It’s time for the third in our series of player rankings, first base. In the past I have refused to spend a top pick or top money on a 1B because of the depth of the position. The depth remains strong, I listed 15 players below, and didn’t include players like Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana who are eligible at 1B, but I have written about in their main position, catcher. If I was to rank Napoli at 1B, he would place 11th, Santana, 14th.
There were also a slew of other players who I left off that I expect to have good fantasy seasons: Adam Lind, Carlos Lee, Gaby Sanchez, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Pena, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Belt, Justin Smoak, and Justin Morneau all have warts, but all should have some value to fantasy teams. First base is that deep.
That being said, I have decided that this year I will take a first baseman early regardless of the depth. My reasoning, the numbers are just to good to pass up. If I had the first pick overall, I would select Cabrera. He just puts up consistent numbers and the possibility of third base eligibility certainly doesn’t hurt. In an NL only league draft that occurred before we found out Ryan Braun wouldn’t be suspended I had the third pick overall. Told myself before the draft that I would select Votto, with the loss of Pujols, Fielder, and Pena, the NL is thin at 1B to put it nicely. Things went my way, I was able to draft Votto.
In a mixed auction league that took place last weekend, I won Fielder with a bid of $28, so I’m practicing what I preach. Now I won’t reach for a 1B. In my home league I have the 5th overall pick. I’m assuming Cabrera and Pujols are gone by then. As much as I like A. Gonzalez and Votto, I won’t take them with the 5th pick, I’ll hope someone like Fielder or Teixeira falls to me in the 2nd round. With the 5th pick I’m going to take Jose Bautista. Different strategy this season, we’ll see how the results turn out.
As always these rankings are designed for 5×5, 10 team, mixed leagues. First base is a loaded position and it seems that most CIs will come from first rather than third base, just another reason I’m not going to wait this year on selecting the guy I want.
- Miguel Cabrera, Detroit: What’s not to like about Miggy? He’s hit at least 30 HRs for five straight seasons, driven in over 100 RBIs every full season he’s been in the majors, only season he didn’t bat at least .320 was his first in the American League (2008), scored 111 runs each of the last two seasons, and had an OPS of over 1.033 each of the past two seasons as well. Oh yeah, he also may have third base eligibility if that experiment goes well in spring training. First overall pick for me.
- Albert Pujols, Angels: Now I can’t really argue with anyone who wants to take Pujols over Cabrera. His numbers don’t lie, but I would like to point out that it could take him a time through the league to feel comfortable with the opposing pitchers. He may feel the pressure of that huge contract he signed and press a little bit. Am I shying away from Pujols, no, he’s still a top four overall player for me. I believe he will make the adjustment to the American League without much of a problem, although I do wonder if teams will pitch around him a bit and force a Torii Hunter or Vernon Wells to beat them.
- Adrian Gonzalez, Boston: Speaking of players who came over from the National League, we all had some doubts last season about Gonzalez. He was traded from the Padres to the Sox and had off-season surgery to boot, causing him to slip in some drafts. Now Gonzalez may not have provided the power last season that some were expecting, 27 HRs, but 117 RBIs, .338 AVG, 108 runs, and a .958 OPS more than make up for a slight dip in his home run potential. Would anyone be surprised if all of his numbers remain the same this season but he hits 30+ HRs, I know I wouldn’t be.
- Joey Votto, Cincinnati: Here is an interesting stat about Votto: for a players considered to be a HR threat, his fly ball rate the past two seasons has been 34.8% and 33.4%. in 2010 25% of those fly balls went out of the park, last season, only 18.2%. Not the kind of numbers you want to see from a HR hitter. The good news is that his ground ball rate was also lowered in 2011, which means that he hit an awful lot of line drives, now if he can only get a little more loft on those line drives, than he could possibly hit 35+ HRs once again.
- Prince Fielder, Detroit: Like Pujols, Fielder goes from the NL to the AL. Unlike Pujols however Fielder goes from a hitters park in Milwaukee to a pitchers park in Detroit. He can forget about hitting HRs to centerfield, would take a bazooka to get one out there. He will situated in the lineup similar to Milwaukee. With the Brewers, Ryan Braun hit third while Fielder hit cleanup, with Detroit, Miguel Cabrera will hit third, Fielder clean up. Fielder has averaged 40 HRs over the past five seasons. Hard to see him hitting 40 this year, but low 30s seems about right with the rest of his peripherals remaining the same.
- Mark Teixeira, Yankees: Seems fantasy owners are a little down on Tex going into this season, mainly because of his .248 batting average last season. One has to remember that Mark only bated .256 the season before yet still hit 39 HRs with 111 RBIs. Now he is likely to bat fifth this season as the Yankees will swap him and Robinson Cano in the lineup. Could this have an effect on Teixeira, too soon to tell. Tex has also let it be known that he might try to lay down a bunt or two to combat the shift that teams employ in the infield. That shift has certainly cost him some hits, don’t know if a bunt is the answer, perhaps just hitting a couple of ground balls to the left side would do the trick.
- Paul Konerko, White Sox: That’s three straight seasons with 28+ HRs for Konerko, not to mention two straight seasons with 105+ RBIs and .300 average or better. Not bad for a player who some of us wrote off a couple of years ago. Now Konerko will be 36 years old this season and time has to catch up to him eventually, but he does still play in Cellular Field, where fly balls tend to leave the yard on a regular basis.
- Lance Berkman, St. Louis: First the bad news for Berkman, and every other Cardinals batter. Albert Pujols is no longer with the team. Now the good news, Berkman can now play first base on an everyday basis which should take some of the stress off of his legs. Berkman was left for dead after the 2010 season, but got himself in great shape and had a bounce back season in 2011. Question is, can he do it again. I have my doubts he can hit 30+ HRs again, but 25 to go along with 85 RBIs and a batting average around .290 is nothing to sneeze at.
- Eric Hosmer, Kansas City: Hosmer’s rookie season was a success as he hit 19 HRs, 78 RBIs, .293 average, and even stole 11 bases in 128 games. This kid is only going to get better as he gains experience and learns the league. In keeper or dynasty leagues he deserves to be 3-4 spots higher. If you decide you want to wait to draft a 1B, he’s a player to target later, but not to much later, we all know about him and his potential.
- Michael Morse, Washington: Raise your hand if you knew who Morse was before last season. Yeah, I didn’t think so. 31 HRs, 95 RBIs, .303 average, .910 OPS certainly put him on the map for this season. Morse may not play as much 1B this season with the return of Adam Laroche and is a defensive liability in the outfield, but his power is legit. Some people don’t believe his average is as his BABIP was .344 last season, incredibly high, but his career BABIP is .346 so perhaps his average is not that out of line.
- Michael Young, Texas: Not your prototypical 1B as Young only hit 11 HRs last season but he also drove in 106 runs and batted .338. Sure you will have to find some power elsewhere, but Young still has value as he is the definition of a professional hitter. He also may have 3B eligibility in some leagues, which certainly can’t hurt.
- Ike Davis, Mets: Perhaps I shouldn’t have put Davis so high on this list, but give him a full season at 1B and he will produce numbers worthy of this spot. Davis has power, enough power where he really didn’t need the fences to be brought in at CitiField, but doing so can only help him. Don’t forget about him come draft time because he plays for the Mets.
- Freddie Freeman, Atlanta: Another successful rookie season. Freeman hit 21 HRs, drove in 76 RBIs and batted .282. Now he plays in a pitchers ballpark but a 10%-15% rise in his numbers wouldn’t shock anyone. He knows the league better, the Braves should have more talent around him with Michael Bourne there for a full season and the return to health of Jason Heyward. Once again, I wouldn’t want him starting for my fantasy team, but would love him as my CI or utility player.
- Ryan Howard, Philadelphia: Howard would certainly be much higher on this list if not for the Achilles injury suffered at the end of last season. Howard is certain to begin this season on the DL. The question is when he will return. If Howard only misses a few weeks, than this ranking is about right, however if he is out a few months, a distinct possibility, than he belongs nowhere on this list. According to some, Howard did suffer a setback this week, others say it’s just part of the process. Either way, it’s buyer beware in fantasy drafts.
- Adam Dunn, White Sox: How does a player who has averaged pretty close to 40 HRs for eight straight seasons all of a sudden forget how to hit? Was it a change of leagues? Possible, but that doesn’t explain why he looked like he couldn’t catch up to a fastball. I admit I only have him on this list because he’s only 32, can skills erode that quick. Perhaps he just needed a year to get accustomed to the new league. I like the value I think I may be able to get with Dunn. Fantasy players are going to shy away, but if I can get him late as my CI or UT, I’ll take my chances, and if it doesn’t work out, I have no one to blame but myself.
George Kurtz is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, and is the co-host of “Going 9 Fantasy Baseball” on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210 / XM 87). His published work can also be found at RotoWire.com and Seamheads.com.