Fantasy managers looking to draft quality first basemen outside of obvious names like Freddie Freeman and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., look no further. As draft season continues to pick up, everyone is looking for an edge. With positions like third base and middle infield somewhat shallow, first base is a great position to wait on in drafts. This means there is an excellent opportunity to find sleepers at the position. Below, you will find players I have identified as the top first base sleepers based on differences in my own rankings and FantraxHQ ADP.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
First Base Sleepers for 2023 Fantasy Baseball
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Christian Walker posted the third-highest fWAR (4.1) among qualified 1B last season behind Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt (both at 7.1). He posted 36 home runs, 84 runs, 94 RBI, and two steals, good for second, ninth, 7th, and t-8th respectively among qualified 1B. His .242 AVG was t-13th, although if he finished with his .257 xBA, he’d have tied with C.J. Cron for 10th in AVG.
Only five other first basemen finished top-10 in at least four of five Roto categories in 2022 – Freeman, Goldshmidt, Guerrero, Cron, and Pete Alonso. Aside from Cron, the other four 1B have a FantraxHQ ADP between 12-25. Walker’s ADP is 108.
Walker also finished top-10 in BB%, wOBA, xWOBA, and wRC+. Only Goldschmidt met the same thresholds last season.
Another case for Walker as an excellent first base sleeper is that he compares well to Matt Olson, who is a near consensus top 50 overall player. The Arizona first baseman finished ahead of Olson in HR, SB, and AVG, and had just two fewer runs and nine fewer RBI. Steamer projects Olson to have six more homers, nine more runs, and eight more RBI than Walker. It also projects that they tie in steals and that Walker has the better AVG. At the very least, they should be drafted much closer together than their 71-point gap in ADP.
Additionally, Walker has shown positive trends that make him a great sleeper target. From 2021-2022, he improved his BB%, K%, Barrel%, HardHit%, GB%, chase rate, contact% and SwStr%. This shows a player with an improving eye at the plate combined with a player who can mash the ball. Here is a clip of a Walker homer to left center field against the Phillies last season:
If his ADP continues to sit outside the top 100 overall, he is one of the best 1B sleepers in drafts.
Joey Meneses, Washington Nationals
Joey Meneses came on out of nowhere in 2022, finishing with 13 HR, 33 R, 34 RBI, 1SB, and a .324 AVG in 240 PAs. While regression is likely coming for the Nationals’ first baseman, a 230 FantraxHQ ADP is simply too low. Yet, it is what makes him one of my prime first base sleepers for 2023.
Many will say that last season was a fluke for Meneses, who made his MLB debut at 31 years old. Steamer projections suggest otherwise. Steamer projects Meneses for more homers and RBI than 2023 darling Vinnie Pasquantino. “Vinnie P” projects for the same amount of steals as Meneses, but projects for a 14-point higher AVG and two more runs.
You can find some other comparisons for Meneses below. See if you can guess who it is based on their 2023 Steamer projections and FantraxHQ ADP.
Meneses compares favorably to each of the players above, all of whom possess ADPs inside the top-200. In order, the players are Anthony Rizzo, C.J. Cron, Nathaniel Lowe, and Andrew Vaughn.
Even in a small sample size, Meneses’ 9.9% barrel rate and 47.1% HardHit rate are signs that he can produce numbers in 2023 that match his projections. Both his barrel and HardHit rates were above league average, as were his K%, contact%, and SwStr%. This suggests that, although regression is likely, his AVG will not fall off a cliff in 2023.
Meneses is a great choice to fill your CI slot late in fantasy drafts if he continues to be the 25th first baseman off the boards. He makes for one of the best 1B sleepers for the 2023 draft season.
Jose Abreu, Houston Astros
Another of my favorite first base sleepers is Jose Abreu. Some of you may be wondering how Abreu could be considered a sleeper. He has a FantraxHQ ADP of 138 as the 12th 1B drafted despite finishing eighth among 1B in Rotowire’s Earned Auction Value calculator last season. His $18 projected value for this season is sixth among 1B. This makes him a great value at his current ADP.
Part of the reason many may be undervaluing the veteran is because of a season of disappointing production. He hit only 15 home runs with 75 RBI in 2022 after a 30-homer, 117-RBI season in 2021.
There are some reasons that explain the down year in production and suggest a bounce-back is on the way. Despite a 9.5% barrel rate (16th among qualified 1B), and a 51.7% HardHit rate (fifth among all qualified players), Abreu struggled to hit for power. Much of the reason for his low HR total may be due to a 9.6% HR/FB rate, the lowest of his career and nearly half of his career average. His launch angle also dropped to eight degrees, the lowest of his career.
His HR/FB rate and LA should see returns to normalcy, especially in Houston, an organization known for talented hitting. There are other reasons for optimism. Abreu made improvements to his chase rate, contact%, SwStr%, and K%. Even though he may be entering his age 36 season, he is not showing signs of falling off. Check out his Statcast profile here. You’ll find he still performs well across the board. Last season he hit .297 vs fastballs, .294 against breaking pitches, and .385 against offspeed offerings.
2022 saw Abreu post the lowest home run total of his career and certainly seems like a fluky year all things considered. While others may hesitate to draft the new Astros’ first baseman, you should consider him an early 1B sleeper and snag him at a great value.
Miguel Vargas, Los Angeles Dodgers
Vargas is the 33rd first baseman off the boards at pick 337 according to FantraxHQ ADP. Despite being listed as a first baseman, Vargas should pick up third base eligibility soon after the season begins. This should add value, especially with 3B having such thin depth.
It can be tough to figure out where to draft rookies because of the lack of useful data, but this is too late for Vargas, which means this is prime value for him. The information we do have shows the profile of a talented hitter.
In four seasons as a minor leaguer, Vargas posted an AVG of less than .280 once in 89 PAs in Single-A. In every other stop, his AVG has not sunk below .284. Vargas has also shown the ability to steal, which is exciting with the new rules coming to the MLB. Here are his stolen base totals, along with his MiLB level and plate appearances:
|MiLB Level||PAs||Total Steals|
Using ZiPS, Steamer, The Bat, The Bat X, and ATC projection systems on Fangraphs to average his Roto categories into one consensus projection, this is how his production turns out:
- 13.6 HR
- 61 R
- 58.8 RBI
- 7.2 SB
- .267 AVG
In comparison, DJ LeMahieu has an ADP of 222 and has a consensus projection of fewer HR, R, RBI, and SB than Vargas. Either LeMahieu is valued too high, Vargas is valued too low, or perhaps a little of both.
Vargas will be the Dodgers’ primary 3B and will hit in a deep and talented lineup. If he gets past pick 200 or lasts beyond the 25th 1B, you should consider drafting him as a great late 1B sleeper.
Carlos Santana, Pittsburgh Pirates
Carlos Santana is one of the deeper first base sleepers at pick 420 in Fantrax leagues as the 40th first baseman taken. It is obvious why he is being faded so much after batting .202 both in 2022 and in total since 2020.
Part of the reason why Santana has struggled so much is due to the shift. As a left-handed batter with a 50% career pull rate, Santana has been a target of the shift for years. Without the shift, Santana could return to pre-2020 form – he had a .250 AVG from 2010-2019.
Aside from 2020 and his 2010 rookie year, Santana has hit at least 18 HR, 66 R, and 60 RBI in each season. He has done so with a 15.2% career walk rate and a 16.5% career strike rate.
In 2022, Santana registered the second-highest barrel and HardHit rates of his career at 9.3% and 44.9% respectively, along with a HR/FB rate in line with his career norm. The new Pittsburgh first baseman even improved his chase rate and contact rate from 2021. All of this might explain why his xBA was .253.
The Bat X projects Santana to be top 25 in home runs, runs, and RBI for first basemen, albeit with a .222 AVG. He is a top-notch 1B sleeper in super deep leagues, and one to watch in shallower leagues. Expect a comeback year from the veteran.
Who are your favorite first base sleepers for this season? Share your take in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!
Yes, but the story says he “will be the Dodgers’ primary 3B” and “should pick up third base eligibility soon after the season begins.” That’s not the case, Dodgers have said he’ll be the starter at second with Muncy at third.
The Dodgers’ Vargas will play 2B this year, why all the old talk about playing 3B ??
In most leagues he’s only eligible at first base to start the season.