First basemen this week in the breakdowns. I’ll have second base up in a couple of days.
Cody Bellinger (Dodgers): Bellinger isn’t exactly slipping in drafts after his huge rookie season, but I have him a few spots higher than his current ADP of 28 in Yahoo leagues. Bellinger’s contact issues aren’t as severe as his poor October suggests, and like many young power hitters, he could improve in year two. His stolen base ability gives his value a boost; he was 10-for-13 in the majors last year after going 7-for-7 in just 18 games in Triple-A. The possibility of 15 steals to go along with 35+ homers edges him quite close to Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt in my projections.
Rhys Hoskins (Phillies): The market is a little skeptical of Hoskins, who hit 18 homers in just 50 games after arriving last year. I don’t see any red flags, though. Hoskins struck out at a rate barely higher than the league average during his time in the majors and posted contact numbers that were considerably better than average. In Triple-A, he struck out a mere 16 percent of the time. It suggests he should sport a solid average, and there’s no doubting his power. It also helps that he’s in a nice park for power hitters, and he’ll have some strong OBPs ahead of him in the Phillies lineup. He’s No. 33 in my top 300. In Yahoo, he has an ADP of 46.
Logan Morrison (Twins): After eight seasons and three big-league teams, Morrison is finally going to get to play in something of a hitter’s ballpark this year. Unfortunately for him, Target Field is more rewarding to righties than to lefties in the power department, but it’s still a good park for average. The 2018 Twins should also be the best offense he’s ever been a part of, and he’ll probably get to bat fourth or fifth regularly. It means that Morrison won’t need to hit 38 homers again to maintain some mixed league value, and if he does, well, that’s all the better. His overhauled swing should put him on pace for 25-30 homers anyway, and he’s a superior bet for runs and RBI than he’s ever been. He’s still going undrafted in the majority of Yahoo leagues, but I have him 152nd in my top 300.
Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks): Some have said that the humidor is a bigger worry for the Diamondbacks’ lesser hitters than Goldschmidt, since when Goldschmidt barrels one up, it’s still going to be a homer anyway. There’s probably some truth to that. Still, if scoring drops 10-15 percent at Chase Field this year, that’s still a fair chunk of Goldschmidt’s value wiped away. He finished fourth in MLB in both runs scored and RBI last year; that’s not happening again if Chase Field goes from being MLB’s second- or third-best park for offense to the middle of the pack or worse. There’s also the matter of how much longer Goldschmidt is going to keep stealing bases. His attempts went from 37 in 2016 to 23 last year. He’d have incentive to steal more frequently if run scoring decreases, but as a big first baseman now entering his thirties, he’s not going to keep this up forever. I recommend staying away.
Joey Votto (Reds): If you’re in an OBP league, sure, go crazy. Votto, though, can’t possibly do any better than he did last year, when he hit 30 homers for just the second time in his career and drove in 100 runs for the first time since 2011. Votto’s supporting cast, though better than a couple of years ago, is still mediocre, and that Votto walks so much takes an additional toll on his RBI production. Also, he’s 34 now and he really should be declining, even if there’s no evidence of it happening yet. Regardless, it seems likely that he’ll suffer at least modest drops in every category this year. His ADP of 19 in Yahoo leagues is 15 spots higher than where he places in my rankings.
Justin Smoak (Blue Jays): Smoak’s breakthrough 2017 after seven seasons in which he was competent at best — and more typically flat-out bad — was incredible, and unlike Morrison, he didn’t trade contact for power; he actually finished with the best strikeout rate of his career. Still, he did begin to more closely resemble the Smoak of old down the stretch, hitting just .213/.311/.406 with eight homers and 19 RBI in 53 games in August and September. There was still enough improvement overall to make one believe he’ll hold on to some of his gains. However, I see him as pretty much an equal bet to Greg Bird and Morrison this year, and he’s going 50 spots ahead of Bird and 140 ahead of Morrison in Yahoo leagues.
Matt Carpenter (Cardinals): Carpenter remains an excellent player for the Cardinals, but he’s 32 now, he’s having some back issues and he might get overtaken by Jose Martinez for at-bats against left-handers. He also hit .240 last year. I understand why some still like him in the middle of mixed drafts, especially given that he already has eligibility at second and third in Yahoo leagues (he’s a 1B-only for now in traditional leagues). It helps that he’s probably going to start off the year batting third, even though I think it makes more sense for the Cardinals to let him lead off and hit Dexter Fowler third. For me, though, he’s merely an end-game pick. The 20 homers don’t mean as much as they used to, and because he’ll sit occasionally and draw so many walks, he’s not going to be a big RBI guy even if he does hit third regularly.
Ryan McMahon (Rockies): The McMahon hype train was derailed when the Rockies decided to bring back Carlos Gonzalez last week; with Gonzalez in right, the Rockies would have to sit either Gerardo Parra or Ian Desmond in order to go with McMahon at first base. That’s certainly a possibility down the line, but one doubts they’ll be willing to do it on Opening Day. McMahon comes with some question marks anyway. He excelled in the minors last year, hitting .355/.403/.583 in 470 at-bats, but in 2016, he hit just .242/.325/.399 and struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances in Double-A. Still, Coors gives him substantial upside if he can find his way to regular at-bats. He’s a pretty great use of a bench spot in mixed leagues.
C.J. Cron (Rays): The good news is that Cron is gone from an Angels team that lost faith in him a year ago and now with a Rays squad that figures to give him every chance to serve as a regular. The bad news is that he finds himself in a pitcher’s park and in the middle of one of the game’s weakest lineups. It definitely serves to limit Cron’s ceiling, but I still like him a first base option in AL-only leagues. He wasn’t in a very good environment in Anaheim, either, but he still hit .262 and homered once every 23 at-bats. He can be a cheap source of 25 homers and 80 RBI for those in deeper formats.
Dominic Smith (Mets): It’s a shame the Mets didn’t just decide to roll with Smith, but at least that roadblock they put up in the form of Adrian Gonzalez appears awfully flimsy. Even if one throws out Gonzalez’s 2017 that was riddled with back problems, he was just an average regular in 2016, and he should only bounce back so far at age 36. Also, the Mets have no financial incentive to stick with him, since they’re paying him the minimum anyway. I could see Smith getting the job in June and amassing some mixed-league value after the All-Star break. The power is coming, and last year’s .218 BABIP in 49 games in the majors looks like a huge fluke; he was always at .320 or better while racking up .300 averages in the minors.