First base was interesting in 2016. My strategy in all drafts was to secure a first baseman in the first two rounds for fear of missing out. Thanks to players breaking out or rebounding, the position ended up being pretty deep once again.
Fast forward to 2017, and the same outlook is there for the position. It’s deep, but has its obvious top tier. Even with many players losing first base eligibility next year (Buster Posey, Mark Trumbo, Kris Bryant, etc.), it’s a deep position that you don’t necessarily have to commit to right away.
Let’s take a look at how the tiers shake out, as our early offseason look ahead continues.
*Note, we are going with 5×5 category rankings.
It seems like across the spectrum, the thought on Paul Goldschmidt was that he had a down year. He was the top first baseman and the eighth overall player on ESPN’s player rater. The player rater favors steals, which Goldschmidt set a career-high in with 32. We knew the steals would make him valuable, but did anyone think that his stolen base total would be higher than his home run total (24)? He’s still the top player at the position, and is worthy of being a first-round pick toward the middle. Anthony Rizzo improved in home runs, RBIs, triples, doubles, hits, batting average and OPS, while dipping down in steals (17 in 2015, 3 in 2016). He also repeated his 146 OPS+ from a season ago, while cutting down on hit by pitches from 30 to 16, of which we know it only takes one to put you on the shelf. The steals give the nod to Goldschmidt, but Rizzo is in his sidecar.
Honestly, Miguel Cabrera should probably be in the top tier, but I always like to be a year early on a potential declining player rather than a year late. He proved the naysayers wrong yet again in 2016, as he rounded into shape after a slow start to the season. Cabrera hit 34 of his 38 home runs from May on. In 2014 and 2015, he hit 25 and 18 home runs, respectively, and after playing in just 119 games in 2015, he played 158 in 2016. Cabrera should be a second-round pick, and at 34 years old next year, will look to prove the naysayers wrong yet again. Speaking of dreadful early on, Joey Votto posted a .229/.327/.313 line in April and a .200/.333/.484 line in May. From then on, his lowest average in a month was .319 and his on-base percentage didn’t dip below .450, while his slugging percentage stayed about .627 from July on. His walks decreased dramatically in 2016, but he put together back-to-back 29-home run seasons. We don’t know where he’ll play yet, but we know that Edwin Encarnacion will produce. You know he’ll miss his handful of games every year, but he always gets the numbers come season’s end. I stayed away from Freddie Freeman in drafts with that awful lineup surrounding him. It didn’t matter, as his numbers were up across the board in every statistical category. His 2016 season was like his 2014 campaign, when he played in 162 games. Even then, he increased his average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and hit 34 home runs with 91 RBIs. I won’t doubt you again, Freddie. Has Daniel Murphy cooled off yet? Just checking. He maintained his ridiculous rates throughout the season, ending up with a .347/.390/.595 slash line, a .408 wOBA, .348 BABIP, 156 wRC+ and a .249 ISO. Do I expect these numbers again next year? No. Did I expect major regression from 2015 to 2016? Yes, so take from that what you will.
The Giants have the even year thing working for them, but Chris Davis is an odd-year player, apparently. His home runs over the past five seasons are 33 (2012), 53 (2013), 26 (2014), 47 (2015) and 38 (2016). Is another season between 40 and 50 home runs in store? Maybe, but even with power numbers up, he’s still capable of leading the league in any given season. Matt Carpenter is a strange guy to value. I prefer him in points leagues, but he proved the power wasn’t a fluke with another 20-homer season. As disappointing as his season was, Jose Abreu still hit 25 home runs and got 100 RBIs. He’s nothing sexy, but I’d be fine having him as my starter. Wil Myers fell off in the second half of the season in a big way, seeing his numbers across the board sink. I think he’s somewhere in between his first-half self and his second-half self. Walks, strikeouts and home runs. That’s Carlos Santana. Santana had 99 walks, 34 bombs and 99 strikeouts. He did raise his average up this year to .259 from .231 in 2015, making him more valuable in non-OBP leagues.
I’m a Hanley Ramirez hater, but I should give credit where credit is due for a solid season. I can’t let you go, Eric Hosmer. One of these seasons you’ll hit 30 home runs. I’ll be waiting. I’ll always let someone else draft the name of Albert Pujols. He’ll have three solid stretches per year in which he will go on home run binges. He is useless aside from that at this point in his career … Talk about the fall of the mighty. I’ll fade Adrian Gonzalez in all leagues and let someone who recognizes his name take a shot on him. Setting a career high in home runs during his 34-year-old season, Mike Napoli was a pleasant surprise. He’s in for a big payday. Depending on where he lands, he could move up to the top of the tier.
I waited too long in a slow industry draft before this season and was stuck with Mitch Moreland at first. If you tend to wait to fill first base or if you need a corner infielder, this is the tier for you. Like Hosmer, people can’t let go of Brandon Belt. I can, though. I’ve been fooled by you once, Brad Miller. Two solid stretches this year made for a nice season. I need to see it again before I buy in. No one questions the power of Byung-ho Park, but the 32.8 percent strikeout rate is hard to swallow, as is his 67.4 percent contact rate. C.J. Cron goes undrafted every year, but is always a waiver wire guy midway through the season. Keep that streak alive next year, folks. Let’s not forget about Greg Bird. With Mark Teixeira gone, the first base job in New York could be Bird’s to take if he heals properly from his torn labrum.