Opening Day for the 2023 MLB season is right around the corner. This means it is the perfect time for position-by-position rankings. Let’s see how each team stacks up – ranking the best MLB first basemen.
First, let’s lay out some ground rules. A player’s position is based on Fangraphs’ Depth Charts as of March 23. If a player is duplicated (such as Byron Buxton being listed as Minnesota’s primary centerfielder and designated hitter), he will be assigned to his main position in 2022, and the player with the second-most projected plate appearances will be used for the second position. Teams only get one entrant per position (sorry, Alejandro Kirk).
Let’s begin. Check out the best MLB first basemen 30-21 if you missed it!
Best MLB First Basemen: 20-11
Best MLB First Basemen: No.20 – Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels
Walsh was an excellent hitter in 2020 and 2021, posting a line of .280/.338/.531 in 176 games. He clubbed 38 doubles and 38 home runs with a 132 OPS+. Last year, he went off the deep end with an 81 OPS+. He hit .215 with a .269 on-base percentage and a ghastly .158 ISO. He struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances, and his walk rate crumbled.
Looking under the hood, Walsh made solid contact, but he had a low volume of contact. He finished in the 15th percentile or lower in xwOBA, expected batting average, strikeout rate, and walk rate. He chased a lot, and he whiffed even more. His solid defense in 2021 also evaporated. Walsh had solid exit velocity stats and a 65th-percentile hard-hit rate, but he was swinging and missing far too often to be a viable option.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.19 – Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox
Three numbers jump off Casas’ page. First, he hit just .197 in 76 at-bats as a debutant. Second, he had a preposterous 20% walk rate. Third, he was an above-average hitter (113 OPS+) despite hitting below .200. Casas does not swing much (37.9% of pitches), so his advanced plate discipline could stick. He does not project as much of a fielder, so he will need the bat to do the heavy lifting.
A consensus top-40 prospect, Casas could make a run at AL Rookie of the Year if he improves his ability to make contact. He should have plenty of at-bats near the top of Boston’s solid lineup. With his plate discipline and power, he could bat anywhere from the two-hole to the five-hole and be a valuable part of the Red Sox’ playoff push.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.18 – Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox
Vaughn showed plenty of progress at the plate, raising his OPS+ by 20 points. He made consistent hard contact, but he had a huge groundball rate. He was in the 90th percentile in hard-hit rate, but he was in the 63rd percentile in both expected batting average and expected slugging percentage.
The exciting development with Vaughn is that he can be the full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. In previous years, he was forced to either play a corner outfield spot or be the designated hitter as Jose Abreu took the overwhelming share of time at first base. With a locked-in position, Vaughn could take a step forward defensively and prove to be a much better player than what his last few years have shown.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.17 – C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies
Cron enjoyed his first All-Star season, launching 28 doubles and 29 home runs. He also topped 100 runs batted in for the first time. His numbers were not quite as good as his stellar 2021 campaign, but he played 150 games for the first time in his career. Cron has also played a reasonable first base, recording +8 DRS over the last two seasons and 0 OAA in 2022.
Cron’s potential is tied to his plate discipline. He hits the ball hard (97th-percentile max exit velocity), but he was in the 21st percentile or worse in strikeout rate, walk rate, and chase rate. In 2021, he had above-average showings in both strikeouts (21.4%) and walks (11%), but he swung more overall in 2022 (despite swinging less on pitches in the zone). The tools are there for Cron to be a top-tier hitter, but he needs to put them together.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.16 – Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles
After playing some left field in his first two seasons, Mountcastle was Baltimore’s primary first baseman for the first time in 2022. His offense declined a bit, but he had his best defensive season, posting positive DRS and finishing in the 80th percentile in outs above average. However, a look under the hood indicates Mountcastle is prime for a huge breakout season in 2023.
Mountcastle’s results were mediocre. He had a 105 OPS+ and .173 ISO, numbers that are slightly above the MLB average but below where one wants a first baseman to be. His strikeout and walk rates were below league average, but they were in line with his usual rates. These numbers hide the fact that Mountcastle bludgeoned the baseball with tremendous consistency. Out of 252 qualified hitters, he was 19th in xwOBA – ahead of Rafael Devers, Pete Alonso, and Jose Altuve. He was the unluckiest hitter in baseball by xwOBA. If the tide turns, he could be a special hitter.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.15 – Josh Naylor, Cleveland Guardians
Naylor had a healthy breakout campaign. He posted a 121 OPS+, the best in his career by 30 points. He slugged 20 home runs and 28 doubles, and he even swiped six bases. He played a solid first base defensively, and he was worth 1.8 WAR over 122 for the Guardians. However, few in the league matched Naylor’s flair for the dramatic. He was ninth in the AL in win probability added and fourth in championship WPA.
Naylor has solid yet unspectacular batted-ball data. He does not strike out much, so he gets the most of his above-average contact metrics. He is between the 55th and 75th percentiles in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, xwOBA, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, and whiff rate. Naylor could walk a bit more (37th percentile), but he is a good all-around hitter nonetheless.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.14 – Rowdy Tellez, Milwaukee Brewers
Tellez is a destroyer of baseballs. He ranked in the 80th percentile or better in exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard-hit rate, xwOBA, expected slugging, and barrel rate. He nearly doubled his career home run output with 35 bombs for the Brewers in his first full season with the club. He had an impressive .242 ISO. Tellez also had a strong 10.4% walk rate and a better-than-average strikeout rate.
Tellez’s issue is everything else. He had +9 batting runs in 2022, but he conceded -4 base runs, -3 double play runs, and -6 fielding runs, giving him just 0.8 WAR in 153 games. The BABIP gods held him hostage as he posted a horrible .215 BABIP, but that number should improve without the shift. Tellez is the classic all-bat first baseman who might be better as a designated hitter only.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.13 – Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres
Primarily a second baseman in his first three seasons, Cronenworth will make the move to first base to accommodate the likes of Xander Bogaerts and Ha-Seong Kim in the Padres’ infield. Cronenworth slumped a little bit at the plate, posting a 111 OPS+, but he smacked 30 doubles and drove in a career-best 88 runs. He walked in over 10% of his plate appearances and does not whiff often.
Cronenworth would likely play a different infield position if he were on any other team, but he gets the luxury of playing first base in San Diego. He is a strong defender who is more than capable of playing any position on the infield. He might not be as good of a hitter as those around him in this ranking, but he is a well-rounded option and a productive player.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.12 – Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays
In 2022, three players in the American League posted a .400 on-base percentage. AL MVP Aaron Judge led the way with a .425 mark. Slugger Yordan Alvarez ranked second with an impressive .406. Diaz was third at .401. He walked more than he struck out and had a 14% walk rate, second only to the COVID season. Beyond the exceptional plate discipline, Diaz also bludgeons the baseball. He was in the top 10 percentiles in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and hard-hit rate.
Diaz struggled as a third baseman last year, but his bat is too valuable to keep him out of the lineup. He had a 143 OPS+ last year, and he has a career 120 mark. He launched 33 doubles last year, and if a few extra doubles turn into home runs, he will finish much higher in MVP voting than 20th.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.11 – Ty France, Seattle Mariners
A 2022 All-Star, France slashed .274/.338/.436 en route to a 125 OPS+. He was not quite as great defensively as he usually is, but his reputation precedes him. France has a strange Baseball Savant page littered with both dark reds and blues. He was in the top half of the league in xwOBA, max exit velocity, expected batting average, and whiff rate.
France is inconsistent at making hard contact, and he has a microscopic 6.0% walk rate for his career. He is a streaky player – on both sides of the ball – so there will be stretches he is a top-10 or bottom-10 first baseman. However, he will give more competitive at-bats than some of his contemporaries as seen by his 15.3% strikeout rate.
Let us know who you think deserves the top spot in our ranking of the best MLB First Basemen and look for the conclusion of our best MLB first basemen ranking!
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