For centuries or maybe even eons, the first baseman has been known as a large burly man who swats home runs at an alarming pace. Of the top 20 home run hitters in 2012, nine of them played at least a handful of games at the first base position. Defensively, it’s a bit easier for the big sluggers to play at first base, so fantasy teams usually build their power output through the first base position.
However, the first base position as a whole is in the midst of a sort of a renewal period. Aging vets like Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Paul Konerko are likely in a statistical regression period, while young whipper snappers like Paul Goldschmidt, Allen Craig and Anthony Rizzo can deliver huge numbers, but aren’t yet household names. The position as a whole seems to be thick with a quantity of good players, so you should be able to find at least one first baseman that you should like in any draft or auction. However, I feel like the superstar quality might be a bit lower for the position as a whole this year.
What does this mean? I’m feeling like the correct approach is to wait an extra round or two on the position this year. If you normally grab a first baseman in the first four rounds, you may want to wait until the sixth round or so. If you’re in an auction league, budget fewer dollars for the position than you have in year’s past. There are obvious exceptions though, like if Joey Votto or Pujols fall in to your lap at a great value, you take them and don’t feel too bad about it.
But enough about me, let’s talk about first basemen.
These three will easily be the top of the class at the position in most drafts. Pujols is the active MLB leader in a bunch of categories including batting average (career .324) and doesn’t have to acclimate to a new park and a new league this offseason. Votto is battling back from two knee surgeries last season, and provides above average to elite value at just about every hitting category, by all accounts he’s as healthy as a horse going into spring training. Fielder is the only player in the majors who has played all 162 games in each of the last two seasons. No one thought that baseball’s iron man would come in that shape. All three are pretty safe plays to add to your roster early.
You may have noticed that it’s Goldschmidt and not Fielder coming in third in our rankings. That’s because we, along with many reputable projection systems in the business, feel that Goldschmidt’s 20 home runs and 18 steals in his rookie campaign was the tip of the iceberg. His .305 average with runners on base and .299 BA with runners in scoring position mean that he excels when it matters most. His high-ish strikeout rate is cause for some concern, but we still view him as a player that will finish in the top 10 percent overall in runs, home runs and RBI this season. Plus you can probably nab him in the third round. I know this isn’t Twitter but that’s the #StealOfTheDraft.
E5 (Edwin Encarnacion)
If you don’t know the story behind Encarnacion’s nickname, it’s much less a reference to the amount of vowels in his name, and much more of a tribute to his dreadful fielding when he played third base. The Blue Jays figured that out quickly and moved Encarnacion to a full time first baseman last season, and the switch was a good one. His 12.9 AB/HR led all major leaguers last season and only Encarnacion and Ryan Braun had 40-plus home runs, double digit steals, over 100 RBI and an average of .280 or higher. Maybe his nickname now refers to the fact that he was one of the top 5 fantasy players in any format last season. For that feat, he receives an ADP of 37 right now? “37!” (that’s my one Clerks reference for the fantasy baseball season). While he’s unlikely to replicate last year, there’s a lot to like in Toronto with the return of Jose Bautista and the addition of Jose Reyes. He’s significantly undervalued right now. Pounce on E5 if you have the chance.
Captain Goggles (Freddie Freeman)
I heard an interview with Freeman the other day in which he was explaining a few of his absences last season. He attributed some lost time to chronic dry eyes and dust in his contact lenses. They outfitted him with some goggles at the end of last year which caused him trouble seeing the ball at the plate. This year he’s supposedly back with some prescription goggles that will be the cure-all. We hope they cure the drop in average from July’s (.323) to August(.240) and September (.231). The fact is Freeman is a 20-plus home run hitter who hit a combined .282 in his first full season at the major league level. He also will be sitting in a vastly improved lineup between the two Upton brothers. That alone should boost the counting stats by a significant amount. With an eighth-round ADP, Freeman is a great late candidate… for a date, with your fantasy roster. Unless of course he’s got something in his eye.
There’s a lot of young talent emerging at the first base position. Allen Craig should have a full time gig for the Cards this season with 1B-eligibility, his 92 RBI were third-best on the team in only 119 games. Eric Hosmer’s disappointing 2012 will likely be the exception to the rule. His extremely low .255 BABIP says that a significant bounce back is in the cards. Anthony Rizzo was on a 30 HR pace in his half season and the Davis’s (Ike and Chris) along with Mark Trumbo each did hit more than 30 home runs. Brandon Moss looks to have a shot to start every game at first this season after the departure of Chris Carter, who should now get the opportunity to play every day too in Houston.
Corey Hart is an intriguing name at first and outfield. He strikes out a lot but still provides decent power (26 or more HRs in each of the last three years), a solid average (.270 or better in last three), a decent amount of runs scored (he hits in front of Ryan Braun) and he looks like a guy I played softball with. Paul Konerko has hit .298 or better with 26 or more home runs in each of the last three years, at age 36 I feel he’s still got a productive season or two left in the tank. Kendrys Morales is now in Seattle and has a full healthy year in the rearview mirror after tearing his Achilles’ in 2011. He still hit .273 with 26 dongs in his recovery season last year. The injury risks of former MVPs Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau have driven their price so low that they’re now a low-end CI in fantasy leagues. It’s easier to see the injuries taking those two out of chunks of the season than it is to see them make the All Star team.