Draft Early Power and Average at First Base
As any Fantasy player knows, first base is where some of the game’s biggest sluggers play. If you pass up perennial first round names – Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion – early in your draft, you might find yourself scrambling for productive first basemen later in the draft.
In my years playing Fantasy, I’ve come to the mindset of drafting power outfielders and first basemen early. But the truth is, if you miss out on those names above you might be scrambling later in your draft; plus, you need to keep your corner infield slot (and possibly a utility slot as well) in mind. You’ll likely have to weigh whether to accept less power or a much lower average than the top-of-the-draft first baseman.
Is this the year Carlos Santana has THAT season? Lucas Duda has to hit for a better average this year, right? What is the deal with James Loney?
Questions abound, and we’ll try to answer many of them below, but first a word.
[caption id="attachment_103173" align="alignright" width="443"] Paul Goldschmidt may just be the most valuable hitter in Fantasy Baseball right now. Photo Credit: D. Dorman[/caption]
Paul Goldschmidt might be the best pure hitter of this generation. Not only is he a perennial .300 hitter, he’s almost a lock for 30 HRs over a full season, and he’s also stolen an average of 15 bases over the last three seasons. It’s no surprise because he has among the highest walk rates among first basemen; he actually swings fewer times than most at his position, but when he does he hits it very hard on a consistent basis. He is a true five-tool player, and in my opinion, the safest first round pick in the draft.
If you miss on Goldschmidt in Round 1, pounce on Joey Votto, who is virtually the same player, except he’ll score about 20 fewer runs. Votto will be lurking near the first round, so I can’t really put a “Crush” label on him. But he hits the ball on the nose, he’s another .300 hitter, and last year returning from injury, he exceeded his power totals and still swiped 11 bases. As a guy who took Carlos Gomez last year in Round 1, I’ll be looking for these sure things.
Now, for the non-sure-things:
Mark Teixeira – Tex surprised with 31 HRs and 79 RBIs after a pretty lousy 2014, and before injuries shortened his season. He’s 36 this year, and injury is a real risk. If you don’t get him as a bench/utility option, trust me and FLUSH.
Ben Paulsen – Paulsen raised some eyebrows with (predictable) Colorado power with 11 HRs and 49 RBIs in 354 plate appearances. Do not assume a full season, and if you do, don’t expect a near doubling of his stats. The truth is, he only walks about six percent of the time, he makes bad contact and any Rockies hitter who owns a 45/33 percent GB/FB ratio should be downgraded. At age 28 anything is possible, so keep an eye out but make someone else call his name on draft day. FLUSH
Eric Hosmer – A postseason hero for the Royals, but don’t be fooled by his 18 HRs. The 93 RBIs and 98 runs are real because of the lineup around him, but he hit fly balls less than 25 percent of the time last season and groundballs over 50 percent of the time. He doesn’t hit the ball very hard, and his BABIP was .336, so draft him as though his 18 HRs and .297 average are more like 14 HRs and .270. He’s bound to be drafted too early, so FLUSH.
Lucas Duda – He’s going to hit 30 HRs and collect 90 RBIs while batting under .250. Or not. Duda is the hitting version of Bronson Arroyo – a horror show to watch, but at the end of the season the numbers aren’t so bad. The Mets have a better offense than they did for most of 2015, simply due to the emergence of Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto. I wish the team would take Granderson out of the leadoff spot to take advantage of his power. If they can do that, and if they sign Yoenis Cespedes or another big bat, I like Duda a lot this season. He walks a lot and doesn’t strike out as often as many power hitters. The fly ball tendency will always keep his average down, but if you draft Goldschmidt or Votto early, Duda is perfect for your corner infield or utility slot. CRUSH
Brandon Belt – Belt has what we’ll call an injury tendency, which will depress his true value at the draft table. But I’m willing to take the risk for a few reasons. 1. Age 28 season. 2. He hits the ball hard, consistently. 3. He’s a lock to hit .280 or better and a good bet for 20 HRs and 75 RBIs (at least). 4. He stole nine bases last year (go look at your SB total from last year, add nine steals and tell me you don’t get a point or two from that). 5. His early ADP is around 150. I wouldn’t reach for Belt higher than, say, 125, but what if he produces 25 HRs, 90 RBIs and steals 12 bases? Cross your fingers and bid up. CRUSH
Chris Colabello – Yes, the Blue Jays have a great lineup and Colabello seems to find fill-in at bats due to injury/rest. But he’s 32 not 22, and despite 15 HRs in 360 plate appearances, he hit almost twice as many groundballs as fly balls (27 percent fly ball rate). His BABIP was .411, which is unworldly and will crash this year, bringing that .321 average down about 50 points. He’s not a patient or selective hitter, and, if you ask me, he would not hit 15 HRs in even 600 plate appearances this season. Whether it’s late in your draft or on the waiver wire, resist the temptation and FLUSH.
Jose Abreu – Abreu posts great numbers (33 HRs, 104 RBIs, .308 average in his first two years), but he produced six fewer HRs in 66 more trips to the plate last season. He has the advantage of playing in a hitter’s park, but he wastes that with a 47/32 percent groundball/fly ball ratio. He chases balls out of the zone more than most first basemen, contributing too many pop-ups. Hitting next to Todd Frazier is cause for excitement, and he will compile good-to-very-good stats, but know that of all the early round first basemen he has the greatest likelihood to disappoint. This is more of a warning, but I wouldn’t consider Abreu until Round 3. I’d rather have Buster Posey or Edwin Encarnacion in that part of the draft. So it’s a very minor FLUSH.
Mitch Moreland – Crush/Flush is about how much I like players compared to the conventional wisdom. Yes, Moreland owns some power. But he’s never had a 500 at-bat season. Yes, he walks too seldom and hits more groundballs than fly balls. Yes, you don’t know if he’s going to hit .232, as he did in 2013, or .278, as he did last year, or miss most of the season, as he did in 2014. But, yes hit 23 HRs in both 2013 and 2015. In early drafts he’s being selected closer to number 300 than number 200, so given that context, he’s a risk/reward CRUSH.
Yangervis Solarte – Solarte owns 20-game eligibility at both corner positions and played 19 games at 2B last season. Flexibility in your lineup is an underrated tool, but beyond that Solarte is an unheralded member of the Padres (who watches Padre games on the MLB package?) with growing skills. He’ll man third base for the Pads, and I like him a little better as a 3B, but he’s being drafted around 275, which would give him corner infield/utility/bench player status. The truth is he’s the 40th ranked first baseman but his skills project much higher fortunes. He can take a walk, he hardly ever strikes out and if he can turn some groundballs into fly balls you’ll be keeping him for the 2017 season. Major CRUSH.
Matt Adams – The classic case of the forgotten injured player. He missed more than half of the season with a quad injury, but he owns good power. He is best used as a platoon player because this lefty has no clue against southpaws, but could flirt with a .300 average against righties. He plays in a good lineup, he’s off most people’s radars, he’s being drafted well after number 300, so he can’t really produce worse than this spot, so it’s an easy CRUSH.
James Loney – What IS the deal with James Loney? He’s a terrible power hitter who makes soft contact- less than almost every other first basemen. He makes contact at high rates and his average is okay, but look at his cumulative numbers and ask yourself if you would even roster him as a middle infielder. FLUSH.
Again, I do urge you to grab one of the top first basemen in a power-and-average-first, pitching-second draft strategy. After the first six or eight first basemen, you’ll be giving away either significant power or batting average later in the draft. But there is talent at first base throughout the draft – just be aware of what stats you’ll be missing, and have a plan to pick up those numbers elsewhere.
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