30. Chris Davis — Baltimore Orioles
It wasn’t that long ago that Davis was garnering MVP consideration. In 2013, Davis slugged 53 homers, drove in 138 runs, and finished third in the AL MVP vote. From 2014-17, Davis averaged 34 HR while batting .225.
Then, in ’18, Davis had one of the worst seasons in baseball history. Appearing in 128 games, ‘Crush’ batted .168 with 192 whiffs. The former star finished the year with a -2.8 WAR — the 11th worst mark of all-time. Soon to be 33, Davis is under contract through ’22. The Orioles would have to eat a ton of money if they want to part ways with Davis, but it may be in both parties best interest. Davis is not only the worst starting first baseman, but one of the worst players in the sport.
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29. Yandy Díaz — Tampa Bay Rays
Widely considered one of Cleveland’s best prospects, Díaz will attempt to breakthrough this year with the Rays. In just about 300 AB’s with the Indians, Díaz showed he is a capable hitter. Díaz hits the ball extremely hard, but doesn’t have the launch angle that many in today’s game rely on. Also capable of playing third, Díaz should have plenty of opportunities to shine in Tampa Bay.
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28. Todd Frazier — New York Mets
Coming in at No. 28, The ToddFather. A third baseman for the majority of his career, Frazier will be making the move across the diamond in ’19 to make room for Jed Lowrie. Frazier, 33, has struggled to make consistent contact over the past few seasons. Since ’16, Frazier has a hit a lousy .218. He is coming off his worst season at the plate — .213/.303/.390 — but should see plenty of action for the Mets. Moving to first base should allow Frazier to focus more on his hitting, as the position isn’t as physically demanding as the hot corner.
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27. Peter O’Brien — Miami Marlins
With yet another star (Realmuto) leaving Miami, the Marlins will be focused on developing their young players this season. One man hoping to make a splash with the club is Peter O’Brien. After hitting 30 homers between Double- and Triple-A, O’Brien played in 22 games for the Marlins down the stretch last year. O’Brien showed some of the pop that made him a highly-touted prospect — four homers and a .530 SLG — but also averaged one strikeout per game. O’Brien does particularly well against lefties (.270/.341/.730), and at worse should split time with Neil Walker.
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26. Ryan O’Hearn — Kansas City Royals
The Royals didn’t do much of anything last year other than lose — 104 times. It is understandable if Kansas City fans enter the new season with little enthusiasm. However, O’Hearn may be one player worth keeping an eye on. The 6-foot-3 rookie made his debut on July 31. In 44 games, the lefty slugged 12 homers in only 149 at-bats. In order to be successful long-term, O’Hearn will need to cut down on his strikeouts, as he was set down on strikes roughly 30 percent of the time in ’18. O’Hearn made 31 starts at first and committed five errors. Stretched out over the course of a season, that type of fielding wouldn’t be good enough.
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25. Ronald Guzmán — Texas Rangers
Yet another young player looking to make an impact in the big leagues, Guzmán appears primed for a solid sophomore season in Arlington. Guzmán hit 16 HR while batting .235 as a rookie. Now that he has his first full season under his belt, Guzmán should play with more confidence in ’19. While Joey Gallo may start a few games at first, Guzmán shouldn’t be worried about ceding much playing time. In addition to having power that plays well in the home ballpark, Guzmán displayed a good glove as well. Finishing the year with only six errors in 969 chances, Guzmán proved to be a reliable fielder.
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24. Jake Lamb — Arizona Diamondbacks
Not many players had a more disappointing ’18 campaign than Jake Lamb. From ’16-17, Lamb appeared destined for stardom. The budding star averaged 30 HR and 98 RBI and earned his first All-Star nomination. In ’18, however, Lamb was a bust. To be fair, Lamb spent six weeks on the bench as a result of a shoulder injury. When he came back, his pop was gone. Continued discomfort led to Lamb’s season ending on July 26. Eduardo Escobar’s emergence at third means Lamb will shift to first base. Lamb still has plenty of talent, but he will need to remind the Diamondbacks’ organization of just how valuable he can be.
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23. Mitch Moreland — Boston Red Sox
It is now safe to say that the Red Sox are satisfied with their investment. Moreland continued to produce against RHP in his second season in Boston — hitting 13-of-15 HR against right-handed pitchers. Moreland’s BA, OBP, SLG and OPS were nearly identical to his ’17 totals. An All-Star in ’18, Moreland hit a monstrous homer in Game 4 of the World Series, sparking a Boston comeback. Moreland was more than adequate in the field as well, committing only two errors in 116 games at first.
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22. Albert Pujols — Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Albert Pujols’ greatness is undeniable. It is also undeniable, however, that Pujols’ career is quickly cratering. Pujols’ 70 games at first base were his most since the ’15 season. This year, due to Ohtani’s injury, Pujols will likely start around 80 games at first for the Angels — splitting time with Justin Bour. Pujols remains a contact hitter. In 465 AB, the all-time great only struck out 65 times. However, his power is no longer prodigious. While his mobility is limited, Pujols remains a decent fielder.
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21. C.J. Cron — Minnesota Twins
In 2018, Cron was one of the Rays best players. The then 28-year-old set career-highs in HR (30), RBI (74), SLG (.493), and OPS (.816). The Rays had two years of team control left — and then the organization designated Cron for assignment. The Rays’ propensity to save money surely factored in, but the decision was questionable to say the least.
Now, Cron will open the year as the Minnesota Twins starting first baseman. Cron proved last year that he is capable of putting up big numbers. He has always been a mediocre, yet consistent, hitter in terms of BA — lifetime .260 — but his power surge in ’18 bodes well for his future. Cron committed only two errors last season in limited action at first. It is likely Cron will play more than 61 games at first this season, making his defensive abilities more important to his overall success.
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20. Luke Voit — New York Yankees
Luke Voit was toiling away with the St. Louis Cardinals last summer when the Yankees decided to take a chance on the big-swinging first baseman. Voit rewarded New York’s risk by lighting up the AL East after the trade deadline. In 39 regular season games in pinstripes, Voit hit 14 homers and posted a .333/.405/.689 slash line. His OPS — 1.095. Voit displays a good command of the zone while at the plate, and barrel’s up the ball more often than not. Only 28, Voit could figure into New York’s plans for many years to come.
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19. Daniel Murphy — Colorado Rockies
After an injury-shortened season with the Nationals and Cubs in ’18, Murphy’s options were somewhat limited this offseason. Murphy, 34 in April, is still a good player. He hits above average — .326 since ’16 — and is a doubles machine. Murphy had a rough go of things when he first returned following knee surgery, but posted a .329/.368/.512 line after July 9. At this point of his career, Murphy is a below-average defender. He is also one of the slowest runners in the game. In addition, Murphy hasn’t seen extended action at first base since the ’11 season. His bat should be a welcomed addition in Colorado, but his defense will almost certainly be a liability.
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18. Jake Bauers — Cleveland Indians
Bauers entered the ’18 season as one of Tampa Bay’s top prospects, and considered one of the best in MLB. Bauers debuted in early June and had mixed-success in 96 games. The young slugger finished the year with 11 HR and 48 RBI, but struggled to make consistent contact. His .201 BA is an ugly number, though Bauers projects to be a much better hitter going forward. Defensively, Bauers has the ability to be one of the better fielding first basemen. If needed, Bauers can also play both corner outfield spots. The young player will likely split time between first base and DH with Carlos Santana.
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17. Josh Bell — Pittsburgh Pirates
When you look at Bell for the first time, you probably would assume that he is a masher. However, the 6-foot-4 Pirate is more of an all-around hitter than a home run threat. In ’17, the switch-hitting Bell launched 26 HR and drove in a team-high 90 runs. Bell’s power numbers dropped last season, but the Pirates should still be encouraged. Though he only sent 12 balls into the bleachers, Bell raised hit batting average, drew more walks, and struck out less than the previous season. His patience at the plate will be key going forward. He is a good fielder (.995 Fld%) and has the potential to be an All-Star if he continues to improve at the plate.
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16. Ryan Zimmerman — Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman’s Major League debut seems like it took place only a few years ago. But here we are, weeks away from Zimmerman embarking on his 15th season with the Nationals. The legendary National struggled through an injury-plagued ’18 season, but the club is hopeful Zimmerman will return healthy and approach his stellar play from ’17. That year, Zimmerman hit .303 with 36 HR and 108 RBI. If Bryce Harper doesn’t re-sign in Washington, Zimmerman’s performance will be crucial.
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15. Ryon Healy — Seattle Mariners
Two things are very well known when it comes to Ryon Healy: He strikes out a lot, and he hits the ball hard. Healy made a scintillating debut with the A’s in ’16, posting a .305/.337/.524 slash line in only 72 games. He followed that up by blasting 25 HR in ’17. Last season, his first in Seattle, Healy struggled. The power remained — 24 HR — but his average dropped to .235 and he struggled to get on base. Healy doesn’t make a ton of contact and as a result strikeouts too often. If he can manage to reduce his chase rate, Healy has the potential to hit 35 or more homers a year.
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14. Miguel Cabrera — Detroit Tigers
Cabrera, a future first ballot Hall of Famer, has had a miserable past two years. In ’16, Cabrera’s last full season, he hit .316 while slugging 38 homers. Last year, Cabrera was limited to 38 games due to a ruptured left biceps tendon. Before the injury occurred, the two-time MVP was hitting .299. The probability of Cabrera regaining his superstar form is low, but the Tigers are hopeful that a healthy Cabrera can help the club win a few more games. The soon-to-be 36-year-old remains an excellent defender, but if he cannot stay healthy the Tigers, and Cabrera, may have to consider moving on.
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13. Yuli Gurriel — Houston Astros
Gurriel is entering his third full season in the Majors…and he is about to be 35 years old. Gurriel has been a solid player for the Astros, but not as spectacular as many believed he would be. The past two years, Gurriel has approached a .300 BA (.299, .291) and has been effective driving in runs. While his home run totals are lower than one would assume, Gurriel has racked up 76 doubles since ’17. Moreover, Gurriel doesn’t strikeout. In nearly 1,200 at-bats since ’17, he has only been K’d 125 times. An everyday player for the Astros, Gurriel can make a big impact in the AL.
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12. Brandon Belt — San Francisco Giants
The Giants know what they are getting with Brandon Belt. Since ’13, Belt has been essentially the same player every season. He will give you around 15 HR, 60 RBI, and hit near .270. Although he isn’t the most sure-handed first baseman, Belt doesn’t commit an egregious amount of errors. In the box, Belt is incredibly smart. He routinely ranks near the top of the league in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ swings. He rarely swings at bad pitches, and is one of the most aggressive good pitch hitters. His ability to discern a good v. bad pitch leads to his consistent numbers.
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11. Eric Hosmer — San Diego Padres
Eric Hosmer did not ease the minds of those who believed the Padres erred by giving him an eight-year/$144 million contract. Hosmer struggled to adjust in his first season in the National League. After hitting .318 with the Royals in ’17, Hosmer produced a .253/.322/.720 slash line in San Diego. Hosmer remained steady defensively — four errors in 1,341 chances — and brought some much needed leadership to the clubhouse. Only 29, Hosmer has plenty of time to live up to expectations with the Padres. Hosmer’s durability and plus-fielding help ease some of the sting from a lost year at the plate.
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10. José Abreu — Chicago White Sox
Often a subject of trade rumors, Abreu possesses more raw talent than most of his peers. The 32-year-old Cuban hasn’t been able to match his MVP caliber rookie year — 36 HR, 107 RBI, .317 BA, .581 SLG — but he did notch his second All-Star bid last year. Though his numbers have fluctuated since his debut, Abreu remains one of the sports best at first. He is shaky defensively, but that is not what Chicago brought him in for. If Abreu has a good first half, he will once again be at the center of trade talks.
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9. Rhys Hoskins — Philadelphia Phillies
While the Phillies wait to find out whether they will be adding some star power to the lineup, they at least have the peace of mind knowing Hoskins is ready to make a name for himself. Hoskins burst onto the scene in ’17, hitting 18 homers in only 50 games. His sophomore campaign didn’t disappoint. Hoskins finished the year with 34 HR and 96 RBI. Though he largely played leftfield, Hoskins did well enough at first to earn the starting role in ’19.
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8. Justin Smoak — Toronto Blue Jays
Through the first seven years of his career, Justin Smoak failed to live up to his potential. Then, in ’17, Smoak set career-high marks in HR (38), RBI (90), BA (.270), OBP (.355), SLG (.529) and OPS (.883). Smoak subsequently followed up his career-year with his second best campaign. Smoak hits for power and has started to draw a fair amount of walks. In the field, Smoak is very solid. Manning first base 134 times, Smoak only committed one error all season. With this being Smoak’s last season under contract, expect the South Carolina native to have a big season.
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7. Jesús Aguilar — Milwaukee Brewers
If it weren’t for Christian Yelich stealing the spotlight thanks to his MVP season, Aguilar’s great production would have been more celebrated. Aguilar more than doubled his previous high HR mark of 16 (34) and 52 RBI’s (108). The mammoth of a man hit .274 while posting a .890 OPS. And while Milwaukee’s first baseman will best be remembered for getting spiked by Manny Machado, the big man performed well all year. He finished the season with a .996 Fld% and only committed four errors. The Brewers will need Aguilar to have another big year if they want to make another deep run in October.
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6. Matt Olson — Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson can do it all at first base. A Gold Glove winner in his first full season last year, Olson appears to be a future cornerstone in Oakland. The 6-foot-5 Olson announced his presence with authority in ’17, bashing 24 homers in just 59 games. Olson played all 162 games in ’18, producing a slash line of .247/.335/.453. His 29 HR and 84 RBI helped lead the A’s to the postseason. Excellent plate discipline, big power, and some of the best defensive skills of any first basemen…Olson is only going to get better.
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5. Max Muncy — Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy was a revelation for the Dodgers in ’18. Facing numerous injuries to top stars, Muncy was thrown into his first premier role during his time in the majors. He flourished in LA, destroying his previous career highs in virtually every category. The versatile infielder finished third in the NL in OPS (.973), and fifth in slugging (.582). The 28-year-old breakout star will need to prove he wasn’t just a one-year wonder, but the Dodgers may have discovered a hidden gem.
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4. Anthony Rizzo — Chicago Cubs
Anthony Rizzo had, what many would consider, a mediocre season in ’18. However, Rizzo’s performance last year was something nearly every other first basemen in the league would accept in a heartbeat. The Cubs star got off to an awful start. He was hitting under .200 into May, and held a .249 average through June 30. The rest of the way, however, Rizzo hit .314 and posted a .515 SLG. While he didn’t draw as many walks in ’18, Rizzo struck out fewer times. Rizzo also managed to take home his second Gold Glove. Only 28, Rizzo should be a premier first baseman for years to come.
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3. Freddie Freeman — Atlanta Braves
Whether it’s because he doesn’t seek the spotlight, or because the Braves haven’t been postseason regulars during his career — Freeman is an underappreciated player. Over the past three seasons, Freeman has averaged a .306 BA, 28 HR and 87 RBI. In ’18, the lefty led the NL in hits (191) and doubles (44) en route to an All-Star nod and a fourth place finish in the NL MVP race. Freeman, like Brandon Belt, is one of the best hitters in terms of plate discipline. In addition to being an elite hitter, Freeman is one of the best at his position on the base paths, and he is a good fielder. Atlanta’s leader won his first Gold Glove in ’18.
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2. Joey Votto — Cincinnati Reds
Last year was probably Votto’s worst full season sine ’13. I use the word ‘worst’ lightly, because Votto in a down year is still one of the best players in baseball. A future Hall of Famer, Votto has led baseball in walks and OBP three times — he has led the NL in OBP on seven occasions. Votto’s batting average over the past four years is a cool .312. While he remains a good fielder, Votto will ultimately be remembered for being one of the greatest hitters of all time. Votto’s .427 OBP is good for 12th all-time. By the time he retires, he may be close to the top-10 in walks. It is time for people to start appreciating Votto’s greatness.
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1. Paul Goldschmidt — St. Louis Cardinals
Six-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, three-time Gold Glove winner — Paul Goldschmidt is a dynamite ballplayer. A new member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Goldschmidt can do it all. He hits for average (.297), power (209 HR), and can change games with his glove. Goldschmidt looked lost to start the ’18 season. Through June 4, he held a .210 BA with only 8 HR and 20 RBI. The slugger was scolding the rest of the way — .334 BA, 25 HR, 63 RBI. Entering his age-31 season, Goldschmidt is in the midst of his prime. It will be interesting to see how he performs at Busch Stadium — a less hitter-friendly ballpark — but the impact should be minimal. Goldschmidt is a difference-maker and the best first baseman in baseball.
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