Saturday, May 21, 2022

2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: First base ADP review focuses on finding pockets of profit

It’s an interesting time for the first base position. Over the past five years or so, the combined effects of increased shifting and a livelier ball have lessened the differences between the positions. Players who, in the past would have been shuffled off to first or DH are sticking at other positions, and the home run boons we’ve seen in recent years have meant you can find power anywhere.

That has created a world where first base no longer seems to be a position that stands out for Fantasy anymore. There aren’t a ton of young, up-and-coming players, and the infusion of former third basemen or corner outfielders settling there hasn’t quite happened in recent years, which is how you reach a point where just six first basemen are being drafted in the first 110 picks on average, per NFBC Average Draft Position data. There are currently five catchers with an ADP below 100, compared to six first basemen. That’s wild!

There are elite players here, of course, but first base is mostly defined in 2022 drafts by pockets of value, and you’ll see a lot of runs happen at various points in your draft. Let’s run through ADP for the top 30 players at the position in NFBC drafts and see where you should be trying to find your first baseman. 

Tier 1

Guerrero is in a tier of his own here coming off his massive breakout 2021 campaign, and it’s not hard to see why. He emerged as the Albert Pujols clone he was touted as a prospect, leading the majors in homers and runs and leading the AL in OBP and slugging percentage; he was only fifth in the majors in batting average. Ho hum. It’s a profile with no hope for steals, so Guerrero has to be one of the handful of best hitters in the game to justify a first-round price, and all indications are that’s exactly what he has become. I wouldn’t take him No. 1 overall, but he should be off the board no later than his current price. 

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Tier 2

But, it’s worth considering how much difference there truly is between Freeman and Guerrero. Obviously, based on 2021, there should be quite a bit of difference, but it’s worth noting that Guerrero’s elite production was a bit front-loaded; he hit .288/.367/.538 after the All-Star break. That’s still amazing, but it’s not the best hitter in baseball. In fact, it looks an awful lot like what Freeman did last season. 

Freeman may not have the upside Guerrero does, especially as a power hitter, but he has a long track record of being one of the best hitters in the game. He’s 32 and could be on a new team for the first time in his career, but Freeman is worth taking as soon as the 1-2 turn in all leagues; getting him around 20th should be a thrill. 

Tier 3 

At the start of draft season, there was a bigger gap between Olson and Alonso, but that has narrowed quite a bit; since the start of March, Olson’s ADP is 39.0 and Alonso’s is 42.6. So, it’s effectively a pick-em, where Alonso was one of the more obvious values before. Expectations for both should be very similar because while Olson was better last season, he’s been much more up-and-down than Alonso – plus, Alonso’s 2019 still stands as the best season between the two of them. They’re both fine picks at this range, but I’m more likely to be looking for more well-rounded players rather than power specialists here. If they fall to the fifth round, that’s where I’ll pounce. 

Goldschmidt is harder to make sense of. He was the No. 2 player at the position in 2021, and his underlying numbers bounced back in a big way to suggest that it was no fluke – he actually had his highest expected wOBA since 2015 and his highest average exit velocity in the StatCast era. But he’s also turning 35 this season and we’ve seen signs of decline from him in recent years. How long can he continue to hold off father time? I’m out on Goldschmidt at this price, for fear of the bottom falling out. Especially since I don’t think he’s going 12-for-12 on steals again. 

Tier 4 

Abreu is actually a few months older than Goldschmidt, but that somehow seems like less of a concern to me. Call it inconsistent, but Abreu just hasn’t really presented much of a change in his underlying skill set as he’s aged – 2020 was clearly an outlier in a small-sample size, but other than that, it feels like we know who he is. He’s not going to give you incredible production anywhere except RBI, where he is consistently among the league leaders. Abreu is one of those hitters who really does consistently hit better with runners on base, and in what should be a very good lineup yet again, it seems like you can count on him for that yet again. Expect around 30 homers and a batting average that neither helps nor hurts you and he’s fine at this price. 

Tier 5

This kind of feels like no-man’s land at first base. LeMahieu and Cronenworth are likely to be used at other positions and Walsh and Mountcastle come with pretty significant red flags. In Mountcastle’s case, it’s mostly related to the Orioles moving their left field fences back significantly this offseason. If Mountcastle isn’t a 30-homer guy, it’s not exactly clear what he brings to the table that you’ll miss, relative to much cheaper options at first base.

In Walsh’s case, I just don’t buy what he did last season at all. His production took a huge hit in the second half of the season, and his underlying numbers don’t support what he did at all – his .257 xBA and .436 xSLG are a far cry from the .277 and .509 marks he actually posted. Add in that Walsh still mostly looked overwhelmed against lefties (.170 average, 28.1% strikeout rate, 6:1 K:BB ratio), and I just don’t see any reason to make him one of the first 10 players on your roster. I have him ranked below most of the players in the tier below, even. 

Tier 6

On the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, we’ve taken to dubbing this range of the draft the “profit pocket” at first base because of how much we like these players. Okay, well, not Tyler Stephenson, a catcher with first base eligibility who you’ll never, ever use at first base. And not really Ty France, either; you’re much more likely to use him at second base. But the rest of this group? The price seems right for each of them, though I rank them in a different order. 

In fact, Votto and Muncy, the two cheapest options, are actually my favorites regardless of price. I’m on an island a bit with Muncy, which isn’t terribly surprising; when the main argument against a player is, “Health is a concern,” you can be sure I’ll be higher on them than the consensus. In Muncy’s case, we’re sort of in uncharted territory with his injury, as he’s a position player who has a torn UCL in his non-throwing hand. There’s the question of whether he’ll be able to play effectively as a result of the injury – I’m less concerned about this, both because Muncy’s baseline skill level is so high and because we did see Shohei Ohtani hit very well while waiting for Tommy John surgery in 2018 – and then there’s the question of whether he’ll be able to stay on the field. The latter is the much bigger risk, but when you can often find him outside of the top 150, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. 

Votto’s risk is age related, but I buy the conscious decision he made last season to sacrifice contact for power, and I think he’ll continue to age gracefully. It’s a bet on one of the best hitters of his generation, and a generational baseball mind who knows exactly what he needs to do to remain productive. That he posted elite quality-of-contact metrics and started elevating the ball more are good indicators. 

After those two, I think there are good cases for any of Cron, Bell, or Hoskins, depending on what you need. Cron will likely provide the best batting average of the trio, but he’ll also likely be very dependent on Coors Field for that – he hit just .235/.337/.397 on the road in 2021, and there will be weeks where the Rockies are on the road where you’ll want to just bench him. Neither Hoskins nor Bell has that issue, so your preference may depend on whether you want to use a bench spot on an alternative to Cron. 

Tier 7

I like Kirilloff as an upside bet here – he posted solid underlying numbers despite a generally disappointing rookie season, and the hope is that having surgery will help him get past a wrist issue that has bothered him for years. Kirilloff could give you something like what Walsh did last year at a steep discount.

Gurriel is probably my other favorite from this group. He’s discounted because of his age, but as a CI or backup 1B, there’s a lot to like. He’s a rare later pick who can actually help you in batting average without just being a punch-and-judy hitter; he hit .319 with 164 combined runs and RBI in 2021, and the shortened 2020 is the only full season where he has hit below .291. 

Rizzo and Mancini are fine as corner infielders, but I’m not sure there’s a ton of upside with either. Despite his disappointing overall numbers after the trade, I do think a return to the Yankees would be the best-case scenario for Rizzo’s Fantasy appeal. That being said, I wouldn’t be moving him much beyond here even if that did happen. 

Late-round CIs and stashes

You should be taking someone from this range, either as a late corner infielder or as a bench bat. There’s just so much upside here. My favorite is Luke Voit, who has done nothing but hit at a very high level when healthy since joining the Yankees. I bet he’ll overcome any kind of playing time concerns before long if he’s healthy. 

If you don’t want Voit to be your late-round special, Belt has been very impressive over the past two seasons, though it seems unlikely he’ll give you 600-plus plate appearances. If you took Cron and wanted to do a home/road platoon, Belt will do well in a pinch. Dalbec is an upside play, but if you’re going to do that, why not just take Spencer Torkelson, a big-time prospect without Dalbec’s contact issues? He hit 30 homers in 121 games across three levels in 2021, eventually reaching Triple-A and more than holding his own as a 21-year-old. It’s entirely possible he’s part of the Tigers Opening Day lineup and could be a Jose Abreu-type hitter. 

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