It’s a little early in the year to be overhauling preseason position rankings, but that doesn’t mean players have not shown good and bad signs yet. First base is a premium production position, so any change in a player’s projected value is a big deal. It’s almost impossible to win a league without big time first base production. Here are two guys who are improving their stock and two on the way down.
Matt Adams | Cardinals
The 24-year-old Adams has always hit, including a .329/.362/.624 (147 wRC+) batting line with 18 homers in 67 Triple-A games last year. He’s off to a strong start in the early going as a part-time player, with three homers and two doubles among his eleven hits in 23 plate appearances.
The issue with Adams is playing time, more than anything. He’s a backup first baseman/pinch-hitter extraordinaire right now because Allen Craig is entrenched at first. The Cardinals put Craig in the corner outfield and Adams at first a few times this year, with either Matt Holliday or Carlos Beltran getting a day off, but that’s not enough time to make him a fantasy starter just yet. Adams can handle big league pitching though, so if Beltran or Craig miss time due to injury (something they’ve been know to do in recent years), he can step right in to provide some thump. He’s someone to keep an eye on rather than someone to stick in your lineup everyday right now, nonetheless his stock is on the rise.
Chris Davis | Orioles
As Jack Moore noted earlier this month, the 27-year-old Davis has made an adjustment to start driving the pitch down and away, which contributed to his homer barrage in the early going. He’s hitting for power both over the fence for homers and into the gaps for doubles (four of those), and he’s taking the walks when pitchers avoid him (15.5%, remove intentional walks and it’s still 12.5%). Davis can still be neutralized by lefties to a certain extent — the AL East sure has a lot of really good lefties, by the way — but otherwise he’s starting to live up to the offensive promise he showed in the minors. He won’t hit like vintage Albert Pujols all season, but the .266/.330/.503 (121 wRC+ and 31 HR) ZiPS projection appears to be a bit light.
Ike Davis | Mets
I really wanted to like Ike. One of my ten bold predictions last year called for him to emerge as the best non-Joey Votto first baseman in the NL, but he rewarded me by being invisible in the first half (79 wRC+ and 12 HR) and just a tick above-average overall (110 wRC+ and 32 HR). He was coming off a pretty serious ankle injury, so he got some leeway.
Davis, 26, has been invisible again in the early going (32 wRC+ and 1 HR), which is troubling because he’s seeing a lot of pitches in the strike zone (50.5%). He told reporters he wasn’t getting any mistakes to drive, which seems like a pretty big cop-out. Davis has power and can hit 30+ homers, but he’s a .248/.333 AVG/OBP first baseman with a big platoon split nearly 1,400 plate appearances into his career. Unless some Davis-esque adjustments are coming, he’s beginning to fall by the fantasy wayside.
Mike Napoli | Red Sox
Let’s start with a (bad) joke: “How bad are Napoli’s hips? So bad he can’t even walk anymore!”
Anyway, the 31-year-old has drawn just one walk in 60 plate appearances (1.6%) this year after posting walk rates north of 12.5% in every other season of his big league career. That is notable because his out-of-zone swing rate (29.3%) and overall swing rate (48.0%) are both career-highs by far. Napoli has the second lowest contact rate on pitches in the strike zone since 2010 (76.8%, better than only Mark Reynolds), so his ability to draw walks was imperative to his usefulness as a hitter. He’s going to mash at Fenway Park, but the early plate discipline numbers are a red flag for me. He doesn’t make enough contract to survive as a free-swinger.
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