MLB Player Rankings for the Top 25 First Basemen of 2021 Season
Welcome to Bleacher Report's final positional rankings of the 2021 MLB season.
Throughout the year, we released monthly updates to our position-by-position power rankings, selecting the top 10 players at each spot. Now it's time to finalize those rankings while expanding the list out to the 25 best at each position, which means each position is going to get its own article.
Just like the regular-season rankings, players are assessed solely on the 2021 season. Past production and future expectations played no part in deciding the order—this is simply a rundown of the best and brightest of 2021.
In order to qualify for inclusion, a player simply had to have at least 200 plate appearances. Each player was only included at the position where he played the most innings.
Without further ado, let's keep our 2021 MLB Player Rankings series rolling with a look at the top 25 first basemen.
Catch up on the 2021 MLB Player Rankings series: Catchers
25. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
As usual, Sano hit a bunch of home runs (30), struck out a ton (183 K's, 34.4 K%), and provided zero value beyond his offensive contributions. The 28-year-old hits the ball as hard as anyone, ranking in the 99th percentile in hard-hit rate and 97th percentile in exit velocity. He's just extremely one-dimensional.
24. Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
One of the best stories of the 2021 season was Mancini's triumphant return from Stage 3 colon cancer. The 29-year-old started off hot and earned a spot in the Home Run Derby during All-Star Weekend before cooling off after the break. He finished with a 104 OPS+ and tallied 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 71 RBI in 147 games.
23. Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays
Diaz split his time between first base (603.2 innings) and third base (443.1 innings) while recording a career-high 541 plate appearances. The 30-year-old hit .256/.353/.387 for a 112 OPS+ with 20 doubles, 13 home runs and 64 RBI. He was one of 18 qualified hitters with a walk rate over 10 percent and a strikeout rate below 20 percent.
22. Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles
After an impressive 35-game cup of coffee last season, Mountcastle led all rookies with 33 home runs in 2021. The 24-year-old had a huge June (1.015 OPS, 9 HRs, 26 RBI) and August (1.183 OPS, 8 HRs, 16 RBI), but he was streaky, finishing with a .309 on-base percentage and 161 strikeouts on the year. Consistency will be the key to climbing this list in 2022.
21. Jesus Aguilar, Miami Marlins
The Marlins ranked 29th in the majors in runs per game (3.8) and OPS (.671), and they would have been even worse off without Aguilar. The 31-year-old batted .328 with runners in scoring position and posted a 112 OPS+ with 23 doubles, 22 home runs and 93 RBI overall. He had 15 home runs and 64 RBI in 86 games before the All-Star break.
20. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs/New York Yankees
Despite making a splash upon joining the New York Yankees in a trade-deadline deal, Rizzo has the least productive season of his career by a number of statistical measures. His OPS+ (111), home runs (22), RBI (61) and WAR (1.7) were all the lowest full-season marks of his career, and now he hits the open market ahead of his age-32 season.
19. Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers
Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in an under-the-radar offseason deal, Lowe now looks like one of the few long-term building blocks on the Texas roster. The 26-year-old hit .264/.357/.415 with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 157 games, and he showed a knack for coming up with the big hit with a .305 average with runners in scoring position.
18. Jonathan Schoop, Detroit Tigers
Schoop played first base in an MLB game for the first time in 2021, and while he still saw some sporadic action at his natural position of second base, he was the Tigers' primary first baseman. The 30-year-old hit .278/.320/.435 for a 110 OPS+ with 30 doubles, 22 home runs and 84 RBI in a 2.1-WAR season. That production and his veteran presence earned him a two-year, $15 million extension in August.
17. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
Hoskins would likely rank higher on this list if not for a groin strain that limited him to just seven games over the final two months of the season. His .530 slugging percentage was his highest since he was a rookie in 2017, and he finished with 29 doubles, 27 home runs and 71 RBI in 443 plate appearances. The 28-year-old underwent surgery to repair a tear in his lower abdomen at the end of August.
16. Darin Ruf, San Francisco Giants
Ruf was a failed Phillies prospect who found success in the KBO, where he posted a .968 OPS while averaging 29 home runs and 117 RBI in three seasons with the Samsung Lions. He returned stateside with the Giants in 2020 and has carved out a role as a platoon slugger. He wore out left-handed pitching to the tune of a 1.007 OPS and 16 extra-base hits in 140 plate appearances in 2021, and he was a 2.9-WAR player in 117 games as a first baseman, outfielder and pinch-hitter.
15. Frank Schwindel, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs acquired Schwindel off waivers from Oakland on July 18, and he was called up from Triple-A on July 30 to play first base after Anthony Rizzo was traded. The 29-year-old journeyman went on to hit .342/.389/.613 with 19 doubles, 13 home runs, 40 RBI and 1.8 WAR in 56 games. It's a small sample size but an extremely impressive one.
14. Josh Bell, Washington Nationals
One of the last veterans on the Nationals roster after their deadline fire sale, Bell spent most of the year hitting behind NL MVP candidate Juan Soto. The 29-year-old posted a 124 OPS+ with 24 doubles, 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 144 games, and he looks like an obvious trade candidate this offseason ahead of his final year of arbitration.
13. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
Belt was one of several veterans who played a key role for the upstart Giants in 2021. The 33-year-old hit .274/.378/.597 with a career-high 29 home runs in only 381 plate appearances, building off a terrific 2020 season that saw him garner some down-ballot NL MVP support. He was a 2.7-WAR player in 97 games, but Belt made three trips to the injured list and was sidelined for the postseason with a fractured thumb.
12. Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels
After finishing the 2020 season on a high note, Walsh supplanted Albert Pujols as the Angels' starting first baseman this year. The 28-year-old had an .892 OPS with 22 home runs and 65 RBI during the first half to earn an All-Star nod, and while he hit just seven home runs after the break, he still finished with a 128 OPS+ and 2.9 WAR in his first full MLB season.
11. C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies
Signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, Cron won a roster spot and quickly emerged as a bright spot for a non-contending Rockies team. The 31-year-old hit .281/.375/.530 with 31 doubles, 28 home runs and 92 RBI in a 3.4-WAR season, and he signed a two-year, $14.5 million extension in October.
10. Ty France, Seattle Mariners
Ty France absolutely demolished Triple-A pitching in 2019 to the tune of a .399/.477/.770 line with 27 doubles, 27 home runs and 89 RBI in 76 games, but there was no path to the majors for him in San Diego. The Padres shipped him to Seattle in the seven-player deal that sent Austin Nola the other way at the 2020 deadline.
An injury to Evan White opened the door for him to take over as Seattle's everyday first baseman, and he made the most of the opportunity, hitting .291/.368/.445 with 32 doubles, 18 home runs and 73 RBI in 152 games.
He was hit by a pitch an AL-leading 27 times, which gave his on-base percentage a nice shot in the arm, but his contact skills and gap power are good enough to believe he can be a long-term contributor after a 4.2-WAR season.
9. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The reigning AL MVP was an RBI machine for the Chicago White Sox once again in 2021.
Jose Abreu led the South Siders in home runs (30) and RBI (117), eclipsing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the fifth time in eight MLB seasons.
His .261/.351/.481 line did represent a significant dip from his MVP numbers, and the batting average was a career low, but he still finished with a 125 OPS+ and 3.0 WAR while playing in 152 games.
The 34-year-old also deserves props for the work he has done to improve his defensive game, going from a liability at first base to a roughly league-average defender at the position.
8. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Pete Alonso may never duplicate his record-breaking 53-homer rookie season, but that doesn't mean he's not one of the most productive first basemen in the league.
The 26-year-old launched 37 home runs this season, posting a 134 OPS+ and leading the New York Mets offense in hits (147), doubles, (27), RBI (94), runs scored (81) and WAR (4.3).
He has been extremely durable since breaking into the league, playing in 370 of 384 games since the start of the 2019 season, and that is especially noteworthy on a Mets team that has been bit hard by the injury bug in recent years.
With a solid glove and good on-base skills, he's more than just a one-dimensional slugger.
7. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto was the hottest hitter on the planet for a brief time at the end of July. He went 10-for-26 with nine home runs over one seven-game stretch that included two of his five multihomer games.
The 38-year-old finished with a 36-homer, 99-RBI season, posting a 136 OPS+ while drawing 77 walks and getting on base at an elite .375 clip that is actually below his career .416 on-base percentage.
He has two years and $50 million left on his contract, along with a $20 million club option and $7 million buyout in 2024. At this point, he is showing no signs of slowing down, and his Hall of Fame case is becoming more and more convincing with each passing season.
6. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
With free agency looming, the Houston Astros quietly extended Yuli Gurriel last September with a one-year, $6.5 million deal that includes an $8 million club option in 2022.
That option is a lock to be exercised after he won the AL batting title in his age-37 season, hitting .319/.383/.462 with 31 doubles, 15 home runs and 81 RBI as a key cog in the highest-scoring offense in baseball.
With an 8.1 percent walk rate and 14.5 percent strikeout rate, he was a contact machine this year, and that more than made up for a dip in power production. Aside from his offensive exploits, he also won his first Gold Glove Award in 2021.
5. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Homegrown superstar Freddie Freeman took home NL MVP honors in 2020 when he hit .341/.462/.640 with 3.3 WAR in 60 games, leading the Atlanta Braves to within one win of the World Series.
With Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna both watching from the sidelines, it fell on him to lead the offensive charge this year, and after a slow start he was the team's middle-of-the-order anchor once again en route to the NL pennant.
The 32-year-old had a 133 OPS+ with 31 home runs and 4.7 WAR on the year, and he hit .332/.407/.520 after the All-Star break to help the Braves nail down the NL East title and eventually the World Series championship. Free agency awaits this offseason, and while the two sides have been unable to agree to an extension, it's hard to imagine him wearing another uniform.
4. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Max Muncy has been a model of consistency for the Los Angeles Dodgers since he joined the team, slugging 35 home runs in both 2018 and 2019 and then launching a career-high 36 long balls in 2021 while earning his second All-Star selection.
Aside from his power production, the 31-year-old also had a 14.0 percent walk rate and .368 on-base percentage, and he hit .346/.475/.669 with runners in scoring position while emerging as a legitimate NL MVP candidate over the summer.
He slumped a bit down the stretch and a shoulder injury knocked him out of action just before the postseason began, but he still finished with 4.9 WAR in 144 games.
3. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
There is bound to be a fair amount of argument over the ordering of Nos. 3-5 on this list, so let's line up the numbers side-by-side for an easier comparison:
- Goldschmidt: 143 OPS+, 69 XBH (31 HRs), 6.2 WAR
- Muncy: 138 OPS+, 64 XBH (36 HRs), 4.9 WAR
- Freeman: 133 OPS+, 58 XBH (31 HRs), 4.7 WAR
Those three statistical categories reveal a clear pecking order among that trio of stars, and it was a huge second half that helped separate Goldschmidt from the pack. He hit .330/.402/.618 with 18 home runs and 50 RBI in 70 games after the All-Star break.
Aside from his middle-of-the-order production, he also stole 12 bases and won his fourth career Gold Glove Award. It took him some time to find his groove in St. Louis, but he is elite once again.
2. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
Since launching 24 home runs in 59 games as a rookie in 2017, Matt Olson has steadily developed into one of the best all-around first basemen in the league and a bona fide superstar for the Oakland Athletics.
The 27-year-old hit .271/.371/.540 with 35 doubles, 39 home runs and 111 RBI, finishing with 5.8 WAR in 156 games. Beneath the surface of those impressive counting numbers, he slashed his strikeout rate from 31.4 percent to 16.8 while also finishing fourth in the AL with 88 walks.
On top of his development into a more well-rounded offensive player, he is also one of the game's elite defenders and arguably the best in the business at first base.
With two more years of club control, the small-market Athletics will soon have a big decision to make about his future.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
At a position loaded with elite offensive performers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was simply in a league of his own in 2021.
After hitting .269/.336/.442 for a 109 OPS+ over his first two MLB seasons, casual fans were silly enough to label him a bust after he entered the big leagues with as much hype as any prospect in recent memory.
Still just 22 years old, potential turned into production in a big way this year, and he hit .311/.401/.601 with 48 home runs and 111 RBI. He led the AL in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS+ (169), runs scored (123) and total bases (363) while tying with Shohei Ohtani for the home run title.
His 6.8 WAR led all first basemen and trailed only Carlos Correa (7.2), Marcus Semien (7.1) and Juan Soto (7.0) among all position players. There are plenty of points to debate on this list, but who belongs in the No. 1 spot is not one of them.