BBE 2019 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 2019 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 comes to a close, 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 pitcher, 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 2019 season.

15. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (Last year: 8th)

At 34 years old, Zimmerman’s best seasons are no doubt behind him, but the Nationals first baseman is still cooking in the middle of their order. The right-handed slugger slashed .264/.337/.486 with 13 home runs, 51 RBIs, and an .824 OPS last season. Though he was limited to 85 games due to an oblique injury, Zimmerman’s power and discipline (just 55 strikeouts in 323 plate appearances) remain a pivotal force in the Nationals lineup.

The two-time All-Star has been with the Nats for his entire 14-year major-league career and will be a key presence in Washington’s continued pennant push in 2019, especially in the absence of Bryce Harper.

14. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros (Last year: not ranked)

One of the most talented pure contact hitters in the game of baseball, Gurriel is more than the awkward slap-hitter he appears to be. His underrated and valuable defense, as well as his powerful swing, have blossomed into essential pieces of the Astros roster.

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Gurriel slashed .291/.323/.428 with 13 home runs, 85 RBIs, and just 63 strikeouts in 573 plate appearances last season. A postseason hero in 2017, Gurriel’s slap-hitting excellence and ability to hit both lefties and righties effectively will assist in another postseason run in the Bayou City.

13. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Last year: 10th)

DETROIT, MI – JUNE 12: First baseman Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers runs to get a force out at first base during a game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on June 12, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Cabrera, a two-time Most Valuable Player Award recipient, former Triple Crown winner, and 11-time All-Star could retire right now and be a Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility. He has a list of accolades and stats that rival any other active player. But he has a quest in 2019, and that is to stay healthy, consistent, and — in comparison to Albert Pujolsbe remembered for his iconic hitting skill more than his horrid aging curve.

Cabrera hit .299 with three homers and 22 RBIs for the lowly Detroit Tigers last season, but was limited to 38 games due to season-ending surgery on a ruptured left bicep tendon. The right-hander has been dynamite in spring training and enters the 2019 season at full health again and will hopefully return to his place at the top of the baseball totem pole with another All-Star caliber season.

12. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays (Last year: not ranked)

If you have followed baseball for awhile, seeing Smoak on this list is probably pretty weird. Once a top prospect in the Texas Rangers system, Smoak underwhelmed many in North Texas before being sent to Seattle in a 2010 trade. In Seattle, he didn’t perform much better. But now 32 and a Blue Jay, the big switch-hitter is enjoying a career rebirth.

An All-Star in 2017, Smoak followed up with another solid season in the middle of the Jays order, hitting .242/.350/.457 with a 122 OPS+, 25 bombs, 77 RBIs, and 83 walks in 147 games in 2018. Smoak was particularly dominant against right-handed opposing pitchers, hitting 20 of his 25 home runs against them.

11. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres (Last year: 7th)

Hosmer’s first year with the Padres did not go as planned. The four-time Gold Glove winner at first base slashed .253/.322/.398 with just 18 home runs and 69 runs driven in. That is very disappointing for someone who signed an eight-year, $144 million contract.

However, Hosmer, a critical presence in the Kansas City Royals lineup during their 2015 World Series title, will have less pressure on him to succeed in 2019 with the main story in S.D. being Manny Machado and the emergence of prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack. Often times, the struggles of a star player are mostly mental, and maybe the lesser workload can help the lefty batter return to his previous All-Star stature.

10. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (Last year: not ranked)

Last season was Olson’s first full year in the major leagues, and yet the Atlanta native might already be the best defensive first baseman in MLB. He won the Gold Glove after appearing at first in all 162 games of Oakland’s 97-win 2018 campaign, scoring 13 defensive runs saved and a 12.3 ultimate zone rating. His offense checks out as well, as he slashed .247/.335/.453 with 29 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 70 walks for a 4.3 bWAR.

The lefty batter is one of many players in an evolving core of Athletics youngsters that look to give Oakland another shot at the postseason in 2019.

9. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies (Last year: 12th)

The Rhys Hoskins in Left Field experiment was a disaster, and the Phillies are expected to move Hoskins, a natural first baseman who played in left as Carlos Santana manned the first bag, back to where he belongs in 2019.

Hoskins’ horrid defense (-3.4 dWAR, -24 DRS) did not affect his elite offense for the Phillies, as the righty batter hit .246/.354/.496 with 36 home runs, 96 RBIs, 87 walks, and 38 doubles. The 26-year-old posted a 125 OPS+ in just his first full season in the big leagues and will no doubt perform at a higher level at a more comfortable defensive position.

8. Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee Brewers (Last year: not ranked)

If there was an MVP Award for just the first half of an MLB season, Aguilar might have won it with his 2018 efforts. The Milwaukee first baseman hit .298 with 24 homers and 70 runs batted in during the first 87 games of the schedule (which is everything before the All-Star Break), earning his first All-Star Game appearance.

The big-swinging right-hander finished his breakout season with a .274 average, 35 home runs, and 108 RBIs, posting a 135 OPS+ and 60 extra-base hits. Though his teammate, Christian Yelich, won the league MVP Award, the 28-year-old Aguilar received votes and a 19th-place finish in the process.

7. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last year: 5th)

BOSTON, MA – OCTOBER 24: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts to his eighth inning strike out against the Boston Red Sox in Game Two of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 24, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

First base was Bellinger’s primary position in 2018 (110 appearances), but the young slugger embodied the Dodgers’ playing style by easily sliding in and out of the center field spot. His versatility and adaptability are only part of a superstar package, starting with his near-elite hitting.

The lefty batter defended his 2017 NL Rookie of the Year honor by slashing .260/.343/.470 with 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, and a total of 60 extra-base hits in 2018, compiling 4.2 bWAR while playing all 162 games for the NL pennant-winning Dodgers. He does not yet have a solid argument for the spot atop the first basemen rankings, but he might just be the most complete first-bagger in the majors.

6. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (Last year: 14th)

With St. Louis’ acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals and manager Mike Shildt will primarily use Carpenter as a third baseman in 2019. However, in 2018, his most common position was first base, and he just happened to be perhaps the class of the NL at the right corner.

Carpenter hit .257/.374/.523 with 36 home runs, 81 RBIs, 102 walks, and a 143 OPS+ in 2018, finishing ninth in the NL MVP voting. Plus, 78 of his 145 hits last season were good for extra bases. He should make the transition to third base with relative ease after posting six DRS in his 568.2 innings at the hot corner last season.

5. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (Last year: 6th)

Abreu didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 27, but has been found gold for White Sox since bursting onto the scene and winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. The Cuban righty was dynamic that season and has been consistently brilliant despite an ever-changing roster surrounding him since.

In a 2018 season that saw him win the Silver Slugger at first base and appear in his second All-Star Game, Abreu slashed .265/.325/.473 and hit 22 bombs coupled with 71 RBIs in his 128 games. With the White Sox looking to be on the right side of their rebuild, Abreu will be a critical lineup anchor on the south side.

4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Last year: 3rd)

Consistent excellence is the name of the game for the jovial and cheerful Rizzo, who has been one of MLB’s top first basemen for the better part of the last decade. The Cubs slugger can hit for power, hit for average, draw walks by working the count, and has a world-class glove at first base.

In 2018 the lefty batter slashed .283/.376/.470 with 25 home runs (his fifth straight season with at least 25 bombs), 101 RBIs, 70 walks, and 55 extra-base hits. He tallied votes for the NL MVP Award and won his second Gold Glove (sharing the accolade with Freddie Freeman) in the process. With the Cubs looking for redemption after their late-season collapse in 2018, Rizzo’s consistency and infectious energy will be a critical part of any potential pennant run.

3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Last year: 1st)

The 2018 season was a down year for Votto, but of course his idea of a down year includes still leading the NL in on-base percentage (.417) and drawing more walks (108) than strikeouts (100), one of only four qualifying players in MLB to do so. That has been the way Votto has played his entire career, and 2018 was the seventh time he led the NL in OBP.

Votto slashed .284/.417/.419 with 12 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 28 doubles in 2018. Like I said, it was an off year, but one that still saw the left-hander record a 125 OPS+ and his sixth All-Star Game appearance.

2. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals (Last year: 2nd)

PHOENIX, AZ – AUGUST 07: Paul Goldschmidt #44 of the Arizona Diamondbacks singles in the first inning of the MLB game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Chase Field on August 7, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Goldschmidt started the 2018 season slow, but finished on a torrid run as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, winning the NL Silver Slugger at first and earning an All-Star Game appearance. In May the big right-hander hit .177 and was hitting near .220 on the season before a June with an 1.199 OPS and 10 home runs.

Now with the Cardinals, Goldy’s combination of power, discipline, and contact-hitting will be deadly in 2019. He hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 homers, 83 runs driven in, a 139 OPS+, and 90 walks last season. To have the 31-year-old, three-time MVP finalist aboard in St. Louis should make the crazy NL Central even more unpredictable.

1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Last year: 4th)

With the emergence of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies on the NL East-winning Braves, it felt like Freeman went under the radar in 2018. What a shame because Freeman had perhaps the best season of his nine-year career in 2018, posting numbers that put him clear atop the list of first basemen in MLB.

The left-handed batter slashed .309/.388/.505 with 23 home runs, 98 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 76 walks, a 140 OPS+, and 6.1 bWAR. He won a share of the Gold Glove Award at first and was selected to the All-Star Game for the third time in his career. The Braves slugger might not be the face of the franchise anymore, but he is the sport’s preeminent first baseman.

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