2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview: The Power Runs Deep

by Dap Scout
2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Welcome to the 2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview.

Not since the '90s, when everyone was hitting 40 home runs, has the first base position been so deep.

Just looking at our Fantasy Baseball draft rankings you can wait until after pick 50 and get Pete Alonso (According to NFBC pick 58), Jose Abreu (pick 74), Ryan Mountcastle (pick 107), or even Jared Walsh (pick 116) and never worry about that position all season.

Depending on how you decide to construct your roster, first base is one of the easiest positions to get right this year.

Let's dive into who's rising, who's falling and how to best attack the position in the 2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview.

2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Get prepared for the upcoming season with the 2022 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview and by using the free FantasyPros Draft Wizard.

Is Vlad worth the price?

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Remember last year, the main question concerning Vlad was: When will he become a superstar? Will he hit it in the air more? Will Skinny Vlad have enough power? In 2021 all those questions were answered when Guerrero hit:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
2021.311.401.6011.00248123111

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a clear top 10 overall pick. Currently, he is being picked fifth overall on average in NFBC. ZiPS has him projected at: .303/.390/.585 with 43 HRs, 112 RBIs, and 117 Rs. My main concern is that next season Toronto is not scheduled to play any games in Buffalo. Playing almost four months in the home run-friendly stadium helped boost Vlad's home run total.

Look at the difference between Vlad's home and away splits:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
Home.328.420.6991.119317069
Away.295.382.503.885175342

If he slips past pick 10 (he won't) I will pick him without thinking twice because I like boring safe picks. However, with the depth at First Base, there is just no reason to drop a top 10 pick on Guerrero when there are so many other shallower positions that can be addressed early in the draft.

Is Freddie Freeman the best 1B Value?

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Current free agent Freddie Freeman is waiting to figure out where he is playing next year. Just kidding, we all know he is going to sign with Atlanta when the lockout is finished.

If I miss out on Guerrero Jr., I am ecstatic to pick Freeman at his current NFBC ADP of 19. Vlad might be No. 1, but Freeman is 1a or 2+1 or whatever shows he is super close to Vladimir.

Freeman's last three full seasons:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
2021.300.393.503.8963112083
2019.295.389.549.93838113121
2018.309.388.505.892239498

Looking at those stats I can safely assume Freeman is going to hit 25+ HRs, 90+ Rs, and 90+ RBIs in 2022. When I peek at the answers to the test I can see I'm not that far off from the projections. ZiPS has Freeman with 29 HRs, 101 Rs, 92 RBI, while hitting .294/.384/.512.

Freddy has very little injury risk, played 158+ games the last 3 full seasons, and at 32 still shows no signs of regression.

Step 1. Draft Freddy Freeman

Step 2. Put Freddy Freeman in your lineup

Step 3. Never worry about 1B for the rest of the year.

Who else do you include in the safe tier?

As I mentioned in my intro there is so much power in the First Base position. So where does the drop-off occur where I start sweating about grabbing a first baseman?

Let's revisit our rankings after Guerrero and Freeman:

Paul Goldschmidt
Matt Olson
Jose Abreu
Pete Alonso
Ryan Mountcastle
Jared Walsh
Kris Bryant
C.J. Cron
Rhys Hoskins

The only person I omitted from our top 13 was:

DJ LeMahieu**

I don't like LeMahieu's profile at all with all of the other names on this list. I wouldn't be surprised if he hit 15+ HRs next year. His 2022 ZiPS projection of .285/.354/.421, 13 HRs, 89 R, 64 RBIs still look achievable. But those numbers are not the power numbers I'm looking for, compared to the rest of the names on this list.

Almost every name on here has a question mark such as: Is this the year we start seeing a decline in Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu? Will Matt Olson escape Oakland's pitcher-friendly stadium and head somewhere hitter-friendly? As you can tell some of those question marks are smaller than others (I think all of those questions are really small) but that is why we are getting a discount.

Bottom Line: I would feel great leaving my draft with anyone from this group.

Did we forget about Joey Votto?

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Joey Votto is ranked at number 18 in our rankings. However, I want to warn our readers: I am all in on Joey Votto this season.

As a reminder, Votto was hit by a pitch on May 7th, 2021, and missed more than a month with a broken thumb. He played 129 games (in the previous 5 years he did not play less than 142 games) and hit 36 HRs! His EV was up almost 3 MPH from the past years and his maxEV was 114.1. That was the highest he has ever recorded in the Statcast era. Votto has always been an incredible hitter but what really stood out was his Barrel%: last year he was at 17.2%. Joey Votto's previous best? 9.5% in 2015.

Joey Votto's final line in 2021 was:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
2021.266.375.563.938367399

Again that was in 129 games. I'm not sure if the extra rest helped him or if Votto was just really mad that he missed so much of the season.

With a current price of pick 153, I would pick him a round early to just make sure I don't miss out on Votto.

Player(s) on the rise

Ty France, Seattle Mariners

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Last year was Ty France's first full season in the majors, and at 26 years old he showed he belonged in the lineup every day:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
2021.291.368.445.813188573

What immediately sticks out is the 18 HRs. However as John Trupin (@JohnTrupin) points out in his article "The fix is in for Ty France", France was hit by a pitch on April 19th. He played through the injury and hit zero home runs until the club put him on the 10-day IL on May 14th. When he returned on May 24th, healthy, he went back to hitting.

ZiPS projects .282/.356/.455/.811, 21 home runs, 85 runs, 84 RBI for 2022, however, ZiPS isn't taking into account the injury. I expect 25+ HRs from Mr. France along with 90+ Rs and 90+ RBIs in a great 2022 sophomore campaign.

Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers

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Torkelson is being taken as the 27th First Baseman off the board. Right after Nathaniel Lowe and before Miguel Sano, Luke Voit, and Jesus Aguilar. During a normal offseason where pitchers and catchers were about to report to Spring Training, we would be inundated with headlines like: "When will Torkelson be called up?" and "Is Torkelson already the reason Detroit wins the World Series in 2022?".

While we haven't reached that level of hype yet, Torkelson's current draft position should show that the fantasy baseball community is aware of his imminent arrival.

Last year Torkelson played at High A, Double-A, and Triple-A, and all he did was hit at every stop:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
High-A.312.440.5691.00952128
Double-A.263.373.560.933143336
Triple-A.238.350.531.881113527

The only thing that is a question, is when will he be called up this year. Unless service time manipulation is addressed in the new collective bargaining agreement, Torkelson should be called up after the 16th days after the beginning of the season. Even with that delayed start to his major league campaign ZiPS projects: .249/.334/.459 29 HRs, 75 Rs, 80 RBIs. This stat line is so beautiful I honestly stopped and just stared at it after I typed it.

Player(s) on the decline

Josh Bell, Washington Nationals

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Currently, Bell is going around pick 133 or the 12th First Baseman off the board in NFC leagues. That is before France, Hoskins, and Votto, three players I like a lot more than Bell.

In 2021, Bell spent his first season away from PNC Park, when he was traded to the Nationals during the offseason. Many were hoping the change of scenery was going to help him bounce back after a down year in 2020 where he hit: .226/.305/.364.

While Josh Bell improved his contact reducing his K% from 26.5 the year before to 17.8. His numbers were down across the board from 2019.

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
2021.261.347.476.823277588
2019.277.367.569.9363794116

While his Hard Hit % went up to 51.5% (46.4% in 2019) it was his Launch Angle that seemed to cause the biggest issue, dropping from 13.1 to 4.9.

It is no surprise then that he hit 53.5% ground ball (GB/FB went from 1.18 in 2019 to 2.02 in 2021).

Looking at Bell's month-by-month production

But the final season numbers do not tell the whole story. Looking at the month by month stats:

March/Apr: 2 HRs (.113/.200/.264)

May: 5 HRs (.264/.312/.483)

June: 4 HRs (.282/.363/.521)

July: 6 HRs (.287/.333/.552)

August: 6 HRs (.266/.346/.489)

Sept/Oct: 4 HRs (.292/.437/.472)

It shows that Bell got better as the season wore on. However, the Nationals have a hard choice to make, extend or trade Bell in 2022. They absolutely want Bell to get off to a hot start. ZiPS projects him to hit .273/.357/.505 with 31 HRs 112 RBIs and 87 Rs. From what the underlying statistics are showing those numbers seem very optimistic.

Unless I see off-season news about Bell reworking his swing to address the launch angle issue, I'm out. With a first baseman market that is so deep, I am not spending a pick on a guy who will struggle to get the ball in the air and not grab every RBI and HR he can.

Player on the horizon

Nick Pratto, Kansas City Royals

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The newly minted #43 prospect on the Baseball America Top 100 list has played just 63 games in AAA. However, Nick Pratto looks ready to help the Royals now. Of course, that will not happen because of service time manipulation, but once the Royals gain an extra year of eligibility expect Pratto to be called up.

Pratto was added to the 40-man roster on Nov. 19th, after his age 22 season where he spent time in Double-A and Triple-A. Look at these stats from last year:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
Double-A.272.404.570.974154443
Triple-A.259.367.6341.001215455

Most projections have Pratto playing 50+ games next year for the Royals. ZiPS has him playing 127 games and putting up .249/.325/.468 with 24 HRs, 66 Rs, and 67 RBIs.

Back in 2019 Nick Pratto was not enjoying his time in High-A. He was hitting .191/.287/.310 with a 34.7 K% and 9 HRs. Two years later and he has lowered his K% to 28.5 and raised his OBP by almost 100 pts thanks to Pratto's increased walk rate:

High-A - 10.4%

Double-A - 16.7%

Triple-A - 13.7%

Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern) who writes the amazing Imaginary Brick Wall (Full disclosure: I also subscribe to his Patreon) wrote about Pratto this week:

He has an explosive, uppercut lefty swing that produces tons of flyballs, and while he's not that fast, he's run a lot throughout his career. The flyball and high strikeout rates give him a very low batting average floor, but the power and patience are worth that risk.

I completely agree with Michael. Right now Pratto is basically free at the end of drafts and would be perfect at the end of your bench.

Bonus: A player outside the top 100 prospects

Vinnie Pasquantino, Kansas City Royals

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After a wave of early season call-ups in 2022, Pasquantino should take his place as the top First Base Prospect. How long will he stay there depends on how soon he gets called up. Pasquantio has an ETA of 2022 so if everything goes right he should not have that title for long.

Currently the #17 prospect on the MLB.com Prospect Rankings for the Kansas City Royals he seems like an odd pick to jump over some of the other more heralded names on the First Base prospect list like Triston Casas, Nick Pratto, and my personal favorite Michael Toglia.

Last year at two levels Pasquantino hit:

AVGOBPSLGOPSHRRRBI
High-A.291.384.565.949134442
Double-A.310.405.560.965113542

Those numbers by themselves look pretty good. However, when you look at the next line of stats we uncover what makes Pasquantino special:

High A - 12.0% BB% 13.8% K%

Double-A - 13.1% BB% 11.0% K%

With all the quality contact that Pasquantino is making, the home runs will come. In the current launch angle-obsessed MLB I'm sure the Royals will find the appropriate changes to his swing to unlock more home runs. Even if the 25-30 home runs never come (Spoiler: They will), the rest of Pasquantino's stats make him the perfect Dynasty play.

Player(s) to avoid

It would be easy for me to say "avoid any First baseman who is not hitting for power this year" but my editor told me that is not very helpful.

Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers

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Nathaniel Lowe was traded from the Rays to the Rangers on December 10th, 2020 (Red Flag #1). Which of course made me wonder: Why are the Rays trading a player that looks like he can hit? The Rays could not give Lowe playing time and kept platooning him with Ji-man Choi (Red Flag #2). In 2019 Lowe was a sensation in AAA, he hit .289/.421/.508 with 16 HRs in 93 games. All of that power with a 17.7% BB% and 20.2% K%. Sign me up!

So when the Rays called him up, I was excited. Apparently so were pitchers. Because Lowe struck out, a lot. His amazing walk rate evaporated in those 50 games to 7.7% and his strikeouts almost hit 30% (29.6%). He was still making loud hard contact, the problem was he was not making enough of it. Also, to make matters worse he was missing on fastballs. A young hitter who can't hit fastballs? (Red Flag #3)

In 2020 the scouting plan was out on Lowe and pitchers challenged him more and more with their fastballs. 61.7% of the pitches he saw in 2020 were fastballs. In the shortened season Lowe played in only 21 games and hit .224/.316/.433 with 36.8 K% and an 11.8 BB%. Honestly, I thought he needed more consistent playing time.

But I am an idiot obviously.

2022 Outlook

As I mentioned in 2021 Lowe was traded to Texas and I was excited. Most of the fantasy community was so happy Lowe was going to easily beat Ronald Guzman during Spring Training. Guzman had other plans. He absolutely went off in Spring Training (.308/.413/.590 10 Ks in 39 ABs), and Lowe got hurt and got off to a slow start (.205/.321/.341 with 15 Ks in 44 ABs).

The regular season started and Lowe started putting up video game set on easy mode numbers:

April - .277/.360/.485 6 HRs 22 RBIs and a manageable 27 K%

But then May came and pitchers started pounding the strike zone with fastballs and Lowe's numbers deflated:

May - .220/.347/.320 2 HRs 8 RBIs and a 29.8 K%

He ended up finishing the season with 18 HRs (with 1/3rd being hit in April) and a just ok .264/.357/.415.

Nate Lowe is at this point a very streaky hitter who is capable of hitting 2 HRs in a game and 6+ in a week. The next week he may only get on base once.

I don't have the emotional capacity to handle this type of on-again/off-again relationship. Leave him undrafted and give the headache to someone else.


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3 comments

No Way! February 4, 2022 - 9:54 am

Whoa. Does this writer know anything about the Royals? Pasquantino is the future of Royals 1B? Have you not heard of Nick Pratto? It has to be tough being a fantasy writer becasue you have to put yourself out on a limb with predictions but when someone fails to mention Pratto when talking about Royals 1B players, it really sinks any credibility to the rest of the article.

And how did 1B get so deep this offseason anyways? You mention that you will not draft Vlad in the top 9 but are fine with waiting for Freeman at 19. Did more 1B guys come to life last year? Was Walsh not around last year or anyone else in that top 13 rankings? The only player i see in your top 13 that would be considered a breakout from last year adding to the depth of 1B is Austin Riley and most leagues don’t even have him eligible at 1st. So to recap your article, Ty France looks good and now 1B is really deep. The way I see it is that it is the same crop of players from last year and Vlad was the #1 player in fantasy. 1B is not deep. There is a tier above them all in Freeman and Vlad but after that it is a bunch of dart throws.

You took a swing and missed on this article. I hope people don’t follow your advice to closely this time.

Reply
Dap Scout February 4, 2022 - 10:58 am

First of all, thank you for taking the time for writing such detailed feedback. It is so much better than the typical “you suck”.

I messed up on Austin Riley, no excuse. The sad part is he is on two of my teams. Note to self – Don’t trust FantasyPros default eligibility settings moving forward.

When I took the assignment I took the “Player on the Horizon” to mean “Find a player in Dynasty who is not on everyone’s radar”. After my editor yelled at me for 2 hours and threatened my family I now understand that the question was meant for redraft. So I will add a section to cover Mr. Pratto, the pride of Huntington Beach, CA. Give me an hour or two on that rewrite. Pratto is absolutely the more immediate prospect, but I still want readers to be aware of Vinnie Pasquantino.

As for the rest of your comment is really about whether or not there is key depth after Vlad and Freeman. There absolutely is a ton of power hitting, high OBP, RBI, and Run producing players in the top 13. Since Fantasy Baseball is all about trade-offs I would rather take a Jared Walsh or CJ Cron later in the draft if it means I grabbed stud at some of the shallower positions. Of course, I want Vlad or Freeman, but in trying to look at the entire picture of roster construction I want to give the reader an idea of all the options they have available.

Thank you again for reading and if you have any other thoughts please feel free to message me on Twitter @dapscout. In the meantime please tell my editor to stop staring over my shoulder while I write this. He is really scaring me.

Reply
Dap Scout February 4, 2022 - 11:58 am

Updated the article. Now I need coffee.

Reply

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