There isn’t a better offensive position in baseball than that of first base. An MLB first basemen has to be a powerful slugger, skilled with the leather, and come through in the clutch. Taking inspiration from MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series, here’s Overtime’s Top 10 MLB First Basemen.
10. Mark Teixeria, New York Yankees
The preeminent slugger of the Bronx Bombers, Mark Teixeria is still a top 10 first basemen when he is healthy. Of course, therein lies the issue. “Tex” hasn’t made it through a season completely healthy since 2011, and has missed significant time each year since. But when Teixeria is firing on all cylinders, his statistics are among the MLB’s best. In only 111 games last year, he hit 31 home runs, posted his highest AVG, OBP, and OPS since 2010, and was one of baseball’s best-fielding first basemen.
It is very difficult to rely on Teixeria due to his fragility, but he is a gamer and is still supremely talented. The Yankee cleanup hitter is a free agent to be and the Yankees have young Greg Bird waiting in the wings, meaning that this could be Teixeria’s last rodeo in the Big Apple.
9. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
There are few players in baseball more enigmatic than the slugging Davis. On one hand, Davis has popped 159 homers over the last 4 years, posts decent on-base percentages, and is remarkably clutch. But on the other hand, Davis struck out 31% of the time last year, is helpless against lefties, and is only one year removed from a disastrous 2014 season which saw him hit .196 with only 26 home runs. Still, the Orioles retained Davis with an expensive 7 year, $161 million contract this offseason.
Davis is anything but consistent, but his hot streaks are so amazing that he deserves a spot on this list. His defense has improved, and he even has the ability to play third base or corner outfield in a pinch. Davis needs to show that he is worth the money in Baltimore.
8. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
One of Atlanta’s fundamental building blocks, Freddie Freeman is a great competitor. The 6’5″, 225 lb first baseman doesn’t use his frame for power, but is rather a fantastic gap-to-gap hitter. Oblique and wrist injuries held Freeman back this year, but his potential is sky high for the Braves. He always hits at least .275, gets on base at least 37% of the time, and is there when the Braves need him most.
Look for Freeman to put it all together when the Braves move to their new ballpark in 2017. He should just be hitting his prime then, and he already has the difficult aspects of hitting (patience, opposite-field prowess) down pat. Freeman could break out in a big way in the near future.
7. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Is there a more consistent player in baseball than “A-Gon”? After all, Gonzalez has never batted less than .275 in a full season, has hit 20+ homers in 9 of 10 seasons, is a 3-time Gold-Glove winner, and has only missed 31 games over the last 10 years!
Gonzalez is a true professional. He sprays baseballs gap-to-gap, is super-clutch, and is just as good with the glove as he is with the bat. While he is entering his age-34 season, Gonzalez should be able to contribute for at least 4 more seasons.
6. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The hulking Abreu fell off a bit from his absurd 2014 campaign last year, but was still among the best first basemen in the game. Abreu has all of the power in the world, but he can also hit for average (.303 career). His average of 33 homers per season is stellar, but his average of 136 strikeouts per season is not. Abreu took a step back in the on-base department last year, but he is still an imposing presence at the dish.
Abreu is facing a critical third season in 2016. Will his numbers continue to fall to merely above-average totals, or will he bounce back to his 2014 rookie season? The White Sox sure hope that it’s the latter.
5. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion is under the radar no longer. He has hit 151 dingers over the last 4 seasons, and is the cleanup hitter on a dangerous Blue Jays squad. Sure, he only played 40% of his games in the field last year (he is the regular DH), but his bat more than makes up for that fact. The ex-Cincinnati Red hasn’t struck out 100 times in a season since 2008, and his OBP of .370 over the last 4 seasons is great for a power-hitting first basemen.
Encarnacion isn’t a good fielder, but that is really his only drawback. He rarely goes into slumps at the plate, never gets injured, and is a bargain at only $7.2 million per year. The impending free agent hopes to have a huge walk year.
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto is a perfect example of a Sabermetric darling but a controversial player to traditionalists. Votto is among the best in history at getting on base by drawing walks (career .423 OBP) and hitting for contact (career .311 average), but doesn’t have the outstanding power numbers expected of a first basemen; he only swats about 25 homers a year while playing at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
Votto is signed until 2023 thanks to a massive $225 million extension signed in 2013. The Reds have explored trading Votto but cannot move that albatross contract. While it would be nice if Votto could hit with more power, he is already one of baseball’s top 5 overall hitters. The haters should take what they get with Votto, because what they get is fantastic.
3. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is one of the MLB’s brightest young stars. It is rare to have a first baseman that varies his approach as well as Rizzo. This allows Rizzo to hit for high averages, hit to all fields, and draw walks. But unlike Joey Votto, Rizzo also has world-class power. Rizzo has hit 30+ homers in the last two years and could hit 40 soon.
Rizzo is also a fine glove man at first and surprisingly stole 17 bags last year, an outstanding accomplishment for a first basemen. With Rizzo the linchpin of a stacked Cubs lineup, the North Siders could see great success in 2016.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera didn’t do anything wrong in 2015 except get injured. The greatest hitter of this generation and surefire Hall of Famer’s calf injury (the first DL stint of his career) opened the door for a new king of first basemen for 2016. But Cabrera still raked when in the lineup. He bounced back from a slow 2014 season by hitting .338 with a ridiculous .440 OBP in only 119 games.
Still, Miggy’s power has taken a hit over the last couple of seasons. He dropped off from back-to-back 44 homer seasons in 2012 and 2013 to back-to-back 25 homer seasons in 2014 and 2015 (2015 total prorated over a full season). Still, he has never hit less than .292 in a full season and is arguably the best hitter in baseball. Seeing Miguel Cabrera in the opposing batter’s box still sends shivers down pitchers’ spines.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt is now firmly entrenched as the very best first basemen in all of baseball. Last year’s .321/.435/.570 campaign was his best yet, and he’s still only 28 years old. Perhaps the greatest thing about Goldschmidt is his defense, which is saying something when you consider that he is among the MLB’s best hitters. “Goldy” is a superlative defender at first base, and he has 2 Gold Gloves to prove it.
Goldschmidt really has it all. He hits for average (.299 career) and power (36 and 33 homer seasons), can field with the best of them, and even has good speed (21 steals last season). If you could choose any infielder at all to start a team, Goldschmidt may very well be the best choice.