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Nick Mariano's Early 2021 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Once again, I'll start by saying the 2021 baseball season is not guaranteed to be a normal one. But for now, let's just close our eyes and dream of a world unencumbered by COVID-19 and talk about our silly little game as if a 162-game season will come next spring. Join me for my position-by-position ranking series for the 2021 fantasy baseball season.

It is time to decide how strongly to weigh 2020 and recalibrate our brains to forget such things as the East, Central, and West divisions only playing within themselves. Let alone the high crimes of introducing the DH to the National League. For now, I'm operating under the assumption of no NL DH moving forward. And it's clear that many familiar names may be frozen out of fair contracts as owners cry about lost revenue from the limited 2020 season. Pour one out for the poor, poor owners.

We started with catchers and now we're tearing down the line towards first base. Once a simple bastion of power, it's become delicately top-heavy in recent years and you'll want to have everyday at-bats from your big boppers. Let's run through first as we prepare for what we hope will be a refreshing 2021 season.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and weekly lineup resources:

 

Early 2021 First Base Rankings - 5x5 Mixed Leagues

In case you missed it, our very own "Big Pick Nick" Mariano was named the #1 overall most accurate industry expert ranker for the 2018 season. Be sure to follow his updated rankings all season long!

Rank Tier Player Position
1 1 Freddie Freeman 1B
2 1 Cody Bellinger 1B/OF
3 2 DJ LeMahieu 1B/2B/3B
4 2 Jose Abreu 1B
5 2 Luke Voit 1B
6 2 Pete Alonso 1B
7 2 Matt Olson 1B
8 3 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B
9 3 Dominic Smith 1B/OF
10 3 Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B
11 3 Paul Goldschmidt 1B
12 3 Anthony Rizzo 1B
13 4 Alec Bohm 1B/3B
14 4 Mike Moustakas 1B/2B
15 4 Eric Hosmer 1B
16 4 Ryan Mountcastle 1B/OF
17 5 Yasmani Grandal C/1B
18 5 Rhys Hoskins 1B
19 5 Josh Bell 1B
20 5 Jake Cronenworth 1B/2B/SS
21 5 Christian Walker 1B
22 5 Miguel Sano 1B
23 5 Jared Walsh 1B
24 5 Trey Mancini 1B/OF
25 6 Jeimer Candelario 1B/3B
26 6 Hunter Dozier 1B/OF
27 6 Bobby Dalbec 1B
28 6 Ryan McMahon 1B/3B/2B
29 6 Andrew Vaughn 1B
30 6 Yuli Gurriel 1B
31 6 Jesus Aguilar 1B
32 6 Rowdy Tellez 1B
33 6 C.J. Cron 1B
34 6 Tommy La Stella 1B/2B/3B
35 6 Edwin Rios 1B/3B
36 6 Carlos Santana 1B
37 6 Brandon Belt 1B
38 7 Garrett Cooper 1B
39 7 Wilmer Flores 1B/2B
40 7 Renato Nunez 1B
41 7 Evan White 1B
42 7 Nate Lowe 1B
43 7 Colin Moran 1B
44 8 Michael Chavis 1B/2B/OF
45 8 Joey Votto 1B
46 8 Mike Brosseau 1B/2B/3B
47 8 Spencer Torkelson 1B/OF
48 8 Josh Fuentes 1B
49 8 Marwin Gonzalez
1B/2B/3B/OF
50 8 Danny Santana 1B
51 8 Mitch Moreland 1B
52 8 Travis Shaw 1B/3B
53 8 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B
54 8 Ji-Man Choi 1B
55 8 Pavin Smith 1B
56 8 Lewin Diaz 1B
57 8 Ronald Guzman 1B
58 8 Ryan McBroom 1B
59 8 Jake Lamb 1B/3B
60 8 Brent Rooker 1B
61 8 Daniel Vogelbach 1B
62 8 Albert Pujols 1B
63 8 Seth Brown 1B
64 8 Mike Ford 1B
65 8 Daniel Murphy 1B
66 8 Todd Frazier 1B/3B

 

Tier One

Good ol’ Freddie Freeman battled back from a dastardly coronavirus battle to play in 60 games, racking up a hefty .341/.462/.640 slash line with 51 runs, 13 homers, and 53 RBI. Heck, he even tossed in two steals. His R+RBI tallies enjoyed the Marcell Ozuna resurgence even as Ronald Acuna Jr. didn’t take over the world and Ozzie Albies spent weeks on the IL. If you need a consistent bat to anchor your power/average categories then simply buy into Freddie. It’s as easy as that.

Cody Bellinger may be a World Series champion but he’s still behind Freeman thanks to more volatility. We heard about his tinkering with the swing prior to 2020 and while we still got 12 homers and six steals in 56 games, he only hit .239 with a mere 63 R+RBI.

He only went 16-for-74 (.216) against southpaws, with a .666 OPS compared to 2019’s .982 OPS against left-handers. And while he popped four homers in the postseason, he still only hit .212 in those 76 PAs. His BABIP sat between .299 and .313 in each of his first three seasons, but that cratered to .245 in ‘20. Look for luck to stabilize as you invest at a slight discount in 2021.

 

Tier Two

We’ll need to see where DJ LeMahieu signs but the hope is he stays in New York, returning the batting champ to friendly Yankee Stadium. He was one of only three 1B-eligible bats to record an OPS above 1.000 and offers a handful of steals for debatable five-category production. But if you want to go for a higher power ceiling with Jose Abreu then I won’t fight you one bit. Two other New Yorkers can also plant their flag in that mountain with Pete Alonso and Luke Voit, with the former posting a down 2020 and the latter popping off with 22 homers and a .948 OPS in 56 games. I'm happy to buy lower on Alonso but also in with Voit as a top-five bat given the offensive climate.

If Alonso's stock is low than Matt Olson's is in the basement. He got it done with the power, hitting 14 homers in 60 games, but the .195 batting average and 31.4% strikeout rate sunk many a fantasy team. I'm resistant towards small-sampling his bat but it's worth noting his whiff rate against fastballs rose from 28.4% in '19 to 40.8% in '20 per Baseball Savant, and when fastball performance deteriorates then the red flag grows darker. I'm not "out" on him but I'd rather buy Goldschmidt's 10.7% HR/FB rate regressing towards the 20.1% career mark (19.9% in '19).

 

Tier Three

It's short and sweet: Count me out on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. until he proves that he can consistently lift the ball. I'm almost sure not to get him unless I vault him well over Olson. The .262 average would be fine if he were playing HR Derby with the rest of the adults but nine homers in 243 PAs won’t cut it. I know he’s young and has potential but there are too many players that are already performing to pay up for Vladito, especially if "best shape of his life" spikes are already occurring before Thanksgiving.

Drafters will have to make decisions on the Cubs as a whole after down offensive years, with Rizzo right in the thick of things. His 11 homers and three steals in 58 games maintained his usual production pace, but a wild .218 BABIP dropped his average to .222 in the short year. He still had an 11.5% walk rate and a 17.7% HR/FB rate, logging a career-best 92.6% zone-contact rate, but the hits didn’t fall. Health remains an issue thanks to chronic back woes, but overall he should be a decent bargain on draft day.

And what do we do about Dominic Smith with the NL abandoning the DH again? We can’t assume they make him a full regular despite hitting .283 (15-for-53) against lefties in 2020, but he crushed right-handers with eight homers and a .331 average in 124 ABs. It's possible people will overreact and swing the pendulum too far in 2021 drafts, forgetting about J.D. Davis in the process. I'm unlikely to draft him on many of my teams but it'd be irresponsible not to reward him with a top-15 slot in the ranks. The range of outcomes is too much for me at this point, but the door remains open with the DH conversation.

 

Tier Four

Let Alec Bohm grow into the power while Ryan Mountcastle gets a full year of Camden Yards. Bohm turned in a crispy .338/.400/.481 slash across 180 PAs, but only four homers and one steal puts lots of pressure on that average. And there’s little chance he replicates the .410 BABIP over a full year. Expect more of a .275 BA and perhaps 20 homers, with room to be pleasantly surprised.

Meanwhile, Mountcastle slashed .333/.386/.492 with a .398 BABIP and five homers in 140 PAs. But he’d logged a .370 BABIP over 553 Triple-A PAs in ‘19 and could sniff .300 throughout his career. Mix in a 25-homer swing in that park and you’ve got fun to be had. And if you can place some early 2021 AL RoY wagers then look at Mountcastle, who remains eligible and received a third-place vote in 2020.

 

Tier Five

Do note that Yasmani Grandal's higher ranking is a byproduct of his being catcher-eligible. You're not taking him at this price point to stick him at 1B. You know this, I know this, let's move along. I’d be fine going for Miguel Sano’s high-power approach, Eric Hosmer’s newfound launch angle, Christian Walker's quiet consistent approach, or even a rehabbed Rhys Hoskins in Philly instead. This is one of those tiers where most will have "their guy" and if they miss then it's onto flyer territory. I know who many will have circled.

You want to talk about Jared Walsh! He made some unassuming appearances in late July before working on his swing a bit away from the team. He returned in late August and became a September superhero, crushing nine homers with 44 R+RBI while hitting .337 in just 22 games. In doing so, he finally brought that elite minor-league production into the bigs. In only 98 games at Triple-A in ‘19, Walsh clobbered 36 homers with a .325/.423/.686 slash line as a 25-year-old. But with Shohei Ohtani back at DH and Albert Pujols at first (or DH himself), how many PAs are there for Walsh?

It's early and I respect those who want to speculate on risky propositions, but I have to bake in probabilities here. We must be mindful of Trey Mancini’s status amidst COVID-19, as his fight with cancer leaves him in the high-risk category. If he gets close to full-time PAs in Camden again then you know he's capable of top-12 1B play.

 

Tier Six

Carlos Santana is a boring vet who didn’t even hit .200 last year, with a .349 OBP that nearly matched his .340 slugging percentage. When his left-handed swing played in Cleveland then I was intrigued, but not so much at Kauffman. The Royals offense is improving and may outproduce Cleveland's with a Lindor trade, but Santana remains a points-only bat for me with that reliable walk rate. At least he goes late and is durable. Some may flock to him as a familiar name but these youngsters offer more value. And if you’re hellbent on that angle and can give on the durable piece then just wait for Brandon Belt!

Let’s not forget about C.J. Cron, Jesus Aguilar, and dare I say...Miguel Cabrera. The first two hit in the heart of their orders thanks to an OPS orbiting .800, while Miggy reminded us he can still bang with 10 homers in 231 PAs. But you want something more in life, I can tell. At least, you want something more exciting out of way-too-early 2021 analysis.

 

Tiers Seven & Eight

I will note that I definitely need to move Colin Moran up with the Josh Bell trade as he should have a safer playing-time projection and bat right at the heart of the order. Which will be just him and Ke'Bryan Hayes, but alas. Help us, Bryan Reynolds. Do mind that these late bats will shift wildly as contract negotiations take place. The FA dust will settle eventually and makes for a nice discount on those you believe in.

There is also a range of young bats to consider, such as the recently-dealt Nate Lowe and the ChiSox Andrew Vaughn. We hope to see Lowe get a genuine crack at everyday play but no one loves hitting in Texas' new park. And then with Vaughn, the White Sox could use the third overall pick from the 2019 draft between 1B & DH with Abreu. Vaughn hit .278 with six homers and a crisp 30/38 BB/K ratio over 245 PAs between Rookie-ball, Single-A, and High-A.



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