, makes a ton of contact, and hits in one of the best lineups in baseball. This is still a good fantasy player, I just don’t believe he’s worth it at this ADP. Basically what I’m saying is to draft Santana, Voit, or Cron if you miss out on one of the early-round studs.
Featured image by Nick Wosika, Leslie Plaza Johnson, Brian Rothmuller, Rich von Biberstein & Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Dorian Redden (@d26gfx on Instagram/@dredden26 on Twitter)