2018 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview: Going Deep

by Jonathan Chan
2018 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Welcome to day two of our 2018 position preview series! If you haven't already, go out our catcher preview for some hot takes about everyone's absolute favorite position.

As always, first base is where you want to put some of your biggest power hitters. Last season, 18 first basemen reached the 25 HR plateau while only 15 did the season before. With baseball moving towards more home runs, it's becoming tougher and tougher to get away without having power at the position. Yes, first base is deep when it comes to power contributors. However, how long can you wait for a starter?

Take a look at the FantasyPros position rankings and remove the players who you wouldn't be playing at 1B anyways (Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy, Buster Posey) there's a steep drop between tiers. After Wil Myers is off the board, how confident are you in anyone that's left? Eric Hosmer might end up in San Diego, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman have extensive injury issues, and Justin Smoak is not someone you can bank on after one successful season.

It is possible to wait on your first baseman in drafts, but you have to ask yourself how comfortable you are with someone in the fourth or fifth tier as your starter all season long.

2018 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Where do I take Miguel Cabrera?

2017 was a tough, tough year for Miggy. Dealing with back issues all season, he managed to hit just 16 home runs in 130 games. It was by far the worst season of his career.

Cabrera's stats were down across the board. He hit under .300 for the first time in nine years and his OPS was under .800 for the first time since his rookie season. His .313 wOBA was also the lowest of his career. It's safe to say Miggy was seriously hampered by the two herniated disks in his back.

A great article written by RotoGraph's Jeff Zimmerman goes over Cabrera's injury and how it may have affected his production. He goes into detail about how the injury impacted Miggy's bat speed and his exit velocity. The inflammation caused by herniated disks has led to a slower rotation and less consistent mechanics on his swings. He also gives some examples of how herniated disks have signaled the end for other players over 30.

When spring training rolls around, the best course of action is to monitor Cabrera for any reports regarding his health. If there is any indication that he is not fully healthy, it's difficult to justify drafting him, especially at his FantasyPros rank of 74.

Is Joey Gallo's Power Worth Dealing with His Average?

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Gallo will be one of the most polarizing players in Fantasy this year. His power is a complete game changer, as his 41 HR were good for fourth in the majors. It's worth noting that Gallo had at least 120 fewer at-bats than the three players ahead of him. If not for a month of inconsistent playing time, there's a good chance that he could have passed Khris Davis for third behind Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

The question with Gallo will always be his plate discipline. His power comes with a lot of strikeouts as his 36.8% K-rate was second-worst in the majors. Owners in standard leagues who draft Gallo absolutely need to build their teams around his black hole of an average (.209). His K-rate is consistent with his minor league numbers so owners shouldn't expect much improvement there. Gallo gets a huge bump in OBP leagues thanks to his stellar 14.1% walk rate.

There are two strategies for dealing with Gallo. First, owners can build around his weakness, surrounding him with high average players in the early rounds. Second, owners can drive into the skid and punt average completely, surrounding with similar sluggers in the early rounds. This is a tough strategy to go with and it works better in Fantasy Basketball, but Gallo owners have to keep it in mind.

In any case, I think Gallo is being underrated at the moment, with a consensus rank of 147 on FantasyPros. Last season, Chris Davis has an ADP of 74, despite at k-rate north of 30% and similar counting stats. If you can build a proper team around him, Gallo will be good value at his current rank.

How will Rhys Hoskins Follow Up His Spectacular Debut?

Hoskins was called up by the Phillies in August and looked like a star right away. In 50 games, Hoskins hit 18 HR with 48 RBI. That's a 54 HR pace projected over a whole season. Now, no one is really expecting Hoskins to hit 54 home runs this season, but what should we expect?

First and foremost, it's safe to say that his ridiculous 31.6% HR/FB rate is going to come down. He's never held a HR/FB rate over 20% in the minors so owners shouldn't expect a new norm. His plate discipline (17% walk rate) will keep his OBP high, but I would expect a drop from the .396 we saw last season.

Overall, Hoskins has shown the plate discipline (0.8 BB/K) and power (.359 .ISO) to be a very valuable player in 2018. His streamer projection of .263/.355/.522 and 35 HR looks about right for Hoskins' sophomore season. As the season draws closer I expect his ADP to creep higher and higher. Even now his ADP is creeping into the top 35, despite his consensus FantasyPros rank of 68.

Player(s) on the Rise

Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

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Mancini had a stellar rookie season, racking up 586 AB with 24 HR and 78 RBI with the Orioles. Despite the solid showing, he's being overlooked in 2018 drafts, as he's ranked 186 by FantasyPros.

Mancini has shown he has the tools to improve on his rookie season. Though he does show a tendency to hit a lot grounders to third base, his spray charts show he hits the ball well all over the field. The shift wasn't really an issue for him, as he managed a .352 BABIP despite a 51% ground ball rate.

Mancini rarely makes soft contact (19%) which helps maintain his BABIP and .349 wOBA. With Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis in the lineup, Buck Showalter will need someone who can actually make contact with the ball once in a while. Mancini was even better with men in scoring position, slashing .340/.383/.708.

At 6'4, 215 lbs, Mancini is a big man with room to grow in the power department. If he can cut down on his strikeouts a bit (23.7%) his average could push .300 this season. How often can you find a first baseman who can hit .295 with 25-30 HR close to pick 200? Never.

Players(s) on the Decline

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

Davis is in the middle of a sharp career decline. 2017 was his lowest HR total (26) since his suspension shortened 2014 season. Davis also had his lowest RBI total since 2009, when he was struggling to establish himself as an everyday player.

Everything trended down for Crush last season. His strikeout rate increased for a third straight year to a career-high (and MLB worst) 37.2%. His walk rate fell to 11.6%, which is still excellent but it wasn't enough to help out his awful .309 OBP.

Beyond the metrics, Davis simply looked bad, swinging at fewer pitches in the zone and looking lethargic when he did. He's ranked at 147 by FantasyPros so owners are clearly down on the slugger. Owners in OBP leagues can bump Davis up a few spots, but he should not be anyone's starting 1B.

Player(s) on the Horizon

Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies

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The Rockies seem to have an endless supply of solid bats coming down the pipeline. At this point, I can't tell if it's the prospects themselves or the knowledge that they could eventually call Coors Field home. In any case, Ryan McMahon has done more than enough to justify the hype.

He dominated the minors last season, slashing a combined .355/.403/.583 between Double and Triple-A. For a first baseman, his power isn't eye-popping as he hit just 20 home runs, but his 27% line drive rate in Triple-A helped propel a solid .239 ISO. McMahon showed off his batting eye in his cup of coffee last season, walking five times in 24 PA, good for a 20% walk rate.

The Rockies have been searching for a first baseman and McMahon could be the answer they're looking for. At the moment, ESPN has him penciled in as the Opening Day starter for Colorado. The position battle to watch is between David Dahl, Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond in the outfield. If the Rockies choose to have Dahl and Desmond man the corner outfield spots, McMahon will be one of the front-runners for the job.

He will likely go un-drafted until his starting spot is confirmed, but owners looking for a late-round lottery ticket could do much worse.

Player(s) to Avoid

Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

Olson came out of nowhere last season and won championships for a lot of people. Playing in just 59 games, Olson hit 24 HR and drove in 45 RBI. His September alone was incredible, as he hit 13 HR in 22 games.

Of course, that pace is not going to carry over to this season because Olson is not going to maintain his ridiculous 41.4% HR/FB rate. If you apply his minor league best 21.9% HR/FB rate to his major league batted balls, his HR total comes down to 13 in his 59 games. That's still a thirty home run pace, but nothing close to what he was doing last season.

Owners looking for in improvement in Olson's .238 BABIP hoping for a boost to his average shouldn't hold their breath. Heavy fly ball hitters tend to have low BABIP, and Olson will be pushing a 50% FB rate this summer. When his HR/FB rate normalizes, expect his average to dip 10-15 points from last season.

None of this takes into account that he'll be playing another full season with a poor supporting cast in a tough hitters ballpark.

For where's he's ranked by FantasyPros (ADP: 137) I would much rather take the chance other youngsters like Greg Bird, Josh Bell, and Gallo.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

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