I’m not sure what has gotten into general managers, but they are making trades like it is the midseason deadline and free agents are already coming off the board.
This action has me so excited, I can’t wait to get into this week’s 2023 Top Keepers – First Basemen edition.
What Kind of First Baseman Do You Want?
Today’s first basemen are all over the board. Some fall into the category of the traditional first basemen – the dudes who hit with power but didn’t do too much more at the plate. You also have your high average, high OBP first basemen who didn’t hit for a lot of power. And there are the few that do it all – or at least get close to doing it all.
Then you have your utility first basemen. Today’s game features plenty of first basemen who also play two to three other positions. We have second basemen who are playing first, or first basemen playing in the outfield or third base.
Because of this versatility, the position is no longer the home of just sluggers. You have to pick a first baseman to keep who best fills your specific needs because the complete first baseman – a run producing power hitter who hits for average and gets on base, are a rare breed.
So let’s dive in and get to the rankings.
A quick note: ages are as of now and the team is who they finished the season with. A player’s team may change for 2023, ages certainly will.
You can call this tier the Misfit Group as the majority of players listed above play multiple positions. Spencer Torkelson is the only player to top 100 starts at first base (105) and Seth Brown had the second-most starts at first with 72.
Luis Arraez hit for a nice average, but that’s about all he did as he only had eight homers. Isaac Paredes saw time at third base, second base and first base with the Rays, but with Ji-Man Choi traded to Pittsburgh, I believe Paredes will see the majority of playing time at first base. His batting average (.202) was horrible this past season, but he had a .435 slugging percentage with 20 homers and 45 RBI in 331 at-bats.
Wilmer Flores hit 19 homers, Seth Brown 25 and Luke Voit 22 with RBI totals of 71, 73 and 69, respectively. Solid seasons, but none of those three hit better than .230. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury had a solid season with 28 homers and 87 RBI while slashing .263/.320/.492. But it was a career year for Drury, so there is a question as to whether he can repeat his performance.
The players with the most upside in this group are pretty obvious – true first basemen Triston Casas and Spencer Torkelson.
Casas appeared in 27 games for the Red Sox and had a not-so-great batting average of .197. Hitting for average is not his strength as he is a career .269 hitter in the minors. But Casas gets on base thanks to a 20% walk rate with the Red Sox and he has a career 13.6% career walk rate in the minors. He did have a 24.2% strikeout rate with the Sox, but the MLB average was 22.4% this year.
What Casas does is hit the ball hard and far, hitting five homers with a 5.3% home run rate. He does hit the ball on the ground too much, but if he can lift the ball more, his raw power will take over and lead to 30+ home run seasons. The biggest issue will be playing time as Eric Hosmer will get time at first and if JD Martinez returns, he will suck up most of the DH at-bats.
Torkelson had a rough rookie season with the Tigers. He slashed .203/.285/.319 with only eight homers and 28 RBI in 110 games. But it is way too early to give up on the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 draft. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is the fact that Torkelson showed improvement over the second half of the season.
After slashing .167/.224/.205 with no homers and four RBI in June, he improved to .220/.278/.320 with one homer and five RBI in July and then posted a .219/.293/.385 slash line in the final month with three dingers and seven RBI. Not great numbers, but Torkelson is too good to cast him to the trash bin already.
CJ Cron seems to have found a home in Colorado. In his two seasons with the Rockies, he has hit 57 homers and driven in 194. He strikes out a lot, but he does what a lot of first basemen aren’t doing much these days – slug homers and drive in runs.
Rowdy Tellez and Christian Walker had sneaky good seasons. Tellez hit 35 homers and drove in 89 runs while Walker hit 36 dingers and recorded 94 RBI. Walker’s home run total ranked second among first basemen behind Pete Alonso’s 40 and Tellez tied for third with Paul Goldschmidt. But for both players, those numbers were career highs. Until they do it again, I can’t rank them higher.
Who is the real Josh Bell? Is it the player who hit 26 homers and drove in 90 runs as a 24-year-old in 2017 or had 37 homers and 116 RBI with a .936 OPS in 2019 in Pittsburgh? Is it the player who drove in 88 runs and had 27 homers for the Nationals in 2021 and was slashing .301/.384/.493 with Washington this season before being traded?
Or is Bell the player who followed his 2017 season with a 12 homer, 62 RBI season or the guy who was traded to the Padres and proceeded to slash .192/.316/.271 with three homers and 14 RBI in 53 games?
I don’t know which Josh Bell to trust, and because of that he is a Tier 4 player – a player you take a chance on, but not one you put a lot of faith in.
I really like the players in this group and can see them moving into the top 10 if they continue to improve or show a little more consistency.
Jose Miranda joined the Twins in May and produced a nice .268/.325/.426 slash line with 15 homers and 66 RBI in 125 games with only an 18.8% strikeout rate. As he establishes himself more, I expect to see that power increase.
Finally given ample playing time, Josh Naylor had a breakout season as he hit 20 home runs and drove in 79 while slashing .256/.319/.452. I may be pushing him a bit by ranking him here, but I think he will duplicate this season in 2023 if not exceed it.
Move the fences back in!
Ryan Mountcastle was greatly affected by the Orioles’ decision to move the left field wall back after the 2021 season. That year Mountcastle hit 33 home runs and drove in 89 while slashing .255/.309/.487. Walker came close to duplicating that slash line in 2022 (.250/.305/.423) and had 85 RBI, but his home run total dropped to 22.
The drop came despite ranking in the 88th percentile in average EV, 82nd percentile in hard hit percentage and in the 94th percentile in barrel percentage.
Need some consistency
Ty France had a nice overall season for the Mariners, hitting 20 homers and driving in 83 while slashing .274/.338/.436. But he was wildly inconsistent in 2022. After hitting .337 in April and .355 in March, he dropped to .244 in June then jumped up to .275 in July. He then went into a swoon in August, hitting .177, and finished with a .254 average in September/October. France needs to be more consistent if he wants to become a top-10 first baseman.
I’m giving Jose Abreu a pass on this past season regarding his home runs. He still slashed .304/.378/.446 and drove in 75 runs. Not his best year, but also not a trend.
Some of you may think that Vinnie Pasquantino is ranked too high, but considering his age and how he performed this past season, I would obviously disagree with you. In only 258 at-bats, he had 10 homers and slashed .295/.383/.450. Even more impressive is the improvement he made month to month. He slashed .230/.325/.340 in 27 games in June. That improved to .329/.392/.600 in 20 July games. In 23 games in September/October, he slashed .361/.449/.482.
Three straight months of improvement. He also finished the season with more walks (35) than strikeouts (34). If you have him, you better keep him.
Great trade for the Rangers
On December 20, 2020, the Rangers traded Osleivis Basabe, Heriberto Hernandez and Alexander Ovalles to the Rays for Nathaniel Lowe and two other players. While Basebe, Hernandez and Ovalles have done nothing for the Rays, Lowe has established himself as a top first baseman for Texas.
In his first season with the Rangers, he slashed .264/.357/.415 with 18 homers and 72 RBI. This year he improved to .302/.358/.492 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI while lowering his strikeout percentage from 25.2% to a league average of 22.8%.
Outside of Matt Olson, the four other players in this tier can all be ranked No. 1, especially if you only care about the next year or two and not further down the road. I am a man who looks three to five years down the road when it comes to keepers. So, with that in mind, you see my top five players and how I ranked them.
Olson hits the ball hard (92.9 mph average exit velocity to lead all first basemen) and is going to give you great power numbers and RBI. The knock against him when compared to the rest of the players in this tier is that he isn’t going to help with your average (if your league uses that stat) or on-base percentage. Thus why he comes in at No. 5.
The 2022 MVP is ranked fourth? Ummm, yep. For Paul Goldschmidt, age is what knocked him down to No. 4. He obviously had a great season across the board (.317/.404/.578 with 35 homers and 115 RBI), but at age 35, how many more seasons is he going to have like this? He will remain above average (at least he better be since I have him on several of my dynasty teams) because he is that good, but I can’t say he will be great three to five years down the road.
I can say that for the players I ranked ahead of him.
Alonso vs. Freeman
I went back and forth when it came to two who ranked second between Pete Alonso and Freddie Freeman. In the end, I went with Freeman third and Alonso second. Why? Age, again, played a big factor in my decision. But I just love Alonso’s power.
There is nothing you can say bad about Freman. He has won an MVP award and finished in the Top 10 in voting five other times. He is going to hit for average and have a great OBP, something Alonso doesn’t do well. But while Freeman is good for 25 or so home runs and 90 to 100 RBI, Alonso is good for so much more.
The Rookie of the Year in 2019, Alonso’s worst power year in a full season is 37 homers and 94 RBI. In the 2020 COVID year he hit 16 homers and drove in 35 in 57 games. His 162-game average is 45 home runs and 116 RBI. That is nothing to sneeze at. Additionally, he has improved his batting average and OBP each season since 2020. The average has gone from .231 to .262 to .271 last year while his OBP has increased from .326 to .344 to .352.
And the top ranked keeper is…
Vladimir Guerro didn’t replicate his 2021 season this past year, but that would have been hard for anyone to do. All he did was lead the league in home runs, OBP, slugging and OPS+ at the age of 22. But his encore season saw him hit 32 homers and drive in 97 runs and produce an .818 OPS and a 132 OPS+ – at the age of 23.
He did see his walk rate fall from 12.3% in ’21 to 8.2% this year, but that is no reason to boot him down the rankings. Guerro can hit and he will do so for many years to come.
Just Missed The Cut
Out of this group, I like Nick Pratto and Miguel Vargas the most as Pratto is 23 and Vargas is 22. The problem is where are they going to play?
If MJ Melendez sees more time behind the plate in Kansas City, that will push Salvador Perez to DH and Pasquantino to first base. That leaves Pratto fighting for at-bats. Vargas is not going to see a lot of time at first base with Freeman in Los Angeles. With Justin Turner now a free agent, Vargas could slide to third base. But without a firm grasp of where he will play and how much time he will receive, I can’t rank him as a Top-30 first base keeper.
Eric Hosmer has slugged under .400 the past two seasons and hit a combined 20 home runs. Yuli Gurriel had a very good postseason for Houston, but he is a 38-year-old free agent who slashed .232/.274/.384 one season after winning the AL batting title and slashing .319/.383/.462. Joey Meneses had a fine season with the Nationals but is a journeyman who has played all over the world and is now 30.
Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for Top 2023 Keepers – Second Basemen next. If you missed any of the previous Top 2023 Keepers articles, you can find them here: