In this edition, we will be taking a look at baseball’s top 10 first baseman. First base is generally where most MLB teams see their top power hitters at, and many of these players ranked on this very list just so happen to be just that. First baseman can usually be the most versatile hitters as well. You should be able to see that on this list as well.
Here’s a quick look at when the rest of our rankings will be released to the public:
Second base and third base: March 24
Shortstops: March 25
Left fielders: March 26
Center fielders: March 27
Right fielders: March 28
Without further delay, here are our rankings of the top 10 first baseman in baseball entering the 2018 season:
1: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
2017 stats: 7.5 WAR, .320/.454/.578, 36 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 11 defensive runs saved
Joey Votto had a historic 2017 season that nearly won him the National League’s MVP Award despite playing on a last-place team, and further proved his case as one of the best hitters in Major League history.
Votto drew 134 walks last season and only struck out 83 times, which is unheard of in today’s game where Major League Baseball sets a new record for strikeouts each year. The thing with Votto is that he’s also done this before the 2017 season, as he also walked more times than he struck out in 2015 and 2012 too. He had 143 walks in 2015 versus 135 strikeouts, and 94 walks versus 85 strikeouts in 2012.
Back to Votto’s case as one of the best hitters in Major League history. The former National League MVP has a career on-base percentage of .428, which ranks 11th all-time. Only Jimmie Foxx, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Bill Joyce, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Billy Hamilton (not Votto’s teammate), John McGraw, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams can say they have a higher career on-base percentage than Votto, and Votto could definitely enter the top ten following this upcoming season.
As his walk-to-strikeout ratio shows, Votto has the best plate discipline in the league, and you can even look at even more metrics to prove that. He only swung at 15.8% of pitches that ended up falling out of the strike zone, which was the best mark in the Majors, of course. He also only swings and misses 5.7% of the time, which could even be virtually impossible in MLB The Show.
Once the Cincinnati Reds are able to reach the playoffs again, we can only hope Votto is still on the team performing at an elite level. Defensive wise, he’s coming off one of his best seasons ever after a below-average season fielding in 2016, so in a way, he could be only getting better.
2: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 stats: 5.8 WAR, .297/.404/.563, 36 home runs, 120 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases, 10 defensive runs saved
It looked like Arizona Diamondbacks star Paul Goldschmidt was going to run away with the National League MVP award last season, but then injuries hit and altered his finish to the season. He batted just .171 in September, which helped improved Giancarlo Stanton‘s case to win the MVP award instead.
Even with Goldschmidt’s unfortunate end to the 2017 season, he still finished with an elite batting line that included an on-base percentage above .400. While Goldschmidt is a very good hitter and a better base runner and defender than Votto, Votto has the edge because of the fact that he is an all-time legendary hitter. Votto is also the most durable player, as he was one of only five players to play every game in 2017, joining Freddy Galvis, Alcides Escobar, Rougned Odor, and Eric Hosmer.
It should be interesting to see how Arizona chooses to approach Goldschmidt’s contract situation in the near future. He will make $11 million this season, and the Diamondbacks hold a club option worth $14.5 million for the 2019 season, which they will no doubt exercise. However, it could get hard for the Diamondbacks to keep Goldschmidt beyond 2019 within their budget. Right now as it stands, the Diamondbacks only have one set salary in 2020 when Goldschmidt becomes a free agent in Zack Greinke‘s $35 million. Outfielder/third baseman Yasmany Thomas is likely to exercise his player option worth $17 million that year as well.
So it is very possible that Goldschmidt could stay with the Diamondbacks for the long-term future, and that would be the preference on both sides, I’m sure. But if he hits the free agent market, that could all go out the window. Luckily for Arizona, their second-best prospect per MLB Pipeline is Pavin Smith, who has ranked at the professional level to start his career so far.
3: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
2017 stats: 4.3 WAR, .273/.392/.507, 32 home runs, 109 runs batted, 10 stolen bases, 8 defensive runs saved
If you want consistency, Anthony Rizzo is the man you call for the job.
All we need to do is look at Rizzo’s last three seasons in basic terms to prove this:
2015: 6.4 WAR, .278/.387/.512, 31 home runs, 101 runs batted in, 10 defensive runs saved
2016: 5.5 WAR, .292/.385/.544, 32 home runs, 109 runs batted in, 11 defensive runs saved
2017: 4.3 WAR, .273/.392/.507, 32 home runs, 109 runs batted in, 8 defensive runs saved
I’m not an expert by any means when it comes to projecting athletes going forward, but I think I’ll go ahead and mark Rizzo down for 32 home runs and 109 runs batted in with stellar defense at first base in 2018.
It should also be noted that Rizzo put on his best Votto impression last season by walking more times than he struck out. Rizzo was able to draw 91 walks while striking out just 90 times, which helped to a new single-season best .392 on-base percentage for the 2016 World Series champion. Rizzo could potentially even reach the .400’s in on-base percentage if he builds on those marks in 2018, as he was once again the National League leader in drawing hit by pitches with 24.
4: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
2017 stats: 4.5 WAR, .307/.403/.586, 28 home runs, 71 runs batted in, 1 defensive run saved
The Atlanta Braves need to find a way to put more productive players in their lineup to protect Freddie Freeman.
It appears that they are on track towards doing that too. They are hoping for a major rebound year by Dansby Swanson, but top prospects in Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley will soon be on their way to Atlanta as well to help out a Braves lineup that really needs it.
Per the defensive runs saved metric that was noted above, Freeman’s defense at first base was below average in 2017, as he actually had -2 defensive runs saved there in 877.1 innings. The only reason it balanced back out to the positive side at one is because of his play at third base. If you remember correctly, Freeman did indeed play some first base for the Braves in-order to accommodate a way for Matt Adams‘ bat to be in the lineup everyday, but eventually Freeman was switched back over to first full-time when Adams started to cool. He did grade out pretty well at the hot corner though with three defensive runs saved and only one error in 136 full innings.
Atlanta’s success in 2018 will largely be dependent on how healthy Freeman can be. He missed 45 games, but still managed to have one of the best hitting lines of his eight-year career. It looks like he could be trending towards striking out less as well, with his on-base percentage being over .400 and his strikeouts being under 100 in 2017.
5: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 stats: 4.2 WAR, .267/.352/.581, 39 home runs, 97 runs batted in, 10 stolen bases, 7 defensive runs saved
Cody Bellinger helped make the Los Angeles Dodgers the best team in the National League last season, and took him Rookie of the Year honors for his heroics.
If Los Angeles had been forced to stick with Adrian Gonzalez all season, there’s no telling how different their season could’ve ended up turning out. The fact that Bellinger can also play the outfield in addition to first base is a huge advantage for manager Dave Roberts, and at age 22, there is likely no other first baseman in baseball that a rival general manager would take to start his team with instead of Bellinger.
While he had a rough showing in the 2017 playoffs with a .219/.254/.453 batting line, that can be attributed to the heavy breaking ball use that opposing pitchers used to slow down his production. The Houston Astros basically spammed Bellinger with breaking stuff in the World Series, but as his career has shown up until this point, Bellinger will make the necessary adjustments needed to start mashing the breaking balls he sees, because there will be a lot of them this upcoming season.
By 2020, we could easily be talking about Bellinger being the best first baseman in the league. It also wouldn’t be a surprise for him to have some hardware in his trophy case by then as well.
6: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2017 stats: 4.7 WAR, .304/.354/.552, 33 home runs, 102 runs batted in, 0 defensive runs saved
As touched on in our catcher rankings, the Chicago White Sox believe they are building a strong contender for years to come, and they want Jose Abreu to be apart of it, largely considering the fact that Abreu has been the team’s best player on offense each of the last four seasons.
The 31-year-old Abreu has posted four-straight seasons with 100 or more runs batted in, and has hit 30 or more home runs in three out of the four seasons. Imagine what Abreu’s numbers will look like when you give him prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Blake Rutherford, and Luis Robert hitting in the same lineup as him.
Chicago has reportedly shopped Abreu around in trade talks in the past, but they have kept a very high asking price according to various reports. It make sense why the White Sox have such a high asking price, considering the types of returns they have received in trades before. They were able to get great value back in trades for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana, so why stop while they are ahead?
Abreu has two years left on his contract with the White Sox, including 2018, so it should be interesting to see how the 2019 season unfolds for the White Sox, as that will likely help Abreu make the decision about what he once do with the future once he has the power to do so again.
7: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
2017 stats: 2.7 WAR, .303/.358/.573, 36 home runs, 108 runs batted in, -8 defensive runs saved
Shout out to Ryan Zimmerman for having the best offensive season of his career in 2017 after having the worst offensive season of his career in 2016.
Matter of fact, the way Zimmerman looked in 2016, indications were that things were only going to get worse for the longest-tenured Washington National. He batted just .218/.272/.370 with 15 home runs and 46 runs batted in across 467 plate appearances in 2016, giving him a below-average OPS of .642. Zimerman’s OPS in 2017 skyrocketed to .930, making it a 288 point increase.
Washington is prepared for an injury situation or a rough patch of play from Zimmerman in 2018, however, as they signed Matt Adams to be a backup the to two-time all-star, and be a key pinch-hitter for the team in clutch situations.
General manager Mike Rizzo would prefer Zimmerman to be the same guy he was in 2017 once again this season, and he could very well get his wish.
8: Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
2017 stats: 4.1 WAR, .318/.385/.498, 25 home runs, 94 runs batted in, -7 defensive runs saved
Eric Hosmer is a winner, and he won big in free agency this off-season when it appeared several players were losing out by landing a eight-year, $144 million contract with the San Diego Padres. While the industry has split opinions on Hosmer the player, what can’t be denied is his work ethic and durability. He played in every game for the Kansas City Royals last season, and has played 150 games or more four other times in his seven years.
Hosmer chose to leave Kansas City for San Diego largely due to the fact that he believes he can win with the Padres. While it’s likely that the Padres won’t finish ahead of the Rockies, Diamondbacks, or Dodgers this season, they will have a fresh new wave of prospects coming up from the minor leagues soon that they believe can compete with those three teams. To accommodate for Hosmer’s arrival, Wil Myers will be playing outfield full-time once again in 2018, with him likely being the Opening Day starter in right field.
The 28-year-old Hosmer is a player you win with, according to his agent Scott Boras, and his numbers back that up. His 4.1 WAR in 2017 means he was playing at an all-star level for the entire season, and while the followers of the game didn’t give him all-star recognition, he received all-star honors in 2016 when he posted a career-high in runs batted in for a single-season with 104.
9: Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
2017 stats: 2.9 WAR, .241/.384/.451, 23 home runs, 69 runs batted in, 2 defensive runs saved
When some people look at Matt Carpenter‘s 2017 season and say he only batted .241, they fail to recognize that his .384 on-base percentage helped to make him a tough out for opposing pitchers, as he drew 109 walks last season, and as the Cardinals lead ff hitter for most of 2017 and likely most of 2018, all he needs to do is get on-base.
His on-base percentage batting leadoff was even better at .418, and with Marcell Ozuna added into the Cardinals lineup this season, Carpenter will likely score his fair share of runs in 2018. The 32-year-old has also been on a power surge the last three seasons, as he hit 20 or more homers each year.
He just doesn’t play first base for the Cardinals either. Carpenter can handle playing third base and second base, which is an added bonus for manager Mike Matheny. The organization would love to see him back to his 2013 form with his increased power, as he posted a 6.5 WAR that season, and was an essential part of that Cardinals team that ended up losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
10: Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies
2017 stats: 3.4 WAR, .259/.363/.455, 23 home runs, 79 runs batted in, 8 defensive runs saved.
The Philadelphia Phillies managed to compile one of the best off-seasons in baseball this winter by signing both Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana to three-year contracts.
Santana’s arrival in Philadelphia means that stud Rhys Hoskins will play primarily the outfield in 2018, but Santana could also handle the outfield if he had too. Santana became a better defender last season and was able to reach base more, making the $60 million investment a very smart one likely.
The 31-year-old Santana has been close on multiple occasions when it comes to walking more than striking out. Last season, he walked 88 times and struck out 94 times, but in 2016 he finished with exactly 99 walks and 99 strikeouts. Could we see him finally reach base via walk more than he strikes out in 2018? It’s certainly possible in a young Phillies lineup that will feature Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and others all at some point this season.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
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