The top of the first-base rankings has probably remained as static as any position in recent years, but a crop of up-and-comers forcefully threw their hats into the ring last season.
Paul Goldschmidt has a new uniform, but he still reigns atop his position in what could be a statement year before he hits free agency. Veteran stalwarts rank behind him, but the young sluggers in the intermediate tiers mean one could still load up and power if he or she misses out on the top first basemen. In today's boom-or-bust environment for hitters, the position is loaded with power; the difference-makers are the ones who can bring a little something extra to the table.
Tier 1: Goldschmidt
Goldy is the only first baseman ranked within the top 20 players in MLB.com's overall rankings, and his incredible consistency made him a star that the D-backs knew they had to recoup value for before he hit the free-agent market. Concerns about a possible decline for Goldschmidt last March and April quickly proved to be unfounded; only eight hitters put up a higher weighted runs created plus than the six-time All-Star after May 1.
Goldschmidt's stolen-base count plummeted to just seven in 2018, and that part of his game might not return as he enters his age-31 season. Still, there's no surer bet at first base for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season with a .900-plus OPS. Goldschmidt has also been exceptionally durable, logging 155-plus games in each of the last four campaigns. Busch Stadium isn't exactly a hitter's park, but getting away from the humidor in Arizona could favor Goldschmidt, too. Matt Carpenter will provide RBI opportunities if he gets on-base at a steady clip, and a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna would offer excellent protection for Goldschmidt in the heart of the order.
Two first basemen entering their age-29 seasons, and certainly two first baseman who wouldn't be shocking National League MVP winners.
Freeman was the rock in the middle of Atlanta's precocious lineup last season, suiting up for all 162 games while leading the NL with 191 hits and 44 doubles. He's a true line-to-line hitter who shows time and time again that he can beat the shift without sacrificing much power. The ascendance of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. means opposing pitchers can't hone in solely on Freeman, who also has a bash partner in the heart of the lineup now in Josh Donaldson. Freeman even chipped in a career-high 10 steals last year for good measure.
Back pain put Rizzo on the disabled list for the first time in his career last April, but he still rallied for 25 homers and 101 RBIs over 153 games. Perhaps a change in hitting coaches will invigorate what was a slightly disappointing Cubs offense in 2018, and if that unit improves, Rizzo features to be right in the middle of all of it.
It might be easy to be down on Bellinger after he showed substantial regression in his sophomore season, but a 32-homer, 95-RBI projection from Fangraphs' Steamer system shows that maybe you shouldn't give up on him just yet. Bellinger's strikeout rate actually decreased from his NL Rookie of the Year campaign, but he hit more grounders and saw a drop-off in his hard-hit rate. It's not all that hard to see him making a few adjustments in his third time through the league.
Conversely, Steamer projects a step back for Carpenter (25 HRs, 69 RBIs), which makes sense given that his seemingly unconscious level down last year's stretch run would be unsustainable for just about anyone. He'll also be entering his age-33 season and saw his strikeout rate crawl above league average in 2018 -- though he continues to walk at an elite rate.
Abreu had some trade rumors surrounding him this offseason and saw his five-year streak of 25 homers and 100 RBIs come to an end in 2018, but prior history shows he can still be one of baseball's most consistent sluggers. Votto, meanwhile, continues to be an on-base savant, but it's fair to wonder after a 12-homer campaign whether the power peak he showed from 2015-17 is now in the rear-view mirror.
This tier features three established veterans and two players (Aguilar and Muncy) who had unexpected breakouts in 2018. Aguilar's production was enough to push fellow slugger Eric Thames into a bench role, and he proved to be a complete hitter by often going the other way with authority.
Cabrera, Encarnacion and Santana enter 2019 with more questions than usual, though Cabrera was still pounding the ball before tearing his bicep, and Santana suffered about as much bad batted-ball luck as anyone last year. Muncy will have to prove he can replicate his storybook '18 campaign, but there were tons of moments -- including his homer off German Márquez's 99 mph fastball in the NL West tiebreaker and his game-winner off Nathan Eovaldi in the 18th inning of World Series Game 3 -- where he showed he belonged.
Matt Olson was initially the headliner of this tier, but he underwent right hand surgery in late March and may not be back until May.