23 Feb Fantasy Baseball 2017: First Base Rankings (30-16)
30. Greg Bird (NYY, 1B)- A torn labrum kept Bird sidelined for the entire 2016 season, but the 24-year-old has his sights set on a big 2017 campaign. The first baseman got a taste of the big leagues in 2015, when he hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in just 46 games. Bird is poised to be the Yankees’ first baseman both now and in the future. In his minor league career, Bird hit .282/.395/.483. He has the potential to be a very good on-base guy with 25-homer potential. If he remains healthy, he has a chance to be a top-10 first baseman in 2017. However, the presence of both Tyler Austin (who is injured for 6 weeks) and now Chris Carter should have fantasy owners tempering expectations a bit, since Bird could very well be involved in a platoon at first.
29. Mitch Moreland (BOS, 1B)- Mitch Moreland launched 20-plus homers for the third time in four seasons yet also posted one of his lowest averages on balls in play (.266), which crippled his batting average. He was relegated to the middle or bottom third of the lineup most of year, causing his RBI total to drop as well. Persistently high strikeout rates and low walk percentages make him an annual risk with plate discipline. On the plus side, he hits the ball hard and has a career 15.2 HR/FB, which backs up his ability to leave the yard at a more than acceptable rate. Though he enjoyed his career-best batting average against left-handed pitching last year, it’s unlikely that he’ll see frequent exposure to southpaws. Moreland should provide cheap power and a good number of RBI again in 2017, but this time with a new supporting cast after he signed with Boston in December.
28. Matt Holliday (NYY, 1B, LF)- Holliday’s career .303/.382/.515 slash line makes him one of the best hitters of this era, but the 37-year-old outfielder/designated hitter is on his last legs. Holliday had career lows with a .246 averaege and .322 on-base percentage in 2016 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yankees signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal this offseason and hope he can provide some help as a DH. A move to the American League East should help him increase his numbers a bit, and a DH role will hopefully keep him healthier. Injuries limited him to 110 games last year and 73 games the year before, so it’s obvious that his body is breaking down. Despite the fact that his career is winding down, Holliday is an intriguing sleeper in 2017. Good health would give him plenty of opportunities to produce while hitting in a decent lineup and in a small ballpark. A .270-.280 average with 20 to 25 home runs and 80 to 90 RBI is within reach for the veteran
27. C.J Cron (LAA, 1B)- There were times last season where it seemed like C.J Cron had taken the next step towards becoming a super valuable option at first base, but his final stat line was just decent (.278-16-51-69). However, Cron made some good adjustments at the plate; his strikeout rate hit a career low while he achieved a career high in his walk rate, all while maintaining good contact and fly-ball rates. As Cron enters his age-27 season, he should start turning more of his doubles into home runs. Of course, health is a concern with Cron, as he’s missed 30-plus games in each of the past three seasons. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone if this is the year Cron breaks the 20-HR mark, and he won’t have to sell out his plate discipline or batting average to do so.
26. Chris Carter (NYY, 1B)- Carter almost ended up signing a contract in Japan, but the National League’s co-leader in home runs in 2016 finally landed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees. Carter will most likely find himself in a platoon role at first base, playing on the weak side of the split (against left-handed pitchers). As a member of the Brewers in 2016, Carter hit .222/.321/.499. All three of those totals were higher than his career averages of .218/.314/.463. Carter’s counting stats will take a hit in 2017, but he’s been slightly better against lefties than he has against righties in his career. He has a .221 average and .796 OPS versus southpaws compared to a .217 average and .769 OPS versus right-handers. Even though most of his at-bats are likely to come against lefties, he should still manage to draw some starts against right-handers, and 20 home runs is not out of the question for the veteran slugger. He won’t provide much help anywhere else, but owners starved for power should be able to find it with Carter.
25. Brad Miller (TB, 1B, SS)- Miller came out of nowhere to mash 30 homers in 2016, almost triple his previous career high of 11. He did, however, hit just .243/.304/.482 to go along with a concerning 24.8% strikeout rate. Entering his age-27 season, Miller’s power numbers can be expected to drop, while his rate stats aren’t likely to make much of a jump. Even 20-homer power is appealing late in deeper mixed leagues, but Miller currently sits firmly outside the top-12 first basemen. However, his value lies in the fact that he maintains shortstop eligibility for the 2017 season and may play a good chunk of games at second base following the Logan Forsythe trade.
24. Victor Martinez (DET, 1B, DH)- Although he’s just two years removed from a career-best season, Victor Martinez is a risky pick for 2017. He fell off a cliff in 2015, and while there were flashes of brilliance in 2016 (including his 27 home runs), the steady production we’ve come to expect from V-Mart is on the decline. Martinez posted a .289/.351/.476 line on the year while striking out a career-high 14.8% of the time (4% higher than his career average). Martinez underwent hernia surgery in October, news that we just learned this past week. With his production already on the decline, his health in question and his age of 38 years, it’s hard to believe that Martinez will offer much fantasy value in 2017. He’s had an excellent career, but if the last two seasons are any indication of what’s to come, I wouldn’t risk a considerable draft pick on Victor this time around.
23. Tommy Joseph (PHI, 1B)- With long-time first baseman Ryan Howard out of the picture for the Philadelphia Phillies, the starting gig now exclusively belongs to 25-year-old Tommy Joseph. The former catcher arrived with the big league club as a rookie in May, eventually playing in 107 games. Much like his predecessor, Joseph appears to be a hit-or-miss batter, having tallied 21 home runs but striking out 75 times. Looking ahead at his first full season in the majors, there are a couple of key takeaways from last season that could be signs of things to come. In the second half of the season, Joseph significantly reduced his strikeouts, culminating in a September that saw him strike out just 11 times in 61 plate appearances. If he can sustain that newfound patience at the plate, he could be a legitimate steal in drafts. Look for a home run total approaching, if not surpassing 30, with RBI approaching 90. That makes him a terrific value corner infield option come draft-day considering his 214 ADP.
22. Mike Napoli (TEX, 1B, DH)- He set a career high with 34 homers and eclipsed the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his career. He also reached double-digit homers for the 11th time in 11 pro seasons, something only Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Hanley Ramirez have done in the same time frame. The strikeout gains he was making in recent seasons went by the wayside in 2016 as he nearly set a new career worst in strikeout rate while still maintaining the high walk rate. If prospective fantasy owners set batting average expectations at .240, they’ll have no issue rostering the power. The pop comes against righties (27 of 34 homer), but the average suffers (.229 vs .262) against them. Texas’ lineup and ballpark (despite its slight decline in hitter-friendliness) will keep him in a productive spot: He has a career .277/.381/.548 line in games at Arlington. Napoli will help mixed league fantasy owners in the middle or late rounds.
21. Kendrys Morales (KC, 1B, LF, DH)- enjoyed a fine 2016 in Kansas City, a season so fine that the Jays rushed to sign him to a three-year, $33 million contract instead of making stronger efforts to re-sign slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Morales hit to the tune of a .263/.327/.468 slash line along with 30 home runs, 65 runs scored and 93 RBI. Now, Morales will have the opportunity to hit fifth in the Blue Jays lineup, behind Donaldson and Bautista. Playing designated hitter in a hitter’s ballpark behind those players is probably the best possible situation Morales could have hoped to fall into, though his chances of reaching 30 home runs for the second consecutive season probably aren’t great. With his current ADP sitting around the 20th round, his owners are unlikely to be regretful with the production he can offer at his given price.
20. Brandon Belt (SFG, 1B)- Belt has long been a better hitter in real life than he is in fantasy. The 2016 season was no different. Belt slashed .275/.394/.474 with 17 home runs, 77 runs and 82 RBI in 156 games for the Giants. Those are rock-solid numbers to be sure, but after the home run explosion across MLB last year, fantasy owners are going to be wanting a bit more than a first baseman who reaches just the mid-teens in dingers. Belt is still useful as a starting first baseman in deeper leagues or as a starter in a pinch, but with him turning 29 in April, don’t expect him to add too much to his counting stats from 2016. Belt is fine as a mid- to late-round pick, but try to avoid counting on him as your starting first baseman in shallow fantasy leagues.
19. Jonathan Lucroy (TEX, C, 1B)- Lucroy played just 103 games in 2015 as the result of a broken toe but rebounded to have the best offensive season of his career in 2016, finishing with 24 home runs and a .208 ISO. While the mammoth rise in his HR/FB rate (17 percent) is almost certainly unsustainable, he once again showed a fantastic hard contact rate (35 percent) along with a .355 OBP. Lucroy will likely continue to put up solid numbers at the catcher position in 2017, but there just isn’t enough information to give us confidence that the power outburst will continue. Lucroy’s price seems to be just right as a pick late in the sixth round, but he isn’t someone players should be looking to grab early for protection.
18. Todd Frazier (CWS, 1B, 3B)- Frazier had a fascinatingly polarizing 2016, as he set career highs in runs scored, homers and RBI alongside a solid 15 steals, but his average plummeted to .225 as his strikeout rate shot up to 24.5%. To those who were unaware, last season Frazier’s BABIP was flirting with being one of the 10 lowest in recorded history through roughly four months (around .200), but a late-season surge helped it finish at an insignificantly low .236 mark instead. His power/speed combo will always make him a fantasy asset, but he’ll need to improve on that horrible 15.7% line-drive rate in 2017 to not be an average liability.
17. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD, 1B)- A-Gonz saw a dip to his power numbers in 2016, but that doesn’t mean he was not productive. He slashed .285/.389/.435 with 18 homers, 31 doubles and 91 RBI, and a large portion of that power came in the second half of the season, as he battled his way through a couple early season slumps. Gonzalez hit 11 homers in the second half in 255 at-bats after hitting just seven in the first half in 313 at-bats. He also hit a pair of bombs in 11 games in the postseason and drove in six runs. There is some reason for optimism that Gonzalez could be back to his old self in 2017. Much of the power drop from 2016 could be attributed to back and neck pain that he suffered from and played through in the first half of the season. If Gonzalez has been anything throughout his 13-year career, it’s durable, as he has played in no fewer than 156 games a season as a starter. With his track record, fantasy owners should feel comfortable taking him in the middle rounds in 10-team leagues
16. Albert Pujols (LAA, 1B, DH)- In his age-36 season, Pujols still put up plenty of value for his fantasy owners (.268-31-71-119). And while his strikeout rate and isolated power numbers are starting to dip in the wrong direction, Pujols should provide similar numbers in 2017 assuming his body cooperates. Pujols is a month recovered from foot surgery, and though he’s projected to return in early April, keep your eyes peeled for updates on his health as the preseason continues. Should he rejoin the Angels within the first couple weeks of the season, he could provide some sneaky value on draft day (did you know that Pujols was a top-100 player last year?). Just don’t end up like those people who drafted Brantley last year and reach for Pujols.