2019 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview: You'll have to lean on veterans come draft time

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Chicago Cubs first baseman <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8868/" data-ylk="slk:Anthony Rizzo">Anthony Rizzo</a> is coming off a down year by his standards. Are you willing to invest in him come draft time? (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is coming off a down year by his standards. Are you willing to invest in him come draft time? (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

If you’re looking for what kids are into today, don’t hang around first base. This is the old guy’s position. This is the land of rotary phones, early bird specials, and Matlock reruns.

Consider this — of the Top 18 first basemen last year by offensive WAR, only three of them were younger than 28. It’s a position where we like to land a bank of power, although only four first baseman hit 30 home runs last year. And, of course, it’s a position where almost no one runs. Heck, even Paul Goldschmidt shut it down last year (seven steals).

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The days of MVP winners hanging around first base, those might be gone too. (We’re far from the salad days of Miggy Cabrera and Albert Pujols). A typical fantasy first round won’t include any first basemen in the first round. Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman will push for inclusion inside the Top 20, and Anthony Rizzo’s ADP is in the mid-30s. Even the hot young thing at this position, Cody Bellinger, checks in at a reasonable 45.82 ADP.

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P ]

Nine of the first 13 corner-eligible players off the board this year are third basemen. The mix of the corners evens out in the middle and cheaper classes. Your first corner will likely be a third, but the next two guys could reasonably be first basemen. It’s all about how the draft falls.

Open-mindedness will have a lot to say in how you approach this position. Can you forgive Rizzo for having his worst season out of five? What about Joey Votto, who’s power fell through the floor; is there enough discount to pony up for his age-35 season? Eric Hosmer and Ian Desmond have bloated contracts — does that illustrate why they’re overrated in general, or make them likely underrated for fantasy? When I open my first base analysis, I always start in the spreadsheet but wind up in a philosophical mood.

Third base is more fun in 2019. First base? It’s more fact of life. Here are some recommendations to get you started.

Which first baseman are you actively buying or see breaking out this fantasy season?

Dalton Del Don: Acquired from the Rays during the offseason, Jake Bauers should enter the year as a regular in the middle of the Indians’ lineup. The 23-year-old is the rare first baseman who can chip in 15-plus stolen bases, and he goes from a home park that’s typically been extremely tough on lefty power to one in Cleveland that’s boosted homers for LHB by 17 percent over the last three seasons, which is third-most in the AL. Bauers remains cheap at draft tables, and he’s slated to hit behind OBP monsters Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana, so he’s someone to target with his impending breakout not yet priced in.

Andy Behrens: The Yankees can obviously still add a piece or two in free agency, causing a reshuffling of the infield. But as of this writing, Luke Voit is the favorite for the first base gig:

Voit slashed an impressive .333/.405/.689 for New York last season with 14 bombs in just 39 games, then he raked in the postseason, too. He was an on-base machine throughout his minor league career (.370 OBP) and his home park is exceedingly friendly.

Scott: If you want to get technical, Josh Bell’s breakout season already happened, in 2017. But I’m not here to be pedantic about the definition of “breakout” — this is supposed to be a buying guide, and Bell is in an excellent position to make you a fantasy profit. (Plus, given the average age of first basemen in baseball, this is generally not a position where the whippersnappers are found. It’s not the fountain of breakouts.)

Although Bell’s power fell through the floor last year, he did show improvement in many areas — walks up, strikeouts down, average and OBP up. His line-drive and hard-hit rates nudged forward as well. Perhaps his homer/fly rate was lucky in 2017, but it was definitely unlucky last year. I’m going to be buying some Bell into an age-26 season, at a handy discount — his NFBC ADP checks in at a digestible 257.

Conversely, who do you think will be a fantasy bust at the position?

Scott:  I want to believe in Jesus Aguilar. He was one of the fun stories of 2018, and the same goes for the Brewers. But his breakout season came late in his career, and maybe he pumpkins the second time around; after all, he did collapse to a .245/.324/.436 slash in the second half. Aguilar’s ADP isn’t fully expectant, but he is an eyelash more expensive than Jose Abreu, for instance. Aguilar is not someone I can draft proactively.

Dalton: Edwin Encarnacion is coming off a season with his lowest OPS (.810) since 2011 and his highest K% (22.8) since his rookie year back in 2005 and was included in the aforementioned Bauers trade during the offseason. He just turned 36 years old, so he’s an injury risk even if he plays DH plenty. He had a .308 OBP outside of Progressive Field last year and is now set to play in Safeco Field, which is far more pitcher-friendly (that is unless he gets flipped by the Mariners, as he’s at that stage of his career). Encarnacion is a real threat to bat in the .230s this season, so he’s someone who’s easy to avoid at his cost.

Andy: Inevitably, there’s someone in every draft room willing to draft Eric Hosmer at least three rounds before I’d ever consider him. He’s been a groundball-heavy hitter over the course of his career (60.4 GB% in 2018), maxing out at 25 home runs in his biggest power seasons. At first base, 20-25 bombs just won’t pay the fantasy bills. Hosmer hasn’t reached double-digit steals since 2013 and he won’t challenge for a batting crown, so there’s really nothing in his profile that compensates for his relative lack of pop.

Let’s look ahead. Which first base prospect do you think will have an impact in 2019?

Dalton: This is partially an indictment on the rest of the first base rookie class, as it’s pretty empty when looking for 2019 help. Even Peter Alonso, who has the best shot to contribute this season, will likely have to open the year in the minors. He’ll get a shot soon enough, however, and it won’t take much more than 400 at bats for a run at 20+ homers (fantasy owners love to see his 109 RBI over 129 games in the minors last season as well). Just realize that power is also going to come with a low batting average.

[Batter up: Join or create a 2019 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for free today]

Andy: Peter Alonso homered 36 times last season, splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A, plus he reached base at a .395 clip. He’s ready. It’s not as if the Mets are so loaded with talent at the corners that Alonso can’t possibly get a shot. If Alonso feasts this spring, he has a clear chance to force a mid-April callup. Whenever he arrives in the big leagues, fantasy owners will need to add aggressively.

Scott: Yeah, Peter Alonso. No one wants to see us list the same guys, and it won’t happen often at other positions. But again, first base is an older position, not a young one. Heck, in Keith Law’s Top 100 prospect ranking (which is not aimed for 2019-only, but is a representative snapshot of the baseball youth of today), Alonso is the only 1B-only player listed. Look for the Mets to be proactive with an early Alonso callup, if he doesn’t smash in Spring Training and win a job immediately.

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