Longtime fantasy baseball managers remember the heyday of first base, when the position had many elite players. But those days are long gone, and the current production at the position is unremarkable. Typically known as a place for sluggers, the 2024 starting lineup includes only two players (Matt Olson and Pete Alonso) who were among the 15 guys who hit at least 35 home runs last season.
Less surprisingly, only one (Freddie Freeman) of the 64 players who stole more than 15 bases would open 24 with 1B eligibility. The recent rise in steals across baseball means managers can attack this class throughout their drafts, increasing the appeal of drafting one of the few impactful first basemen in the early rounds.
[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]
Naturally, landing an elite starter would be an option for a few teams. Most managers will need to sort through a large pool of serviceable players in the hope of finding a standout performer. Here are some options for targeting:
Christian Encarnacion-Strand mostly lived up to the high expectations of his rookie year when he posted an .805 OPS across 63 games with the Reds. The hard-hitting outfielder has the skills to combine for 30 homers with a high batting average in his first full MLB season, but his draft value is being validated by the Reds' crowded outfield. Managers should take a chance on Encarnacion-Strand in the hope that he can force his way into the day-to-day role.
Rhys Hoskins is a forgotten man in fantasy circles after missing the 2023 season with a torn left ACL. But the 30-year-old recently joined the Brewers on a two-year deal, and will have an everyday role on a team with a homer's delight. Hoskins ranked 15th in baseball in home runs from 2018-2022, and should produce 30 long balls in his first year in Milwaukee.
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Kyle Manzardo is the perfect late pick for those looking for a boom-or-bust power option. The 23-year-old was traded from the Rays to the Guardians last summer, and is now expected to become Cleveland's main man at first base. With 41 long balls in 203 minor league games, Manzardo showed off the power skills to immediately grab fantasy attention. The slugger's batting average is difficult to predict, hitting .327 in 2022 but just .236 last season.
Now let's take a look at the top dogs among first basemen.
Freeman is the only first-round pick at the position. The veteran annually ranks among the league leaders in batting average, posts triple-digit totals in runs and RBIs, and is among the few first basemen to regularly hit the bases.
Olson led MLB in homers and RBI last season while ranking third in runs scored. Such is life as an elite baseball player in baseball's most productive lineup. The lack of speed combines with some fluctuations in batting average to push Olson into the second round in the draft.
Managers who want a more consistent player could opt for Alonso instead of Olsson. The centerpiece of the Mets MLB lineup has been leading in homers since his debut in 2019, and he ranked in the top three last year in both long balls and RBI. Like Olsson, Alonso cannot be relied upon to register a useful batting average.
Harper had not made an MLB start at first base until last season, but he is now a starter for the Phillies at that position. Staying off the field could help Harper stay healthy, and he is on a short list of first basemen who can hit .300 with 30 homers and a double-digit steal total.
One of the most heralded prospects of his generation, Guerrero looked poised to live up to expectations when he hit .311 with the 48ers in 2021. His results were less impressive the next two seasons, leaving managers wondering if the 24-year-old is just a good player. He had a great season.
Bellinger revived his career by batting .307 with 26 homers and 97 RBI in his only campaign with the Cubs. The former NL MVP has both fleet feet and a powerful bat, but he posted three disappointing seasons from 2020-22 and therefore can't move any higher on this list.
All good things come to an end, including Goldschmidt's time among the upper echelon of fantasy first basemen. The 36-year-old took a noticeable step back last year but was still good enough (25 HR, 89 R, 11 SB) to be a starter in the lineup. Managers must be satisfied with this new level of performance.
Walker repeated the distinction in the 2022 season that revived his career when he hit 33 homers and 103 RBI last year. The 32-year-old is a consistent mid-round option as a clean-up man in a strong Arizona lineup.
Opinions vary widely on Jones, who needed just 106 games to produce a 20-20 season. Those who question the repeat performance point to an unsustainable .401 BABIP and a lackluster supporting cast. This writer belongs firmly to the skeptical group.
Casas is one of the most impressive players in the rankings. Is it the emerging star who posted a 1.034 OPS in the second half of last season or the slugging average player who posted a .727 mark before the All-Star break? Wise managers will see Casas as a risk worth taking.
By striking out 31 homers and driving in 94 runs, Torkelson established himself as an outstanding power hitter. But to rank higher on this list, the 24-year-old will need to make significant improvements to his .222 lifetime batting average.
Like Encarnacion-Strand, Steer will have to compete for play on the Reds' deep roster. The 26-year-old, eligible for four positions, will have to use his diverse field skills to earn regular work, giving him the potential to match the 23 homers and 15 steals he recorded last year.
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