2023 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

by Ryan Kirksey
2023 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

Welcome to the 2023 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview!

The 2023 Fantasy Baseball season is finally among us which means drafts are already taking place on a variety of sites. As you look to build your team, the crew at Fantasy Six Pack is here to help you with the best resources at each position.

After we kicked off this draft season with a catcher preview, we turn our attention 90 feet away to first base, where there is once again no shortage of players with strong overall profiles plus players you can count on to help in just one or two categories.

The first base position is typically thought of as a place where you can find a home run and RBI anchor for your team. If you're lucky enough to grab a Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, or  Vladimir Guererro, Jr., you might also get a huge advantage in the batting average department as well.

Who are the best options to target and avoid at the first base position this year? Let's dive head-first into first base and find out.

2023 Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview

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Which First Baseman Could Be Selected First At The Position?

Freddie Freeman took a slight step back in the homerun department during his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022, but he was absolutely elite everywhere else, including setting career highs in a full season in stolen bases and batting average. Only four major leaguers slashed at least .300/.400/.500 and two of them were Freeman and the next guy on this list. I have little to no concern that Freeman will see a major decline in production entering his age 33 season, even with Justin Turner and Trea Turner leaving for the East Coast.

Paul Goldschmidt finished in the top-three of MVP voting three other seasons before 2022, but finally took home the award with a career year at age 34. There was essentially no one who could touch his .317/404/.578 slash last season and he led the National League in slugging percentage thanks to 35 homers and 41 doubles. Unlike the other candidates for number one on this list, Goldschmidt is usually a guaranteed 7-10 steals each season as well, something very rare for a first baseman. Goldschmidt did have the second highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last season, so I have him slightly behind Freeman because of the likelihood of some regression.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. set the fantasy baseball world on fire in 2021 with 48 homers, 123 runs, and 111 RBI with a .311 average. Those numbers predictable declined in 2022, but Vlad Jr. still produced a very strong season with 32 homers and 97 RBI. His groundball rate rose to a scary 50% last season so that is something he must fix in 2023. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but Guerrero has the best lineup environment around him so RBI and runs should be plentiful.

The Dark Horse

Pete Alonso also deserves at least a mention here. He won't ever get you the batting average of these other three guys, but there are very few locks for 40 homers and 110 RBI in a season, but Alonso is one of them. His strikeout rate has decreased each of his four years in the major and his launch angle was a career-high 18.2 degrees in 2022.

What Should We Expect From Jose Abreu In Houston?

After nine very strong seasons with the Chicago White Sox (including an MVP in 2020), durable right-handed power hitter Jose Abreu takes his talents to the third coast to replace Yuli Gurriel on the World Champion Houston Astros. Even at 35 years old, Abreu represents a youth movement at the position after the team moved on from 38-year-old Gurriel.

Many think that Abreu's powerful right-handed power stroke is tailor-made for Minute Maid Park and the left field Crawford Boxes. Abreu had an abnormally down year with homers in 2022 (just 15), but according to Baseball Savant, Abreu would have had 22 dingers if he played his games at Minute Maid Park.  The power should return to about 23-25 home run levels in 2023.

Where else Abreu will benefit is in his new spot in this potent Houston lineup. He is likely to bat fifth behind Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman. That means a seventh 100-RBI season is well within reach. Add all of it up, and I have no issues taking Abreu as the sixth or seventh first baseman off the board.

How Soon Should I Take Vinnie "The Italian Breakfast"  Pasquantino?

The new hotness around fantasy baseball drafts this year is Vinnie Pasquantino, the first baseman for the Kansas City Royals who has a 93.1 ADP in NFBC leagues in January. That ADP puts him right in the Jose Abreu/Nathaniel Lowe first base tier despite that fact that Pasquantino has played all of 72 career MLB games. What is the appeal and where should you really be drafting the 25-year-old?

Pasquantino is thought to possess other-worldly power and on-base ability that we only find in the first few first baseman picks this year. He hit 10 homers in under 300 plate appearances last year and also had a .383 on-base percentage thanks to an 11.7% walk rate. Pasquantino never had less than a .560 slugging percentage at any minor league stop and his walk rate was typically around 12-13%.

The young first baseman should also be batting directly behind MJ Melendez, Bobby Witt, and Salvador Perez this season, so the opportunity to drive in runs will be plentiful. Pasquantino has an uncanny ability to make contact with pitches in the zone (92% last season), and that should lead to big numbers in 2023.

I love him any time I can get him after pick 100, or around the 10th first baseman overall. But his stock is going to go up over the next couple months.

Players on the Rise

Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers

Taken as the next first basemen off the board after Pasquantino (102.3 ADP), Nate Lowe looks to build on a stellar 2022 campaign that has a legitimate shot of getting better because of the performance of some teammates. Both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager had VERY slow starts in their first few months as Texas Rangers, but picked it up as the season moved into the second half.

Not surprisingly, Lowe slashed .270/.323/.429 in the first half of 2022, but leaped up to .339/.399/.566 with 38 RBI in the second half. With the gains Lowe saw in strikeout rate and launch angle last year, the piece could be in place for this 27-year-old to have another career year.

Josh Bell, Cleveland Guardians

Josh Bell must be living right to get a batting order slot behind Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, and Jose Ramirez, three of the top on-base options in the American League. Finally leaving the purgatory of hitters' parks in Pittsburgh and Washington, Bell now gets to bat in Progressive Field which has the sixth-highest offensive park factor for left-handed batters over the last three seasons.

After an encouraging season on two awful teams in 2022, Bell could get back to some of his 2019 ways this year if things break right with the Guardians who have a deep playoff run in their sites.

Players on the Decline

Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees

Anthony Rizzo is at something of an interesting crossroads heading into his age 33 season in 2023. His power returned to 30-homer levels in 2022, and he was able to bring along 77 runs and 75 RBI with those homers. But his batting average plummeted to a career-low .224 with a career-high 18.4% strikeout rate.

Much of that bad performance can be chalked up to an ultra-low .216 BABIP, but that's because his line drive rate was the lowest of his career and his contact rate fell below 80% for the first time since his rookie season. There is definitely still some power in the bat and the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium will help, but I'll let someone else have him as the 14th first baseman selected in drafts.

Luis Arraez, Miami Marlins

The trade from Minnesota to Miami does a number of things to harm Arraez's fantasy prospects for 2023, but simple regression will take care of the rest. Instead of batting around Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Jorge Polanco, Arraez will be penciled in the lineup around guys like Jean Segura, Garrett Cooper, and Avisail Garcia. The move to spacious loanDepot park also won't do him any favors.

In his batting-average-winning season last year, Arraez had a BABIP of .331, well above the major league average. He also had just a 3.6% barrel rate, as power is just not part of his game. We can count on him beating out a number of groundballs to get hits if we want, but I would rather someone else take the chance on a one-category player with no pop.

Players on the Horizon

Joey Meneses, Washington Nationals

I bet you can't name four players on the projected opening day lineup for the Washington Nationals. This is a team actively trying to tank and they certainly have the lineup and pitching staff to do it. But after this season, Joey Meneses might just be the most recognizable name on this Nationals roster. He has the first base job all to himself, he is a projection systems darling, and he is in his prime hitting years.

After he slugged 13 bombs in just 56 games last season, most projection systems have Meneses at 22-25 home runs with around 75 RBI this season. As the 21st first baseman off the board around pick 192, you could do a lot worse. Meneses has just enough pop, plate discipline, and on-base ability to be a nice mixed-league asset at CI.

Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox

If I told you that nine of the last 10 seasons, the Red Sox Opening Day first baseman was Bobby Dalbec, Michael Chavis, Mitch Moreland, or Mike Napoli, you might start to remember how inept the position has been for them since the glory days of Kevin Youkilis. Boston hopes 23-year-old phenom Triston Casas changes all that starting this year as he is the favorite to win the job out of camp.

Casas has slugged over .480 in multiple stops across the minor leagues and also sports a walk rate that hasn't dipped below 11.8% at any level of professional baseball. As the 25th first baseman taken (pick 237), it is definitely worth taking a flyer on Casas to see if he can live up to the immense Boston hype.

Players to Avoid

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

The end came fast for Joey Votto last year as the 38-year-old battled injuries, plate discipline problems, and a power outage en route to a .205/.319/.360 line for the Cincinnati Reds. Votto has a strong case ahead of him for the Hall of Fame in a few years, but it might just be the end of the road for him after what will be his 17th season.

Votto had a career-low line drive rate and a career-high groundball rate last season as he was just not able to lift the ball with his normal power. He is currently going as the 38th first baseman off the board in drafts, which unfortunately seems appropriate.

Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini, Chicago Cubs

Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini were both acquired by the Cubs this offseason to play in some kind of 1B/DH platoon role depending on the opposing pitcher. The Cubs got Hosmer basically for free after he was released by the Red Sox, but Mancini was signed to a two-year deal by the Cubbies.

But both of these guys are just part-time players keeping a spot warm for top prospect Matt Mervis who is expected to get the call up at some point this summer. The hope is then the first base job belongs to Mervis for a decade, making Hosmer and Mancini quite expendable.

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