Updated: Apr 4
Over the years, 1st base has been considered a position that features some of the most prolific power hitters in the game. For years, the go-to guys at 1st base have been talents like Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, among others. However, the fantasy landscape is adjusting. "Combo meals", or players who have potential to hit home runs and steal bases in the same game, are becoming more prevalent, and more importantly, more useful in fantasy leagues of all shapes, sizes, and formats. Nonetheless, 1st base still host some of the most productive bats in the game, with newcomers such as Pete Alonso and Mark Canha ready to make their names known. In this article, I am going to divide the top 20 1st basemen of 2020 into four different tiers. Each tier will have a different title that best describes the potential of the players in said tier. Furthermore, I will explain why some players are in each tier, to give you all a better understanding of our 2020 1st basemen. There is a lot of talent at the position this year, but maybe even more question marks. Time for me to give you all a glimpse of what we can expect from the 1st base position this season. Lets go!
Tier 1: The Unrivaled
This tier is for the elite. The best of the best. The guys you will be drafting with almost no doubt that they will provide elite production for your fantasy teams.
1. Cody Bellinger 1B/OF
2. Freddie Freeman 1B
In 2019, in reference to Fox Sports, Bellinger was first among 1st basemen in runs scored, fourth in hits, second in home runs, fifth in runs batted-in, as well as 1st in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He was a monster. Not to mention his pearly 14.4% walk rate. He was the full package and at just 24-years-old, a bright, luxurious future awaits Bellinger. He should be a top five selection in every format.
Freeman is the consistency master, a guy who has seemingly only improved as he ages, belting a career-high 38 home runs in his age-29 season being his latest example. Since 2016, he has never had a batting average lower than .295, an on-base percentage lower than .388, or an on-base plus slugging percentage lower than .892. There aren't many 1st basemen, let alone players, who have this ability to perform at an elite level year after year. In most drafts, you'll see Freeman sneaking into the 2nd round due to the plethora of talent in this year's draft pool. If he's available, I'd highly discourage betting against him, grab the value and don't look back.
Tier 2: The Nearly Unrivaled:
This tier represents the 1st basemen who have elite potential and offer high-floors at reasonable price tags; their the safest bets for production next to our two elite options above.
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Pete Alonso 1B
5. Matt Olson 1B
6. José Abreu 1B/DH
7. Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B
Anthony Rizzo is like a solid cheese pizza. It's consistent, you'll enjoy it every time, and everyone likes it, because who doesn't like cheese pizza? Well if you're allergic (so sorry) I can understand, but luckily for you, you can still draft Rizzo year-after-year! Since 2014, Rizzo has never hit less than 25 home runs in a season while maintaining a solid batting average, and contributing admirably to his runs scored and runs batted-in totals. Not to mention his rock solid plate discipline every season. He is cheese pizza and you're drafting him to be that level of consistency for your fantasy squads; he will deliver (ha!) every time.
Alonso did not wait to make his presence known in the Majors. He immediately began to produce, hitting nine home runs in his first 113 major league plate appearances. He ultimately finished the season with a .260/103/53/120/1 batting line, as a rookie. As a whole, there's no denying the power, but his ability to make consistent contact does need to improve. If it does over time, ooh baby, we're potentially looking at one of the greatest to ever do it. I'm drafting Alonso as early as the 2nd round in 12-team leagues this season.
Matt Olson may be my favorite 1st base value pick of 2020. After returning from a hamate bone injury that he suffered very early in the 2019 campaign, many wondered if his power would be negatively affected upon return. Meanwhile, Olson probably got a nice laugh or two out of those speculations, as he went onto hit 36 home runs in 541 plate appearances, with a 49.9% hard hit rate. He was an elite power hitter and entering his age-26 season, I firmly believe he's just getting started. Draft him with confidence.
Abreu doesn't walk much, he logs a good amount of strikeouts, and he's essentially Anthony Rizzo with not as solid plate discipline, hence his ranking. However, since his arrival from Cuba in 2014, he's been nothing short of an annual top-10 1st basemen. He's batted .284+ in five of his six Major League seasons, with 30+ home runs in four of six seasons and 100+ runs batted-in also in five of his six seasons. He's been through thick and thin with a White Sox club that has been developing for some time, and he's never let up. Heading into his seventh career season, it might be his most statistically productive yet, with the best lineup he's seen around him since his arrival to the states.
Since 2018, only one 1B eligible player has had more home runs than Max Muncy, teammate Cody Bellinger. So why isn't Muncy in the highest of 1B tiers? Well while his power is immense, he has never batted over .263 in a professional season, so the elite contact skills just aren't there, yet. Muncy is 29-years-old, so he still has some time to adjust his swing to generate more consistent contact. However, more than likely, the batter his is now is the batter he always will be: elite plate discipline and elite power, which surely still provides great value in every fantasy format, especially in on-base percentage leagues. Expect Muncy to be a solid source of power and counting stats once again in 2020.
Tier 3: The Rock-Solid Options:
This tier represents 1st basemen who probably won't provide elite production, but will provide you with a reliable, productive player at the position.
8. Josh Bell 1B
9. Paul Goldschmidt 1B
10. Carlos Santana 1B/DH
11. Trey Mancini 1B/OF
12. Rhys Hoskins 1B/OF
Josh Bell had an unreal first half in 2019. Prior to the All-Star Break, he had a line of .302/69/27/84/ with a 49.4% hard hit rate in 388 plate appearances. If there was an MVP award for the first half, he'd arguably be the front-runner. To put his line into perspective, his 27 home runs were a career-high mark, and he accomplished it in just several months. So why is he just a "rock-solid" option? Well after the break, in 229 plate appearances, he hit just .229, but also had an elite 14.4% walk rate and a 17.9% strikeout rate. So his plate skills remained intact, and arguably improved from the first half, but everything else fell way short. Heading into 2020, the plate discipline and his ability to hit for power and average makes him a solid option at the position. His 2020 performance should be watched closely however; this is the year to prove his breakout was no fluke.
Carlos Santana is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He's boringly consistent, but consistent nonetheless. However in 2019, Santana took his game to another level: he matched his career high of 34 home runs, maintained an elite 15.7% walk rate, and his 91.8 average exit velocity matched with a 44.9% hard hit rate were both career highs. In all honesty, Santana has very few holes in his game and is just 33. If there is anyone who will continue to dominate late into their 30s, it'll be Santana. It's easy to say he'll regress statistically in 2020, and also very possible, but another season like 2019 should vault Santana into the above tier. He's very close to being an elite 1st base option.
Hoskins is not going to hit .290 for your fantasy team, in fact he's never had a batting average above .259 since his MLB debut, but his power potential and elite plate discipline represent a player who could build a solid floor of annual production. Unfortunately, Hoskins hit just .226 last season and that just won't play as a top 15, let alone top ten first baseman. Reports began to circle in February about Hoskins revamping his swing, so maybe he saw what was going wrong and made an adjustment; only time will tell. But on draft day, you're buying the power potential, the runs batted-in, the run scored and the on-base percentage. 2020 is a huge year for Hoskins' growth, and fantasy appeal.
Tier 4: The Fill-Ins
This final tier represents the first base options who are solid positional fill-ins. They will help you with some stats, but will also potentially hurt you with others. If you haven't drafted a first basemen yet, this is the tier for you.
13. Miguel Sanó 1B/3B
14. Christian Walker 1B
15. Edwin Encarnación 1B/DH
16. Luke Voit 1B/DH
17. Mark Canha 1B/OF
18. Hunter Dozier 1B/3B/OF
19. C.J. Cron 1B
20. Yuli Gurriel 1B/3B
For as long as Sanó has failed to meet expectations, you may be surprised to learn he's only 26-years-old. Yes, he potentially has an entire career ahead of him, so instead of focusing on how he's got here, let's highlight his 2019 improvements, providing hope for a brighter future. For one, his 34 home runs, 76 runs, and 79 runs batted-in were all career highs. Moreover, his .329 ISO and .923 OPS were both career high marks. What fueled this production breakout? Well his barrel% jumped to a career high 21.2%, his barrel/plate appearance% was good for top five in baseball (10.7%), while his exit velocity was 94.4, second in all of baseball, only behind Aaron Judge. His 36.2% strikeout rate generates some pause, but when you look at his 12.5% walk rate, you can argue he's not much different than Judge, a guy who was going within the top three rounds in early Spring. There is doubt about his contact ability, as he hit just .247 last season, but you're going to get home runs and counting stats. Don't be surprised to see him ranked as a top ten 1st basemen.
Encarnación has been a prime example of consistency his entire career. From 2012-2019, he hit 30+ home runs in every season, while earning a walk rate greater than 10.9% in each of those seasons, emphasizing how he's been more than just a power hitter. Now in a loaded White Sox lineup, the power should still be there and we might even be wise to expect an up stick in runs and runs batted-in. Now as good as Encarnación has been, his strikeout rate has been more than 21.2% for two straight years, the first time this has occurred in his Major League career. Beyond that, his swinging strike rate has been above 10.1% since 2017. All this indicates that he will not remain solid forever, as his plate discipline is slowly on the decline. He's 37-years-old, so for now, we can still bank on 25+ home runs and a .340 on-base percentage, but his batting average will continue to hurt owners. Enjoy him now, an end to his amazing career is coming, unfortunately.
Before 2019, Mark Canha wasn't much more than a utility/role player. He also never earned a batting average greater than .254 or an on-base percentage greater than .328. This all changed rather dramatically in his 2019 career season at the ripe age of 30. In a career high 497 plate appearances, Canha earned a .273/80/26/58/3 line, with an elite .396 on-base percentage, a .913 OPS, a .517 SLG and career low 25.0% O-Swing. So while his barrel%, average exit velocity, and hard hit rate didn't increase much, his plate discipline improved as a whole, leading to a much more refined approach at the plate, and thus better results at the plate. In fact, it wasn't until the second half of 2019 that his overall production soared to high-end levels. In 298 plate appearances, he earned a 154 wRC+, with a .300 batting average, .413 on-base percentage, 14 of his 26 home runs, all three of his steals, and 36 of his 58 runs batted-in. He was a top 100 player and I anticipate this is the beginning of a late-blooming career. Target Canha everywhere, his value can't be emphasized enough.
C.J. Cron won't walk at a 10.0% clip. His plate discipline will never be similar to other elite 1st basemen, and that's okay, look at Jose Abreu. However, what many people do not realize is that Cron can mash! In 499 plate appearances with the Twins last season, Cron earned a 15.0% barrel, a 91.0 average exit velocity, and a 44.6% hard hit rate, which all led to a total of 49 extra base hits for the season. Now while he can hit it hard, and high (12.7 LA), his batting average was stuck at .253 for the second straight season, while his aforementioned struggle to draw walks led to just a .311 on-base percentage. In fact, he's never earned an on-base percentage higher than .325 in his Major League career. With all that being said, he is now the starting 1st basemen for the Tigers and could see 500+ plate appearances again. If so, 30 home runs and some nice counting stats is a very reasonable prediction, just don't set your mind on anything else.
In this Fantasy Baseball piece, I touched up on my top 20 1st basemen for the 2020 season, ranking them with tiers and explaining some of my choices. Did I miss someone? What should I write about next? Let me know! You can find myself, and the NewLifeFantasy crew on Twitter: @FantasyCentral1, @starks_industry, @AintDunneYet, @_c_gutierrez, and @drewthompson116
As a special note, I want to say myself and the NewLifeFantasy team are praying for each and everyone of you as we go through this unprecedented time as a nation, and as a world. God has a plan and faith is our strength right now. I will continue to pray for all those who need it and do not hesitate to reach out if you have a prayer request! Stay inside, stay safe, and God Bless you all.
DON'T FORGET to subscribe to the NewLifeFantasy.com mailing list!
Written By: Micah S. Henry