Arguably the hardest part of fantasy drafts is deciding where to make sacrifices. It’s impossible to draft an elite player at every position and picking the best spots for trade-offs is imperative. At each position, there are players that go later than their peers that could end up producing at a similar level. Nailing down those later-round ADP jackpots can be the driving force behind a league-winning roster.
Of course, there is a reason why players that could provide value better than their draft position have fallen to where they are. There may be injury or playing time risks, or the players could be coming off of down 2022 campaigns. Most of the time, they simply haven’t performed as consistently as the top names at their position. Despite the red flags, these first basemen have the ability to outproduce their ADPs and allow earlier picks to be put to better use.
Note: The NFBC ADPs listed are from March 1st through the publish date.
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Exploiting First Basemen ADP in 2023
First basemen have long been one of the best sources of power and that was true again in 2022. Of the 21 players with at least 30 homers, eight played first base. Pete Alonso led that group with 40 and he’s one of the four first basemen being drafted inside the first two rounds. After that group, there’s a gap before reaching the fifth, Matt Olson.
Olson had a successful first season in Atlanta, belting 34 home runs with 103 RBI, 86 runs scored, and a .240/.325/.477 slash line. He ranks fourth among all batters (and tops the list of first basemen) with 152 homers since the start of 2018. However, the .802 OPS he posted last season was his worst since 2018, not counting the shortened 2020 campaign. Olson’s strikeout and whiff rates are high, especially against breaking balls, which isn’t too uncommon in sluggers. He makes up for it with elite batted-ball data and by drawing a good amount of walks.
After Olson’s ADP of 40, there’s a three-to-four-round break (depending on league size) before reaching the next first basemen. Four of the top-10 first basemen are being drafted at pick 90 or later, highlighting the depth at this position. Building around one of the top guys here makes sense in many cases, but there’s a handful going later that should produce at a similar enough level.
Nathaniel Lowe – ADP: 98.8
One of my favorite first basemen for the 2023 season, Nathaniel Lowe had a stellar 2022 campaign. He slashed .302/.358/.492 with 27 home runs, 26 doubles, and 150 runs + RBI. A big reason for the breakout was his success against breaking balls. After hitting just .229 with a .435 slugging percentage against breaking pitches in 2021, those numbers jumped to .293 and .585 in 2022. Most of that production came in the second half when Lowe posted a terrific .980 OPS with 28 extra-base hits over his final 68 games
Lowe has a rare profile as a left-handed hitter. He sprays the ball to all parts of the field and actually puts up better numbers against lefties. The 27-year-old slashed .330/.384/.536 with a sub-20% strikeout rate against left-handed pitching in 2022. He’s put up better numbers against lefties throughout his MLB career, so he has no playing time concerns in Texas. The downside to this profile is that Lowe doesn’t have the same ceiling for power as the others on this list due to his proficiency in taking the ball the other way.
Lowe’s batted-ball data isn’t elite either but it’s enough that he should maintain a strong slash line. He was shifted just 18.2% of the time last season but his wOBA was just .317 compared to a .380 mark when he wasn’t facing a shift. Both his walk and strikeout rates fell last season and more contact should benefit his counting stats in general. Lowe’s high floor makes him a great pick at his ADP, even if the power is a step behind.
Rowdy Tellez – ADP: 147.4
It’s no surprise that Rowdy Tellez had a breakout season in 2022 after setting a new career high in plate appearances by nearly 200. He belted 35 home runs with 89 RBI and slashed .219/.306/.461 through 599 plate appearances. While the slash line isn’t great, it came with an unusually low .215 BABIP. Tellez also had just a .318 wOBA against the shift, which he faced nearly 80% of the time.
Tellez gets the benefit of playing in American Family Field, which has the fourth-best home-run factor for left-handed hitters. He used that to his advantage in 2022, registering an .866 OPS with 22 of his 35 long balls at home. On the flip side, his away OPS was a brutal .673. He also had similar platoon splits with some big struggles against lefties. With all this in mind, Tellez is much more valuable in daily lineup leagues where it’s easier to manipulate matchups.
Tellez has a lower floor than Olson but it’s easy to see a path for another step in 2023 with no shift and some better luck. He finished in the 80th percentile or better in several important categories, including average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate. Assuming he continues ripping the ball like that, Tellez’s BABIP should exhibit some positive regression while his power potential could result in a 40-homer season.
Anthony Rizzo – ADP: 149.5
In his first full season as a Yankee, Anthony Rizzo tapped into his 30-homer power for the first time since 2017. He knocked 32 home runs while adding six steals, 152 runs + RBI, and a .224/.338/.480 slash line. The lefty slugger shares some traits with both Lowe and Tellez. Rizzo performed better against lefties last season (.893 OPS) and did most of his damage at home (.840 OPS and 19 homers). The latter isn’t very surprising considering that Yankee Stadium has the sixth-best home run factor for lefties.
Rizzo ran into some BABIP issues last season. His .216 mark was the worst since his rookie year and considerably lower than his career .278 BABIP. Assuming he maintains high fly ball and pull rates, his average probably won’t climb too high, especially since he doesn’t hit the ball very hard. Like Tellez, Rizzo is a much better asset in daily leagues to take advantage of his home park. Regardless of the league format, his 30-homer, .800+ OPS potential is great value while he’s being drafted as the 14th first baseman.
Entering his age-33 season, Rizzo still provides a pretty safe floor due to his solid walk and strikeouts rates. Among the eight first basemen with at least 30 homers in 2022, he had the second-lowest strikeout rate and third-best walk rate. His spot in the middle of the Yankees’ order gives him plenty of opportunities to rack up runs and RBI. Using Rizzo as somewhat of a “stop-loss” option would allow you to beef up the rest of your roster and still land a reliable first baseman.
2023 Steamer Projections
Some deeper options include Josh Bell and Miguel Vargas. The switch-hitting Bell slashed .311/.390/.504 with 37 extra-base hits in the first half last season. Vargas is a rookie with an elite hit tool that will likely gain multiple-position eligibility early in the year. He hit .304 with a .915 OPS with Triple-A Oklahoma City last season. Ideally, these two would slot into a corner-infield or utility spot, but they can be somewhat safe options if you waited too long to secure a first baseman.
For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!