2019 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview: Stretched Thin

by Keith Lott
2023 Dynasty Baseball Trade Target: Nolan Gorman

Prior to the MLB Winter Meetings, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals. This move pushes Matt Carpenter back to third base full time and sends Jose Martinez to the outfield and limits his playing time with Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler already in the corner outfield positions.

Jake Lamb appears to be the new first baseman for the Dbacks, but they also signed Wilmer Flores who should keep first base eligibility.

The Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Tampa Bay Rays made an interesting trade that sent Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle and Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers to Cleveland.

We also saw Daniel Murphy sign with the Colorado Rockies this offseason and it looks like he will spend the majority of his time playing first base.

2019 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Will Joey Votto Bounce Back?


Votto will be 36 years old when the season is over and after last season he enters the 2019 Fantasy Baseball season at value. His ADP is sure to drop out of the second round, where it was last year, and it could continue to drop even in to round four!

Odds are he is still the fifth or sixth first baseman drafted, but in the late 30s or early 40s, he is well worth the pick.

RotoGraphs looked into what went wrong last year and highlights that the underlying numbers didn't drastically change. Votto still led the National League in OBP (.417) and was Top 20 in OPS (.837), despite the down power numbers.

I also like the additions of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati's lineup. I think the concept of adding veterans to a team that, honestly, is not very good, provides some comfort to an aging veteran who has shown loyalty to the Reds organization that this team might be able to compete.

That, plus one of this generation's best hitters having to come back and prove to the world that he is not finished yet and I am all in on Votto in 2019.

Will C.J. Cron Hit 30 Home Runs Again?


Cron was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins this offseason after hitting 30 home runs with the Tampa Bay Rays last season.

I have always rooted for Cron and sometimes it takes until you're 28-years-old to have a breakout season, but I just don't see how he can duplicate his success in 2019.

He hit 30 homers while watching his K% climb up to 25.9%.

According to Baseball Savant, Cron's exit velocity is below average and his Hard Hit % is just average.

He did barrel 44 swings last year which was Top 30 in the MLB.

All of that being said, Cron is absolutely going to play a role in Fantasy this season. He is currently ranked 34th among eligible first basemen by the experts and is below Jose Martinez, Josh Bell, Wilmer Flores, and Kendrys Morales. He has a good chance to finish inside the Top 20 at the position.

25 homers, 25 doubles, 70 runs, 70 RBI, .260 BA, .340 wOBA - all of that is in play in 2019 for Cron.

How Can I Steal Some Steals?

You can't.

Steamer projections currently have just five "first basemen" with 10-plus stolen bases. That list includes Wil Myers and Ian Desmond.

If you are going to attempt to find stolen bases at the first base position, that is tricky. You will have to find players who have multi-position eligibility, such as an outfielder with first base eligibility.

Steamer only projects 20 players to swipe 20-plus bags.

Whit Merrifield does have first base eligibility on certain sites, but he should be considered your starting second baseman.

Jake Bauers seems to be the one guy who has proven to be a "base stealer" in the past that can be had late in drafts. He stole 30 bases over his two years at Triple-A Durham. He was 6-for-12 with the Rays last year. His promise as a high OBP guy could help boost him into double-digits.

Player(s) on the Rise

Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

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In his first full season with the A's, Olson hit 29 home runs (fifth among first baseman). He will turn 25 at the end of March, and Steamer projects him to hit 32 home runs in 2019. Olsen is only going to hit ~.250 but when you factor in those powers numbers, and the fact that the first base position is not nearly as deep as it used to be, Olson is one of my favorite first base targets this season. He is pretty valuable right around pick 110 and the 10th first baseman off draft boards.

At 93.1 mph, Olson's average exit velocity ranked 5th in the MLB, according to Baseball Savant/Statcast.

He hit better on the road (.266) than at home (.227).  His power numbers were slightly better home despite it being one of the worst hitters parks in baseball. He had 48 extra base hits off righties (.244 avg) vs just 14 against lefties (.255 avg).

As expected, power comes with strikeouts and Olson owned a 24.7% K-rate in 2018.

Peter Alonso, New York Mets

Alonso destroyed Double-A and Triple-A pitching last year, mashing 36 home runs and 31 doubles in 574 plate appearances. The power numbers skyrocketed once he joined Triple-A Las Vegas in the PCL, a very hitter-friendly league. However, the Mets Triple-A affiliate is now in Syracuse, NY, just a short flight down to Queens.

Alonso might make the Mets out of Spring Traning, and he might get drafted in your Fantasy league. But if he starts the year in the Minors and is sitting on waivers after the draft, you can bet a savvy owner will give up a bench spot to stash him. The Mets will have no choice but to call him up as soon as they think he is ready or they require his bat in the lineup. The moves they made this offseason indicate they are in win-now mode.

Steamer has him projected for over 470 PA, 24 home runs and 20 doubles, with a .241 AVG, .319 OBP, and .334 wOBA.

The Mets added some pieces this offseason that could slow down his debut, but there is almost no way the Mets can play the entire 2019 MLB season without Alonso making his debut.

Player(s) on The Decline

Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

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Abreu was bad last year, there is no way around that. But in his defense, the entire team was terrible in 2018.

Abreu saw his lowest HR (22) and RBI (78) output and hit a career-worst .265 with a .337 wOBA in just 128 games played. His BABIP fell below .300 for the first time in his five year career with Chicago.

Abreu had a monster season in 2017 but that appears to have been an outlier and he is more like an upper 20s HR/lower 30s double hitter than the 33 HR/43 2B he hit in 2017.

At least Abreu should be able to hit for average while adding in those power numbers, unlike some other one trick ponies at the position.

Steamer projects an uptick in production, but still all below his career averages.

He is ranked as a Top 10 first baseman, and rightfully so, but the more important question is what will his ADP look like closer to the start of the season? He has value around pick 75 but I am not sure how much sooner I would be willing to select him.

Abreu just turned 32 and is eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

After just one season with the Philadelphia Phillies and a cup of coffee with the Seattle Mariners, Santana is back home with the Cleveland Indians.

Santana's batting average plummeted in Philly to .229, the lowest of his career but he still managed to keep his OBP above .350. That's where he can help.

Santana will be a late (last) round pick for any owner that drafts him and can add 20 doubles and 20 home runs - you just need to be able to survive the batting average should your league track that stat instead of wOBA.

Player(s) on The Horizon

Ryan O'Hearn, Kansas City Royals

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O'Hearn came out of nowhere in 2018 to hit 12 home runs in 170 plate appearances. Only Luke Voit and Max Muncy hit home runs more often with first base eligibility last year. Yes, a limited sample size but he clearly has decent pop in his swing. That should keep him in the middle of the Royals lineup on a daily basis.

O'Hearn owns a career .270 MiLB average and showed decent power with three straight years of 20-plus HRs and 20-plus doubles. He had totaled 21 doubles and 11 home runs, mainly at Triple-A Omaha, before being called up to the Royals on July 31.

He hit .276 at Kauffman Stadium vs .247 on the road, but the power numbers go up on the road with a .370/.303 ISO split.

Steamer projections are not high on O'Hearn, projecting him to hit just .235, yet still, project him for over 40 XBH.

As a left-handed power hitter, he did not, and probably will not, see much playing time against left-handed starting pitchers and could be replaced by a pinch hitter late in games when opposing managers bring in the lefty. He hit .313 off RHP vs .108 off LHP. He should still be good for 450-plus PAs and can still provide you with some nice power numbers at a reasonable price.

O'Hearn is currently buried on the first base rankings list, which I am ok with and you should be too! Just make sure you add him to pre-draft rankings and remember to add him as a bench player toward the end of your drafts.

Jake Bauers, Cleveland Indians

Bauers flopped hard with the Tampa Bay Rays last year, hitting .201 in 323 at-bats with just a .316 on-base percentage. This is a guy who is a career .276 hitter in the Minors, with a .361 OBP.

His power is limited and is more of a double guy than a home run hitter.

Sometimes a fresh start can rejuvenate a player and being traded to Cleveland just might be what he needed.

Even with that ugly batting average, he managed to score 48 runs and pick up 48 RBI in 96 games while with the Rays.

Bauers is even a sneaky play for stolen bases as Steamer projects him for 13 steals.

Depending on how deep your league is, he could easily go undrafted and understandably so. But you better keep an eye on the 23-year-old lefty early in the season and be prepared to drop someone on your bench to add him!

Player(s) to Avoid

Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres

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Maybe it was the pressure of living up to the contract he signed, but Hosmer's debut season with the Padres was arguably the worst of his career. He saw his K% jump up to 21%, his batting average plummet to .253 and worst of all - a .309 wOBA.

Hosmer hit 60% ground balls and less than 20% fly balls. That ratio has only happened five other times in the past five years. The good news is that Christian Yelich did it twice with the Marlins before breaking out and winning the National League MVP last year. I hate to break it to you, but Eric Hosmer is not going to win any MVP awards in 2019.

Some more good news, Hosmer hit well at PETCO Park (.284, 20 HR / 10 2B), but he struggled on the road (.223, 11/ 8). The bad news is that he cannot hit left-handed pitching. He was also terrible in the second half of the season last year.

Hosmer is currently ranked as the 15th first baseman eligible on FantasyPros, but when you factor in that J.T. Realmuto, Whit Merrifield, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Carpenter are most likely not going to be drafted at first base, so that moves Hosmer even further up the list! Don't pay up for a name you recognize! There are lottery tickets to be had much later in the draft if you decide to "punt" the first base position.

Edwin Encarnacion, Seattle Mariners

Encarnacion just turned 36-years-old and has been slowly in decline for the past few seasons now. He has hit 30-plus home runs in every season since 2012 but we saw his K% climb up over 20% and his BB% drop below 11%, both trending in the wrong direction.

His pure power has slowed down as well as his .280 ISO in 2015 fell to just .228 in 2018. The worst part is that his .265 BABIP is far off from the past few seasons. He still made good contact with a 42% hard-hit rate, which was actually a career high and most of his batted ball profile did not change too drastically. So maybe he was just unlucky last year, or maybe father time has finally caught up to him.

Steamer projects him to hit less than 30 home runs, bat .238 and own a .344 wOBA. At a "discounted price," compared to previous seasons,

Encarnacion has a place in Fantasy in the right league format, but I think I am going to pass on him this season at his current ranking. Even if he does hit 30 home runs, I don't see a way you can play him every day to ensure you add all of those homers to your totals. I'd prefer to own a guy with multiple position eligibility, who has 20-plus home run power and that I can fit in my lineup more often.

2019 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief Pitcher

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