First base features some of the elite hitters in the league. With talent up and down the rankings, you can draft two top-20 options.
The first base position is one of the premier positions in fantasy baseball. There is a tier of the top four or five hitters but the next five aren’t too far behind. Even if you draft someone outside the top 10, you are still getting a first baseman capable of hitting close to 30 home runs.
Unlike catcher, drafting a top first baseman is a strategy I can get behind. Looking at the names in the top five of my rankings, I would gladly spend a second or third-round pick on any of those guys. There is one that will clearly go in the first round but the other four aren’t too far behind.
Regardless of your roster construction or how you want your draft to go, you will draft either a top first or third baseman or both within your first three rounds. They will be the anchors of your offense, crushing at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a .280 batting average.
Looking at my No. 5 (Jose Abreu) and No. 15 (Josh Bell) first baseman, for example, the numbers aren’t that far off. Abreu hit 33 homers, 102 RBI and .304 while Bell 26 home runs, 90 RBI and .255. The batting average is the big difference between the two but the power numbers are pretty close, especially with 20 rounds separating the two.
Depending on your league settings, you will likely need at least two first basemen, one for your starter and one for your corner infielder. You could use a third baseman there but I always like to have at least two just in case of injury.
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Before I get into the top 20, here are some honorable mentions.
Yonder Alonso (CLE) – Alonso exploded at the plate in 2017. He hit a career-high 28 home runs, 67 RBI and .266 between Oakland and Seattle. He signed with the Indians in the offseason, adding more power to an already great lineup. Hitting after Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez will help Alonso get hits and drive in runs.
Brandon Belt (SF) – Belt was able to perform up to his power potential but his batting average suffered. He did play in just 104 games while hitting 18 homers, 51 RBI and .241. The Giants offense wasn’t great last season. We already know about the improvements the front office made to the team. Belt will hit fifth, after Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Evan Longoria. That is a great spot for Belt to rebound. He’s worth drafting as your second first baseman.
Logan Morrison (FA) – Morrison is currently a free agent, but I don’t see that lasting longer. There are a few teams in need of a first baseman. He was yet another hitter to post career-high power numbers. In 149 games, a career high, he hit 38 home runs, 85 RBI and .246 with the Rays. I don’t think where he signs will make a difference. I don’t expect another 38 home runs but maybe something closer to 30-32 homers with a .250 batting average.
Yuli Gurriel (HOU) – Somewhat of an unknown, Gurriel gets overlooked by his teammates. My colleague Gavin Tramps debated between Hanley Ramirez and Gurriel. With Ramirez slotted as the DH, Gurriel gets the nod from me. He hit .299 with 18 home runs and 75 RBI in 139 games. As the No. 6 hitter in that stacked lineup, Gurriel will hit 20 home runs while maintaining a higher .290 batting average.
Justin Bour (MIA) – I’ve been on the Bour train for years. He is one of two top hitters left on the Marlins. I don’t think he is traded before the season starts. He hit 25 home runs, 83 RBI and .289, all career highs. If only he can stay healthy, Bour would have been a lot higher in my rankings. Despite the lack of star power in Miami, Bour will hold his own and continue to fly under everyone’s radar.
I will mostly reference stats like home runs, RBI and batting average. They are the most used stats in fantasy leagues. I will also exclude multi-position players where first base isn’t the player’s primary position, so no Marwin Gonzalez or Ian Desmond. While they may qualify there, that’s not the position you’re drafting them for.
With that being said, there are my top-20 first basemen for 2018.
Greg Bird (NYY) – I wrote about Bird being ranked too highly back in November. He is ranked anywhere between No. 22 and No. 19 this season. I have him right in the middle at No. 20. It’s hard to rank someone who hasn’t played more than 50 games in a season. If he can play a full season, a big if, then the potential for 30 home runs is there. Even as a Yankees fan, I don’t want Bird on my fantasy team.
Chris Davis (BAL) – After hitting 53 and 47 home runs in 2013 and 2015, respectively, fantasy owners have been chasing those numbers ever since. He was a disappointment in 2017. Davis hit .215 with 26 home runs and 61 RBI. He also struck out 195 times, his fourth time reaching that number in five seasons. If you can deal with the low average and high strikeout rate, Davis’ power may be worth the investment.
Ryan Zimmerman (WSH) – Zimmerman bounced back in a big way last season. He played in 144 games and hit 36 home runs, 108 RBI and .303, his best numbers in at least seven seasons. Another mid-30s first baseman, Zimmerman could fall to either side of the spectrum. He could hit either 30 or mid-teen home runs with a good batting average.
Miguel Cabrera (DET) – 2017 was Cabrera’s worst year, bar none. He played in 130 games, hitting .249 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. That is the outlier to what has been an otherwise amazing career. Soon to be 35 years old, Cabrera will look to bounce back this season. While 40-plus home runs is out the picture, he could still hit in the upper 20s to low 30s. Health will be the only thing holding him back.
Joey Gallo (TEX) – My colleague Brad Kelly called Gallo the most polarizing player in fantasy. He finished with a .209/41 HR/80 RBI/.869 OPS line. If you want more on Gallo, read Kelly’s piece.
So, here are my top-20 first basemen for 2018.
Josh Bell (PIT) – Kelly wrote a projections piece on Bell. After looking at his minor and major league numbers, Kelly expects big things from Bell. I agree with him. While the Pirates may not be a playoff team, they have some offensive stars, Bell included. He will provide great value as my No. 15 first baseman.
Matt Carpenter (STL) – Carpenter provided owners with good power but was another first baseman with a low batting average. He hit 23 home runs with a .241 average. The Cardinals have sleeper potential, surprising I know. Carpenter hitting in the middle of this lineup, ahead of Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina, will give him opportunities to get on base and score runs.
Matt Olson (OAK) – I wrote about Olson being a sleeper power hitter this season. He hit 24 home runs in 59 games last season. With a full season ahead of him, Olson could easily hit 40 home runs. If you draft Olson, you may experience a drop in batting average.
Carlos Santana (PHI) – The Phillies signing Santana was a bit of a surprise. For a team looking to get younger, Santana provides the team with a veteran presence. He’s played in at least 152 games in six of his last seven seasons. He averages 24 home runs, 81 RBI and a .249 average in that span. I like him as my starter in deeper leagues.
Justin Smoak (TOR) – Undoubtedly, Smoak had the best season of his career. He played in 158 games and hit 38 home runs, 90 RBI and .270. It hurt not raking him higher than No. 15 but I look for consistency. Last season was clearly an anomaly after seven average years. If he does it again, then whoever drafts him will get a top-10 first baseman.
Wil Myers (SD) – Contributor Aaron Hinckley wrote about Myers being a 2018 breakout hitter. I think the breakout already happened. He hit 30 home runs and 74 RBI with a .243 average. He also stole 20 bases. I think this Padres team is a sleeper team with their young stars and offseason acquisitions. Myers is a rare combination of power and speed.
Rhys Hoskins (PHI) – Yes, Hoskins will likely play the outfield with the addition of Santana. So, he breaks my rule about multi-position players. But with the depth in the outfield, many owners will likely draft Hoskins to be their starting first baseman. I asked if he can crack the top-five first basemen. He hit 18 home runs and .259 in 50 games. Over a full season, he projected to hit 58 home runs and 156 RBI. Hoskins will be one of the few sophomore hitters worth drafting.
Eric Hosmer (FA) – Hosmer is one of the two top free-agent hitters left on the market. He’s been as consistent as they come. Kelly questioned if he’s a top-five first baseman. He hit over .300 for the second time in his career while playing in all 162 games. There are a couple of suitors still interested in Hosmer, he’s asking for a big contract. I think he’ll still be a top-10 option regardless of where he signs.
Edwin Encarnacion (CLE) – A second player who will not play first base this season, Encarnacion will be the Indians designated hitter. He hit 38 homers, 107 RBI and .258 average in 157 games. Encarnacion has been primarily healthy throughout his career. Now that he won’t be playing first base, he will likely be healthy again this season. Take the 40-home run potential.
Cody Bellinger (LAD) – I wrote a comparison piece between Bellinger and Corey Seager. I landed on taking Seager over Bellinger mostly based on position scarcity but that doesn’t mean Bellinger is a bust. He hit 39 homers, 97 RBI and .267 in 132 games. He also stole 10 bases. The Dodgers have one of the best lineups in the league and Bellinger will continue to build on his rookie season. Owners may reach for him over one of the top-five hitters.
Jose Abreu’s career has been off to a great start. I questioned why he isn’t ranked higher back in October. He has four straight seasons with at least 100 RBI and hit at least 30 home runs in three seasons. Abreu also hasn’t hit below .290 in any season.
I talked about this White Sox offense in the Welington Castillo section of my catcher rankings. Abreu doesn’t have much lineup protection around him. Roster Resource has Avisail Garcia has the team’s cleanup hitter. He can hit for contact but doesn’t have the same power as Abreu.
Some rankers have Abreu below Bellinger and even Hosmer. I understand why. There is the potential of a drop off in runs and RBI because of the downgraded lineup. Projections have him hitting 30 home runs again but only scoring 82 runs and driving in 95 batters.
I think if that’s what you get out of Abreu this season, you’re still getting a top-five first baseman. You can make up the difference in runs and RBI later in the draft. He’ll still hit close to .300, something many of the other first basemen can’t.
Abreu will be drafted before Round 4.
Freddie Freeman is another consistent option at the first base position. However, 2017 was a down year for the eight-year veteran. He played in just 117 games, yet was still able to hit for some power.
Freeman hit 28 home runs, 71 RBI and .307 in that span. The Braves are looking to get younger. Nick Markakis is the oldest on the team at 34 years old. Surprisingly, Freeman is still just 28 years old. There is some potential but it may be another down year in the RBI and runs categories for Freeman.
He did make improvements at the plate. He struck out just 95 times while walking 65 times, raising his on-base percentage a few points over the last year.
The Braves attempted to move Freeman to third base, but that experiment didn’t work out. As a third baseman, he hit .286 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 16 games. Those 16 games are important because he doesn’t carry that over into 2018 in standard leagues. He may qualify your league, so check the settings.
Freeman is another first baseman that can hit for power and contact, something that’s important when making your early picks.
I wrote about Anthony Rizzo being a value pick even in the second round. He posted back-to-back 32 HR/109 RBI seasons. The only difference was that his batting average dropped 20 points from 2016 to 2017 in two more games.
Rizzo was one of the few hitters to walk more times than he struck out, 91 to 90. While the average was down, he raised his on-base percentage by seven points.
Rizzo has dabbled in playing different positions. He spent some time around the infield but will be first base only in 2018.
He’s been overshadowed by his teammate Kris Bryant over the last couple of seasons but Rizzo is still an elite option. His consistent power puts him above his contemporaries. He will be drafted at the end of the second round or beginning of the third round in standard 10-team leagues.
That consistency is something you can bank on when drafting with your second or third pick. You need someone to rely on and Rizzo can carry your offense this season.
Joey Votto does not get enough love in fantasy. In leagues that cater to on-base percentage over batting average (and more leagues should), Votto is arguably a first-round pick. He can still hit for power but he can get on base almost 50 percent of his plate appearances.
Votto posted a .320/.454/.578 line with 36 home runs and 100 RBI. At 33 years old, he increased his OBP by 20 points in just four more games. Votto walked a ridiculous 134 times while striking out just 83 times.
He was two voting points away from winning his second MVP but it went to Giancarlo Stanton, rightfully so. No one was going to trump 59 home runs.
Anyway, the Reds have a sneaky-good team with Billy Hamilton and Jesse Winker hitting atop the order. Eugenio Suarez hits behind Votto, giving him good lineup protection. He will continue to get hits and get on base like he has in years past.
The only thing about Votto this season is that the power numbers may drop. He hit over 30 home runs for the second time in his career. He will likely go back to his career average of 24 home runs. Still, pair that with 85 RBI, .320 average and .430 OBP, Votto will still be a top-five first baseman.
Again, another obvious pick for the No. 1 spot. Paul Goldschmidt has been the best hitting first baseman over the last four or five seasons.
Goldschmidt hit 36 home runs, 120 RBI and .297 in 155 games. He also stole 18 bases. Goldschmidt had a drop in power in 2016 but kept the same batting average. He was third in the NL MVP voting.
Goldschmidt does strikeout a lot, 150 times in 2016 and 147 times last season. He does walk a lot, though, 94 times last season. He provides enough offense to offset the negative from his strikeout rate.
The Arizona offense is stacked, especially at the top with David Peralta, AJ Pollock and Jake Lamb with Goldschmidt smacked in the middle.
Goldschmidt was one of four first basemen to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 10 bases. With speed at a premium, you want to find as many batters to contribute to that category as possible.
Goldschmidt is clearly the best first baseman in the league and will be drafted in the first round.
The first base position is loaded this season. There are the obvious elite guys but then there are guys like Justin Bour or Logan Morrison that can hit 20-plus home runs and still have value as a late-round pick or waiver wire addition.
You can draft at least two of the top-20 first basemen to your team between Round 1 and 22. That’s one of the few positions where you can do that. There will be a lot of home runs coming from this position.