Fantasy baseball first base preview: Greg Bird ready to soar

While our experts recommend getting a star first baseman early, it's worth using your corner infield or utility spot on a potential rising star like Greg Bird. Icon Sportswire

With the MLB season coming sooner than you think, ESPN's fantasy baseball experts have gathered to break down each position to help you prepare your draft-day strategy.

How are our fantasy analysts approaching the first base position, and which players are they picking and avoiding in their drafts?

For more position previews, plus rankings, cheat sheets and mock drafts, check out our draft kit.

How are you approaching the first base position this season?

I think it is a bit odd when fantasy managers state they are avoiding first base early in drafts due to the depth available later. That implies someone would bypass Anthony Rizzo in order to fill a weaker position and draft Justin Bour later. Well, I want to select each of them! There is plenty of power at this position and I am finding that I am relying on it at first base, corner infield and perhaps utility as well. Do not be afraid to take a first baseman early. The rest of the infield spots are not weak, so the annual tradition of selecting Ian Kinsler in Round 6 can cease. I do count more than a few first basemen as sleepers but that does not mean I bypass the top options. -- Eric Karabell

I don't think of first base as being much deeper or thinner than the others (besides catcher). It's merely a position rooted much more in power than any other, evidenced by its collectively having the highest slugging percentage (.487), OPS (.833), home run rate (4.6 percent of plate appearances) of any of the nine field positions as well as designated hitter in 2017. It also had one of the lowest stolen-base rates of any position (.028 per game), trailing only pitcher (.002), catcher (.015) and DH (.019). First base as a position didn't provide much more in terms of 2017 Player Rater value than, say, second base or outfield, but it got there by providing significantly different categorical contributions than either of the other two.

What this means is that while you don't have to fill first base with a power hitter, those who don't need to be careful to spread out their home runs and RBIs lost by a more contact- or speed-oriented first baseman across the other positions, something that is going to be more difficult to do than it would be at any other position. In short, it's a position where it's wise to focus on power if the values play out that way, but it's also one with the perception of being super-deep, therefore making it potentially the most likely where you could get a value in the mid-to-late rounds. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

I think it's a very good idea to select a first baseman within the first three rounds, so it's really going to depend upon where in the snake your pick comes. If you're near the back end, you should probably select a 1B before sending the queue back around for Round 2. If you're picking near the front, then you'd be equally wise to take one of the top five at the position before they're all gone by the end of Round 3. Even though I think this is a very deep position, because of the corner spot, there are going to be fantasy managers who will double up with first basemen early enough so that I'd like to have at least one "sure thing" on my roster before shifting my focus to other offensive slots. -- AJ Mass

In a standard league, almost everyone is addressing the first base position in the first five rounds, so there are two ways to approach things: Grab your guy early or try to wait out value. Given my building block and my willingness to settle for an Ian Desmond/Miguel Cabrera type, I'm more likely to go with the latter strategy barring Jose Abreu falling further than he should. Regardless of the strategy you deploy, you need to get some reliable power from this spot.-- Kyle Soppe

My sleeper at first base is:

Logan Morrison hit 38 home runs last season. A mere seven baseball players hit more. I grant you that Morrison is unlikely to do so again but 30 would not surprise me because I do not think what happened prior to 2017 matters all that much, just like with Justin Smoak, who people seem to trust considerably more. Morrison is a different player than he used to be, just like Smoak, and he should be going before Round 21. -- Eric Karabell

Greg Bird, who often waits until the 150th pick in your draft but with better luck in the health department could contend for 40 home runs and a top-75 Player Rater finish. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Progressive Field ranked No. 14 in Park Factor for 2017 with 0.974 HR. Carlos Santana has averaged 24 HR per season since 2011 while calling Cleveland his home -- with a near 50-50 split in his home-road power production. While he is entering his age-32 season which, for a former catcher who can no longer be "hidden" at DH for a bit of a breather, is probably a bit "older" than even that, he'll be moving to Philadelphia. Last season, Citizens Bank Park was No. 1 in Park Factor (1.409 HR), so I think there's a really good chance Santana could post career-highs in HR, RBI and runs scored. -- AJ Mass

Jose Martinez. I'm expecting him to hit in the middle third of a Cardinals offense that should excel at putting men on base and that alone make him valuable at his current asking price. But wait, there's more! Martinez is good at baseball. He was a top 10 hitter in terms of OPS after the All-Star break last season (minimum of 100 plate appearances) and of the players with at least a .515 slugging percentage last season, Martinez ranked among the top 15 in contact percentage. I think you're looking at a nice contact/power hybrid who should be in a run-producing role ... and will hardly cost you anything.-- Kyle Soppe

My bust at first base is:

If people view Ryan Zimmerman as a top-100 player this would be more obvious, but the same risks that were present a year ago are there now. The thing is Zimmerman's injury and performance history in recent years has him going at a reasonable discount, but there is risk that he is not even worth a mid-round selection. Look at 2014-16. Zimmerman was not the same player in the second half of last year and we should not assume health for all six months again. -- Eric Karabell

I don't see a first baseman who stands out as a terrible value compared to ADP, but I can't see how Eric Hosmer will wind up on many of my teams. He's a ground ball-oriented hitter who seemed to maximize his power output in each of the past two years, and chose a home that wasn't much better in that department while being a worse offensive environment overall than Kansas City's. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

No, we don't know exactly what impact the addition of a humidor will have on Chase Field, but it almost certainly will depress offensive numbers at least a little bit. Paul Goldschmidt is not suddenly going to become an "average" player, but you can't ignore the fact his slugging percentage was .639 in Arizona last season and .489 elsewhere. I'm not saying I don't want him on my team, but he shouldn't be selected as a first-rounder this season. -- AJ Mass

I don't love labeling Hosmer as a "bust", but I think the position is being drafted pretty fairly on the whole. According to our ADP data, Hosmer represents a clear end of a tier, and while I will acknowledge that he is safer than the options being drafted after him, the 3-4 round difference feels like too much to me. Yes, Hosmer was great last season with 31 homers and a .318 batting average, but you're being asked to pay for that production as opposed to enjoying that type of stat line as a great return on investment. The home run total may not change much (though I don't think there is much room for growth either), but if his batting average drops 34 points to his career mark, then you are looking at a price that I am not willing to pay. A ground ball hitter coming off of his lowest hard-hit rate since 2012 simply isn't a player I want in the first eight rounds. -- Kyle Soppe

If I could get any first baseman at his current draft position cost to build around in drafts, it would be:

Abreu is not necessarily overlooked in drafts, but for four seasons he has delivered virtually identical numbers and still he appears rarely coveted. No, the upside for a 40-home run season might not be there like with Cody Bellinger, and Abreu might never win a batting title, but he is a career .301 hitter. He doesn't steal bases like Goldschmidt. However, Abreu does not cost a draft pick in the first three rounds, yet few are safer. He is an annual bargain. -- Eric Karabell

If it's a points-based league, I'd be all over Santana even if his ADP was three rounds sooner, as he's annually undervalued (and sometimes dramatically so) in them. In anything category-based, Freddie Freeman won't be lasting past pick 20, which he has in a slew of leagues judging by public ADP sources, if I'm in the league. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Let's see ... 30 HR and 100 RBI? That's Rizzo -- in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Now add to the back of his baseball card the fact that he had more walks than strikeouts last season and you're looking at a potential top-10 season from the Chicago first baseman. Plus, if the Cubs get all "shifty" again with Rizzo and he can slide over to second base for your fantasy team at some point this season? I'll happily exploit that loophole and get even more value out of this perennial MVP candidate. -- AJ Mass

Wil Myers. With 58 home runs and 48 steals since 2016, Myers has established himself as a true dual-threat at a position that lacks versatility. In this era where stolen bases are difficult to come by (especially if you don't want to overpay for a specialist), Myers allows you to gain an edge on the field while not really sacrificing any power. The addition of Hosmer should not only mean lineup protection but also OF eligibility, a combination of events that has Myers as my favorite first basemen given his price and upside. -- Kyle Soppe

The young first baseman who could break out is:

The Yankees' Bird hit .190 with his nine home runs last season, and that first number might scare prospective managers off, but remember what Aaron Judge did in his first and brief big league exposure: he hit .179. That does not mean Bird will suddenly bash 52 home runs, but he is a left-handed bat in a stadium made for him and he is finally healthy, ever-disciplined and perhaps way too overlooked. Watch Bird quietly bash 30 homers. -- Eric Karabell

It's Bird, but let's throw a little love Ryan McMahon's way, shall we? McMahon's 80.2 percent contact and 25.2 percent line-drive rates at all levels combined in 2017 show a keen hitting approach, and one that's perfectly suited to Coors Field with its spacious outfield gaps. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Even though I think Bellinger could actually have a more valuable 2018 than his 39-HR Rookie of the Year season, it would be hard to pick him as a "breakout." He's already broken out. Rhys Hoskins will also be a popular pick, but I'm going to offer up unheralded Josh Bell for your consideration. Both Bell and Hoskins had lackluster Septembers, but it was Bell who set an NL record for home runs by a switch-hitting rookie. He came into camp healthy this year, a far cry from the arthroscopic surgery that forced a slow start to 2017. I think you'll see the difference once April's games begin. -- AJ Mass

It has to be McMahon, doesn't it? At the moment, the 23-year-old isn't assured of an everyday role, but grabbing a Rockie with playing-time potential is the smart call here. Colorado is always going to score plenty of runs, and if they are willing to have McMahon learn on the job, I could see him producing in a pretty decent way. -- Kyle Soppe