Longtime fantasy baseball managers remember the heyday for first base, when the position included many elite players. But those days are long gone, and the current production at the position is unremarkable. Typically known as a spot for sluggers, the first base pool for 2024 includes just two players (Matt Olson, Pete Alonso) who were among the 15 men to produce at least 35 home runs last season.
Less surprisingly, just one (Freddie Freeman) of the 64 players who stole more than 15 bases will open ‘24 with 1B eligibility. The recent rise in steals across baseball means that managers can attack that category throughout their drafts, which increases the appeal of drafting one of the few impactful first basemen in the early rounds.
Of course, getting an elite first baseman will be an option for just a handful of teams. Most managers will need to sort through a large group of serviceable players in hopes of finding a breakout performer. Here are a few options to target:
Christian Encarnacion-Strand mostly met the lofty expectations for his rookie year when he posted an .805 OPS across 63 games with the Reds. The slugger has the skills to combine 30 homers with a high batting average in his first full MLB season, but his draft value is being held in check by a crowded Reds infield. Managers should take a chance on Encarnacion-Strand in hopes that he slugs his way into an every-day role.
Rhys Hoskins is a forgotten man in fantasy circles after missing the 2023 season due to a torn left ACL. But the 30-year-old recently joined the Brewers on a two-year deal, and he will have an every-day role on a team with a homer-happy venue. Hoskins ranked 15th in baseball in home runs from 2018 to '22, and he should produce 30 long balls in his first year in Milwaukee.
Kyle Manzardo is the perfect late-round pick for those who seek a boom-or-bust power option. The 23-year-old was traded from the Rays to the Guardians last summer, and he is now expected to become Cleveland’s main man at first base. With 41 long balls in 203 minor-league games, Manzardo has shown the power skills to attract fantasy attention right away. The slugger’s batting average is tougher to predict, as he hit .327 in 2022 but just .236 last season.
Now let’s look at the top dogs among first basemen.
1. Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Freeman is the lone first-round option at this 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 who regularly swipes bases.
2. Matt Olson, Atlanta Braves
Olson led MLB in homers and RBI last season while ranking third in runs scored. Such is life as an elite slugger in baseball’s most productive lineup. A lack of speed combines with some batting average volatility to push Olson down to Round 2 in drafts.
3. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Managers who want a more consistent slugger might choose Alonso over Olson. The Mets' lineup centerpiece leads MLB in homers since his debut in 2019, and he ranked among the top three last year in both long balls and RBI. Like Olson, Alonso cannot be counted on to log a helpful batting average.
4. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Harper had not started an MLB game at first base until last season, but he is now the Phillies fixture at the position. Staying away from the outfield could help Harper stay healthy, and he is on a short list of first basemen who could hit .300 with 30 homers and a double-digit steals total.
5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
One of the most touted prospects of his generation, Guerrero appeared ready to deliver on expectations when he hit .311 with 48 homers in 2021. His results were less impressive in the subsequent two seasons, which leaves managers wondering whether the 24-year-old is merely a good player who had one great season.
6. Cody Bellinger, free agent
Bellinger resurrected his career by hitting .307 with 26 homers and 97 RBI in his lone campaign with the Cubs. The former NL MVP has both fleet feet and a potent bat, but he logged three disappointing seasons from 2020 to '22 and therefore cannot climb any higher on this list.
7. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
All good things come to an end, including Goldschmidt’s time among the top tier of fantasy first basemen. The 36-year-old took a notable step back last year but was still good enough (25 HR, 89 R, 11 SB) to be a lineup fixture. Managers should be satisfied with this new performance level.
8. Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Walker repeated the excellence of his career-reviving 2022 season when he tallied 33 homers and 103 RBI last year. The 32-year-old is a steady middle-round option as the cleanup man in a solid Arizona lineup.
9. Nolan Jones, Colorado Rockies
Opinions range wildly on Jones, who needed just 106 games to produce a 20-20 season. Those who are skeptical of a repeat performance point to an unsustainable .401 BABIP and a lackluster supporting cast. This writer is firmly in the skeptical group.
10. Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox
Casas is one of the most fascinating players to rank. Is he the emerging star who posted a 1.034 OPS in the second half of last season or the mediocre slugger who posted a .727 mark prior to the All-Star break? Wise managers will see Casas as a risk worth taking.
11. Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
By hitting 31 homers and driving in 94 runs, Torkelson established himself as a prominent power hitter. But to rank any higher on this list, the 24-year-old will need to make major improvements on his lifetime .222 batting average.
12. Spencer Steer, Cincinnati Reds
Like Encarnacion-Strand, Steer will have to compete for playing time on a deep Reds roster. The 26-year-old, who is eligible at four positions, should use his versatile fielding skills to earn regular work, which gives him the potential to match the 23 homers and 15 steals he logged last year.