MLB Position Power Rankings 2018: B/R's Top 30 First Basemen
There's no shortage of superstar power at first base.
There's also an abundance of up-and-coming young players looking to join that upper echelon.
Josh Bell, Cody Bellinger, Greg Bird, Joey Gallo and Matt Olson are just scratching the surface of their long-term potential.
We set out to identify the top 30 first basemen in the game heading into the 2018 season.
A few things to consider before we get started:
- MLB averages: For the sake of reference, the average triple-slash line for a first baseman last season was .265/.346/.487.
- Eligibility: To be considered for inclusion, a player must have played at least 300 innings at first base last season. Notably, that meant no Albert Pujols (50 innings) or Hanley Ramirez (146). Exceptions were made for an expected position change (no Logan Morrison and Wil Myers) and prospects (Jake Bauers and Ryan McMahon).
For draft fans, think of this as a big board for the position if the 30 teams were redrafting for one all-or-nothing season in 2018.
Someone like Olson has more upside than Ryan Zimmerman going forward, but is he going to be better this year?
Let's find out.
Previous top 30 series entries: catchers.
30. Adrian Gonzalez, New York Mets
2017 Offensive: 69 OPS+, .242/.287/.355, 20 XBH (3 HR), 30 RBI, 14 R
2017 Defensive: -2 DRS, -5.9 UZR/150
After presumptive first baseman of the future Dominic Smith hit .198 in his first taste of big league action in 2017, the New York Mets brought in veteran Adrian Gonzalez as a stopgap to allow Smith more time to develop.
Now the question is what, if anything, Gonzalez has left.
Elbow and back issues limited him to just 71 games last season and sapped him of his power, as he tallied just three home runs in 252 plate appearances.
That said, he's just a year removed from posting a 111 OPS+ with 18 home runs and 90 RBI while hitting in the middle of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup.
He's no longer the feared slugger he was in his prime, but he might have enough left in the tank to hold on to a starting job for the bulk of 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Jesus Aguilar (MIL), C.J. Cron (TB), Mike Ford (SEA), Ronald Guzman (TEX), Mark Reynolds (FA), Dominic Smith (NYM), Luis Valbuena (LAA)
29. Matt Adams, Washington Nationals
2017 Offensive: 117 OPS+, .274/.319/.522, 43 XBH (20 HR), 65 RBI, 46 R
2017 Defensive: 1 DRS, 9.5 UZR/150
Matt Adams picked up his production last year after he was traded to the Atlanta Braves, posting a 121 OPS+ with 20 doubles and 19 home runs in 314 plate appearances following the May 20 deal.
While that wasn't enough to land him a starting gig in free agency, he did sign a one-year, $4 million deal with the Washington Nationals to replace Adam Lind as the left-handed bat off the bench and backup to Ryan Zimmerman.
Adams has trimmed down since entering the majors, and he's quietly been an above-average defender at first to go along with his offensive game. While he'll open the season as a reserve on a good team, he has the ability to step into a larger role if the opportunity presents itself.
28. Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners
2017 Offensive: 102 OPS+, .271/.302/.451, 54 XBH (25 HR), 78 RBI, 66 R
2017 Defensive: 1 DRS, 0.6 UZR/150
There's a lot to like about the Seattle Mariners' decision to trade for Ryon Healy.
He is under team control through the 2022 season and he slugged 25 home runs in his first full season in the majors.
However, his lack of on-base skills (.302 OBP, 3.8 BB% in 2017) limits his overall offensive value, and he's proved to be a first base-only defender after breaking into the majors as a third baseman.
At the very least, he should be an upgrade at the position after Seattle received a .245/.308/.389 line from its first basemen a year ago.
27. Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays
2017 Offensive (MiLB): 575 PA, .263/.368/.412, 45 XBH (13 HR), 63 RBI, 79 R
2017 Defensive: N/A
The decision to let Logan Morrison walk in free agency left a clear path for Jake Bauers to take over as the Tampa Bay Rays' starting first baseman in 2018.
C.J. Cron will likely start the season as the team's primary option and could maintain at least a platoon role after that, but Bauers is the future.
He's also spent time in the outfield, but first base looks to be his best bet for immediate playing time.
26. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
2017 Offensive: 95 OPS+, .215/.309/.423, 42 XBH (26 HR), 61 RBI, 65 R
2017 Defensive: -5 DRS, 0.6 UZR/150
The Baltimore Orioles will pay Chris Davis a whopping $23 million per year through the 2022 season.
A 147 OPS+ and an MLB-high 47 home runs in his walk year earned him a seven-year, $161 million deal, but he's been roughly an average offensive player since, with a 103 OPS+ over the past two seasons.
He is still a candidate for a 40-homer season, and his on-base skills help offset his poor batting average.
As the value of over-the-fence power continues to be watered down, however, Davis' contract is looking like one of the worst in all of baseball.
25. Lucas Duda, Kansas City Royals
2017 Offensive: 116 OPS+, .217/.322/.496, 58 XBH (30 HR), 64 RBI, 50 R
2017 Defensive: -1 DRS, -0.1 UZR/150
It speaks volumes to the declining value of one-dimensional power production that Lucas Duda slugged 30 home runs with a 116 OPS+ last season and had to settle for a one-year, $3.5 million deal from the rebuilding Kansas City Royals.
While he's had injury issues, Duda has been a middle-of-the-order threat throughout his career. He has one other 30-homer season to his credit, and he averages 28 home runs and 81 RBI per 162 games.
He could be pushed out of the starting role by prospect Ryan O'Hearn.
24. Yonder Alonso, Cleveland Indians
2017 Offensive: 133 OPS+, .266/.365/.501, 50 XBH (28 HR), 67 RBI, 72 R
2017 Defensive: -9 DRS, -3.3 UZR/150
It was a tale of two halves for Yonder Alonso.
He was a non-tender candidate last offseason, but the Oakland Athletics brought him back for his final year of arbitration. He responded with a .934 OPS and 20 home runs in the first half to earn a spot on the American League All-Star team.
His production dropped off precipitously, though, as he had a .774 OPS with just eight home runs in the second half.
Alonso is the poster boy for the new fly-ball-centric approach that is sweeping the game, as his fly-ball rate spiked from 33.3 to 43.2 percent.
The Cleveland Indians gave him a two-year, $16 million deal in the hopes he can land somewhere in the middle of his first and second half production and be a passable replacement for Carlos Santana.
23. Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
2017 Offensive (MiLB): 519 PA, .355/.403/.583, 63 XBH (20 HR), 88 RBI, 74 R
2017 Defensive: N/A
Ryan McMahon's prospect star faded considerably after he posted a disappointing .242/.325/.399 line and 30.1 percent strikeout rate in a full season at Double-A in 2016.
However, he rebounded in a big way last year and now looks poised to replace free agent Mark Reynolds as the Colorado Rockies' starting first baseman.
Though he went just 3-for-19 in his first taste of MLB action last season, McMahon's future looks bright, and he has to be considered a National League Rookie of the Year contender given his opportunity for playing time.
22. Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers
2017 Offensive: 125 OPS+, .247/.359/.518, 61 XBH (31 HR), 63 RBI, 83 R
2017 Defensive: -5 DRS, -2.6 UZR/150
Eric Thames was the biggest story in baseball during the first month of the 2017 season, hitting .345/.466/.810 with 11 home runs in 24 games in his triumphant return stateside after three monster seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization.
He crashed back to earth, hitting .226/.335/.455 with 20 home runs in 448 plate appearances the rest of the way.
Still, on a three-year, $16 million deal, he was an excellent pickup for the Milwaukee Brewers.
While we will likely never see Thames produce at that otherworldly level again, his 13.6 percent walk rate and 30-homer power make him a valuable offensive player.
21. Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
2017 Offensive: 99 OPS+, .246/.326/.443, 56 XBH (22 HR), 79 RBI, 73 R
2017 Defensive: 10 DRS, 5.8 UZR/150
The Boston Red Sox knew exactly what they were getting when they gave Mitch Moreland a one-year, $5.5 million deal last offseason: a roughly average offensive player with 20-homer power and a Gold Glove-caliber defender.
Sure enough, he hit 22 home runs with a 99 OPS+ and tied for the American League lead at the position with 10 DRS.
That earned him a modest raise and a multiyear contract, as he re-upped with a two-year, $13 million deal.
Boston's addition of J.D. Martinez could mean Moreland winds up platooning with Hanley Ramirez at first base, so lesser counting numbers could be coming in 2018.
20. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
2017 Offensive: 124 OPS+, .299/.332/.486, 62 XBH (18 HR), 75 RBI, 69 R
2017 Defensive: -5 DRS, -8.0 UZR/150
A rookie last season in name only, Yuli Gurriel joined the Houston Astros in July 2016 after racking up 1,585 hits, 250 home runs and 1,018 RBI in 15 seasons in Cuba and Japan.
He got off to a sluggish start in 2017, hitting .260/.300/.391 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 180 plate appearances over the first two months of the season.
He hit his stride after that, however, batting .317/.346/.531 with 33 doubles, 14 home runs and 56 RBI in 384 plate appearances.
He'll miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, but he could be headed for a big second season if his strong finish to 2017 is any indicator.
19. Greg Bird, New York Yankees
2017 Offensive: 84 OPS+, .190/.288/.422, 16 XBH (9 HR), 28 RBI, 20 R
2017 Defensive: -1 DRS, -11.8 UZR/150
This could wind up being a comically low ranking for Greg Bird.
Then again, we're talking about a player who has a rather unimpressive .227/.316/.477 line in 94 career MLB games.
Yes, injuries have played a major role, as he missed the entire 2016 season and played just 48 games last year, and Bird still has a lot to prove.
The potential is certainly there, and he gave a glimpse during the postseason, notching a .938 OPS with three home runs and six RBI in 13 games.
It's hard to rank him any higher at this point.
18. Justin Bour, Miami Marlins
2017 Offensive: 139 OPS+, .289/.366/.536, 43 XBH (25 HR), 83 RBI, 52 R
2017 Defensive: -2 DRS, 5.3 UZR/150
Improved production against left-handed pitching helped Justin Bour turn in a career year for the Miami Marlins in 2017.
Here's a look at how he's fared against southpaws:
- 2015: 75 PA, .221/.293/.279, 0 HR
- 2016: 30 PA, .233/.233/.300, 0 HR
- 2017: 96 PA, .259/.333/.494, 6 HR
With solid on-base skills and a steady contact rate (22.1 K%), he's one of the more underrated players at the position. With good health, his first 30-homer season could be coming in 2018.
17. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
2017 Offensive: 108 OPS+, .255/.334/.466, 58 XBH (26 HR), 90 RBI, 75 R
2017 Defensive: 6 DRS, -2.9 UZR/150
The Pittsburgh Pirated handed Josh Bell the starting first base job from the jump last season, and he responded with a strong all-around first full season in the majors.
He ended up leading the Pirates in RBI (90) while finishing second to Andrew McCutchen in OPS+ (108), doubles (26), home runs (26) and total bases (256).
Now he'll be asked to take on an even bigger run-production role after McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants. Drafted as a right fielder in 2012, Bell has also come a long way with his defense.
He's capable of turning in a breakout season in 2018.
16. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
2017 Offensive: 116 OPS+, .305/.384/.417, 44 XBH (7 HR), 71 RBI, 69 R
2017 Defensive: 7 DRS, 9.1 UZR/150
Is Joe Mauer worth the $23 million he's set to earn in the final year of an eight-year, $184 million contract?
Probably not, but the homegrown star is coming off his best season in years.
His 3.4 WAR was his highest mark since 2013, and he ranked among the American League leaders in batting average (.305, seventh) and on-base percentage (.384, fifth) as the veteran leader of the upstart Minnesota Twins.
On top of his still strong offensive game, Mauer has also turned himself into an excellent defensive first baseman since making the full-time move from behind the plate in 2014.
15. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
2017 Offensive: 164 OPS+, .259/.352/.651, 26 XBH (24 HR), 45 RBI, 33 R
2017 Defensive: 4 DRS, -2.0 UZR/150
Even with his extreme fly-ball approach (46.0 FB%), Matt Olson is going to have a hard time replicating his 41.4 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio from last season. It was the highest mark by any player with more than 200 plate appearances by nearly six percent.
That said, he still has a chance to be a cornerstone for the rebuilding Oakland Athletics.
His over-the-fence power will drive his value, but he also walked at a solid 10.2 percent clip. That could improve going forward if his minor league track record is any indicator.
A .250/.350/.550 line with 30-plus home runs and solid defense at first base could become the norm for Olson.
14. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
2017 Offensive: 135 OPS+, .303/.358/.573, 69 XBH (36 HR), 108 RBI, 90 R
2017 Defensive: -8 DRS, -7.5 UZR/150
All due respect to Greg Holland, but how in the world did Ryan Zimmerman not win National League Comeback Player of the Year?
- 2016: 67 OPS+, .218/.272/.370, 15 HR, 46 RBI, -1.1 WAR
- 2017: 135 OPS+, .303/.358/.573, 36 HR, 108 RBI, 2.7 WAR
That's as dramatic an offensive turnaround as we've seen by a veteran player in recent memory.
The question now is which version we'll see in Zimmerman's age-33 season.
After a sluggish start to the second half, he finished the 2017 season strong with a .325/.371/.651 line in September and October, including seven home runs and 20 RBI in 23 games.
13. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
2017 Offensive: 121 OPS+, .209/.333/.537, 62 XBH (41 HR), 80 RBI, 85 R
2017 Defensive: -1 DRS, -8.4 UZR/150
Not many players can pull off a 3.0-WAR season with a .209 batting average, 36.8 percent strikeout rate and below-average defensive metrics.
Joey Gallo isn't most players, though.
He has as much raw power as any player in baseball and slugged 41 home runs last season to rank third in the American League.
He also offset his 196 strikeouts with 75 walks and a 14.1 percent walk rate to help prop up his overall offensive game en route to a 121 OPS+.
It's worth watching how he progresses in the years to come.
12. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
2017 Offensive: 128 OPS+, .270/.355/.529, 68 XBH (38 HR), 90 RBI, 85 R
2017 Defensive: 1 DRS, 1.7 UZR/150
The two-year, $8.5 million extension Justin Smoak signed midway through the 2016 season looked like a puzzling move at the time.
Now it looks like a brilliant decision by the Toronto Blue Jays.
He dramatically trimmed his strikeout rate (32.8 to 20.1 percent), and that resulted in a breakout season as he tapped his plus raw power more frequently.
With a .285 BABIP and no major regression red flags as far as his fly-ball (44.5 FB%) and hard-contact rates (39.4 hard%) are concerned, there's plenty of reason to believe his breakout was the real deal.
11. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
2017 Offensive: 132 OPS+, .318/.385/.498, 57 XBH (25 HR), 94 RBI, 98 R
2017 Defensive: -7 DRS, -0.4 UZR/150
Consistency will be the biggest question mark for Eric Hosmer as he tries to live up to the eight-year, $144 million deal he signed with the San Diego Padres in February.
- 2014: 99 OPS+, .270/.318/.398, 0.8 WAR
- 2015: 122 OPS+, .297/.363/.459, 3.6 WAR
- 2016: 102 OPS+, .266/.328/.433, 1.0 WAR
- 2017: 132 OPS+, .318/.385/.498, 4.0 WAR
The fact that he'll play the entirety of the 2018 season at the age of 28 makes him a safer bet for a long-term deal than the average free agent.
That said, with the Padres still seemingly a few years from contending, Hosmer has a lot to prove to make his signing look worthwhile.
10. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2017 Offensive: 92 OPS+, .249/.329/.399, 38 XBH (16 HR), 60 RBI, 50 R
2017 Defensive: -8 DRS, 4.0 UZR/150
Have we seen the last of MVP-caliber Miguel Cabrera?
He had a nagging back injury last season and posted the worst numbers of his career. He's entering his age-35 season, so a clean bill of health will only become more and more difficult to obtain.
That said, it still feels premature to throw in the towel on one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.
As recently as 2016, Cabrera hit .316/.393/.563 with 38 home runs on his way to 4.9 WAR.
There's not much in the way of protection around him in the Detroit Tigers lineup, but he's capable of much more than he showed in 2017.
9. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
2017 Offensive: 120 OPS+, .241/.384/.451, 56 XBH (23 HR), 69 RBI, 91 R
2017 Defensive: 1 DRS, -0.7 UZR/150
After he hit just 19 home runs in his first two seasons as an everyday player, Matt Carpenter has become much more of a power threat over the past three years, averaging 24 home runs and 74 RBI.
His on-base skills remain his greatest asset, though.
Last season, Carpenter walked a career-high 109 times on his way to a .384 on-base percentage, and he's averaged 100 runs per season in his five years as an everyday player.
A move back to third base could come at some point, especially if the team wants to get Jose Martinez's bat in the lineup. But for now, the first base job belongs to Carpenter.
8. Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies
2017 Offensive: 112 OPS+, .259/.363/.455, 63 XBH (23 HR), 79 RBI, 90 R
2017 Defensive: 10 DRS, 4.7 UZR/150
One of the few players to cash in as a free agent this offseason, Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
He was the team's first big expenditure since it began the rebuilding process, and he'll be counted on to serve as a veteran leader in a young clubhouse.
A catcher when he first entered the majors, Santana has become one of the game's better defensive first basemen, and his signing pushed rookie standout Rhys Hoskins to left field.
Offensively, Santana's a threat for 25-30 home runs and has some of the best strike-zone judgment in baseball, with nearly as many walks (726) as strikeouts (812) in his eight-year career.
7. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
2017 Offensive: 117 OPS+, .241/.355/.469, 48 XBH (18 HR), 51 RBI, 63 R
2017 Defensive: 11 DRS, 11.7 UZR/150
A midseason concussion and the subsequent recovery limited Brandon Belt to 104 games last season, but he still posted at least 3.0 WAR for the third consecutive season.
He doesn't have prototypical power for the position, as he's never reached the 20-homer mark and has a career .461 slugging percentage.
He is, however, a standout defender, and his combination of gap power (41 doubles in 2016) and strong on-base skills (14.6 BB% in 2017) helps drive his offensive value.
With four years and $64 million left on Belt's contract, the San Francisco Giants will need a healthy season from him if they hope to rebound from a disastrous 2017.
6. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2017 Offensive: 140 OPS+, .304/.354/.552, 82 XBH (33 HR), 102 RBI, 95 R
2017 Defensive: 0 DRS, 0.7 UZR/150
Jose Abreu has been consistently excellent in his four seasons with the Chicago White Sox.
The American League leader in total bases (343) also ranked among the top 10 in batting average (.304, eighth), OPS (.906, eighth), hits (189, fourth), doubles (43, tied for seventh), triples (six, tied for third) and RBI (102, tied for seventh).
On the surface, he might look like an obvious trade candidate for the rebuilding White Sox.
However, he's emerged as a key voice in the locker room and become particularly close with fellow countryman Yoan Moncada.
Don't be surprised if Chicago talks extension before it talks trade.
5. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 Offensive: 142 OPS+, .267/.352/.581, 69 XBH (39 HR), 97 RBI, 87 R
2017 Defensive: 2 DRS, 4.4 UZR/150
It didn't take Cody Bellinger long to establish himself as one of the game's most exciting young sluggers.
He made his debut April 25 and by the end of May had already hit 11 home runs to go with 29 RBI in 34 games.
His pace never slowed too much, and he wound up hitting a National League rookie-record 39 home runs on his way to Rookie of the Year honors and a ninth-place finish in MVP voting.
He has a good enough hit tool to improve on his .267 batting average and 26.6 percent strikeout rate from last year, while the power and on-base numbers he posted should be sustainable.
On top of his impressive offensive game, he also has the defensive chops to be a perennial Gold Glove candidate at first base after he began his MLB career as a left fielder.
4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
2017 Offensive: 157 OPS+, .307/.403/.586, 65 XBH (28 HR), 71 RBI, 84 R
2017 Defensive: -2 DRS, 1.5 UZR/150
Freddie Freeman took his offensive game to another level in 2016, and he backed up that breakout performance with an even better 2017.
- 2010-15: 128 OPS+, .285/.366/.466
- 2016-17: 157 OPS+, .304/.401/.576
He would have been squarely in the National League MVP conversation if not for a fractured wrist that limited him to 117 games.
As he enters the prime of his career and with an improving supporting cast around him, Freeman has to be considered a perennial MVP candidate.
There's no question that, with the three guys ranked ahead of him, he belongs in the conversation for best first baseman in the game.
3. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
2017 Offensive: 132 OPS+, .273/.392/.507, 67 XBH (32 HR), 109 RBI, 99 R
2017 Defensive: 9 DRS, 3.9 UZR/150
The first player to establish himself as a key member of the Chicago Cubs core, Anthony Rizzo is the leader of one of baseball's best teams.
The Cubs have reached the postseason in each of the past three years, and Rizzo has posted a 140 OPS+ while averaging 38 doubles, 32 home runs and 106 RBI.
He's also been remarkably durable, playing in all but 14 of the team's games during that three-year stretch.
Add in the elite defense that netted him Platinum Glove honors in 2016, and there's little doubt Rizzo is one of the game's superstars.
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 Offensive: 140 OPS+, .297/.404/.563, 73 XBH (36 HR), 120 RBI, 117 R
2017 Defensive: 10 DRS, 4.6 UZR/150
Since coming out of nowhere to lead the National League in home runs (36, tied) and RBI (125) in 2013, Paul Goldschmidt has been one of the game's most feared sluggers.
After hitting just 24 homers and slugging .489 during the 2016 season, he returned to elite form last year and ranked among the NL leaders in slugging percentage (.563, ninth), OPS (.966, sixth), home runs (36, tied for sixth) and RBI (120, fourth).
He's also the only base-stealing threat at the first base position, as he has a pair of 20/20 seasons to his credit and swiped 18 bags in 23 attempts in 2017.
Finally, he is a terrific defender, with three Gold Glove Awards in the past five years.
If he were playing in a bigger market, Goldschmidt would be one of the faces of the sport.
1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
2017 Offensive: 168 OPS+, .320/.454/.578, 71 XBH (36 HR), 100 RBI, 106 R
2017 Defensive: 11 DRS, 6.8 UZR/150
There are players with good on-base skills, and then there's Joey Votto.
His .454 on-base percentage led the majors last season—the second time he's done that and the fifth time he's paced the Senior Circuit.
He also led the majors with 134 walks—against just 83 strikeouts. The latter figure is nearly unheard of for any player let alone a power hitter.
For years, detractors have said Votto sacrifices too many run-producing opportunities with his willingness to work a walk, but it's hard to argue with a 36-homer, 100-RBI season for a 94-loss Cincinnati Reds team.
He even went from being a poor defender (-14 DRS, -6.6 UZR/150) to one of the best (11 DRS, 6.8 UZR/150) in one year.
Votto will never fit the conventional first baseman mold, but as the game has changed, he's become the best in the business at the position.