Nicklaus Gaut’s 2023 First Base Ranks

Last week, we kicked things off in our initial 2023 fantasy baseball ranking with a surprisingly fun group at catcher, while also alerting me to a previously unknown (and unexpectedly vociferous) Sean Murphy army. I’m sorry, okay! Let us all now move on in peace to the slowest of the corners, and see what’s happening over at first base.

As much as I’d love to give a thrilling and perfectly informative introduction, ol’ Mr. Word Count says I’m already on thin ice. So-ooo…Intro, intro, intro. General joke, intro, intro. A joke just me and maybe two other people think is funny, intro, intro. Segue. Let’s go!

Here’s how those who qualified at first base in 2022 (with a min 200 PA) shook out in 12-team leagues in 2022. Included are ranks by season and by half, with ADP from 2022 and 2023 (the last 30 drafts on NFBC). Clicking on the image will bring up a magnified version.

And here they are again, this time with the roto stats that earned them the above ranks:

Enough of the past, let’s hit the future up. Here are my initial ranks for 2023, along with current projections, followed by all of the normal tiers you’re totally used to.

Tier: These Things Are Basically the Same

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR

Freddie Freeman, LAD

Paul Goldschmidt, STL

Pete Alonso, NYM

Relative to the total values I’m projecting, that is. Not, necessarily, the way they’ll get there.

Why is hating on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. still a thing? Is it because his excellence didn’t initially come as soon as the hyperbolic coverage predicted? Or because when it did come in 2021, he didn’t follow up with a carbon copy in 2022? Even in a down year, he was a top-20 hitter, and we’re still just one year removed from 48 HR – 123 R – 111 RBI – 4 SB – .311 AVG. C’mon everybody; we just need a little ELV- everybody love Vlad.

I’m not sure why Guerrero Jr. stopped elevating in 2022, swapping eight points of FB% for an extra seven points of GB% but the smart money is on those angles rising back up in 2023. And once they do, the power will be back on, like the proverbial Kong, because Vlad was still crushing balls in 2022 like Donkey crushes Mario. Guerrero Jr.’s average EV on balls in the air was in the top 10%, while his Air% (100+ mph), Top-5% average EV, and Next-20% average EV were all in the 99th percentile.

Vlad. Crush. Ball.

I was hoping that the 21 HR in 2022 might finally depress the draft price of one of fantasy’s safest bets but no dice, Jim Rice. Even with the number of juicy hitters available, fancy Freddie Freeman is still going as a late first-rounder and one that likely won’t often drop past the late teens.

And as well, he should. Freeman is a virtual lock for something near 700 PA and a .300 AVG, and throws in enough stolen bases to not be a total sink (relative to the position). Even if were to again be light on power, Freeman has always been an R+RBI monster and will again be batting in the middle of what should be one of baseball’s best offenses.

I like Gooooooooool-dschmidt. Like, a lot. Or, at least I did last year, with Paul Goldschmidt coming in as one of my most-rostered players. He was just everywhere on my rosters, and damn, did it feel so good, with my hometown star turning in a top-five overall performance in 2022 and helping to lead me to two league wins. Aren’t I smart?

Ugg. I’ll tell ya, it felt gross just typing the above (not-so) humblebrag. But, in this case, it’s in service of a larger point. You see, here’s the thing (he said in a whisper while looking around furtively, lest he be overheard and booted from his guild for saying that which must not be said):

I got so lucky.

Well, “luck” is relative and it’s not like I tripped over the “Draft Player” button nine times. My valuations did make Goldschmidt a pretty big bargain compared to his 2022 ADP but it certainly wasn’t because they were baking in anything close to 35 HR and 221 R+RBI. In fact, I wasn’t very bullish on any of the three categories, as I’m generally pretty far from being a total St. Louis homer – though, I do occasionally traffic in some light trolling* – and was (again) worried about the non-stars portion of the lineup.

*But when you actually think about it, it’s not my fault that I grew up in Baseball Heaven, so can you really even blame me?

Nope, there was exactly one reason my valuations were out in front of most projections, and (probably not coincidentally) ADP – take it away, Past Nicklaus:

TL;DR – There’s no freaking way that Paul Goldschmidt is going to bat .270. Not this year, not last year, not 2020, not 20-…well, we can just skip that one (sometimes baseball happens ; ).

While my per/PA rates for HR+R+RBI projections were slightly lighter than the crowd, the large gap in batting average (which, IIRC ended the preseason at ~.296 AVG) closed the valuation differences quickly. And as I’ve mentioned, I tend to like to build a strong batting average base early in drafts, as to afford myself more possible pathways later. So it was that I often found Goldschmidt staring at me around picks 40-50, perfectly suited to deliver the +.290 AVG that I usually desired. In my mind, Goldschmidt was a roster-construction move – anything extra I got from a projection standpoint in the other four categories, would be gravy. And “luckily”, much like a Cracker Barrel on Sunday afternoon, gravy flooded the zone.

My analysis for 2023 (and how I’ll be drafting him) remains roughly the same as it did last year. Remember fellow kids; never luck a gravy horse in the mouth. Or, something like that.

Pete Alonso is a fairly safe bet for 40 HR, even playing at home in a terrible park for power. That, along with a good lineup that might look even better by the time Steve Cohen gets tired of spending money, should make again make him a prime producer of R+RBI. But Pete and his .260-.270 AVG just can’t compete with the top-three guys.

Tier: This Thing Is Known

Matt Olson, ATL

Matt Olson is world-class safe – a classic fantasy first baseman who will give you ~35 HR and ~200 R+RBI, batting in the middle of a great lineup and in a very good hitting park. But I do have him in a fairly distinct tier from the top four guys, with his batting average being the big difference maker.

How I’ll value him in any given draft will have more to do with team construction and price. If I passed on one of the first guys and Olson is available nearer to his 46 ADP than his 24 minimum, he’s an easy pick to make.

Tier: Value Shopping

José Abreu, HOU

After recently signing with Houston, I have to imagine that the ~120 ADP of José Abreu  is only going to climb between now and spring. But I don’t think it’ll get too far inside the top 100 and that’ll still keep him in a pretty nice sweet spot for value, whether you still need a starter or are looking to stack up at CI.

While he was a top-10 1B in value, I expect many of his drafters wound up disappointed, with much of that water getting carried by a .304 AVG and 85 Runs, along with just 15 HR (30 HR in 2021) and 75 RBI (117 RBI in 2021). But with the move to one of baseball’s best offenses, I expect Abreu’s elite RBI production to get right back on track. In nine seasons, Abreu has failed to eclipse 100 RBI only two other times – once in 2018 (78 RBI) and once in the pandemic-shortened 2020, when his 60 RBI represented a 168 RBI pace. E. Leet. Rib eeeee-s.

Maybe hoping for a return to 30 HR is a bit too far, as the soon-to-be 36-year-old has seen a noticeable dip in his top-end exit velocities. Abreu’s Brl% has dropped from the 89th and 91st percentiles in 2019-2020 to the 66th and 63rd in 2021-2022, while his average EV on balls in the air has gone from the 93rd and 92nd to the 70th and 57th. But his Air% (100+ mph) was still in the 79th percentile and I’m banking that we won’t see a repeat of the career-low 9.8% HR/FB that he put up in 2022. Still playing in a hitter’s park and now on a team with a track record of maximizing performance, I don’t think getting near 25 HR will be asking too much.

Tier: What Kind of Italian Breakfast is This?

Vinnie Pasquantino, KC

There’s no cornetto, no ciambella…Not even espresso with biscotti! For shame, all of you.

However, Vinnie Pasquantino does come served with 25+ HR, a good batting average,  and more RBI than you might expect from a team like the Royals, due to the unexpected top-heaviness of their lineup. Good power plus great plate discipline usually makes for a very safe fantasy profile and I expect Pasquantino to have a solid sophomore season. But damn, that price is brutal (88 ADP over the past 30 drafts) for a 25-year-old with less than 300 PA.

And to whoever took our boy Vinnie at his overall minimum of #59 – we salute your bravery. But there’s still no biscotti.

Tier: These Things Are Basically the Same (this is the remix)

The categorical contributions that make up the bucks are slightly different but the dollar values ($17.7, $17.5, $17.3) are again virtually identical.

Nathaniel Lowe, TEX

Ryan Mountcastle, BAL

C.J. Cron, COL

Nathaniel Lowe is a good source of R+RBI and finally rolled into that power bump that many have been waiting for. However, the .302 AVG (with a .363 BABIP and .275 xBA) seems like an unlikely bar to reach again. But compared to the other two in this tier, Lowe still has the clear upper hand in batting average and is a  solid option if you’d rather not mess with the ever-declining contributions you’ll see as ADP gets deeper.

Ryan Mountcastle and 22 HR were a big disappointment after he clubbed 33 HR in 2021, though, he still finished as a top-15 first baseman. But while the dongs fizzled out, his upper-level EVs didn’t:

Ryan Mountcastle 2020 – 2022
Percentile Ranks 2020 2021 2022
Barrel% 43 79 94
Air% (average EV) 41 67 78
Air% (100+ mph) 32 48 78

The park dimensions at Camden Yards, however, did him absolutely no favors, with the left field wall moving back over 26 feet and rising by nearly six feet for 2023. Here are the eleven balls Mountcastle pulled in the air last year (min 350 feet) at home:

Feel free to check out the videos yourself, but I’m pretty confident in saying five of those seven non-HR (five outs, two doubles) would have been out at old Camden, and probably one more, too. Umm, that’s a big difference.

The park dimensions will still be the same in 2023 but I’ll hopecast a little on the big-time EVs carrying him to a better HR total than in 2022, and Mountcastle could be in for a bigger RBI bump, presumably batting behind a pretty formidable top four of Cedric Mullins (vs RHP, anyways ; ), Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Anthony Santander. With a price that is very nice at a 157 ADP (120 min, 213 max), I suspect I’ll again have above-average exposure to him.

C.J. Cron still crushes baseballs, though, it has slowed down some with age, with a Brl% in the 77th and 76th percentiles the past two seasons that are significantly down from the 95th and 98th he lived in during 2019-2020. Luckily, he plays at Coors Field – maybe you’ve heard of it? I’m not sure how much of that Colorado Cron(ic) I’ll be fantasy smoking in 2023 but that’ll be more because of price (and guys I like later), than expected production.

Tier: Do You Believe (Again)?

Christian Walker, ARI

As a noted honk for Christian Walker, you know I’m okay with rolling him out again, even if a sub-120 ADP minimum is a bit much considering all the other options I like in this range, and beyond. Penciling in 35+ HR again probably isn’t wise but Walker’s major power bump in 2022 was at least backed by a return to the land of big EVs, even though they weren’t quite the heights of 2019:

Christian Walker 2019 – 2022
Percentile Ranks 2019 2020 2021 2022
Barrel% 90 38 29 82
Air% (average EV) 81 64 25 77
Air% (100+ mph) 91 80 46 77
Top-5% (average EV) 81 70 67 79
Next-20% (average EV) 88 78 65 77

But while I’m still not counting on another 36 bombs, even with the increased EVs, I also don’t think that Walker will be the absolute batting average sink that he was during the first half, putting up just a .204 AVG. That junk was fueled by a comically-low .188 BABIP, with Walker running a .252 xBA that was much closer to his .256 AVG from 2019-2021. And the baseball gods brought balance in the second half, with Walker posting a .285 AVG (.315 BABIP, .262 xBA).

Tier: There’s Always Ty France or Rhys Hoskins

Ty France, SEA

Rhys Hoskins, PHI

Ty France again did Ty France things in 2022, finishing as #12 1B and really only hurting you by scoring just 65 runs. But I’ll bet on a bump up on that next year, as he seems likely to be locked-in batting second, followed by a whole mess of power in Eugenio Suárez, Cal Raleigh, and Teoscar Hernández. Not to mention being preceded by Julio Rodríguez probably isn’t a bad thing.

The first law of Rhys-dynamics states that a Rhys Hoskins at rest is never in a more satisfied state than when he hits about 30 HR, carrying an ~.245 AVG, with Runs and RBI in the ’80s. This is known.

Why must we continue rejecting this natural law and be forever disappointed that he’s never again reached the supernova heights of his initial call-up? Rhys will again do, what Rhys always does; sometimes a little worse, sometimes a little better. But I’m always willing to weight my valuation more on the side of the latter, considering the bandbox in Philadelphia that’s currently disguised as a major league stadium, and a lineup that just got that much better with the signing of Trea Turner.

Tier: We’ll Have to See If This Clears Editing

Luis Arraez, MIN

Paul, wait! Please, just wait one second…Take your finger off of the backspace bar and let’s just be cool for a few minutes – hear me out.

We’ve already gone over what I like about Luis Arraez. TL;DR, to quote myself:

“Arraez just seems like he was created in a lab to be a .300 hitter. The 25-year-old has a .314 AVG over his first nearly 1600 PA in the big leagues, with a low of .294 in 2021 and a high of .334 in his rookie year from 2019. Dude rakes.”

Lumping Arraez as just a one-trick pony (OTP, patent not pending), is selling that trick short. And 88 runs last season is nothing to sneeze at, and as long as he’s batting leadoff (which he should continue to do, barring a big acquisition), he and his career .374 OBP will trip into 80 runs on anything but the league’s worst offenses.

But in arguing for him, I won’t even lean on the fact that among qualified first basemen, Arraez was the #11 hitter, even though he tallied just 8 HR, 49 RBI, and 4 SB. Sure, he was that, technically, by total value but that’s making the wrong argument. If you drafted him into the wrong setup, he could’ve still been a categorical team killer, even ranked 11th. You need to have a plan first.

Arraez is not some multi-tool leatherman that gives your roster construction plenty of room for error. He is a special tool for a specialized job but one that win you a category by carrying a large portion of the required load, freeing up more capital elsewhere. And even if you agree with me on the talent, he still won’t be a good fit in every draft; you’ll know if he is by tracking your projected average (and every other category) in-draft.

For example, I had virtually the same opinion about Arraez last season but I’m pretty sure I ended up with about one share. With an extra level of paranoia about keeping my batting average tight from the jump, often by the time I got to his pick zone, he would’ve been nothing but a luxury good. And Luis Arraez is not, I repeat, not, a luxury good.

Has this all just been another low-key PSA about the benefits of tracking your drafts? Maybe. Regardless, we should all still probably root against Arraez ever popping off for some crazy batting average because I’m sure I’d be insufferable.

Tier: Rhymes With Meh Burger

Rowdy Tellez, MIL

Josh Bell, FA

Josh Naylor, CLE

Seth Brown, OAK

Even finishing with 33 HR and as the 13th-best first baseman, the streakiness of Rowdy Tellez in  2022 was maddening for those that rostered him heavily (*cough-cough-cough*), and I’m still not convinced his performance vs LHP (.292 wOBA, 87 wRC+ in 2022) will be good enough to keep him away from increasing platoons.

I have nothing against Josh Bell but big dips in his top-end EVs (Brl% in the low-50s by percentile, Air% average EV, and 100+ mph both in the low-40s) aren’t exactly inspiring for a return to power. But on the right team (and park), Bell’s balanced profile could still be very useful, considering his relatively late cost. Check back with me after he signs*.

*Yeah, so he basically signed with Cleveland right after I turned in my homework. At first blush, I really like the move. Hitting after José Ramírez is certainly never a bad thing and Cleveland’s offense is on the come-up. Without adjusting projections, I’d suspect this moves him more into the Ty France zone.

I’d much rather have Bo at his price, than Josh Naylor at his.

Seth Brown is always in danger of being platooned (though he did face more LHP in the second half), and/or traded to a team where he may not even be the starter. I do still like him (at least, I do closer to his max ADP) but even with a good price, this is a dangerous situation to draft as your starting CI. I’ll probably just wait until he’s inevitably churned back to the wire after his first slow stretch.

Tier: It’s a Trap!

Andrew Vaughn, CHW

Jake Cronenworth, SD

Perhaps Andrew Vaughn will be able to wash off the layers of TLR junk that has coated the White Sox, and maybe he’ll finally realize the future his prospect pedigree dreamed of. But I’ll let someone else find out.

I’ve been over my feelings on Jake Cronenworth, naming him a false Rake – banished to beyond the 200 ADP sea.

Tier: AFL HypeTrain

Matt Mervis, CHC

Matt Mervis has launched himself into the 2023 fantasy conversation with a stellar performance in the Arizona Fall League. On the roto side, he slashed .262/.324/.590 over 68 PA, with 6 HR, 12 R, 12 RBI, and 2 SB. The power was backed by .328 ISO and that .262 AVG was also pushed down by a .208 BABIP. Not too shabby, rook!

At his current price, Mervis is a fine lotto ticket. He’s currently penciled in at DH (and at 1B with Alfonso Rivas) but with the continued rumbles that the Cubs might be about to spend a bunch of cash, a full-time job isn’t guaranteed.

Tier: So, You Forgot About Your CI

Jared Walsh, LAA

Oh no. You’re in the final stretch of the draft and have just realized how much you’ve neglected your corner-infield slot. So much so that you’re almost to the point of just drafting D.J. LeMahieu and hoping for the best. But don’t do it! There is another way.

Okay, so this way isn’t exactly paved with roses. Jared Walsh is coming off of an injury-plagued 2022 and had thoracic-outlet surgery in September, though, expectations are that he’ll be fully healthy for spring training. However, when he does, he’ll also be coming back to a newly-crowded Angels offense, with recent additions  Gio Urshela and Hunter Renfroe joining the mix. But luckily, Walsh isn’t anchored to first base and can also slide to the outfield, when needed.

No one will ooh-and-ahh if you snag Walsh but the roto profile is solid enough and even though he’ll likely bat sixth/seventh, there’s even some upside in R+RBI considering the superstars patrolling the top half of the Angels lineup. Again, nothing sexy, and Walsh is the type of player that you might have to jettison before we even roll into the summer. But considering the price, I’d be willing to take the chance.

Tier: Everybody Needs a (Post)Hype Man

Spencer Torkelson, DET

Everyone loves a post-hype sleeper and this handsome but mysterious wizard promised me that Spencer Torkelson was one. No more analysis needed!

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I will have a hard time ignoring any residual hype from a guy whose last name is Torkelson. It just stands out, so I think people will still reach for him. Like Vaughn, it’s hard to let go given the years of build up, but I think Torkelson is definitely worthy of gambling on.