MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 First Basemen of 2017

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 3, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 First Basemen of 2017

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Hello, everyone. And welcome to Bleacher Report's final positional power rankings for the 2017 MLB season.

    The goal is to ultimately rank 300 players, starting with the 25 best players at one of the most star-studded positions in the game: first base.

    Here are the ground rules:

    • With one exception, each player logged the majority of his games at first base.
    • Players were ranked both on the quantity and the quality of their work.
    • Hitting, defense and baserunning fell under the "quality" umbrella.
    • First base is nonetheless the most extreme hitting position in MLB, so players' abilities with the bat took precedence over what they did with their legs and gloves.

    The rankings were a simple judgment call. Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement was useful in this respect but was treated more as a guideline than the word of the baseball gods.

    Lastly, this was neither a far-reaching retrospective nor a gaze into the future. Only what happened in 2017 counted.

A Few Statistics to Know

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    In the year 2017, it's ill-advised and arguably irresponsible to talk about players in detail without using statistics to contextualize their talents and shortcomings.

    So, be warned: There are indeed statistics in these rankings.

    Many stats will simply be alluded to via links that go to relevant data at Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus. But a few to know are...

                                  

    Wins Above Replacement (WAR): As a stat that puts a number on a player's hitting, baserunning and fielding contributions, WAR is a good go-to in any circumstance.

    On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+): This takes a player's OPS, adjusts it for league and ballpark factors and puts it on a scale where 100 represents average. It shows how well a hitter performed relative to his peers.

    Defensive Runs Saved (DRS): It sounds like a measurement of a player's defensive quality, and that's what it is. It's the main defense component for Baseball Reference's version of WAR. Some play multiple positions, but the DRS listed for them here is that of their primary position.

    Launch Angle: This Statcast specialty measures the angle of the ball off a hitter's bat. It provides a snapshot of the shape of a hitter's swing—i.e. whether it's flat and tailored for ground balls and line drives or lofty and tailored for fly balls. The MLB average in 2017 was 11.1 degrees.

    Exit Velocity: Another Statcast specialty that measures the speed of the ball off a hitter's bat. As you'd expect, there's a strong correlation between high speeds and hitting success. The MLB average in 2017 was 86.6 miles per hour.

    Plate Discipline: Although they'll rarely be mentioned explicitly, Swing% (percentage of swings at all pitches), Z-Swing% (in-zone swing percentage) and O-Swing% (out-of-zone swing percentage) paint a picture of a hitter's approach. These figures are found at FanGraphs.

    Pull Percentage (Pull%): Also from FanGraphs, this shows the rate at which hitters pull the ball—to left field for righties and to right field for lefties. Pulling the ball is a double-edged sword: It can make a hitter vulnerable to shifts but is also by far the best avenue to power.

25. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 130 G, 529 PA, .249/.329/.399, 92 OPS+, 16 HR, -8 DRS

    WAR: -0.8

                            

    2017 Player Report

    After years of being arguably the best hitter in MLB, Miguel Cabrera's production disappeared this season.

    He was vocal about how the crisis in his native Venezuela was affecting him, and ultimately ended the year with two herniated discs in his back. Beyond being distracted and banged-up, his strikeout rate spike and decreased exit velocity suggest he was also feeling the effects of age in 2017.

    But he was also unlucky. Although it wasn't vintage, his 91.1 mph exit velo was still among MLB's best. Elsewhere, his launch angle didn't budge from its usual position. It's not hard to believe Statcast's assertion that he should have been a top-20 hitter.

    Cabrera was otherwise as slow as usual and as much a liability as ever on defense. Bad luck notwithstanding, he still fell from the ranks of MLB's elite first basemen.

                                         

    Honorable Mentions: Chris Davis (BAL), Mark Reynolds (COL), Hanley Ramirez (BOS), Danny Valencia (SEA), Jesus Aguilar (MIL), Matt Adams (ATL), Mike Napoli (TEX)

24. Lucas Duda, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 127 G, 491 PA, .217/.322/.496, 116 OPS+, 30 HR, -1 DRS

    WAR: 1.1

                            

    2017 Player Report

    Lucas Duda is a left-handed-swinging pull-power guy, which is the type of profile that comes with good and bad news.

    The bad: Duda's weaknesses remain the same. Lefties remained his kryptonite, and he was also vulnerable to strikeouts and shifts. These are natural barriers in the way between him and better offense.

    The good: Duda's strengths also remained the same. He was one of MLB's pickiest swingers in 2017, allowing his BB% to bounce back to 12.2 following a down 2016. And per usual, his uppercut swing produced both launch angle and exit velocity that translated into plenty of power.

    On the other side of the ball, his deep positioning helped him make the most of what athleticism he has. He was also among the league's better scoop artists.

23. Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Key Stats: 149 G, 576 PA, .246/.326/.443, 99 OPS+, 22 HR, 10 DRS

    WAR: 1.9

                                                     

    2017 Player Report

    Mitch Moreland's defense was perhaps the thing that attracted the Boston Red Sox to him. He didn't let them down in that department in 2017.

    He doesn't play flashy defense—a hard thing to achieve at first base, granted—but his instincts and actions cast him as a natural for the position. The routine, the slightly difficult and the slightly more difficult plays were no problem for him.

    At the plate, Moreland must be hidden away against lefties and is generally cursed to an average-ish existence by his lack of standout skills. But he was at least more selective this year and made good use of a line-drive swing by hitting with authority to all fields.

    Plus, the guy deserves props for not letting a broken big toe ruin his season. It hurt his production initially, but the initial cratering of it wasn't permanent.

22. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Key Stats: 159 G, 620 PA, .255/.334/.466, 108 OPS+, 26 HR, 6 DRS

    WAR: 1.7

                                                                   

    2017 Player Report

    Josh Bell emerged as a nice, steady first baseman in 2017.

    He's a hitter first and a slugger second. That entails a measured approach and the use of one of the flatter swings found on any first basemen. With these, he worked a 10.6 BB% and 18.9 K% and was generally a tough out.

    Bell's 87.7 mph average exit velocity is reflective of his modest power, but he featured a secret weapon for slugging in 2017. He was prolific at avoiding center field, thus avoiding the long way to the bleachers and collecting cheapies from both the left and right side of center field.

    Although Bell's DRS overstates how good he was on defense, he did get more comfortable at the position as his playing time added up. All he needs to do now is correct baserunning that featured too many outs alongside so little action.          

21. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 59 G, 216 PA, .259/.352/.651, 164 OPS+, 24 HR, 4 DRS

    WAR: 2.8

                                

    2017 Player Report

    Matt Olson may not have gotten much time in the majors in 2017, but he sure made it count.

    His 6'5", 230-pound frame comes with plenty of raw power, and he applied it via a good eye, a swing with good loft and an extreme pull habit. His eye was particularly good toward the end, when he was swinging in spots where he could get his arms extended. Thus, his historic rookie home run binge.

    Given his small sample size, there's a limit to how much you can read into Chapman's DRS. But he did show good instincts and actions at first base, and his time in right field was a showcase for his arm.

    Whether Olson can stick as a long-term star will hinge on a swing-and-miss habit that he was mostly able to hide in 2017. But if nothing else, it was a heck of an opening statement.

20. Justin Bour, Miami Marlins

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    B51/MarkABrown/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 108 G, 429 PA, .289/.366/.536, 139 OPS+, 25 HR, -2 DRS

    WAR: 2.3

                                         

    2017 Player Report

    After playing in only 90 games in 2016, disabled list stints for ankle and oblique problems resulted in another injury-marred season for Justin Bour in 2017.

    When healthy, though, he just kept improving as a hitter.

    He has neither the most powerful swing nor the best eye, but he spent 2017 ambushing mistakes and also made extra use of his pull side. These are solid avenues to power. And while both developments must be taken with a grain of salt, he finally conquered left-handers and shifts this season.

    It's a good thing Bour can handle a bat, as he's a bad-body type who doesn't feature much athleticism outside the batter's box. He's a slow runner even by first-base standards and was largely limited to routine plays on defense.

19. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Key Stats: 139 G, 564 PA, .299/.332/.486, 125 OPS+, 18 HR, -5 DRS

    WAR: 2.7

                              

    2017 Player Report

    First base is where you find lumbering, count-working sluggers. Yuli Gurriel is cut from a different mold. 

    He has a relatively flat swing that allows him to be more direct to the ball than many of his contemporaries, hence the excellent 11.0 K% he had this year. He made good use of the whole field in collecting hits, including his 43 doubles. Only one other first baseman hit as many.

    Gurriel's hitting profile had one notable flaw, however. Because of his fondness for swinging and his pesky ability to make contact, his 3.9 BB% ensured his OBP stayed hungrier than his batting average and slugging percentage.

    In making more scoops than all but two other first basemen, Gurriel brought at least one bankable skill to the table on defense. However, he was also error-prone and struggled to finish even routine plays.

18. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 104 G, 451 PA, .241/.355/.469, 117 OPS+, 18 HR, 11 DRS

    WAR: 3.0

                                  

    2017 Player Report

    A concussion ended Brandon Belt's season in early August, but what he did while healthy is worth appreciating.

    Defensively, he didn't screw up a single routine play and, according to one measure, showcased more range than any first baseman. He doesn't always look graceful. But look beneath his appearance, and you'll see his impressive collection of tools.

    Offensively, 2017 brought Belt's latest improvement with his selectivity, which helped keep his BB% sky-high at 14.6 percent. And with one of the highest launch angles in the business, he kept the ball off the ground and got extra bases out of 52.2 percent of his hits.

    However, Belt's swing does come with holes that pitchers exploited to the tune of a 23.1 K%. And without a pull habit or extreme raw power, many of his air balls ran out of gas and found leathery graves.

17. Yonder Alonso, Seattle Mariners

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 142 G, 521 PA, .266/.365/.501, 133 OPS+, 28 HR, -9 DRS

    WAR: 1.9

               

    2017 Player Report

    How does a guy go from a high of nine homers to a new high of 28?

    Well, a juiced ball helps. But Yonder Alonso was perhaps the poster boy for widespread movement to get under the ball. He nearly doubled his launch angle from 10.3 degrees in 2016 to 19.4 degrees in 2017, which eradicated his ground-ball rate and effectively brought the outfield fences closer.

    Pitchers caught on, though. They literally made him reach for fly balls by pounding him on the outside edge of the strike zone. Alas, his fly balls dried up, and his OPS deflated.

    This also wasn't Alonso's finest year on defense. Although he insisted on playing a relatively shallow first base, his declining range ought to be a hint to move back and give himself more time to react and move. 

16. Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 138 G, 551 PA, .247/.359/.518, 126 OPS+, 31 HR, -5 DRS

    WAR: 1.4

                         

    2017 Player Report

    Following a star-making spell in Korea, Eric Thames seized his return to MLB with a 1.276 OPS and 11 homers in April.

    Then the book on him got out. Pitchers went from being willing to challenge him with fastballs to being largely unwilling to do so. They forced him to hit their pitches, and his OPS corrected accordingly.

    On the whole, though, it's no accident that Thames' return was a success. He returned from Korea a more disciplined hitter, which helped earn him a 13.6 BB%. Combined with his ability to avoid center field, his selectivity also helped squeeze results out of a swing that had never been lacking for power.

    When he wasn't in the batter's box, Thames was a liability on the bases and nothing special in the field. But, hey, at least he gave the Brewers some positional versatility. In all, WAR underrates him.

15. Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 155 G, 649 PA, .243/.328/.464, 110 OPS+, 30 HR, 1 DRS

    WAR: 2.1

    2017 Player Report

    Wil Myers' athleticism was arguably his best asset in 2017, as it allowed for 20 stolen bases and good range on defense despite his shallow positioning.

    Unless, of course, you want to stump for the improved power that netted him his career-high 30 homers. He came by it by joining the Fly-Ball Revolution, upping his launch angle and getting the ball off the ground.

    "... I don't want to hit the ball on the ground," Myers said to FanGraphs' David Laurila in March. "... I want the ball in the air. I want good home run trajectory on every swing I take off the tee."

    There's another edge to this sword, however. Myers swung more aggressively trying to make things happen, and his more indirect bat path opened him up to more whiffs. His walk rate survived. His strikeout rate did not, spiking to 27.7 percent.

14. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 145 G, 622 PA, .241/.384/.451, 120 OPS+, 23 HR, 1 DRS

    WAR: 2.9

                                                   

    2017 Player Report

    Of all modern hitters, Matt Carpenter is arguably the most modern hitter.

    Modern hitters like to wait for their pitch. Few like Carpenter, who swung less often (34.1 Swing%) than any hitter and expanded less often (16.6 O-Swing%) than all but Joey Votto. Thus, he walked a ton with a 17.5 BB% and hid his tiny batting average behind a huge OBP.

    Modern hitters also like to feed their SLUG by swinging up at the ball. Few like Carpenter, who had the third-highest launch angle and lowest ground-ball rate of any hitter. At FanGraphs, only 12.1 percent of his batted balls registered as "soft." Only eight qualified hitters did better.

    Given his lack of marketable instincts or skills when on defense, it was a matter of time before Carpenter ended up at first base. He didn't prove to be a standout in his first season there, but at least did what he had to by converting the easy plays.

13. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 157 G, 669 PA, .258/.377/.504, 128 OPS+, 38 HR, -2 DRS

    WAR: 2.8

                

    2017 Player Report

    Edwin Encarnacion played neither often nor particularly well at first base. But without a separate countdown for designated hitters this year, this is the best spot for him.

    At any rate, Encarnacion also isn't the hitter he once was. The strikeout spike that appeared in 2016 carried into 2017. Although his approach remains fine, it's increasingly possible for pitchers to avoid his bat even when challenging him in the zone. That's a sign of waning bat speed.

    Still, "Edwing" is as "Edwing" does.

    He kept walks coming with a 15.5 BB%. He also kept the ball off the ground and was once again one of MLB's top pull maestros. Thus, he continued to pepper the left field bleachers with souvenirs. The day he can no longer do these things is the day he'll no longer be worth gushing over.

12. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 154 G, 667 PA, .259/.363/.455, 112 OPS+, 23 HR, 10 DRS

    WAR: 3.4

                                          

    2017 Player Report

    Carlos Santana is a hitter of extremes.

    Although his swing rate is trending up, 2017 was another year in which he was one of MLB's most selective and most disciplined hitters. His 13.2 BB% was low by his standards, but a figure like that is still loaded with gooey OBP-padding goodness.

    Swing-wise, Santana was once again one of the most extreme pull hitters in MLB. This made him vulnerable against shifts, but his pickiness allowed for consistent contact and his strength and solid loft allowed for relatively easy power.

    Was Santana as great a defender as DRS indicates? Not likely, but his surprising quickness justified his shallow positioning, and the two things together ensured that not many plays went unmade in 2017.

11. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 141 G, 597 PA, .305/.384/.417, 116 OPS+, 7 HR, 7 DRS

    WAR: 3.4

                                                 

    2017 Player Report

    You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and you can't teach Joe Mauer to get in on the launch angle craze.

    He kept it old school in 2017, featuring a flat swing that was good for line drives with an approach that favored center field and left field. He might as well have been flipping the bird to 2017's power party.

    While Mauer couldn't match his peers' power, few of them could match his consistency. Beyond having the perfect swing for hitting for average, he also had his typical extremely selective approach. It all allowed him to balance a 11.1 BB% with a 13.9 K% while keeping the base hits coming.

    The former catcher has also turned himself into a capable first baseman. He already had the hands and the arm, and he has gradually developed a feel for the rhythm of the position. Not much got by him this year.

10. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Key Stats: 144 G, 576 PA, .303/.358/.573, 135 OPS+, 36 HR, -8 DRS

    WAR: 2.7

                          

    2017 Player Report

    Nobody could get Ryan Zimmerman out initially. Through May 6, he owned a 1.382 OPS and 13 homers.

    Not surprisingly, that turned out to be his high-water mark. Pitchers adjusted by throwing him fewer fastballs and by moving their primary target to the outside edge of the zone, where it was mostly safe.

    Regardless, staying healthy was the deciding factor in Zimmerman's strong year, as he spent it tapping into pre-existing talents: a decent ability to make contact and a more-than-decent ability to hit ropes in all directions. He further boosted his value with aggressive baserunning.

    On defense, Zimmerman was a mixed bag. He made the occasional nifty play but was largely a hold-your-breath defender. He led first basemen with 12 errors, seven of which came courtesy of an arm that's long been past its prime.

9. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 158 G, 637 PA, .270/.355/.529, 128 OPS+, 38 HR, 1 DRS

    WAR: 3.2

                       

    2017 Player Report

    "I stopped trying to hit home runs," Justin Smoak told FanGraphs' Travis Sawchik in July, "which is crazy because I've hit the most I've hit."

    No kidding, but it does make sense in a weird way. After whiffing 32.8 percent of the time in 2016, Smoak needed to worry about making contact. Regular playing time and adjustments both mental and physical did the trick, dropping his K% to a much more manageable 20.1.

    Less power can be the trade-off for more contact, but Smoak retained a 17.1 degree launch angle and barreled balls with the best of 'em. In all, no word describes his new offensive self like "efficiency."

    Smoak's newfound zen also affected his fielding. Although there was nothing flashy about his defense, there's value in the high degree with which he handled routine plays.     

8. Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 149 G, 601 PA, .246/.353/.516, 135 OPS+, 38 HR, 1 DRS

    WAR: 3.6

                                  

    2017 Player Report

    Logan Morrison always had the power to be a great home run hitter. He just needed to unleash it.

    He took a step in that direction in 2016 when he drastically increased his pull rate. He carried that into 2017 and dramatically increased his launch angle and became more selective to boot. Hence, a BB% spike to 13.5 and a spray chart that mostly looks like plans for a tactical bombardment of right field.

    A higher pull rate naturally meant more trouble with shifts, however. And pitchers clearly noticed how much Morrison loved hitting fastballs, as they didn't throw him as many after the All-Star break as they did before. His OPS suffered accordingly.

    Defensively, Morrison's positive DRS is somewhat out of step with his career norms. But he did play deeper than usual, and having more time to react resulted in better range.

7. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 117 G, 514 PA, .307/.403/.586, 157 OPS+, 28 HR, -2 DRS

    WAR: 4.5

                                                                     

    2017 Player Report

    Freddie Freeman emerged as one of MLB's best hitters in the second half of 2016 and kept raking out of the gate in 2017. 

    Then he broke his wrist and missed six weeks. There's no blaming him for his ensuing production drop-off, and the fall of his exit velocity from 92.3 mph pre-DL to 88.5 mph post-DL helps put it in context.

    Freeman is nonetheless a fascinating player. He swings a ton but draws walks and doesn't strike out too much. His swing is short and quick, yet generates both launch angle and exit velocity. In short: Dude can hit.

    It was a funky year for Freeman on defense, as he had to spend time at third base while Matt Adams was riding a hot stretch. But his negative DRS gives the wrong impression of his first-base defense. It wasn't vintage, but his long reach and good hands produced plenty of outs.

6. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 162 G, 671 PA, .318/.385/.498, 132 OPS+, 25 HR, -7 DRS

    WAR: 4.0

                       

    2017 Player Report

    Despite a few teases here and there, it wasn't until this year that Eric Hosmer put his many skills to proper use.

    An overaggressive approach and a swing that wasted too much good contact on the ground previously held him back. But in 2017, he chose better swings and brought his ground-ball rate down from its 2016 peak. That allowed him to launch more balls. And in all directions to boot.

    The result: He became a better walk artist and power hitter in addition to remaining a great contact hitter

    Hosmer was also one of the fastest first basemen at 27.5 feet per second and a solid baserunner because of it. And while his DRS plays into the discussion about whether he covers as much ground as he should, he at least remained an excellent scoop artist on defense.

5. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Key Stats: 132 G, 548 PA, .267/.352/.581, 142 OPS+, 39 HR, 2 DRS

    WAR: 4.2

                            

    2017 Player Report

    Fun fact: Cody Bellinger wasn't a power hitter when the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in 2013. He projected as a light-hitting, slick-fielding first baseman.

    Next thing anyone knew, he started slugging in the minors and had no trouble carrying the act into the majors. His powerful uppercut swing generated a 16.5 degree launch angle and an 89.5 mph exit velocity—a solid combo for power if there ever was one.

    Bellinger's swing did offer a hole above the belt that's complicit in driving his K% to 26.6. But with a disciplined approach, he was able to balance his many whiffs with an 11.7 BB%.

    Bellinger was also one of MLB's fastest first basemen, sprinting 28.4 feet per second, and lived up the hype on defense, where he showcased crafty footwork and smooth hands. All told, the only thing to gripe about is the small sample size resulting from his slightly delayed call-up.

4. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 156 G, 675 PA, .304/.354/.552, 140 OPS+, 33 HR, 0 DRS

    WAR: 4.7

                            

    2017 Player Report

    Jose Abreu isn't the most consistent hitter. In fact, his OPS graph looks like somebody hooked a seismogram up to a paint-shaker.

    Yet he's nonetheless a good hitter. Although he's not a big launch-angle guy, his 90.5 mph exit velocity confirms that he packs about as big a wallop as you'd expect from a 6'3", 255-pound behemoth. And he can apply said wallop to any part of the field.

    It's also very much to Abreu's credit that he's always making more contact as his career goes along. He has erased what was once a significant problem hitting off-speed stuff. Heaven help MLB if he ever starts taking his walks too.

    Elsewhere, his much-improved baserunning is tied to faster footspeed, as he went from 26.2 feet per second in 2016 to 26.9 feet per second this season. That athleticism came in handy on defense too. Relative to 2016, not as much got past him in 2017.

3. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 157 G, 691 PA, .273/.392/.507, 132 OPS+, 32 HR, 9 DRS

    WAR: 4.4

                        

    2017 Player Report

    He's Anthony Rizzo, so everyone should know the score by now. He's going to do a little of this, a little of that, and in the end, he'll have authored a terrific season.

    But even Rizzo is capable of new tricks. This season saw him pull off the feat of walking more times (91) than he struck out (90). Getting there required pushing his strikeout rate south once again, which mainly involved chasing fewer pitches outside the zone.

    It could be seen as a red flag that Rizzo's launch angle is trending down, but...nah. There's nothing wrong with a 15.3 degree launch angle, especially when it's paired with 88.1 mph exit velocity. He's catching more balls on the barrel, not fewer.

    Defensively, a second straight Gold Glove would be well-earned. Rizzo has hands that make him a scoop maestro as well as the reactions and footwork to make outs that many first basemen don't get.

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 30 

    Key Stats: 155 G, 665 PA, .297/.404/.563, 140 OPS+, 36 HR, 10 DRS

    WAR: 5.8

                            

    2017 Player Report

    Paul Goldschmidt generated 4.8 WAR in a "down" year in 2016. He was back up again in 2017—and how.

    His foundation is a selective approach that earns walks (14.1 BB%) and keeps his strikeout rate (22.1 K%) from getting out of hand. Maybe he got slightly passive with his in-zone swings in 2016, but no matter. He was more aggressive in 2017 and benefited with a career-best .710 in-zone slugging percentage.

    His swing is too direct for launch angle, but it has enough loft to avoid wasting the considerable exit velocity he generates (91.4 mph). At FanGraphs, 44.3 percent of his batted ball registered as "hard." Only Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo did better.

    Goldschmidt was also an elite baserunner by way of 18 steals and more under-the-radar aggression. And with good hands and range working for him, he was arguably the best defensive first baseman in MLB this year.

1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 162 G, 707 PA, .320/.454/.578, 168 OPS+, 36 HR, 11 DRS

    WAR: 7.5

                             

    2017 Player Report

    First off, props to Joey Votto for improving in the field after posting a minus-14 DRS in 2016.

    It was a priority back in spring training, per Owen Perkins for MLB.com. He took a few steps back, thereby giving himself more time to react and move on plays. Sure enough, he extended his range and got back to converting routine plays.

    OK, now about Votto's bat.

    As expected by now, nobody chased outside the zone less frequently. But he also swung inside the zone more frequently than he had in years. That's how he ended up walking 51 more times (134) than he struck out (83). And by getting in on the launch-angle craze, he paired his pre-existing consistency with extra power.

    There is but one gripe: As he becomes increasingly station-to-station with age, Votto is now as bad at baserunning as he is great at hitting. But even despite that, there was no better first baseman in 2017.

                           

    UP NEXT: The Top 20 Catchers of 2017 on Wednesday.