Our rankings series is moving a little faster than me. I’ll get back to starting pitcher deviations sometime next week. There’s a lot to parse. Today, let’s focus on first basemen. I was the only ranker to break from the consensus and place Kris Bryant ahead of Paul Goldschmidt. As before, I’m referencing our RotoGraphs February Rankings and my Way Too Early Rankings from November.
Please note, I already wrote about Wil Myers in the outfield edition of this series. I think he will continue to hit for power and steal bases, hence my positive rating. Similarly, I’ve discussed my dislike of Mark Trumbo already.
My Rank: 1
Way Too Early: Unranked/Declared Ineligible
Sure, why not? Let’s talk about Bryant and Goldschmidt. The Cubs third baseman was the fourth best hitter according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Goldschmidt ranked 14th. Obviously, both players offer easy first round value. I’m targeting Bryant with the third overall pick and Goldschmidt with the fourth. If you prefer to lock down a few extra steals in the first round, I totally support flipping them.
Bryant’s breakout 2016 season included a sharp decline in strikeout rate to go with 39 home runs. Wrigley Field played very pitcher friendly last year. The wind was blowing in most days. I suspect he’ll cross the 40 homer plateau with a normal* weather year. While Goldschmidt offers advantages in steals and AVG/OBP, Bryant is still well above average in both of those categories. And he’ll outperform Goldy in home runs and run production. It’s worth noting that Goldschmidt should benefit from a healthy A.J. Pollock this season. That may help him to rediscover his 30 home run upside.
*There’s no such thing as normal weather at Wrigley
As a final note, multi-position eligibility is a useful tie breaker. Nobody is drafting Bryant to serve as their first baseman. But it certainly helps you to fill your roster when you have a star available at three positions.
My Rank: 11
Way Too Early: Unranked
When I did the Way Too Early series, I didn’t bother ranking Carpenter at first base. Even though it will be his primary position, you’ll be using him at second or third base. However, the OBP machine is good enough to consider as a starter at the cold corner. After making a mechanical adjustment in 2015, he now features easy 25 home run power.
If he remains the Cardinals leadoff hitter, he’s a candidate to lead baseball in runs scored. Of course, the downside is that it hurts his RBI production. The best case scenario for fantasy owners is for Carpenter to get bumped to second or fourth. That way, the value of his power will be maximized, and he’ll still score plenty of runs. With Dexter Fowler in the fold, there’s a decent chance we’ll get our wish. That’s what I’m betting on with my slightly aggressive ranking.
My Rank: 18
Way Too Early: 13
I’ve backed off my previously bullish rating for Gonzalez, yet I still have the rosiest ranking. The 34-year-old tied a career low with 18 home runs. It’s encouraging that he exceeded 600 plate appearances for an 11th straight year. This may be counter intuitive, but it’s also nice that the Dodgers have a couple internal candidates to spell Gonzalez in the field. He’s entering the phase of his career when his production might benefit from playing in fewer games.
Despite the dip in power, A-Gon continued to provide value with a high batting average and OBP. Somehow, he scored only 69 runs and 90 RBI despite regularly batting cleanup in a very potent lineup. Those numbers should regress upwards. Gonzalez isn’t a star, but he has plenty of upside at this price. He produced fifth round quality numbers as recently as 2015. There is one red flag – a nine point spike in ground ball rate and commensurate decline in fly balls. If that corrects itself, the home runs will return. If not, we’ll soon be hearing more about Cody Bellinger.
My Rank: 24
Way Too Early: 15
A healthy Pujols is still a good thing, even entering his age 37 season. My issue isn’t with his bat – it’s his feet. He’s once again recovering from surgery for plantar faciitis. He’s currently cleared to do everything but run. It’s a shame his feet have failed him. The extreme pull hitter still makes plenty of hard contact. His low line drive rate ensures a mediocre batting average despite good contact rates.
Pujols is a fair bet for 30 home runs and 110 RBI if healthy. If he shows himself to be fully recovered before your draft, bump him up a few spots.
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