We’ll begin with what is arguably the deepest position in the game: first base. The biggest, both figuratively and literally, headline in baseball in the last week has been the acquisition of Prince Fielder by the Detroit Tigers. How did that change things in the first base pool? Here are my top ten first basemen:
*I am using the assumption that offensive categories are: h, hr, rbi, avg, sb, walks, & k’s.
1. Miguel Cabrera: he’s coming off a fantastic season where he hit .344/.448/.586. The loss of Victor Martinez had me worried because I figured he would see less good pitches to hit, but the addition of Fielder changes this completely. Should Cabrera hit ahead of Prince in the lineup, as I would assume he will, Miggy should continue to rake. A small amount of regression should take place, but he won’t fall off a cliff at the dish. If he should play some third base, as has been speculated, his positional flexibility will be a plus for your roster. You cannot go wrong here.
2. Albert Pujols: what can I say, Albert will be Albert. He fell back to earth a little bit in 2011. They don’t call him The Machine for nothing; he keeps cranking out MVP-type seasons year after year. He’s almost interchangeable with Cabrera but I am slotting him second because he is in a weaker lineup, he doesn’t walk as much and will probably drive in fewer runs, albeit only slightly. He may hit a few more homeruns and should hit for roughly the same average. Again, he’s durable, consistent and a true stud: always a good combination.
3. Prince Fielder: the big man will do wonders in the Motor City. If he hits behind Cabrera, he’ll usually have runners on base ahead of him, giving him an absolute ton of RBI opportunities. Prince is in his physical prime and he’ll play everyday, all year long. He should hit over .300 (again), hit 35+ homeruns (again) and drive in well over 100 RBI’s (again). This trifecta of first basemen shows just how deep the position is and these three guys are somewhat interchangeable. Take your pick; you likely won’t be disappointed.
4. Joey Votto: the position falls off a little with Votto, but not by much. Who wouldn’t want a reliable .300/30/100 guy on their team, especially if they can get him in the third round of some drafts. Another durable players, Votto is consistent and very talented. The Big Red Machine will put up offensive numbers again this season and while his average may dip some, his homeruns and RBI’s shouldn’t be greatly effected. While his strikeout rate is a tad high, his walk rate is very good. Votto isn’t Cabrera/Pujols/Fielder, but he’s reasonably close. Don’t fret if you miss on the top 3 guys on this list.
5. Adrian Gonzalez: Boston’s first baseman showed he knows how to use the Green Monster in his first season at Fenway. By spraying balls to all fields, Gonzalez shrugged off a slow start to finish the season with a .338/27/117 line. While that average jumps out as one that is likely to decrease, don’t expect it to drop too far. He hits a ton of line drives and can put the ball through the hole in the gap with ease. He doesn’t put up the gaudy power numbers of others, but he makes up for it with his contact and RBI skills. He’s terribly consistent and a player you can count on.
6. Mark Teixeira: The Yankees’ slugger continues to put up huge power numbers despite his dropping batting average. His walk rate is decent but he strikes out a fair amount of the time, offsetting the benefits somewhat. You can count on New York scoring runs, so the RBI’s will be there. Teixeira is a power bat at a premium position, but not as good as others all around.
7. Paul Konerko: the White Sox will be down a little bit in 2012 as they try to rebuild. Konerko, however, remains a solid producer. He’ll be at the center of the offense again this year and could really benefit from the return of a functional Adam Dunn. He’ll hit around .300 and swat around 30 homers. Nothing to wrong with that, especially if you wait to pick up a first baseman on draft day.
8. Michael Morse: the Mariners missed again, shipping Morse off before he hit his prime. The Nationals don’t mind, that’s for sure. He finally came alive in 2011, hitting .303 and slugging 31 home runs. The big scare with Morse is his strikeout rate, which was extremely high last year, showing his immaturity at the plate. His walk rate was very low, too, worsening his OBP. His upside is high, especially the power component, but he’s far from a sure bet.
9. Ryan Howard: he would rank ahead of Morse, and maybe even Konerko, if Howard were healthy. Recent reports suggest he may not be ready to start the season. If he misses a week, no big deal. If it drags and he misses a few weeks, then has a slow start, his value could plummet. You know he can mash 30+ homeruns and drive in 100+, but his healthy is a concern.
10. Carlos Pena: he’s back in the trop for another go ‘round in 2012. Pena should hit for power once again, but be prepared to bare that low average and all those strikeouts in return. He projects well for 35 homeruns and 90+ RBI, but you’re missing some stats in his game.
There are a few first baseman that have some undervalued upside. These are younger guys like Eric Hosmer (KC) and Gabby Sanchez (FLA). Hosmer has some pop and can hit for average. Sanchez will hit for average and get on base, but doesn’t have the same homerun potential. Both are good options buy-low options.
There are also players I’d stay away from on draft day, unless youre picking scraps from the bottom of the barrel. Mark Trumbo and Derek Lee come to mind. Trumbo will be displace by Pujols in the field, but has some fatal flaws at the plate. He never walks and strikes out a bunch without the history of similar players to back up his worth. Derek Lee has been a first base target for a lot of years, but his ship has sailed and his skills are rapidly diminishing.