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FanRag Sports Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017: First Base

17 June 2016: Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (44) ready at the plate during the Major League Baseball game between The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Philadelphia Phillies played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)
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Top-30 Fantasy First Baseman

1. Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt had, by his standards, a down year in 2016, as he hit 24 home runs and batted .297. Even so, he lapped the field of first basemen in Roto value, as measured by the ESPN Player Rater. Goldschmidt is one of a small number of true five-category threats in all of fantasy, and he is the only proven one at his position. Even if he falls short of 30 homers again, he figures to be the top-producing first baseman in 2017.

2. Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo has developed the sort of consistency fantasy owners love to see from a potential first-round pick, having posted an OPS in the .899-to-.928 range in each of the last three seasons. Hitting in the heart of a loaded Cubs lineup also helps to separate Rizzo from the rest of the first base elites (except for Goldschmidt).

3. Miguel Cabrera

Though Miguel Cabrera is no longer at his early-decade peak, he is still among the majors’ most fearsome and reliable hitters. He has hit at least .313 for each of the last eight seasons (and 11 of the last 12), and he is the only qualified hitter to exceed a 40 percent hard-hit rate in each of the last five seasons. Cabrera hasn’t had a 40/100/100 season since 2013, but it’s not out of reach for him in 2017.

4. Joey Votto

Joey Votto had one of his best seasons to date in 2016, which was remarkable given that he was batting .206 after 48 games. He has had his fair share of inconsistency as a power and run producer, but he is practically a lock for a .300 batting average and .400 on-base percentage.

5. Edwin Encarnacion

Those worried about Encarnacion’s production as he heads from Toronto to Cleveland should note that the Indians outscored the Blue Jays last year. Progressive Field was also a slightly better home run park for righties than Rogers Centre was. Encarnacion’s declining contact rate over the last two years is a slight concern, but he continues to mash, having recorded an Iso above .260 in each of the last five seasons.

Cleveland Indians' Edwin Encarnacion smiles with his Indians jersey on, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, in Cleveland. One win from a World Series title last season, the Cleveland Indians finalized a $65 million, three-year contract with free agent slugger Encarnacion. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

6. Freddie Freeman

It’s safe to say that Freddie Freeman broke out in 2016, as he obliterated previous career-highs for home runs (34), runs (102) and hard-hit rate (43.5 percent). Time will tell if Freeman can maintain this new level of production, but it’s worth noting that he should have more RBI opportunities this year. He managed to drive in 91 runs in 2016, even though he frequently hit behind the likes of Erick Aybar and Gordon Beckham.

7. Ian Desmond

Desmond didn’t sign until Leap Day last season, and then he spent much of the year leaping back into fantasy relevance with the Rangers. He lost some power in the second half, but especially now that he’s landed in Colorado, it would be an upset if Desmond didn’t post his fifth 20-20 season in six years. He is slated to play first base, but has the versatility to move around the diamond if needed.

8. Chris Davis

Davis may have lost some fantasy appeal, hitting just .221 in 2016. That could open the door to him being one of this spring’s bigger bargains. Despite pulling the ball less often than he had in the past, Davis hit with his typical level of power, banging 38 home runs with a 40.3 percent hard-hit rate. He just didn’t hit line drives at his usual rate, which sapped him of some singles and doubles. He still has the potential to be a top-six first baseman.

9. Jose Abreu

Abreu’s power went missing for the first four months of 2016, as he hit 11 home runs over his first 104 games. Then he salvaged his season by launching 14 homers and batting .340 over the final two months, as he struck out less and made more frequent hard contact. Though his inconsistency makes it hard to draft him as an elite, Abreu showed that he may be able to achieve the upside that he showed in his 2014 rookie season again.

T-10. Daniel Murphy

In his first season with the Nationals, Murphy continued on the power binge that he began during his final months with the Mets. Though he is now a bona fide fly ball hitter, he makes frequent and hard enough contact to be a .300 hitter. It’s now reasonable to expect that high batting average to be accompanied by 20-plus home runs and 80-to-90 RBI, if not more.

October 09 2016: Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) reacts to his RBI in the seventh inning during game two of the NLDS at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C. The Washington Nationals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

T-10. Hanley Ramirez

Despite putting up a strong season in Boston, fantasy seems a bit tepid on Ramirez. He led the American League in RBI during the second half with 63 and from August 11 to the end of the regular season, hit .365 (19-for-52) with seven home runs and 11 walks. Ramirez also led the league in slugging and OPS versus left-handed pitching. With health and the departure of David Ortiz, Ramirez may not exceed last year’s totals, but coming close is enough for another strong campaign.

12. Matt Carpenter

After a career-year in home runs in 2015, Carpenter was in line for a near repeat, but injuries limited him to fewer at-bats. But his home run-per-fly ball gains were not lost and Carpenter was able to finish 2016 with a higher OPS, lower strikeout percentage and higher walk rate. Over the last two years, Carpenter has a home run every 21.4 at-bats. If others are scared off by his results last year, be prepared to pounce on draft day.

T-13. Buster Posey

Using Posey as a first basemen does not hold the same luster compared to him being the top catcher for fantasy purposes. But his added versatility can be a benefit in deeper league formats. Posey had a tough year in terms of BABIP and will need to generate more fly balls to regain the power he lost. His three-year slash line averages of .306/.368/.465 are rock solid and explain why many target Posey for his relatively safe floor; question is, what is his ceiling?

T-13. Wil Myers

This is going to be a telling year for last year’s breakout. There were only two first basemen to hit at least 24 home runs and steal at least 28 bases: Paul Goldschmidt and Myers. Health has been a detriment to Myers in the past but he logged a career-best 599 plate appearances last season. But, one needs to factor in both of his halves:

  • Myers 1H: 87 games, 61 runs, 19 home runs, 60 RBI, 15 SB; .286/.351/.522
  • Myers 2H: 70 games, 38 runs, 9 home runs, 34 RBI, 13 SB; .223/.316/.381

San Diego is not going to be very good this year, so Myers speed should produce 20 or more steals, but beware the rest of the categories for 2017.

15. Carlos Santana

While Carlos Santana produces much sweeter music for fantasy in leagues which factor in OPB, he still had a strong 2016 campaign. Santana set career-highs in runs (89), home runs (34) and RBI (87) with the same strikeout and walk percentage. His power can fluctuate, but with Edwin Encarnacion added to the lineup, Santana should not see a drop in his counting stats; just adjust the home run total to 25 and be happy if a return to 30 occurs.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 30: Cleveland Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana (41) hits a double during the fifth inning of the 2016 World Series Game 5 between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs on October 30, 2016, at the Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. Cubs won 3-2. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

16. Eric Hosmer

Entering his peak years, Hosmer seems like a fantasy disappointment despite producing career-highs in home runs and RBI last year. His propensity to generate ground balls caps his overall power ceiling but he is consistent. Pay for the .277/.335/.428 slash line but not a return to 25 home runs like in 2016; anything over 20 is gravy at this point.

17. Albert Pujols

Although his power is to be lauded, Pujols is on the downside of a fantastic career. He was able turn back the clock in 2016 with 31 home runs and 119 RBI, but can this be counted on again? Pujols had another foot surgery in December and the plantar fascia has to raise some concern for his future production. This is a stable skill set but as the years pass, be sure to have a backup plan if he misses time to injury, but having the luxury of driving in Mike Trout has its advantages for fantasy purposes.

18. Adrian Gonzalez

Not to pick on Gonzalez, but he is the vanilla of ice cream at Baskin Robbins in terms of fantasy at his position. Over the last three seasons, Gonzalez has seen his runs scored decrease each year, his home runs cratered to 18 last year and he has 90 RBI the last two seasons in a row. There is solace in his .279/.345/.466 slash line the last three years but if he has a repeat of over 46 percent ground balls in play with a reduced hard contact rate, his 2017 could look the same as last year.

19. Brandon Belt

Playing in one of the most depressed parks for home runs does not help the fantasy cause of Brandon Belt. It feels like every year his breakout is coming but does not happen. Did you know Belt was tied for second in the majors of qualified hitters with a 27.8 percent line drive rate? How about this for a blind profile:

  • Player A: 17 HR, .346 BABIP, 15.9 BB%, 22.6 K%, 36.4 hard contact rate
  • Player B: 27 HR, .366 BABIP, 16 BB%, 17.7 K%, 38.7 hard contact rate

Since this is about Belt, he is Player A, but Joey Votto is Player B. If their home parks were switched, could Belt close the gap? Votto is the better hitter, but Belt is better than he is given credit for; could this be the year for 25 home runs for Belt? His second-half spike in hard contact to 39.5 percent provides hope.

20. Chris Carter

Timing is everything, and Chris Carter hit free agency in the wrong year as power has been discounted in this winter’s market. Where he lands will have a definite impact on his fantasy outlook. Over the last three years, Carter has averaged 34 home runs and 82 RBI but with a .218/.313/.477 slash line. These are reasonable numbers; however, only a fantasy team desperate for power with batting average protection should target a player like Carter for the year ahead.

April 23, 2016: Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Chris Carter (33) rounds second base after hitting a home run during a MLB game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI. (Photo by Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire)

21. Brad Miller

If the power sticks and the home run total is 20 or more, Miller makes a decent CI player. He’s never hit more than 15 in any year, and that Miller isn’t worth a corner or utility spot, but 15 home runs and a handful of steals is more that worthy totals for a MI player.

22. Tommy Joseph

You can expect better run and RBI totals given a full season of work. The batting average should remain the same as this was never his strong suit. As for power, both the hard hit and fly ball rates were high and his overall contact was decent for a rookie. Expect 20 home runs, but don’t be surprised if he hits 30. Sleeper Material.

23. Eric Thames

He gets another shot at the majors after hitting 124 home runs over three year in the KBO. Temper your expectations, though, as Byung-ho Park hit 142 in his final three years in the KBO before coming state side. It all comes down to how Thames handles those breaking pitches which lead to his initial demise.

24. Mike Napoli

He’s 35, makes below-average contact, strikes out way too much, and has had a batting average above .250 just once in the past five years. He hit as many home runs last year (34) as he did in 2014-2015 combined (35). Short of another career-year, Napoli is borderline ownable for mixed leagues.

25. Justin Bour

You’ll need a replacement for when the Marlins face a lefty. Against righties, though, Bour holds a career .271 batting average with 39 home runs and 122 RBI over 660 at bats. If your league has daily moves and you can afford to roster two players for one spot, Bour makes a decent gamble late in drafts.

June 24th, 2016 Miami Marlins first baseman Justin Bour (41) looks at a long grant slam home run during the bottom of the first inning in a game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs at Marlins Park in Miami, FL (Photo by JCS/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by JCS/Icon Sportswire)

26. C.J. Cron

We saw a bump in batting average, runs and RBI, but the power remained the same with similar at bat totals. A broken hand limited him to 116 games, but he is slated to be the full-time starter at first base this year with Pujols regularly seeing time at DH. Cron could find himself in a boat with Justin Bour if he hits .228 against lefties again – something to keep in mind.

27. Greg Bird

There will be some rust with the year layoff. Bird could hit 20 or more home runs with an average in the .265 range, but that average and his place in the batting order will drop if he doesn’t rein in that 30 percent strikeout rate from 2015. Bird is a solid late-round gamble that could go either way.

28. Lucas Duda

Here’s another hitter that struggles against lefties. He’s on a one-year deal with the Mets so the pressure is on. Duda hit 57 home runs between 2014 and 2015 so there is power, and he holds a .358 OBP versus righties. A stress fracture in his back cut things short in 2016, and it remains to be seen if there will be any residual effects from the injury.

29. Josh Bell

Pittsburgh has yet to commit to Bell at first base, and John Jaso and David Freese are still in the mix. With enough at bats he could contribute in batting average, runs and RBI, but only expect 15 to 20 (max) home runs until the power fills out. There’s enough potential here to warrant a late-round pick.

T-30. Dan Vogelbach

The Danny Valencia acquisition and affordable salary means Vogelbach will either start the year in Triple-A or receive limited at bats in a bench role. He’s a future .280/20 home run hitter, but he’ll need a Valencia injury or meltdown to get a chance to showcase his stuff.

T-30. Mitch Moreland

The batting average is streaky, making Moreland unrosterable at times. Given 450 at bats, you’ll get at least 20 home runs and 60 RBI, but runs have never been his strong suit so you’ll get little help here. Moreland makes a decent injury replacement or utility player during those hot months, but provides little beyond that.

Also receiving votes: Matt Holliday, Ryan Rua, A.J. Reed

Player write-ups: 1-10 – Al Melchior ; 11-20 – Greg Jewett ; 21-30 – Jim Finch

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