First base has long been considered one of the premium positions in Fantasy Baseball. However, in the past couple of years it has not lived up to that billing. Age, injury, disappointment and position changes have turned first base into an average position. Teams seem to be putting guys on first base that used to play elsewhere. Joe Mauer in Minnesota, Hanley Ramirez in Boston, Carlos Santana in Cleveland and Ryan Zimmerman in Washington are examples. For the first time in a long time, finding first base sleepers has become important.
All of these factors are leading Fantasy owners to pull the trigger on their first sacker earlier and earlier, when in the past you could wait six rounds and still get a stud. What do you do if you miss out on a Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, or Paul Goldschmidt? I suggest drafting some depth so if someone lets you down, you have another viable option to put in at the position. If you have a couple of guys who play the position, chances are one of them takes off.
This is where first base sleepers come into play. Finding a guy towards the end of the draft that is going to outperform his draft status is often the key to success. I often say that the league is not won in the first three rounds of the draft, but more towards the end. Identifying guys who can help you late in the game is what will help you win it all.
The following players might not even be starting the year with a job in hand, but have a good chance of being there when you are taking home the championship trophy.
I will give you a few guys for mixed leagues, as well as an AL-Only and NL-Only option. Please follow me on Twitter @fightingchance.
First Base Sleepers
Mixed League Sleepers
Ben Paulsen, Colorado Rockies
In his second season in the Majors, Paulsen was able to get some real playing time and took advantage of it. He didn’t light the world on fire, and he was a streaky hitter, but I believe he showed that he belonged in the league. His splits at home were much like many Rockies players, although his home run numbers were nearly identical on the road. His strikeout rate is one that you can live with, and his 19 doubles in a half a season shows that he has more power to grow into.
I don’t normally like a 28-year-old guy to have a breakout season, but Paulsen consistently showed 20-homer power in the minors. He was also blocked by their loyalty to Todd Helton, and then traded for Justin Morneau. Both of those guys are long gone, and Paulsen only has Mark Reynolds to contend with now. I expect him to hit well in the .280s and to flirt with bashing 20 homers in 2016. He isn’t a guy that will be on the radar for many, but may remind you of Adam LaRoche from about five years ago.
Greg Bird, New York Yankees
Bird was forced into a significant role in a pennant chase with the injury to Mark Teixeira last season and Bird more than held his own. He often looked comfortable at the plate, and swatted 11 home runs in just 46 games while batting a respectable .261. His strikeout rate was a bit high, but almost all young players come to the Majors eager to swing the bat. Bird’s weakness is definitely hitting left-handed pitching, but that is another issue that certainly permeates baseball. His eight home runs in September while the Yankees pushed for a playoff spot shows that this kid has what it takes in a big spot.
He is supposed to start 2016 in the minors with Teixiera to play first and Alex Rodriguez to be DH, but if both of those guys played a full season I would eat my hat! Both guys are on the north side of 35, and both are unable to stay healthy. Whether it happens sooner or later, look for Bird to be a regular for the Bronx Bombers again in 2016. With his power potential and that bandbox of a stadium, Bird has a real shot at 25 home runs this year.
A.J. Reed, Houston Astros
Last season over two levels of the minors, Reed destroyed the baseball to the tune of 34 home runs and drove in 127 runs while hitting .340. However, the highest level he reached was Double A and he is just 22 years old. His strikeout rate is high, but his walk rate is even more impressive for a young hitter. It will be interesting to see how his power will translate to the Major Leagues.
The Astros have cut ties with Chris Carter, leaving just Jon Singleton in Reed’s way to a starting job with the big club. Singleton is another great power prospect, but he has shown no ability to hit Major League pitching as he strikes out more than a nerd on Prom Night. He has hit .171 so far in his 357 Major League at-bats and you have to wonder how long the Astros will go with him knowing what Reed could be capable of. It has been deemed Singleton’s job to lose, but he could do that in Spring Training making Reed a very interesting first base sleeper.
Deep League Sleepers
Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox
The 2016 season will have two very big question marks for the Boston Red Sox. First, can Hanley Ramirez stay healthy? He has played less than 130 games in four of the last five seasons. Second, even if he is healthy, can he play first base? I know the consensus is that anyone can play first base, but I do not think that is true. Hanley was a decent shortstop, an okay third baseman, and a total hack in the outfield. I’m not so sure that he is your prototypical first baseman.
All of this begs the question, who plays first if Hanley can’t? David Ortiz obviously isn’t, and Mike Napoli is gone. Travis Shaw is the answer to the question my friends, and he could help you with depth. Between the Majors and Minors last season, Shaw hit 19 home runs and drove in 66 guys. He hit a very respectable .270 in his time in Boston and he hit left-handed pitching at a very impressive rate. There’s a chance he could earn himself a platoon role on the team and when Ramirez takes his yearly trip to the Disabled List (or if they could trade him), Shaw could really seize some playing time.
Jason Rogers, Pittsburgh Pirates
Finding first base sleepers for NL-Only formats was tough as most teams have guys who are pretty entrenched and we know what to expect from their guys. Rogers, however, is a bit of a wild card. He was dealt to the Pirates from the Brewers where he had a mild amount of success. In a couple stints in the Bigs, Rogers hit .296 with four homers and drove in 16 runs. Not exactly what you are hoping for from a corner infielder, but if you look at his Minor League stats, Rogers hit 22 homers at Double-A in 2013, and 18 over two levels in 2014.
The transition to Pittsburgh couldn’t be better for Rogers as he will be just a cog in the wheel and not asked to be a major producer. Unfortunately for his Fantasy value, he will likely hit lower in the order, taking away some run producing opportunities, but this is the best chance of his career to open some eyes. Rogers will have to beat out Mike Morse for playing time, but his fantastic plate discipline and ability to hit left-handed pitching should allow him to do just that.
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