2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: First Base

by Josh Stevens
2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: First Base

2023 was one of the most exciting years for baseball in recent memory. Record-breaking seasons and surprisingly dominant teams stole the headlines this year. This excitement carried over to the ever-growing world of fantasy baseball. Welcome to our 2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: First Base.

There is no doubt that first base has always been a star-studded position. In fact, 37 MVPs were won by first baseman, eight more than any other position (right field is in second with 29).

Historically, not all positions were asked to be solid hitters, so most of the best stats were put up by first baseman. However, this has been slightly devalued in the past couple of decades, as offensive firepower can be found everywhere on the diamond. That being said, there were some first who stood out this season, both for positive and negative reasons.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: First Base

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Overachievers

Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays.

Doesn’t it always seem like the Rays just find different guys to produce every year? Despite routinely having a bottom-five payroll, the Rays seem to have no trouble racking up 95+ wins year after year, no matter who joins or leaves the organization.

Before the year started, Diaz was essentially an afterthought in fantasy. The consensus ranking for him among first basemen was between 25-30, and this made sense. In 2021 and 2022, Yandy proved that he was great at getting on base, but really lacked the power needed at the first base position, hitting only 22 homers over those two seasons combined (271 games).

However, Diaz took his game to another level in 2023. He matched his home run total from the previous two years combined, and as a result, saw his slugging percentage soar by 100 points compared to 2022, and 135 points compared to 2021.

Diaz’s most notable achievement was likely earning the batting title in 2023, with a tremendous average of .330. Diaz was able to do this by simply barreling balls up, as he was in the top two percent of average exit velo, (93.4), and hard hit percentage (51%).

All of these improvements led to a huge jump in fantasy output by Diaz, as CBS Sports had him as scoring the sixth most fantasy points on the year, and the fifth most fantasy points per game.

Spencer Steer, Cincinnati Reds

Similar to Diaz, Steer was also highly overlooked before the season, with a fantasy pros preseason ranking as the 42nd-best option at the position.

While Steer got some action as a September call-up in 2022, his mediocre numbers, a .211 average and two homers in a 28-game sample size, made him an unknown to the public at the start of 2023. You could almost certainly grab Steer off of waivers for the first portion of the season.

However, Steer made himself known in a big way early. In May, he won Rookie of the Month by posting a .318 average with six homers, 19 RBI, and a .573 slugging percentage.

This led the way to a solid performance the rest of the season, as Steer ended the season with a .271 average, 23 homers, and a 120 OPS+.

While he continued to fly under the radar amongst the rookies on his team, Steer is arguably the most valuable fantasy player for the Reds, as he finished as the seventh-ranked first baseman of the season.

Underachievers

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

After his 2021 season, I thought Vladdy was the next Albert Pujols, and I had every reason to.

After being hyped as the best-hitting prospect in recent memory, Guerrero struggled a bit out of the gate. However, he had a massive 2021, hitting .311 with 48 homers, while leading the league in OBP, OPS, and total bases. At just 22 years old, Vlad Guerrero Jr. seemed like the future of baseball.

While Guerrero didn’t have an awful 2022, it was definitely a step down from the previous year. While he still hit 32 homers and 35 doubles, his OPS dropped almost 200 points from 2021. However, plenty of optimism went into 2023, leading a still very young Guerrero to be a consensus first-round pick.

Unfortunately, Guerrero had an even more disappointing year in 2023. His OPS dipped again, now just sitting at a merely above average .788, with a full 100 fewer total bases than in 2021.

While baseball savant suggests that Guerrero has faced some tough luck this year, he is also barreling a lot fewer balls than in 2021, with the barrel percentage dropping from 15% to just above 11%.

This regression in performance led to a negative return on Guerrero’s top ten ADP. While a top-seven positional ranking at the end of the season isn’t terrible, it’s still way less than managers expected at the start of the season.

Josè Abreu, Houston Astros

After nine seasons on the South Side of Chicago where Abreu averaged 27 homers, a 135 OPS+, and a .292 BA per season, there were big expectations after a three-year, 58 million-dollar contract with Houston.

However, Abreu had his worst season in 2023. He lapped his career lows in average (.237), OPS (.680), and WAR (-0.1).

While Abreu finished with a respectable 18 homers on the season, he didn’t hit one until May 28th despite playing every day. As a result, many fantasy managers likely benched or even dropped Abreu, who was a top-five-seven pick at his position before the season started.

Even more concerning: Abreu did not record a baseball savant percentile above 53 percent. Abreu didn’t just get unlucky, he was flat-out bad. Although, he is off to a hot start in the playoffs...

Prospects to Watch in 2024

Nolan Schanuel, Los Angeles Angels.

Schanuel was touted as the most pro-ready prospect in the 2023 draft. This couldn’t be more true. After a fantastic senior season at FAU where Schanuel hit .447 with a 1.483 OPS, he was called up to the MLB after only 22 games in the minors.

With a .402 OBP, Schanuel showcased his elite on-base skills. However, he still must tap into some more of his power potential, as he only hit one homer in 19 games. However, the future is bright for Schanuel.

Kyle Manzardo, Cleveland Guardians

Manzardo has established himself as arguably the best pure hitter in the minor leagues. Manzardo has raked at every single level, hitting a combined .284 with 41 homers in 203 total games. These numbers are even more promising with his K: BB ratio, which is almost even, a rarity among young players.

While Manzardo struggled a bit in AAA compared to his lofty standards, he still didn’t have a disappointing to AAA. At just 23, Manzardo will have more than enough time to continue his production before he inevitability breaks into the big leagues in 2024.

That's a wrap for our 2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: First Base. Is there anybody else who over or underachieved their expectations this year? Tell us in the comments!


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