BBE 2018 Positional Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 First Basemen

Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.

Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them. As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.

Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.

As the spring training season starts to get underway, you will see these countdowns published prior to the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.

In the rundown, we list the player, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 first basemen for the 2018 season.

Honorable Mentions:

Six players received votes from our panel but did not have the necessary point total to qualify for the top 15. Those first basemen are Justin Smoak, Edwin Encarnacion, and Matt Olson with two points, and Wil Myers, Yonder Alonso, and Chris Davis with one each.

Brandon Belt – 15th (4)

On a stacked San Francisco Giants team that reloaded over the offseason, a familiar face cannot be overlooked. That man is Brandon Belt, who led the Giants in home runs with 18 in 2017 despite just 104 games played.

Belt, formerly a National League All-Star and twice a World Series champion, is a career .268/.358/.461 hitter who has excelled at first while also exhibiting the athleticism to play corner outfield positions. The lefty hitter is off to a strong start in a promising 2018, netting 11 hits and a 1.293 on base plus slugging percentage in spring training action.

Matt Carpenter – 14th (4)

Over his seven-year MLB career, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter has been a model of consistency at the plate and on the bag. The three-time NL All-Star has never been prone to major slumps, and his career .277/.377/.460 slash like more or less backs that.

Previously a league-leader in hits, walks, doubles, and runs, the left-handed hitter has accrued 20.4 bWAR over 864 career games. Twice a recipient of NL Most Valuable Player Award votes, Carpenter will be a huge piece of a potential return to the postseason for the veteran Cardinals.

Logan Morrison – 13th (4)

Having Logan Morrison on the countdown is tricky. There is no telling what the Minnesota Twins, with former AL MVP Joe Mauer at first base, are going to do with Morrison. Leaving LoMo off the top 15, though, is nonsensical.

The 30-year-old recently signed from the Tampa Bay Rays is coming off his most productive season ever, hitting 38 home runs (more than any Twin last season) and slashing .246/.353/.516. Minnesota will look past their position as a Wild Card team and charge towards a potential AL Central title with an electric lefty power-hitter like Morrison in the dugout.

Rhys Hoskins – 12th (4)

In baseball, it’s said to never buy into the hype of a rookie player making a late-season splash. With Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins, you can throw that rule right out the window. We aren’t the only ones buying in early; with just 50 games under his belt in 2017, the 24-year-old finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Hoskins is for real.

Smashing 18 home runs and driving in 48 total runs, Hoskins had an OPS of 1.014 and was worth 2.0 bWAR in, might I remind you, just 50 games. Phillies fans have a lot to be excited for, especially after years of suffering – Hoskins and his power from the right-handed side of the plate might take the cake.

Joe Mauer – 11th (4)

The longevity of Joe Mauer does not get enough appreciation. The Minnesota-born Twins legend has had everything thrown at him — injuries, struggling teams, lack of support, even switching positions — and still goes out there and provides an indubitable veteran presence at both the plate and on first base.

Mauer is long removed from hitting .365 and winning the MVP, but he seemingly hasn’t declined like most 34-year-olds should. Slashing .305/.384/.417 last season, the six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger led the upstart Twins in batting average, on-base percentage, and doubles. Though he has lived in St. Paul all his life, Mauer will eventually move to Cooperstown, if you know what I mean.

Miguel Cabrera – 10th (6)

If this list was made six years ago, Miguel Cabrera would occupy all 15 spots by himself. Prime Miggy was absurdly great, and though he has fallen off, he is still showing flashbacks to his American League MVP years for the Detroit Tigers. He had 16 home runs and a team-high six intentional walks (pitchers still don’t want to face him) on a Detroit Tigers team that otherwise had nothing to cheer for.

Father Time is undefeated, though, and as Cabrera creeps into his older years, the former of those two names is closing in. Still, if anyone could rebound from an off season (.249/.329/.399, -0.2 bWAR), it’s this future Hall of Famer. If Miggy really is done, then he has a lot to hang his hat on. Two-time MVP, 11-time All-Star, Triple Crown winner, World Series champion, seven-time Silver Slugger, four-time batting title winner … the list goes on.

Carlos Santana – 9th (16)

To reiterate to a prior statement, the Phillies have a lot to be excited about come the 2018 MLB season. First baseman Carlos Santana, a feared switch-hitting power hitter previously with the Cleveland Indians, is one of those reasons. The former catcher signed with Philly in the offseason and will find a place in the lineup one way or another, as his bat is one of the most dangerous in their potential lineup.

Santana slashed .259/.363/.455 last season with 23 home runs, 79 RBIs, and 88 walks. Accumulating 3.6 bWAR in 2017, Santana combined his prowess at the plate with superb first base defense — just five errors in 1225.2 innings at first. At 31, Santana could be a valuable force for years to come with Philadelphia and elsewhere. Mastery of the strike zone is generally something that ages well, and Santana works the count with the best of them.

Ryan Zimmerman – 8th (20)

The face of the Washington Nationals franchise long before the emergence of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman is still finding ways to contribute to both the offense and defense of the young NL East anchors. A career best in HRs (36) and OPS (.930) at 32 — despite just 144 games — for the division champions is a pretty solid way to chip in to a stacked team.

With Harper, Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, and others in D.C., Zimmerman has moved from superstar to supporting player on the squad. Nonetheless, they couldn’t get much better at first base if they tried. A slash line of .303/.358/.573 and 108 RBIs last season looks like a promising way for Zimmerman to keep a strong career going late into his 30s.

Eric Hosmer – 7th (29)

San Diego, according to infamous agent Scott Boras, is a volcano of hot talent lava. Eric Hosmer joining the Padres only makes that lava hotter. The four-time Gold Glove winner is immensely overrated according to a variety of advanced metrics, but the 2015 World Series champ is still amongst the top first basemen in the sport. The former All-Star Game MVP had career bests in batting average (.318), on-base percentage (.385), slugging percentage (.498), and OPS (.882), while equaling a career high in home runs (25).

Hosmer joins a very talented and promising young core of position players in San Diego, playing the role of the veteran locker room presence who can rake endlessly. If 2017 really was his best season (career-best 4.0 bWAR), then the Padres will be pumped to have 28-year-old signed until 2026.

Jose Abreu – 6th (34)

Jose Abreu is one of the most intriguing players in baseball. Not a regular MLB player until he was 27, Abreu has lit the world on fire for a team with little to cheer for, the Chicago White Sox. Four straight seasons of 25 or more home runs and 100-plus RBIs — the first player to so since Albert Pujols — Abreu has been perhaps the most consistently great player at his position since his 2014 Rookie of the Year debut campaign.

Seemingly sticking around with the White Sox through their lengthy rebuild, Abreu looks primed to lead this team back to the postseason. A career slash line of .301/.359/.524 is hard to come by, and the righty hitter seems to be good for a .300 average and 100 RBIs a year. You can’t find that just anywhere.

Cody Bellinger – 5th (37)

It took only a few weeks for Cody Bellinger to go from Los Angeles Dodgers top prospect to major league superstar. The 2017 NL Rookie of the Year hit .267/.352/.581 with 39 home runs (second-most in NL play) in just 132 games, earning All-Star honors and a ninth-placed MVP finish at just 22 years old.

That beautiful, hip-exploding left-handed swing that Bellinger erupts long balls with will return to the Dodgers in their hopes to repeat as pennant winners. The only concern with Bellinger is the way he struggled in the postseason, but with infinite time comes infinite improvement; younger than most of the players at his position, Bellinger can bulk up his ability to perform in the clutch.

Freddie Freeman – 4th (56)

Freddie Freeman is such a great player, and so athletically versatile, that the All-Star first baseman played a solid third base for the Atlanta Braves for 16 games in 2017. At his natural position, that’s where the career .290/.376/.496 hitter can take over games at will and show his MVP-caliber side.

The lefty hitter is as dangerous as any when he’s healthy, hitting .307 in 117 games during an ailment-riddled 2017. The 28-year-old has accrued MVP votes three times in his MLB tenure, and could be primed for a return to award consideration with a full 2018 season on tap.

Anthony Rizzo – 3rd (61)

Anthony Rizzo the person and Anthony Rizzo the baseball player are practically the same: absolutely wonderful. Take all of his off-the-field stuff away and there are still very few players I would rather start a team with. The three-time All-Star has knocked 32 or 31 home runs each of the past four seasons, twice finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting (including in 2016 behind his own teammate, Kris Bryant). Rizzo, previously a Gold Glove winner, is the model of consistent value at the first base position.

The 2016 World Series champion has been worth at least 4.0 bWAR in each of the past four seasons for a Chicago Cubs team that needed a boost at the plate to capture their first title in 108 years. The left-handed power hitter slashed .273/.392/.507 with 109 RBIs, a career high 91 walks drawn, while posting a .998 fielding percentage in 1341.0 innings at first.

Paul Goldschmidt – 2nd (73)

Arizona Diamondbacks first bagger Paul Goldschmidt is probably the most versatile player in baseball. He can hit for average, hit for power, work the count to draw walks, play splendid defense, run the bases exceptionally, and invoke fear in the opposing pitcher to draw intentional walks. The three-time NL MVP finalist is a perennial contender for the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and, at 30 years old, is already making a Hall of Fame case.

The right-hander sometimes called the next Jeff Bagwell has been arguably just as good as the aforementioned Hall member. Goldschmidt slashed .297/.404/.563 with 120 RBIs while tying a career high with 36 home runs. In his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign, Goldy captured his third Silver Slugger and his third Gold Glove, compiling 5.8 bWAR over the season.

Joey Votto – 1st (79)

Joey Votto, on a non-playoff team, came within a few votes of winning the NL MVP against a man who hit 59 home runs in a single season (Giancarlo Stanton). It was not for no reason, as 34-year-old Votto, who came within one voting point of being a unanimous number-one decision on the rundown, continued his torrid Hall of Fame pace in 2017 as the best first baseman in baseball.

Slashing .320/.454/.578 last season (league-high OBP), Votto led the NL in walks for the fifth time and in OBP for the sixth time — his .428 career on base percentage is the active leader in Major League Baseball. His second-place MVP finish was the lefty hitter’s third occasion as a finalist and eighth time receiving votes. Votto is a generational talent in terms of operating in the strike zone and making pitchers work for every strike, and the best first baseman in MLB should be cherished as such.

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