The positional sleeper articles continue and I am coming your way with 10 first base sleepers for 2020 fantasy baseball. A sleeper can be and is often defined differently depending on who you ask. With that said, I define a sleeper as a player going outside of the top 150 in ADP that I expect to exceed expectations and provide solid return on your investment.
I took it one step further and offer up some deeper league targets as well. They’re dubbed “Deep League Dart Throws”. These are players you should target in 15-team leagues or deeper. With all that said, let’s dive in.
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10 First Base Sleepers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball
1. Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees
Fantrax ADP: 218.02
NFBC DC ADP: 196.71
Luke Voit has really grown on me this offseason. It is well known how Voit performed before and after the abdominal injury in 2019. For those who are unaware, he suffered the injury in the London series against the Red Sox at the end of June. Prior to the injury, Voit was a monster. It was after returning from the injury when things went terribly wrong. Here, see for yourself.
You can see the clear difference in the two sets of numbers. The good news is that the early reports indicate there are zero issues with the injury entering 2020.
Furthermore, the Yankees have not addressed the first base position this offseason. They actually let go of Greg Bird as well. Another bonus is that he gets to play half his games in Yankee Stadium and be a part of the ever potent offense that has been assembled there.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Fantrax ADP: 187.74
NFBC DC ADP: 198.05
Edwin truly is what he is at this point. He is good for 30-plus home runs with a middling batting average that’ll sit around the .250 range. There is no real change in the plate discipline or batted ball data of late.
He did manage a barrel rate of 12.6% which was the highest of the last five years. There was also a noted increase in launch angle change as well, also the highest of the last five years at 22 degrees.
Yes, Encarnacion is 37 years old, but he remains above average in hard-hit rate, exit velocity, xwOBA, and xSLG. He is still very pull-heavy with 51.9% in 2019. The highest it has been since 2016. Another factor in his favor is that he is staying in the AL and likely playing the majority of his games as a DH should help keep him healthy. It does not hurt that he gets to slot into what is becoming a great lineup to be a part of.
3. Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona DiamondBacks
Fantrax ADP: 196.24
NFBC DC ADP: 201.20
Christian Walker had one of the quietest breakouts of 2019. He amassed 29 home runs with 8 steals accompanied by a triple slash of .259/.348/.476. Yes, I too am wary of the mid-career breakout and at age 28 that is likely what we are seeing. When you look into the underlying metrics, it all suggests it was no fluke. Start with the 11.1% walk rate and you will see it was a big jump for him. This shows in the plate discipline numbers.
The chase rate was better than league average at 28.2%. This was an improvement of 11% from 2018. Although the chase rate clearly stands out and alone backs the improved walk rate, there was also a 5.3% increase in the contact rate from 2018 to 2019 as well as a 5.6% improvement in SwStr% from 2018 to 2019 as well. The overall growth in plate discipline, again, explains the walk rate but there is still some swing and miss as demonstrated by the 25.7% K-rate. That is not a terrible mark, but it definitely limits the batting average upside.
If you look at his StatCast page, it is beautiful. You can see red everywhere. He is in the 80th percentile in xwOBA, exit velocity, xSLG, and hard-hit rate. His hard-hit rate of 48.4% was actually in the top 6% of the league. Take that and pair it with the barrel rate of 13.1%, which is top 10% of the league, and you have a recipe for success. Furthermore, if you look at his expected stats compared to his actual stats, you’ll notice he underperformed a bit according to them in just about every category. Despite all this, Walker still seems to be undervalued and enters 2020 as one of my favorite first base sleepers.
Another reason for the increase in power could be the increase in pull rate and FB rate. Both of which actually increased as well. I would assume he maintains these changes and there is no real reason to doubt the production. Lastly, the sprint speed is worth noting and it is in the 58th percentile. So there is actually a chance for the steals to hold up. That carries added value, especially when it comes from your first baseman. It doesn’t hurt he posted an 88% success rate either. I love the price on Walker this year and he should be a target in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts.
4. Joc Pederson, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Fantrax ADP: 192.76
NFBC DC ADP: 204.81
Joc Pederson is always going to have a limit to his upside due to his platoon status. Albeit the strong side of a platoon. Last season he only managed 514 plate appearances but with those plate appearances he still put up 36 home runs and a combined 157 runs and RBI. His batting average is roughly in the .250 range over the last two seasons and I expect more of the same this year. Although he is limited in said upside, there is a strong source of power here late and he gains a boost in value in a daily format. He is nothing flashy but he is great for that power output if you need it late.
5. C.J. Cron, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Fantrax ADP: 303.65
NFBC DC ADP: 264.80
I was on the C.J. Cron hype train entering the offseason but my main concern was playing time with the Twins. Well, then they designated him for assignment and he was scooped up by the Detroit Tigers. This has opened up everyday playing time and now there is real value to be had here. He has put up 25 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons and that has been in playing 140 games or less in each. Health may be a concern but it is built into the price.
There were some noted plate discipline improvements that back up the improved K-rate in 2019 as well. What really sticks out is the StatCast data.
He is another player that has earned every bit of production. In fact, he actually underperformed according to the expected stats as well.
This also comes with being 15% barrel rate. That was good enough to be in the top 5% of the league. The barrel rate as a whole is something that has improved each of the last four seasons. The potential for 30-plus home runs with everyday at-bats is there without any doubt in my mind. Not to mention a chance to hit for a better batting average in the process according to the expected batting average he produced this past season. I like taking a shot on C.J. Cron late and there is a lot of room for profit potential.
6. Evan White, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Fantrax ADP: 458.71
NFBC DC ADP: 386.12
Evan White is a fringe, deep-league dart throw. There is just a lot of upside and potential here but because I personally would roster him in even 12-team leagues, I consider him among the higher-end first base sleepers on my list. I have spoken to a few prospectors and the comp I keep hearing is Paul Goldschmidt. He offers five-category potential and is a great fielder so that should hold him in the lineup if the bat has a slow start. He also signed that long term contract recently so there is a real chance he breaks camp as the everyday first basemen for the Seattle Mariners.
Deep League Dart Throws
These are a few first base sleepers to consider for deeper formats. I decided to offer some quick thoughts on deeper names to assist players in all league types and formats.
7. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Fantrax ADP: 417.07
NFBC DC ADP: 394.25
Ryan Mountcastle has nothing left to prove. He posted 25 home runs with 163 combined runs and RBI in 127 triple-A games last season. He did so while hitting over .300. I would expect him up as soon as he passes the service time date. Mid 20’s in home runs with a solid batting average is a realistic outcome if he plays enough games this year.
8. Eric Thames, 1B, Washington Nationals
Fantrax ADP: 415.93
NFBC DC ADP: 438.92
Eric Thames finds himself likely entering the strong side of a platoon again this year. That is not really a problem though. Last year he hit .254 with 23 home runs versus right-handed pitchers. That is solid home run potential late in drafts. He gains value in daily formats.
9. Justin Smoak, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Fantrax ADP: 483.41
NFBC DC ADP: 464.80
Justin Smoak is another StatCast anomaly of sorts. Like a few of the earlier first base sleepers, Smoak too outperformed his metrics by a decent margin. Now going to Milwaukee will only make him more enticing. He gains value in points and OBP formats as well. With a 15.8% walk rate that put him in the top 3% of the league, there is some hidden value here. Oh, and here is a fun stat about Smoak.
Throw it in the zone, they'll barrel it. Throw it outside the zone, they won't chase.
2019 players with at least 11% barrel rate and lower than 20% Oswing%:
Justin Smoak 🤔#FantasyBaseball
— Pete B. (@PeteBBaseball) January 21, 2020
That is pretty good company to be in, I’d say. What is also fun, is to look at his 2019 hit spray chart over Miller Park.
That’s it. I am sold.
10. Will Craig, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Fantrax ADP: N/A
NFBC DC ADP: 743.53
This is simply a very, very late-round grab. There is solid power here with roughly a .250 batting average. He played a full season at triple-A and the Pirates will likely be sellers sooner than later. That should open a spot for him on the roster. This is, again, a VERY deep league speculation.
That is going to wrap up my 10 first base sleepers for 2020. Stay tuned as we get rolling into sleepers for the rest of the positions.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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