2022 Positional Power Rankings: First Base

© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Meg Rowley introduced this year’s rankings, while Dan Szymborski examined the state of the league’s catchers. Today, we turn our attention to first and second basemen, starting with some first base thumpers.

First base is back, baby! Just two years ago in this space, I lamented that the position ain’t what it used to be, production-wise. Not only had the position’s big boppers from the previous few years fallen upon hard times, but in both 2018 and ’19, first basemen as a group had hit for just a 108 wRC+, their lowest mark since at least 2002 (as far back as our splits for this go). In 2021 however, first sackers combined to put together their best season since 2017, by multiple measures.

Such things tend to run in cycles, with turnover driving changes, and indeed, the overall leader in both wRC+ and WAR among first baseman last year was 22-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who in his first full season at the position made a run at the Triple Crown. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Matt Olson ranked second in both wRC+ and WAR; not coincidentally, he and Guerrero top the rankings here. But beyond that pair and the routinely excellent Freddie Freeman, the position’s resurgence was driven by the old guard, as Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto, two of the game’s best first basemen from 2015-18, rebounded to help provide some thump.

First basemen as a group hit for a 114 wRC+ in 2021, not only the highest mark in the majors but the position’s highest mark since ’17, when they hit for a 117 wRC+. Likewise, they combined for 60.7 WAR last year, again their highest mark since 2017 (70.2) and just the third time in the past decade that they’ve topped 60 WAR. Whether you’re measuring by players who topped 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0 WAR via our strict position splits (i.e., including only the time actually spent at the position), last year’s bunch had the most meeting each criterion since 2017.

Guerrero aside, it’s not particularly a young man’s position these days, with Olson, Ty France, Pete Alonso, and Jared Walsh the only other players in their age-27 seasons or younger among the 14 who reached at least 2.0 WAR. Of the seven with at least 3.0 WAR, four (Votto, Goldschmidt, Yuli Gurriel, and Brandon Belt) were in their age-33 seasons or older. The Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson and the Red Sox’s Triston Casas, both of whom ranked among our top 20 prospects overall, could help to provide an infusion of youth to the position in 2022, but for now this position belongs to the over-30 set — which suggests the possibility of another downturn ahead unless all these veterans can fight the aging process.

2022 Positional Power Rankings – 1B
1. Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 637 .304 .391 .598 .413 48.0 -1.1 -0.3 5.7
Cavan Biggio 28 .226 .338 .401 .323 0.0 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 21 .271 .315 .477 .336 0.2 -0.1 -0.0 0.1
Greg Bird 14 .230 .305 .420 .312 -0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .299 .385 .583 .405 48.1 -1.2 -0.2 5.8

In his third major league season, at the ripe old age of 22, Guerrero finally lived up to the pedigree and the prospect hype, making a run at the Triple Crown but settling for the league leads in OBP (.401), SLG (.611), wRC+ (166), and WAR (6.7), plus a share of the home run title (48, matching Salvador Perez). If not for Shohei Ohtani’s remarkable performance, he’d have claimed American League MVP honors. While retaining his exceptional selectivity at the plate, Vladito elevated the ball with greater consistency, nearly doubling his barrel rate from 2020 (8.7%) to ’21 (15.1%) and posting a 99th-percentile average exit velocity (95.1 mph). He also proved to be a capable fielder at first base, though a Gold Glove isn’t in his future. His projections suggest he’s fully capable of a repeat performance, which, wow!

If Guerrero approaches last year’s total of 28 games at DH, two more players with famous fathers could fill in at first. Biggio, who spent more time at third base, right field, and second base than first in 2021, is coming off a dreadful year marred by right hand, left elbow (UCL), neck and back injuries, sinking to an 84 wRC+ from 122 the year before. Gurriel, the team’s regular left fielder, was off his game a bit as well, with more grounders and less quality contact. “Bird with the Blue Jays” has a nice ring to it, but the chances he’s getting are still based on his 2015 and late ’17 promise.

2. Dodgers
Freddie Freeman 658 .293 .388 .518 .381 34.7 -0.2 1.9 4.7
Max Muncy 21 .249 .371 .509 .374 1.0 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Cody Bellinger 14 .246 .334 .478 .342 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Edwin Ríos 7 .220 .287 .447 .312 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .290 .385 .516 .379 35.9 -0.2 1.9 4.8

After winning the National League MVP award with a bonkers batting line in 2020 (.341/.462/.640, 187 wRC+), Freeman merely turned in a thoroughly representative performance (.300/.393/.503, 135 wRC+) in ’21, and all he got was a lousy World Series ring and a $162 million contract from the team he helped eliminate along the way. To be fair, his Statcast expected numbers (.319 xAVG, .582 xSLG) suggest he could have had an even bigger year, and indeed, he’s hit the ball harder over the past two seasons than the five years before — and more frequently, cutting his strikeout rate to 15% from 18.5% from 2017-19 and 21.5% in the seven seasons before that. He won’t continue to improve with age forever, but there’s little reason to be concerned with how he’ll handle the transition to Dodger Blue.

As for Muncy, the UCL tear he sustained to his left elbow at season’s end did not require surgery, and while he appears to be on track for Opening Day, he’ll get most of his reps at second base and designated hitter. Over the past four years, he’s hit nearly as well as Freeman (138 wRC+ versus 142) and is tied for fourth in the majors in homers (118). Bellinger, on the other hand, has work to do to rediscover his 2017-19 form, but the tenacious plate appearances he put together in the postseason offer hope that he’ll do a whole lot better than last year’s 48 wRC+, that while mostly manning center field.

3. Braves
Matt Olson 665 .266 .367 .543 .381 30.5 -0.8 5.0 4.5
Orlando Arcia 14 .252 .309 .407 .308 -0.2 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Phil Gosselin 14 .244 .305 .362 .292 -0.4 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Travis d’Arnaud 7 .247 .311 .414 .313 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .265 .364 .535 .377 29.9 -0.8 5.0 4.5

Olson made a remarkable turnaround from 2020, nearly cutting his strikeout rate in half (from 31.4% to 16.8%) while setting a career high in home runs (39) and posting his highest wRC+ since his abbreviated rookie campaign (146). In fact, his 14.6% drop in strikeout rate was the largest year-over-year decline of the Wild Card era, and only five players out-homered him. While he made more frequent contact than ever, it wasn’t necessarily better contact, as his barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and xwOBAcon were all below not only his 2020 rates but his ’19 and even (save for 0.1% worth of barrel rate) ’18 rates as well. That’s still an exceptional hitter; only Guerrero and Kyle Tucker had higher slugging percentages than Olson’s .540 among players who struck out 17% of the time or less. Throw in Olson’s above-average work at first base and you’ve got this top-tier ranking — and, with the trade to Atlanta and subsequent extension, massive shoes to fill given the departure of Freeman.

Inevitably, Olson will need a day off, though Atlanta’s reserve options are thin. Arcia’s bat was too light to carry a solid glove at shortstop, and Gosselin doesn’t offer much confidence given that he hit for just an 87 wRC+ last year amid career highs of 373 PA and 23 games at first for the Angels. D’Arnaud, the regular catcher, made 21 appearances there for the Rays in 2019 but has yet to do so with the Braves.

4. Mets
Pete Alonso 581 .260 .351 .543 .374 29.9 -1.6 -0.2 3.7
Dominic Smith 91 .254 .315 .422 .317 0.4 -0.2 -0.6 0.1
J.D. Davis 14 .254 .339 .429 .332 0.2 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Robinson Canó 14 .259 .308 .407 .307 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .259 .345 .522 .365 30.5 -1.8 -1.0 3.8

Though not to the degree of Olson, Alonso cut his strikeout rate substantially from 2020 (25.5%) to ’21 (19.9%), and accompanied that improved contact rate with higher-quality contact, setting career highs in average exit velocity (91.0%), barrel and hard-hit rates (14.8% and 47.3%, respectively) and xwOBA (.376). He overcame a modest start (.241/.333/.453, 7 HR, 117 wRC+ through May) with a particularly strong showing from June onward (.269/.347/.540, 30 HR, 138 wRC+). Defensively, he set career bests in both OAA (1) and DRS (5).

Alonso’s defense is particularly note worthy given the return of the universal designated hitter and the continued presence of Smith, who set career highs in playing time while serving as the team’s regular left fielder — definitely not his best position — but who hit for just an 86 wRC+. His 79-point drop from 2021 was the third-largest among players with at least 175 PA in both seasons, and likewise, his .253-point drop in SLG (from .616 to .363) ranked second. He recently revealed that he played through a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder but didn’t need surgery and is now pain free. Neither Canó nor Davis has played first in a regular season game since 2018, though they’ll be scrambling for playing time and could get reps here.

5. Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt 672 .271 .354 .476 .355 22.0 0.3 1.8 3.4
Albert Pujols 21 .244 .292 .416 .301 -0.3 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0
Juan Yepez 7 .246 .318 .460 .332 0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .270 .351 .474 .353 21.9 0.2 1.8 3.5

Goldschmidt showed that his pandemic-season rebound was no mirage, turning in his best full-year campaign since 2018 in terms of SLG (.514), wRC+ (138) and WAR (4.9). He hit the ball harder than in any other season during the Statcast era, setting career highs for average exit velocity (92.6 mph), barrel and hard-hit rates (13.6% and 50.2%), xSLG (.575) and xwOBA (.397). Notably, the -.061 gap between his actual and expected slugging percentages was the majors’ sixth-largest in that direction among players with at least 400 PA; for the second year out of three, he fell four homers short of his Statcast-expected total. But the dude can still rake and he’s a plus in the field (6 OAA, 9 DRS), and a similar or even better season isn’t out of his reach at all, even at 34.

Pujols has returned from his decade-long California odyssey to the city where he built his Hall of Fame case. As the Dodgers illustrated last year, he’s still useful when limited to facing lefties, against whom he hit a robust .294/.336/.603 (146 wRC+) with 13 homers in 146 PA, though to be fair he managed only a 108 wRC+ in 517 PA against them over the past four seasons. Most of his playing time will be as a DH or pinch-hitter.

Yepez is a 24-year-old first base prospect who hits the ball hard; he hit .289/.382/.589 with 22 homers in 357 PA in his first taste of Triple-A. He missed our Top 100 Prospects list but landed on the ZiPS Top 100. Though he has experience at third base and in the outfield corners, his route to regular playing time probably runs through the DH slot.

6. Yankees
Anthony Rizzo 588 .259 .359 .469 .356 19.6 -1.8 1.7 2.9
DJ LeMahieu 84 .284 .349 .413 .332 1.1 -0.1 0.4 0.3
Miguel Andújar 14 .268 .307 .461 .326 0.1 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Joey Gallo 7 .207 .348 .497 .358 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Marwin Gonzalez 7 .233 .300 .365 .291 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .261 .356 .461 .351 20.9 -1.8 2.0 3.2

There’s a reason Rizzo cost a lot less than Freeman, who’s just five weeks younger; the ex-Cub produced just one-third of the ex-Brave’s WAR over the past two seasons and was trending downward, with a .240/.343/.432 (109 wRC+) line in that span. The projections like the signing of the 32-year-old lefty considerably more than this scribe, forecasting a bounce back to a 127 wRC+ thanks to the favorability of Yankee Stadium for left-handed hitters. Rizzo’s left-handedness helps as a counterweight for a lineup that lists heavily to the right, and likewise his contact-oriented approach helps to offset the strikeout-prone sluggers, though if there’s one constant to the Yankees’ moves during this offseason — besides bypassing better players who merit longer engagements — it’s to cut down on the K’s. The concern here is that Rizzo’s quality of contact is so middling; his 7.7% barrel rate placed him in the 43rd percentile, though his .347 xwOBA was in the 69th.

LeMahieu hit his way into MVP discussions in both 2019 and ’20, but was merely a league-average hitter in 2021, and now he’s a man without a regular position unless the Yankees reverse course and send Gleyber Torres back to shortstop. While his .362 slugging percentage was 33 points short of his xSLG, it’s also worth noting that the changes to the baseball cut into the opposite-field approach that worked so well for him; his average fly ball to the opposite field fell from 324 feet in 2019 to 304 feet in ’20 and 293 feet last year.

7. Phillies
Rhys Hoskins 574 .238 .351 .496 .361 17.9 -1.1 -0.0 2.6
J.T. Realmuto 63 .258 .329 .447 .332 0.4 0.2 0.4 0.2
Matt Vierling 35 .246 .306 .396 .303 -0.6 0.0 0.2 0.0
Kyle Schwarber 21 .248 .353 .523 .369 0.8 -0.0 -0.0 0.1
Alec Bohm 7 .263 .325 .417 .321 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .241 .347 .486 .356 18.5 -0.9 0.5 2.9

A recurrent groin strain limited Hoskins to just 107 games, including three after August 5; he homered three times in his final two starts and hit his final six homers (of 27) over his last 35 PA. While a dreadful June (.135/.217/.365, 53 wRC+) took the shine off his overall numbers, his 127 wRC+ was a dead ringer for his career mark. He actually hit the ball harder than ever, setting highs in average exit velocity (91.2 mph), barrel rate (17.0%) and hard-hit rate (46.3%), though he offset that by chasing more pitches outside the strike zone, posting his highest swinging-strike rate (11.0%) and lowest walk rate (10.6%) to date.

Realmuto made seven starts and 16 total appearances at first base last year, sometimes moving to the easier position mid-game if the score was lopsided. He had a good-not-great 2021 season overall, with his lowest SLG since ’16 (.439) and lowest ISO since ’17 (.176) thanks in part to a September fade. With the departure of utilityman Brad Miller, the job of filling in if Hoskins gets injured will probably fall either to Vierling, who’s on track to be the primary center fielder in Odubel Herrera’s absence (and then the lefty-swinging half of their platoon); Schwarber, who got a crash course at first base last year upon being traded to the Red Sox; or Bohm, their defensively-challenged starting third baseman.

8. Mariners
Ty France 581 .277 .351 .456 .348 18.6 -1.2 1.7 2.9
Evan White 56 .214 .271 .385 .283 -1.2 -0.0 0.3 -0.0
Luis Torrens 42 .234 .295 .405 .301 -0.3 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Dylan Moore 21 .209 .297 .373 .294 -0.3 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .340 .445 .339 16.8 -1.3 1.9 2.9

After a promising partial season split between the Padres and Mariners, France broke out last year, bopping 18 homers to go with a .291/.368/.445 (129 wRC+) line en route to 3.5 WAR. He did not hit the ball exceptionally hard; his 88.5 mph average exit velo, 6.9% barrel rate and 36.3% hard-hit rate all placed in the mid-30s, percentile-wise. He didn’t hit the ball in the air a ton, either, with a 1.45 groundball-to-fly ball ratio. Somehow, even with 21st-percentile sprint speed, he legged out 14 infield hits — but then so did Yadier Molina. One way or another, France’s contact-centric approach panned out, and the projection systems are bullish for him to repeat it. It’s not out of the question he could see time at second base (where he made 21 appearances in 2021) or third (five appearances) as well, though first base, where he had 5 DRS and -1 OAA, is his best position.

White’s six-year, $24 million deal through 2025 may mark him as the first baseman of the future, but his bat has yet to live up to that billing; last year’s .144/.202/.237 (24 wRC+) in 104 PA was even worse than his 2020 showing (66 wRC+ in 202 PA), though to be fair, a mid-May hip flexor strain that required surgery sidelined him before he could make further adjustments. As if he needed another obstacle, he’ll miss another six to eight weeks to repair a sports hernia; he may eventually see time in the outfield, but it’s more crowded with the recent trade for Jesse Winker. Moore, a superutilityman, hit for just a 74 wRC+ in 377 PA last year as his quality of contact suffered greatly following an impressive 139 wRC+ in 159 PA the year before. Torrens, a backup catcher whose defensive numbers are brutal, is more likely to get additional reps at DH than at first base.

9. Angels
Jared Walsh 623 .263 .332 .507 .353 18.3 -1.0 0.4 2.8
Justin Upton 42 .222 .307 .421 .315 -0.1 -0.0 -0.4 0.0
Taylor Ward 21 .248 .335 .433 .332 0.3 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Matt Thaiss 14 .228 .314 .395 .308 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .259 .330 .497 .349 18.4 -1.1 -0.1 2.8

The departure of Albert Pujols opened the door for Walsh to get regular playing time for the first time, and he didn’t disappoint, bopping 29 homers with a 127 wRC+ and 2.8 WAR in 585 PA, marking him as the Angels’ third-best hitter after Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Which, even with his having made the AL All-Star team, isn’t to say he’s in their class, or guaranteed to remain the team’s third-best bat if Anthony Rendon is healthy and Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell develop as hoped. Walsh strikes out a lot, hits the ball on the ground a lot, and can’t hit lefties (.170/.208/.357, 48 wRC+). He punishes righties well enough to be an above-average player, but he’ll have to make some adjustments to make All-Star appearances a regular thing.

Ward, a righty swinging outfielder who has major league third base experience, but just two innings at first, is another potential platoon partner for Walsh; he posted a 137 wRC+ against lefties last year, albeit in just 77 PA. Thaiss, a 2016 first-round pick, has hit for just an 80 wRC+ with a 31% strikeout rate in 197 PA. After catching 54 games at Triple-A, his first experience behind the dish since college, he’s in line to back up Max Stassi. Upton has hit for just a 92 wRC+ in back-to-back seasons while dealing with myriad injuries. He has hit .222/.320/.503 (122 wRC+) in 175 PA against lefties in that span, though, so the Angels are experimenting with him as a potential platoon partner for both Walsh at first and Marsh in left.

10. Giants
Brandon Belt 518 .245 .347 .468 .348 13.5 -1.3 1.7 2.2
Darin Ruf 112 .245 .332 .437 .331 1.3 -0.2 -0.2 0.3
Wilmer Flores 42 .271 .332 .450 .336 0.7 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
LaMonte Wade Jr. 21 .240 .331 .426 .327 0.2 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Tommy La Stella 7 .270 .335 .409 .323 0.0 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .247 .343 .460 .344 15.7 -1.6 1.1 2.6

Between a more favorable ballpark configuration and a new coaching staff bringing a philosophy that clicked with so many veterans, Belt has hit for more power than ever over the past two seasons (.285/.393/.595 with 37 homers and a 163 wRC+ in 560 PA). Despite middling average exit velocities that owe at least something to his shift-beating bunts (on which he went 5-for-7 in 2021), his 17% barrel rate in that span places him in the 96th percentile, and his 13.9% walk rate in the 93rd percentile. While his defense isn’t quite what it once was according to the metrics, the real knock on him is durability. In 2021, he lost six weeks due to right knee inflammation and served additional IL stints for an oblique strain and a fractured left thumb; over the past decade, he’s played in just 77% of the Giants’ games, only some of which has to do with his recent woes against lefties.

The good news beyond the abatement of those woes in 2021 is the presence of Ruf, a righty who’s hit for a 143 wRC+ with 21 homers and 412 PA since returning from the KBO. He creamed the ball last year (93.0 mph average exit velo, 14.2% barrel rate) and figures to get a lot of time against lefties either at DH, first base, or in left field. Flores is at his best against lefties as well, and stronger at first base than other infield positions. Wade, whose clutch hitting was a difference-maker in last year’s NL West race, made 31 appearances at first last year but has absolutely no business playing against lefties.

11. Rangers
Nathaniel Lowe 609 .262 .355 .446 .346 15.7 -0.2 -1.7 2.4
Brad Miller 35 .233 .323 .444 .329 0.4 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Mitch Garver 28 .237 .327 .459 .338 0.5 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Nick Solak 21 .258 .326 .402 .317 0.0 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Andy Ibáñez 7 .265 .320 .428 .322 0.0 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .259 .351 .445 .344 16.8 -0.3 -2.2 2.6

Lowe finally got a full season of playing time and it was a solid one, with better plate discipline and more consistent contact than he’d generally shown before, at least at the major league level. Which isn’t to say that it was great contact; while his 90.8 mph average exit velocity put him in the 77th percentile and his 9.5% barrel rate in the 61st percentile, he hit roughly two groundballs for every fly ball, and his x-stats (.236 xAVG/.402 xSLG/.324 xwOBA) were all subpar. He did improve his contact rate and his isolated power over the final six weeks of the season, but his struggles against higher velocities limit his impact. One way or another, he’ll have to improve upon his .415 SLG — which placed him in the bottom quartile among regular first basemen — to be successful.

The well-traveled Miller, who signed a two-year deal with the Rangers, doesn’t hit for average, and he strikes out a fair amount, but he’s a useful utilityman — four corners plus second base, these days — who hits the ball very hard. Last year, he homered 20 times in 377 PA while barreling the ball 12.3% of the time with a 92.4 mph average exit velo.

Injuries have limited Garver to just 91 games since his breakout 2019 season, with groin and lower back woes cutting into his 2020, though he did hit for a robust 137 wRC+ with 13 homers in just 243 PA. He could add to his total of five big league starts at first base if he’s swinging the bat well. Solak, by reputation a bat-first utilityman, has hit a thin .250/.318/.357 over the past two seasons. Ibáñez, who hit a solid .277/.321/.435 (107 wRC+) in 272 PA, is slated to occupy the lion’s share of the third base job.

12. Tigers
Spencer Torkelson 511 .250 .337 .490 .351 14.6 -0.4 2.0 2.4
Miguel Cabrera 112 .252 .314 .392 .306 -1.0 -0.6 -0.3 -0.0
Jonathan Schoop 70 .265 .309 .441 .321 0.2 -0.0 -0.3 0.1
Harold Castro 7 .269 .299 .358 .285 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .252 .330 .467 .340 13.7 -1.0 1.3 2.5

The top pick of the 2020 draft and the number five prospect in our Top 100, Torkelson rated as one of the best college hitters of the past decade while at Arizona State, and clubbed 30 homers while hitting .267/.383/.552 across three levels in his first professional season. He’s a disciplined hitter whose approach can get a bit passive at times, but his compact swing yields plus-plus raw power and potentially a plus hit tool as well. The rest of the package isn’t much to write home about. An experiment at third base didn’t take; his arm is fringy at best, and he’s not much of a runner, but his bat will carry him. As he’s not yet on the 40-man roster, he wasn’t affected by the lockout; the extra time in spring training could give him enough momentum to win the Opening Day first base job, though we’ll have to see how the Tigers’ service time calculus works.

As for Cabrera, woof. He’s a future Hall of Famer who’s 13 hits away from becoming the seventh player to reach both 3,000 hits and 500 homers, but he slugged .386 with a 92 wRC+ last year and is at .401 and 97 for the past five seasons, during which he’s played fewer than 500 games and topped out at 16 homers. If the Tigers insist upon playing him, he’s DH material now. Schoop is an above-average hitter who figures to get most of the Tigers’ reps at second base after getting the majority of Detroit’s work at first last year.

13. White Sox
José Abreu 602 .262 .331 .478 .344 14.2 -1.1 -2.0 2.1
Andrew Vaughn 49 .251 .329 .444 .333 0.7 -0.1 -0.0 0.1
Yasmani Grandal 35 .235 .373 .463 .362 1.4 -0.2 0.1 0.2
Gavin Sheets 14 .254 .316 .459 .331 0.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .260 .333 .475 .344 16.5 -1.4 -2.0 2.4

After winning AL MVP honors in the abbreviated 2020 season, Abreu regressed to his 2016-19 level, hitting for a 126 wRC+. For as hard as he hit the ball — with an average exit velo of 92 mph, and a 10.2% barrel rate — too often he failed to elevate it. His 46.4% groundball rate was his highest since 2015, and his .229 BABIP on those grounders, and .293 BABIP overall, were both career worsts. He did hit for his usual power, and bolstered his production with a career-best 9.3% walk rate, largely by laying off pitches above the strike zone. That may owe something to his diminished performance against fastballs 95 mph or higher in the upper third of the strike zone; he saw more than ever (67) and managed just a .145 xwOBA. A sign of aging, perhaps?

Judging anyone based on the metrics from just under 100 innings at first base isn’t fair, but as a rookie, Vaughn’s defense was rough at any position where Tony La Russa put him. He did hit the ball harder than his stat line suggests, and projects for significant growth on the offensive side. Grandal, despite a very weird start to last season (.131 AVG through May) and seven weeks lost due to a torn tendon in his left knee, remains among the game’s best catchers, with a potent enough bat to merit a handful of starts at first base when he’s not behind the plate.

14. Nationals
Josh Bell 637 .267 .355 .498 .361 19.5 -2.3 -4.1 2.3
Ehire Adrianza 42 .245 .316 .381 .304 -0.7 -0.0 -0.3 -0.0
Maikel Franco 21 .240 .290 .408 .297 -0.5 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .265 .351 .488 .356 18.3 -2.4 -4.5 2.2

Only two other players with at least 100 fly balls and 100 grounders in 2021 produced a larger gap between their wRC+ figures on each type than Bell, who did massive damage in the air (.343 AVG/1.200 SLG/290 wRC+) but was helpless on the ground (.187 AVG/.192 SLG/-3 wRC+). But while the two guys with larger gaps than Bell (Max Muncy and Joey Votto) both hit more flies than grounders and ranked among the majors’ top 15 hitters overall, Bell hit twice as many grounders as flies and ranked just 56th in wRC+ at 118. Bell did shake off a dreadful pandemic-shortened season and delivered the second-best performance of his career in just about every key category besides OBP (his .347 was one point below his career mark), but that still marked him more as a solid producer than exceptional. For what it’s worth, by both OAA (4) and DRS (-1) he was as good or better defensively than he’s ever been, which bolsters his value a bit.

With Ryan Zimmerman retired, the job for backing up first base is wide open. Adrianza, a utilityman who can play all four infield positions, hasn’t seen major league activity at first since 2019, and his bat is hardly up to the task. The same can be said for Franco, who bottomed out in Baltimore via a 62 wRC+ and -8 DRS in 99 games at third.

15. Astros
Yuli Gurriel 602 .283 .342 .435 .334 10.6 -1.4 -0.9 1.8
Aledmys Díaz 49 .251 .310 .406 .308 -0.2 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Taylor Jones 28 .244 .318 .420 .318 0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Yordan Alvarez 21 .285 .362 .565 .388 1.3 -0.0 -0.0 0.2
Total 700 .279 .340 .436 .333 11.8 -1.6 -0.7 2.1

Despite hitting only 15 homers — 16 short of his 2019 career high — Gurriel had his best stateside season at the age of 37, setting career highs in batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.383), walk rate (9.8%), wRC+ (134), and WAR (3.4). He took a more disciplined approach at the plate, swinging at fewer than 30% of the pitches he saw outside the zone for the first time; only four qualifiers had a lower swinging strike rate than his 5.1%, and of that group, only teammate Michael Brantley had a wRC+ above 100. Notably, Gurriel did all this with a 10th-percentile barrel rate of just 3.4%, though both his 89.8 mph exit velo and 42% hard-hit rate were solidly above average. He was 48 points ahead of his .271 xBA, and 76 points ahead of his .386 xSLG. Particularly given his age, significant regression seems likely, so the middling projection is hardly a surprise.

Alvarez has minor league and Serie Nacional experience at first base, but he has yet to play the position in a regular season major league game, and the DH coming to the NL gives him even less reason to try. Díaz, on the other hand, has made 40 appearances at first in three years in Houston. Jones, a 6-foot-7 former pitcher who tore up Triple-A last year (.331/.425/.584), struggled in the bigs as a 27-year-old rookie (.245/.269/.402 in 108 PA), but figures to get another shot at some point.

16. Rays
Ji-Man Choi 455 .231 .342 .410 .328 7.5 -0.8 -1.4 1.3
Yandy Díaz 196 .268 .361 .408 .336 4.5 -0.4 -0.4 0.7
Jonathan Aranda 28 .246 .316 .395 .309 0.0 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Ryon Healy 21 .231 .288 .414 .302 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .242 .345 .409 .329 11.9 -1.2 -1.7 2.0

Right knee surgery and then left groin and hamstring strains limited Choi to just 83 games in 2021. When healthy, he hit .229/.348/.411, which wasn’t sexy, but his 14.8% walk rate and 91.2 mph average exit velo went a long way towards helping him hold up the long half of a platoon. Alas, he did not reprise his brief experiment in switch-hitting and in fact was dreadful (.186/.269/.257, 54 wRC+) against lefties; even so, his .245/.374/.468 (139 wRC+) against righties was a bit ahead of his career mark.

Díaz, despite being able to bench press both you and me at the same time, is still hitting grounders more than half the time when he puts the ball in play. That said, he gets on base well enough and has enough punch to serve as an excellent platoon complement; last year, he hit .288/.367/.445 (126 wRC+) in 218 PA against lefties, right in line with his career mark. Aranda is a stocky 23-year-old prospect with good timing and gap power via a compact lefty stroke; last year, he hit .331/.419/.543 split between High- and Double-A. He’s a terrible defender wherever you put him, but his bat will eventually find its way into the lineup. Healy, who has just 7 PA in the majors since 2019, has good power but little business donning a glove himself.

17. Rockies
C.J. Cron 546 .269 .349 .512 .364 10.3 -1.5 0.1 1.7
Connor Joe 63 .260 .355 .445 .347 0.3 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Ryan McMahon 49 .255 .332 .461 .339 -0.1 -0.0 0.2 0.1
Kris Bryant 28 .267 .356 .476 .356 0.3 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Colton Welker 14 .255 .312 .425 .316 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .266 .348 .499 .360 10.5 -1.6 0.2 2.0

Playing for his fifth team in as many seasons, and coming off a knee injury that limited him to 13 games in 2020, Cron put together the best year of his career, and not just because Coors Field inflated his numbers. He showed more discipline than ever at the plate, trimming a few points off his chase rate and overall swing rate en route to an 11% walk rate, nearly double his previous career mark of 5.7%. His .281/.375/.530 line and 127 wRC+ were all career highs, with the OBP 63 points above his previous career norm. All told, it was the best season by a Rockies first baseman since Todd Helton hit for a 120 wRC+ in 2011. Which isn’t to say Cron will repeat it, but he should easily outdo the position’s 2015-20 occupants; during that span, no Rockies regular first baseman totaled 1.0 WAR or beat a 105 wRC+.

Joe, a 2014 supplemental first-round pick and a cancer survivor who’s now on his sixth franchise, had a nice 211-PA run with the Rockies in 2021. He hit .285/.379/.469 (116 wRC+) and showed exceptional patience towards pitches in the shadow zone. He could get chances in left field, first base and at DH. Given Bryant’s versatility, it seems likely that either he or McMahon, whose strong third base play helped him earn a $70 million extension, will man the infield corners in one configuration or another when Cron is out as well.

18. Marlins
Jesús Aguilar 392 .258 .333 .450 .334 6.2 -1.0 0.1 1.1
Garrett Cooper 196 .262 .344 .436 .338 3.8 -0.7 -0.6 0.5
Lewin Díaz 112 .241 .290 .453 .313 -0.2 -0.1 0.8 0.2
Total 700 .256 .329 .447 .332 9.8 -1.7 0.4 1.9

Last year, the Marlins started Aguilar at first base 104 times, with Cooper making 14 starts there plus another 39 in right field before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August, and Díaz making 29 starts late in the year when Aguilar went down in early September due to left knee inflammation and, eventually, arthroscopic surgery. This year, Aguilar will likely see regular duty split between first base and DH. He’s a fly ball-oriented righty whose contact quality is just average, but he generates pretty good power (.198 ISO in 2021, .207 career), has decent plate discipline (last year’s 9.0% walk rate was actually his lowest since 2017), and plays solid defense.

Cooper, like Aguilar a righty, is the better hitter. In limited duty in each of the past two seasons, he’s hit .284/.371/.478 (133 wRC+) in 383 PA, with a 10.7% walk rate and a very wide platoon split, mashing lefties at a 181 wRC+ clip but righties at just 113 wRC+. He finds the barrel more often than Aguilar (10.5% vs. 8.1% over the past two seasons) but hits the ball on the ground much more often (49.4% vs 34.0% in that span) as well.

Díaz, previously a 45 FV prospect, hit just .205/.242/.451 (82 wRC+) with a 4.7% walk rate in 128 PA after being called up. He’s a slick fielder with plus raw power but his hit tool and game power are fringy.

19. Reds
Joey Votto 637 .249 .355 .473 .353 12.7 -2.6 -1.0 1.9
Mike Moustakas 21 .243 .316 .459 .330 0.0 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Tyler Stephenson 21 .265 .346 .419 .332 0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Colin Moran 21 .251 .319 .418 .318 -0.2 -0.1 -0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .250 .352 .469 .351 12.6 -2.8 -1.3 1.9

In his age-37 season, Votto got his groove back, with a late-2020 decision to sacrifice plate discipline for power paying huge dividends. After hitting a comparatively tepid .265/.382/.420 (114 wRC+) with 4.5 WAR over the previous three seasons, he batted a robust .266/.375/.563, ranking fourth in the NL in slugging percentage, tied for fourth with 36 homers (two fewer than his 2018-20 total), and in a virtual tie for seventh with his 140 wRC+. Votto simply punished the ball, setting personal bests with a 92.9 mph average exit velocity, 17.2% barrel rate, .592 xSLG and .404 xwOBA, all of which placed him in the 93rd percentile or above. Though his 23.8% strikeout rate was a career high, he still walked 14.4% of the time, the NL’s third-highest rate. Oh, and with his 2,000th hit and his surpassing the JAWS standard at first base, he all but guaranteed himself a plaque in Cooperstown. Despite his age, his new approach should enable him to beat the projection above.

A right heel injury that included a bout of plantar fasciitis wrecked Moustakas’ season, limiting him to 62 games, a 70 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR. He’s on track to serve as the team’s regular third baseman, but has spotted at first 21 times over the past two seasons. Stephenson played there 21 times during his impressive rookie season, but with the trade of Tucker Barnhart, he’ll assume the bulk of the catching duty. Moran is basically a league-average hitter without enough defense to play third; in limited duty, his work at first hasn’t been so hot, either.

20. Orioles
Ryan Mountcastle 420 .263 .313 .478 .335 5.4 -0.5 -0.1 1.2
Trey Mancini 252 .264 .334 .461 .339 4.2 -0.3 -0.8 0.7
Tyler Nevin 14 .236 .304 .402 .306 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Kelvin Gutierrez 14 .240 .296 .367 .289 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .262 .320 .468 .335 9.2 -0.8 -0.9 1.9

Still officially a rookie last season, Mountcastle led all rookies with 33 homers, but overall couldn’t quite live up to his torrid 2020 showing (139 wRC+ in 140 PA), mainly due to a 101-point drop in BABIP (from .398 to .297). He was still a bright spot on a team that saw just four regulars manage a 100 wRC+ or better, with his 111 mark and .487 SLG both trailing only Cedric Mullins. Mountcastle actually hit the ball harder than in 2020, though only his barrel rate (10.9%) was above-average, and he offset his .424 xwOBAcon with a spike in his strikeout rate (to 27.5%) and a slight dip in his walk rate, leaving his xwOBA essentially unchanged from the past year. He struggled against offspeed pitches, hitting .160 and slugging .240 against them, with a 41.4% whiff rate as well. Defensively, he’s better suited to DHing, but the whole package is nonetheless an upgrade on late-stage Chris Davis.

Given that he made an inspiring return from stage 3 colon cancer and won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors, it feels awkward to point out any flaws in Mancini’s actual performance. He hit for a modest 105 wRC+, though part of that owed to a rough final two months when by his own admission he was battling fatigue. After hitting .264/.333/.479 (118 wRC+) with 19 homers through July, he slumped to .236/.311/.328 (75 wRC+) with two homers the rest of the way. Nevin, son of longtime major leaguer (and current Angels third base coach) Phil Nevin, who had three extra-base hits in a six-game cup of coffee last year, is another player with a good feel for hitting but a questionable glove, and he may not have enough power for a part-time corner role. Gutierrez, slated to be the regular third baseman even after managing a meager 67 wRC+ last year, could see time at first as well; he’s a plus fielder baseman with vanilla hit/power tools.

21. Twins
Miguel Sanó 623 .228 .319 .487 .342 13.1 -1.0 -8.2 1.4
Alex Kirilloff 49 .269 .320 .455 .330 0.5 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Brent Rooker 28 .219 .308 .439 .320 0.1 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .231 .319 .483 .340 13.7 -1.1 -8.4 1.6

Sanó clubbed 30 homers and walked 11.1% of the time, but those were about the only positives from his 2021 campaign, during which he hit .223/.312/.466 (110 wRC+) and produced just 0.4 WAR. When he made contact, he demolished the ball, with exit velo, barrel, and hard-hit rates in the 97th percentile or above, but his utter inability to do anything with breaking balls (.234 xwOBA, 51.7% whiff) or offspeed pitches (.231 xwOBA, 48.4% whiff) led to a 15.5% swinging strike rate and 34.4% strikeout rate — both somehow still better than his career norms, and an improvement on his 2020. Even after the move to first base, his defense remains DH-caliber.

Kirilloff entered the season at number 17 on our Top 100 Prospects list but encountered rough sledding, slumping early and then playing through a torn ligament in his right wrist before undergoing season-ending surgery in late July. His .291 xBA and .541 xSLG were well beyond his actual numbers; prune 29 PA off the front and back ends of his rough half-season and he hit .285/.337/.484 (120 wRC+) with eight homers in 202 PA, closer to what can be expected of him as he splits time between first base, DH, and the outfield corners. Rooker struck out nearly one-third of the time as a rookie; when he connects, he hits the ball very hard, though he too fell far short of his expected stats (i.e., .397 SLG vs .463 xSLG).

22. Red Sox
Bobby Dalbec 385 .232 .306 .475 .331 2.5 -0.5 0.2 0.8
Triston Casas 224 .253 .333 .447 .336 2.4 -0.1 0.2 0.6
Christian Arroyo 49 .249 .307 .421 .314 -0.4 0.0 0.2 0.1
Travis Shaw 42 .221 .315 .398 .311 -0.4 -0.1 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .239 .315 .458 .330 4.1 -0.7 0.7 1.5

A third base prospect blocked by Rafael Devers, Dalbec moved across the diamond and put together a tantalizing 23-game debut in 2020, but his limitations became more apparent last year. When he made contact, he barreled the ball 20.2% of the time (98th percentile) and produced an average exit velo of 92.4 mph, but he also swung and missed at 18% of pitches and struck out 34.4% of the time. Offsetting that with a meager 6.2% walk rate, he finished at .240/.298/.494 (107 wRC+) and struggled at first base (-7 DRS, -7 OAA). His splits (135 wRC+ against lefties, 102 against righties) suggest he’d be better off as the short half of a platoon.

Casas, who topped the Red Sox prospect list and was 16th on our Top 100, is a Bunyanesque 6-foot-5 lefty whose power won’t match Dalbec’s but who has a much more mature approach at the plate, with better contact skills. In 77 games at Double-A and nine at Triple-A, he hit .279/.394/.484 with a 15.4% walk rate and 19.1% strikeout rate. He’s the first baseman of Boston’s future, and an upgrade on Dalbec, though he’ll likely need more seasoning at Triple-A before the Red Sox promote him. Shaw showed some life in his bat in a 48-PA run with the Red Sox late last year, contrary to his larger body of work over the past three seasons (.194/.289/.344 in 700 PA). Arroyo, on the other hand, has shown versatility and a more or less league-average bat in his limited major league duty, though he has almost no experience at first base.

23. Royals
Carlos Santana 336 .236 .343 .395 .323 1.0 -0.4 -0.3 0.6
Nick Pratto 168 .243 .324 .471 .338 2.6 -0.0 0.9 0.6
Hunter Dozier 98 .236 .308 .425 .315 -0.3 -0.2 -0.6 0.1
Ryan O’Hearn 70 .230 .302 .424 .311 -0.5 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Salvador Perez 28 .261 .301 .502 .337 0.4 -0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .238 .328 .425 .325 3.2 -0.7 0.1 1.4

When he’s not making contact, Santana is a fine player, with exceptional walk and strikeout rates (13.1% and 15.5% in 2021) and solid defense at first base. Alas, when he does connect, Santana’s quality of contact has become middling at best; last year’s 6.8% barrel rate placed him in the 33rd percentile, and his .285 wOBAcon in the sixth percentile. Between his general propensity to pull the ball, and his increasing tendency to hit it on the ground, he’s particularly vulnerable to the shift when batting lefty; last year’s 7 wRC+ (.191 AVG/.256 SLG) in that context was the worst among the 148 players with at least 170 PA against the shift, and the story’s basically the same if you include 2020 as well. Even as a platoon bat, he’d be a bit light given his 99 wRC+ against lefties over the past two years.

Pratto, a 2017 first round pick, was number 47 on our Top 100 Prospects list after mashing 36 homers and hitting .265/.385/.602 between Double- and Triple-A, albeit with a 28.8% strikeout rate. Thanks to a 2021 swing change, he’s got big power and a good feel for the zone, not to mention excellent defense at first. He should be in KC at some point this summer. Dozier has been going backwards since his big 2019 breakout, hitting just .216/.285/.394 (82 wRC+) last year while his strikeout-to-walk ratio doubled relative to 2020. He’s still the top alternative to Santana at first until Pratto is ready, as O’Hearn hasn’t hit enough to justify time either at first base or DH since his torrid rookie showing in 2018. Perez has nine appearances (four starts) at first in his career, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he adds to that for the sake of giving him a break from catching while letting him take his hacks.

24. Cubs
Frank Schwindel 427 .267 .311 .481 .335 4.1 -0.7 -0.0 1.0
Patrick Wisdom 105 .218 .294 .464 .322 -0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.2
Alfonso Rivas 84 .248 .329 .368 .307 -1.1 -0.1 0.4 0.0
Ian Happ 63 .240 .340 .459 .344 1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.2
David Bote 21 .234 .316 .401 .311 -0.2 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .254 .313 .461 .330 3.8 -0.9 0.2 1.4

Schwindel’s 2021 was one of the year’s feel-good stories. A 29-year-old career minor leaguer who entered the season with six previous games of major league experience, he was picked up off waivers from the A’s on July 18, and proceeded to seize the Cubs’ first base job in the wake of the Rizzo trade, blazing his way to a .326/.371/.591 line with 14 homers in 259 PA; all told, his 2.1 WAR for the season outdid Rizzo’s by half a win. Schwindel’s numbers were well ahead of his Statcast expected ones (.271 xAVG, .451 sXLG), and his 86.9 mph average exit velocity and 8% barrel rate were nothing to write home about. He does have good power and contact rates, and can obliterate fastballs (.338 AVG/.685 SLG against them in 2021), but pitchers will adjust to him, and he’ll have to counter.

Rivas is a 25-year-old lefty swinger with a contact-oriented profile, contrary to what his 32.7% strikeout rate in a 49-PA trial suggests. Via our prospect hounds, he has just 40-grade raw power and 50-grade game power, so he’s gonna have to get on base a lot to hold a job. Wisdom, another late bloomer who hit 28 homers in 106 games as a 29-year-old rookie last year, will have an even taller task to repeat given his 40.8% strikeout rate. Happ has a smattering of experience at first base (11 games total, five starts) and is expected mainly to play left field. Bote, who sank from a 99 wRC+ from 2018-20 to a 64 wRC+ last year, will miss at least the first two months while recovering from surgery to repair his left shoulder, which hampered him after he separated it in late May.

25. Diamondbacks
Christian Walker 469 .248 .320 .433 .324 -0.3 0.0 1.5 0.8
Seth Beer 140 .257 .339 .444 .338 1.6 -0.2 -0.5 0.3
Pavin Smith 63 .264 .330 .418 .323 -0.1 -0.1 -0.0 0.1
Jordan Luplow 28 .234 .335 .441 .336 0.3 -0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .251 .325 .434 .327 1.4 -0.4 1.1 1.3

Walker isn’t the second coming of Paul Goldschmidt, but in 2019-20, he did a solid job of manning first base for the Diamondbacks, hitting 36 homers with a 110 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR in 209 games. Last year was a different story, as he missed over five weeks in the first half due to an oblique strain, carrying a .223/.280/.340 (66 wRC+) line into the All-Star break. He slowly heated up, managing a .265/.346/.422 (106 wRC+) line in the second half. Whether it was better health or better mechanics, he hit the ball harder and with greater elevation in the second half (89.5 mph average exit velo, 8.2% barrel rate, .330 xwOBA) compared to the first (88.1 mph velo, 4.7% barrel, .291 xwOBA).

Beer, chosen by the Astros as the 28th pick of the 2018 draft out of Clemson, was acquired in the Zack Greinke trade. He had a pinch-hit homer in his September 10 major league debut, but in his lone appearance in the field four days later, suffered a season-ending shoulder dislocation after an awkward dive for a groundball. He’s got above-average power but not much else (20 grades on both speed and defense, yikes) and is best suited as a DH, though he could eat into Walker’s time at first base. So could Smith, the seventh pick of the 2017 draft; he made 42 starts at first last year in addition to 80 in the outfield, but hit a lukewarm .267/.328/.404 (96 wRC+), a dead ringer for his Statcast expectations. Smith is slated to platoon in right field with Luplow, a skilled lefty-masher (139 wRC+ in 378 career PA) who added a spot of first base to his big league resumé with the Rays last year.

26. Brewers
Rowdy Tellez 448 .257 .326 .479 .340 6.1 -0.8 -0.4 1.2
Keston Hiura 154 .227 .303 .416 .311 -1.6 -0.1 -0.5 0.0
Mike Brosseau 63 .231 .304 .401 .305 -0.9 -0.1 0.1 0.0
Jace Peterson 28 .237 .330 .378 .312 -0.3 0.1 -0.2 0.0
Tyler White 7 .240 .338 .395 .322 -0.0 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .247 .319 .453 .329 3.3 -0.9 -1.0 1.2

In parts of four major league seasons, Tellez has shown promise for significant stretches but has yet to sustain them. After hitting for a 132 wRC+ in 35 games in 2020, he sank to a 60 wRC+ (.204/.273/.327) in the first half last year, but rebounded in the second half with a 116 wRC+ (.280/.335/.500) that included seven of his 11 homers. A deeper dive shows that he actually hit the ball slightly harder in the first half than the second (92.7 mph EV vs. 91.7) but was pulling the ball more often (41.4% vs. 32.0%), losing hits to infield shifts and getting results far below expectations; he actually had a .251 xAVG and .441 xSLG in the first half, and a dead-on .278 xAVG and .501 xSLG in the second. He’s no All-Star, but if he can stick with that less pull-happy approach, he can be productive.

Hiura not only hasn’t been able to match his torrid 2019 rookie showing, but last year he bottomed out, hitting .168/.256/.301 (52 wRC+) and getting more time at Triple-A Nashville than in the majors. When he connects, he hits the ball hard, as his 15.2% barrel rate attests, but a 39.1% strikeout rate isn’t going to cut it. Brosseau bottomed out last year as well, slipping to a 73 wRC+ in 169 PA with the Rays after hitting for a 130 wRC+ in 240 PA in 2019-20; he’s never barreled the ball particularly often, and has struck out 30% of the time in the majors. Peterson’s speed, plate discipline, and versatility make him a very useful bench piece; one of his many uses is as a late-inning defensive replacement at first base, as last year’s ratio of 26 appearances and seven starts attests.

27. Padres
Eric Hosmer 518 .263 .324 .410 .317 0.5 -1.6 -1.1 0.6
Luke Voit 147 .249 .340 .467 .347 3.7 -0.2 -0.7 0.5
Matt Beaty 21 .257 .327 .410 .321 0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Jake Cronenworth 14 .272 .345 .446 .339 0.3 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .260 .328 .423 .324 4.6 -1.8 -1.9 1.2

For a big-spending team with championship aspirations — and that’s what the Padres are now — Hosmer remains a sinkhole in the lineup and on their payroll. Last year, he hit for a 102 wRC+ but netted 0.0 WAR, and somehow those were the second-best numbers of his four-year tenure in San Diego, underscoring the extent to which his 128 wRC+, 0.9-WAR 2020 showing was just a small-sample illusion. While Hosmer has averaged at least 90 mph exit velocities in each of the past three seasons, he hits more than two grounders for every fly ball, so his contact doesn’t amount to much; his 5.8% barrel rate was in the 26th percentile. His defense (1 OAA, -5 UZR, -4 DRS) doesn’t exactly make up for it.

Voit, acquired from the Yankees in mid-March, homered 11 times last year, one fewer than Hosmer in 324 fewer plate appearances. A career .267/.357/.510 (133 wRC+) hitter, the 31-year-old righty swinger has outstanding power and a disciplined approach at the plate, but health is another matter; between a 2019 sports hernia, last year’s oblique strain, and left knee issues that sent him to the injured list three times and to the operating table once, he’s played only 242 games out of 384 over the past three seasons. When he’s on, as in late 2018 and the shortened ’20, he’s a beast, and even with his DH-caliber defense he’s an upgrade on Hosmer. Cronenworth is a versatile everyday player whose ability to man shortstop could be very valuable during Fernando Tatis Jr.’s absence; contributions at first — where he made 20 starts last year — are more likely after Tatis returns.

28. Guardians
Bobby Bradley 462 .213 .288 .447 .312 -1.7 -0.8 2.2 0.7
Josh Naylor 126 .266 .326 .448 .331 1.5 -0.1 -0.8 0.3
Yu Chang 91 .237 .292 .420 .305 -0.8 -0.1 0.3 0.1
Owen Miller 21 .245 .297 .375 .293 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .227 .296 .441 .314 -1.4 -1.0 1.8 1.1

Bradley got to show off his 70-grade raw power last year, as well as the shortcomings that limit his overall game. He homered 16 times in 279 PA, and barreled the ball 16.8% of the time when he made contact, but he also struck out 35.5% of the time, and managed just an 89.0 mph average exit velocity overall. He was all-or-nothing against lefties, with five of his 11 hits against them homers. He managed just a .162/.269/.426 line with a 39.7% strikeout rate and .188 BABIP against them.

Naylor, also a lefty, showed less power and a more contact-oriented approach, hitting .253/.301/.399 with seven homers in 250 PA before suffering a fractured and dislocated right ankle following a collision in the field on June 28, which required season-ending surgery. He’ll likely see more time in right field than at first base. Chang, a 26-year-old righty, hit .228/.267/.426 in 251 PA while walking just 4.4% of the time and striking out 27.7%. His power is average at best, and his hit tool and glove are both iffy, but unless the Guardians get a better idea, he figures to handle the short half of a rather uninspiring platoon. Miller can play all four infield positions, though not especially well, at least if the metrics are to be believed. Of course, when you hit for a 49 wRC+, as he did last year, even the best glove skills don’t matter much.

29. Pirates
Yoshi Tsutsugo 329 .229 .323 .411 .318 -0.5 -0.5 -0.2 0.4
Michael Chavis 147 .242 .295 .437 .313 -0.9 -0.2 -0.5 0.1
Mason Martin 133 .218 .283 .440 .307 -1.4 -0.2 0.7 0.1
Daniel Vogelbach 91 .232 .358 .433 .345 1.9 -0.3 -0.1 0.3
Total 700 .230 .314 .425 .319 -0.9 -1.2 -0.1 0.8

In the grand scheme, things haven’t really clicked for Tsutsugo since coming over from Japan, as he’s managed just a 94 wRC+ in 447 PA while playing for three teams over two seasons. That said, he did put together a promising six-week run with the Pirates from mid-August to the end of the season, hitting .268/.347/.535 (134 wRC+) with eight homers in 144 PA; he struck out just 22.9% of the time and produced a 10.5% barrel rate over that stretch. Small sample, sure, but as the first sustained stateside glimpse of the player who averaged 32 homers and slugged .547 from 2016-19, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Chavis jumped out to a hot start as a rookie with the Red Sox in 2019, but it’s been all downhill since, with a .221/.253/.371 (61 wRC+) line, a 3.5% walk rate, and a 32.9% strikeout rate in 316 PA since August 1, 2019. Last year he had a 42-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124 PA, which y-i-k-e-s. Martin is a 22-year-old 40-FV prospect who spent most of last year at Double-A, where he homered 22 times and hit .242/.318/.481, albeit with a 34.2% strikeout rate before being promoted to Triple-A. His 70-grade raw power helped him produce some big flies, but his pitch recognition and the rest of his game are suspect. Vogelbach is still trying to recover his 30-homer form from 2019; he’ll benefit from the adoption of the universal DH, whether it’s here or elsewhere.

30. Athletics
Eric Thames 217 .218 .305 .408 .307 -0.6 -0.5 -0.6 0.2
Seth Brown 147 .229 .286 .443 .309 -0.3 -0.1 0.5 0.2
Jed Lowrie 84 .242 .314 .390 .307 -0.3 -0.2 -0.4 0.0
Billy McKinney 70 .222 .304 .414 .309 -0.1 -0.1 0.3 0.1
Stephen Vogt 56 .211 .290 .369 .286 -1.1 -0.1 -0.2 -0.1
Dalton Kelly 56 .217 .304 .376 .297 -0.6 0.0 0.3 0.1
Chad Pinder 49 .246 .306 .424 .314 0.1 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Jonah Bride 21 .223 .307 .358 .293 -0.3 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .225 .301 .408 .305 -3.2 -1.2 -0.2 0.7

On the heels of the departures of Mitch Moreland and Mark Canha — not to mention last summer’s DFAing of Schwindel — the trade of Olson to Atlanta leaves slim pickings as far as Oakland’s first base options go (if only Slim Pickens were available). Brown — who homered 20 times in 307 PA as a 28-year-old rookie — is the only other player on the roster who played an inning of first base for the A’s last year, though manager Mark Kotsay has said he’s more in the outfield mix, which makes sense given his strong defense.

The competition this spring has centered around non-roster invitees Kelly, McKinney, and Thames, all of whom bat lefty. The 35-year-old Thames is the only one of the trio with a solid major league track record, having returned from the KBO to hit a combined .241/.343/.504 with 72 homers for the Brewers from 2017-19. He slumped to .203/.300/.317 in 140 PA with the Nationals in 2020, however, then tore his right Achilles tendon in his NPB debut with the Yomiuri Giants last year. McKinney is a 27-year-old former first round pick by the A’s (2013) who has yet to play for them at the major league level. He’s passed through the hands of seven other teams, including the Brewers, Mets, and Dodgers last year, when he hit just .192/.280/.358 (73 wRC+) in 300 PA. He’s got good plate discipline but his quality of contact is suspect, and he has just four major league starts at first. The 27-year-old Kelly hit .244/.350/.512 for the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate; after missing Tampa Bay’s 60-man pool in 2020, he worked on getting bat to ball more quickly and launched 27 homers, obliterating his previous career high of 10, and posted a 13.4% walk rate.

Of the more familiar faces, Lowrie is a handy utilityman who rebounded after two lost seasons to hit a solid .245/.318/.398 in 512 PA last year; Vogt is a backup catcher whose bat has tailed off in recent years; and Pinder is a versatile platoon option against lefties (116 wRC+ in 598 career PA). Bride is an Austin Nola-type hopeful, a disciplined hitter who can play the infield and went to the AFL to learn to catch.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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David Klein
2 years ago

Pete played through a sprained wrist much of May as everyone around him went down, so he tried to tough it out and it led to a not so good month til he relented and went on the injured list. I’m highly encouraged by the cut down in strike out rate and I think he’s gonna put up a huge year with a wRC+ around 140ish and 40 homers and continued improved defense. I’d love to see the Mets try and extend him.