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Fantasy Baseball First Basemen 2014: Tiers, Not Fears


Stat Adams
Photo Credit: Johnmaxmena2

 

Normally, the term "first base" is synonymous with "failure" for handsome soothsayers like myself. Yet when we are talking fantasy baseball, the word takes on a more positive connotation. First base is deep, always has been. 

 

Sure the league-wide drop in power over the past few years has affected the position, but if you adjust your expectations for today’s HR production, first base remains the most power-heavy position (and it’s not even close). 

 

Of course, the position remains chock full of overrated options and profit-netting players. Fortunately, your boy Big Poppa Pockets has gotcha covered. 

 

Oh, and if you are wondering why Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera aren’t on the list… well, if you plan on starting either of them at first base instead of at catcher and third, then you need to stop reading this article and quit fantasy sports. Seriously, at this point, it’s just a waste of my time and yours.

 

More after the jump:

 

The “ISO Horny” Hardbodies

1. Chris Davis

2. Paul Goldschmidt

Few players can match the mighty power offered up by the top two fantasy options at first base. Some have actually ranked Goldschmidt ahead of Davis due to the SB difference, but I’ll take the extra power that Davis provides every day of the week. Regardless of where you decide to rank these two beasts, you really can’t go wrong rostering either of these bats… Davis sported a diesel .348 Isolated Power (ISO) to go along with his 53 homers last year. The only minor blemish on his sterling 2013 is the fact that strikeouts continued to be an issue (29.6 K%). The whiffs could always catch up to him the way they did at the beginning of his big league career, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned. The fact that over a quarter of his fly balls leave the park should allay any fear fantasy owners have of a BA regression since the power should more than make up for it… People might as well have called him Gold-shit last year, because the dude was literally excreting value from every statistical orefice (.302 BA, 36 HRs, .249 ISO, 125 RBIs, 103 Rs, 15 SBs). The scary part? He’s only 26 and there still may be some untapped power left in his bat.

 

The “Established Elite” Entities

3. Edwin Encarnacion

4. Joey Votto

5. Prince Fielder

These sluggers have track records that portend high-end fantasy production in 2014. Yet there’s a chink in each of their armors that prevents them from being top-tier fantasy 1Bs… I really wanted to stick Encarnacion in the above tier as he’s been one of the best power hitters in the game over the last two seasons (ISOs over .260 both years) and possesses elite plate patience. However, mild health concerns prevented me from doing so. Granted, he’s stayed relatively healthy the last two years after spending the early part of his big-league career missing time with various ailments. Still, the fact that he’s coming off September wrist surgery is a bit disconcerting as we’ve seen these types of procedures really affect power (cough, Mark Teixeira, cough)… The only player who annoys owners because of their awesome plate patience is Joey Votto. Indeed, his 18.6 BB% was insane last year, but fantasy heads believed his tendency to work walks with men in scoring position is largely responsible for his underwhelming 73 RBIs. Me? I was more concerned about the .186 ISO, which was well below his career .227 mark. That said, I’m not scared to roster Votto. A power bounce-back seems inevitable, and it’s not like he’s never totaled 100 RBIs before (he did it in 2010 and 2011). The bottom line is that Votto is one of the best overall hitters in baseball, and there’s a better-than-good chance that Votto’s RBIs and HRs will go back to career levels. This is not a player in any kind of skill-related decline, so draft with confidence… Despite the fact that Fielder’s ISO and Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio (HR/FB) have fallen each of the last two years, the supple slugger should see his power numbers rise in Globe Life Park. While I’m not nearly as high on Fielder as some (the enthusiasm of some is akin to the over-hype Justin Upton was getting last year after moving to Atlanta), he deserves a spot on this tier because he does have an impressive power-hitting resume and is young enough to post a couple more years of elite fantasy production.

 

The “Know What You Are Paying For” Finaglers

6. Matt Adams

7. Mark Trumbo

8. Eric Hosmer

9. Freddie Freeman

10. Albert Pujols

This tier features players whom fantasy owners have differing opinions on. All of them have the talent to post tremendous numbers in 2014, but you have to know what you are getting into before plugging them on your roster… Yes, I am aware that I have Matt Adams ranked way higher than anyone else. And yes, I was high when I wrote this, but that’s besides the point. Adams has as much power potential (and arguably more so) than anyone in this tier. He rocked ISOs over .250 in 2011 and 2012 in the minors. He posted a .222 ISO last year in the majors along with a 21.8 HR/FB. The strikeouts are the only concern (25.1 K%), but he’s shown the ability to adjust and hit for average in the minors and batted .284 last year in the bigs. People will use the “unproven” argument to say that Adams doesn’t deserve to be ranked so prominently, but I think three consecutive pro seasons of elite power numbers is enough of a sample size to predict excellent numbers in 2014 (even if only 319 of those elite PAs were in the majors). You can obviously get Adams for way cheaper than I think he’s worth, but that’s the beauty of Matt Adams: you get a tremendous fantasy asset for mid-to-late round cost… The move to Chase Field could help Trumbo’s already potent power numbers (34 HRs and .219 ISO last year), but he hit .234 last year and will again be a BA liability thanks to his high strikeout totals. He’s still a clear-cut top 10 fantasy 1B, but just know that the rest of your team will have to pick up your batting average… The Wizard of Hos’ is a certifiable five-cat fantasy contributor thanks to his double-digit steals (11 last year). Too bad his power numbers just don’t hold up at the first base position (17 HRs and .146 ISO in 2013). Some knucklehead in your league will think that a power spike is on the horizon since he’s only 24 years old and figures to get stronger, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Hosmer never really impressed with his power in the minors, and he hits way too many grounders to turn his low-teens HR/FB into 25 bombs. He’s a quality all-around player, but not one you need to reach for… Freeman is another highly-ranked fantasy first baseman who has underwhelming power for the position (23 HRs and .181 ISO). Unlike Hosmer, he doesn’t have any stolen base punch to spice up his production. What he will do is hit close to or over .300 while generating satisfying counting stats in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup. I probably won’t wind up with Freeman in any of my leagues as the price has been too steep for a player with his low-20s HR pop. I suggest letting someone else pay for his ceiling… I came relatively close to bumping Pujols down to the tier below, but his glory days of yesteryear were loud enough to still resonate as a whisper in my ear telling me, “don’t forget, I used to be great.” Since he’s a fat guy carrying mad weight on his hoof, his foot issue from last year may flare up again. Yet if he can stay on the field, there is a chance he can go back to being a 30/100 player. Yes the power numbers and BA took a nose dive last year, but I’m willing to blame it on his bum appendage. Pujols is 34 and won’t ever be the prolific hitter he once was, but he’s only a year removed from a 30 HR/105 RBI season and I think 10th overall at the first base position is a worthy gamble for a player of his caliber (any more expensive than that and I’m out).

 

The Hopeful Hoodrats

11. Adrian Gonzalez

12. Allen Craig

13. Ryan Howard

14. Billy Butler

15. Brandon Belt

16. Anthony Rizzo

Each of these players carry some risk, but you can talk yourself into believing that any of these bats could provide tremendous draft day value and catapult themselves to the upper echelons of the fantasy player rankings… Though his 30 HR days seem behind him, Adrian Gonzalez is still a solid fantasy first baseman. A career .294 hitter (.293 last year) who has strung together four consecutive 100 RBI seasons, there’s something to be said for his consistency. Of course, the fact that you are staring at a low-20s HR season and pathetic runs scored totals (he really is slow as shit) means that you are essentially getting a three category guy. And one of those cats, HRs, will be modest for the first base position… I was a huge “draft Allen Craig” advocate last year, and I do genuinely like his game. This isn’t a disrespect move in placing him 12th on my list, it is merely recognizing that he’s a fantasy option with some glaring faults. For one, the power is pretty weak for the position (13 HRs and .142 ISO). I think it’s possible he can pop 20 homers one year, but that’s as good as it will get. The second concern is his health. Dude has been injury-prone pretty much his entire pro career, and foot issues limited him to just 134 games last year. Craig is one of the best in the business in driving in runs (97 RBIs last year and 92 in 2012 despite missing a good chunk of games). He should also hit over .300 again. Craig is a nice player, but I think the current price tag is too steep as you are essentially paying for his ceiling… People will scoff at the idea of Ryan Howard enjoying a throwback campaign, but I think it’s absolutely possible. After missing plenty of time over the last two years with injuries, he’s reportedly fully healthy and predicting a 50-plus HR season. Obviously, you take a player’s opinion on himself with a Jesus Montero-sized grain of salt, but I think a healthy Ryan Howard will be very productive in 2014. He still has plenty of pop (27.5 HR/FB in 2012, his last remotely healthy season) and has adjusted his approach against left-handers this offseason. Yes, Howard’s struggles against southpaws have made it necessary for Philly to keep Darin Ruf available to start against lefties, but color me optimistic. Howard was one of the best power-hitters in the game not too long ago, and now that he’s coming into a season with a clean bill of health for the first time since 2011, I think it’s fair to expect a bounce-back. Even if Howard is 80-percent of what he was during his glory years, that’s still better power numbers than what you will get from most of the first base field… Many fantasy owners have always loved Billy Butler, so it’s no surprise that he’s not coming at a discount despite coming off a down year. In 2013, Butler hit more grounders, fewer fly balls, and posted rather meek power totals for a player of his size (15 HRs and .124 ISO). Yet because he hit 29 HRs in 2012, I’m sure many of Butler’s supporters believe a power spike is possible. The problem is, aside from that one year of impressive power numbers, Butler has been a middling source of HRs (career .161 ISO). I think 20 homers are possible, and that will come with a quality batting average (career .298 BA) and solid RBI totals. However, that really only makes him a three-cat contributor. There’s nothing wrong with that if you get him at the right price, but just make sure you don’t get caught reaching… Brandon Belt and Anthony Rizzo are similar players in a lot of ways. Both came up as impressive prospects who looked like they would be future All-Stars. Both have posted solid, yet unspectacular power numbers. Both will hit in the middle of their respective lineups. And both have their fair share of believers who think a breakout is on the horizon. I give Belt the nod because his power production in the minors was more impressive (Rizzo did most of his serious damage in the HR-happy PCL league) and I’m encouraged by the fact that a mid-season change in Belt’s plate approach in 2013 led to some eye-opening play as the season wore on. Rizzo gets the edge in plate patience (11.0 BB% and 18.4 K% last year) and playing time (Buster Posey will start games at first on his off-days from catching, moving Belt to the bench). I also think Belt and Rizzo both carry some risk since they could fail to hit 25 HRs in 2014 if their power doesn’t mature the way it should (Belt’s power numbers in the majors have been just OK, while Rizzo’s power pedigree, in my opinion, is overblown). Still, these are two young, talented hitters, and I think their draft day price is pretty fair all things considered.

 

The “Muddy Waters” Wahoos

17. Jose Abreu

18. Brandon Moss

19. Mike Napoli

20. Chris Carter 

21. Nick Swisher

22. Michael Cuddyer

23. Victor Martinez

24. Adam Dunn

25. Mark Teixeira

26. Justin Morneau

Oh there’s solid value to be found in this tier, particularly if you are content with building up your shallower positions first before addressing first base. Caution needs to be exercised, however, as these players could also play below their draft day price tag… Some have Abreu way higher than I have him ranked, but this is as far as I will go. Sure he’s garnered plenty of comparisons to Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes, but scouts have also said that he looks like Dayan Viciedo (who has plenty of raw power, but has been a modest-at-best fantasy option to date). The potential for 30 HRs appears to be there, but since Cespedes and Puig look more like 25-bomb bats, I think that’s a fair starting point for Abreu projections (and that’s only if he acclimates well to the majors year one). The upside is obviously high with this one, but with first base not lacking for more sure-fire options, I’m not willing to go crazy on the bidding for Abreu… Moss wound up on a couple of my teams last year because few believed in his late-season power surge in 2012. After a 30 HR campaign in 2013, the price has gone through the roof, and you won’t find me paying top-12 first baseman money for his ass. While the power was legit last season, the strikeouts (27.7 K%) and struggles against left-handed pitching (.200 BA against LHP) are legitimate concerns. It’s not crazy to think that he can wind up in a platoon if he falls off. After all, Moss is a 30-year-old former journeyman. One with a 30 HR season and legitimate power under his belt, but a fall-off candidate nonetheless. He’ll be on exactly zero of my teams if his current draft day price is what it will take to land him… Speaking of dudes who strike out at insane paces, Mike Napoli did it at a career-worst rate last season (32.4 K%). He’s also injury-prone, having played 140 games once in his career. He’ll hit cleanup in a productive Red Sox lineup and will definitely be startable when healthy, but be prepared to be without him for stretches… A 36.2 K% is the stuff of legends… the bad kind of legends. That’s what Chris Carter did last year, and it’s the reason why he’ll have a shitty batting average again (.223 last year). Yet even if he does drag down your team’s BA, he can at least rack up the moon-shots (29 HRs and .227 ISO last year)… If there is one thing Nick Swisher is, it’s consistent. He’s had at least 21 HRs every season of his big-league career. His numbers last year don’t jump out at you (.246 BA, 22 HRs, 63 RBIs, and 74 Rs), but they look more impressive when you consider that he battled shoulder problems throughout the season. Cleveland’s lineup is underrated, and hitting in the middle of it should help Swisher post solid fantasy numbers. Boring as that may sound, it gets the job done… 35 years old, injury-prone (hasn’t played 140 games since 2010), and coming off a season in which he saw his power drop, Michael Cuddyer is far from a sure thing. Even the .331 BA he posted last year looks suspicious when you consider his lucky-as-hell .382 BABIP. Don’t get me started on the 10 stolen bases he rocked last year. That old fart has a better chance of stealing someone’s walker than he does swiping a bag. Yet when all is said and done, he stands a good shot of swatting 20 HRs and posting quality counting stats while hitting second in Colorado’s lineup… Hitting cleanup behind Miguel Cabrera has its perks. Yet aside from the great BA (.301 last year) and ample RBI opportunities, Victor Martinez doesn’t bring a lot ot the table. The 14 HRs and .129 ISO last year make the 35-year-old a two-category fantasy option at this stage of this career… The risk of a major fall off exists with Adam Dunn. Sure he still walks like crazy and hit 34 HRs last year, but believe it or not, his power dipped last season and he also hit more grounders. All-or-nothing sluggers like Dunn tend to have sharp declines, and at 34 years old, you are either getting another productive power season, or a non-startable fantasy campaign… Donny Brown gave a vote of confidence to Teixeira’s health, which is solid gold in my book. He recently admitted that he’s “concerned” about how he’ll be hitting from the left side this year, and the fact that he’s struggled as a lefty in recent years means his BA will probably be as bad as ever (think below .250). I think 20-plus HRs and quality counting stats in the middle of New York’s lineup is possible, but you can’t go expecting the Teixeira of old… The move to Coors Field could help Justin Morneau hit over 25 HRs and help him capture Comeback Player of the Year honors. Now that’s fantasy baseball! In all seriousness, I kind of like Morneau as a cheap, lottery ticket-type investment. He’ll probably be more of a CI option than a 1B-type in most leagues, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he can sock 20 bombs, hit for a decent BA, and drive in 90 or so runs as a middle-of-the-lineup bat for the Rockies. 


The “Hail Mary” Martyrs

27. Mark Reynolds

28. Ike Davis

29. Adam LaRoche

30. Corey Hart

31. Jonathan Singleton

32. Mitch Moreland

33. Justin Smoak

34. Adam Lind

Sure, these guys are currently in line to see ample playing time. Yes, there is certainly talent in their bats. So why are these players ranked so low? A variety of reasons, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are long-shot sleepers who could wind up being unowned in many fantasy leagues by year’s end… Ike Davis and Justin Smoak are a couple of former exciting hitting prospects whose careers recently have, for lack of a better term, “sucked ass.” You hope they suddenly “figure it out,” but they are only worth owning as bench players in fantasy to start the season… Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, and Mitch Moreland are 20-plus HR threats who might kill your batting average. Not bad players to consider if you are lacking power in the later rounds… Before missing all of 2013 with knee troubles, Corey Hart was a 25-30 HR threat with the ability to hit for a solid BA. He’s a risky play due to the injury-risk and the fact that he now calls spacious Safeco Field his home… The raw power is tremendous in Singleton and he may one day be a consistent 30 HR threat. It could happen this year, but it’s more likely a year or two away. He struggled when moved up to AAA last year, and his propensity to swing and miss is a concern. Of course, the Astros are dying for offense and have a need at first, so he should step in at some point in 2014 and he has the talent to make a fantasy impact… No love for Lind here. He barely made it onto the list since he has 20 HR pop and is the primary DH in Toronto. My beef is with his flailing at left-handed pitching. He’s been an inconsistent player for most of his big league career, and while he could slug 20 homers, they’ll be the 20 most frustrating home runs of your life.

 

The Leftovers

35. James Loney

36. Logan Morrison 

37. Garrett Jones

38. Darin Ruf 

39. Lucas Duda

40. Yonder Alonso

41. Gaby Sanchez

42. Juan Francisco

43. Chris Colabello

44. Kyle Blanks

45. Tyler Moore

46. Jesus Guzman

47. Hunter Morris

48. Japhet Amador

These guys will go undrafted in many leagues, and for good reason. Yet they all deserve to be on your radar. It’s an interesting mix of players in this tier. You have some guys who have starting roles yet possess middling fantasy value (Loney, Morrison, Jones, Alonso, and Sanchez). There are also post-hype sluggers who could always find their stroke (and regular ABs) in 2014 (Duda, Ruf, Francisco, Colabello, Blanks, Moore, and Guzman). Shit, there’s even a couple of interesting power prospects in Hunter Morris and Japhet Amador. You may not come away with any of these bats on draft day, but you should at least keep them in your radar in case they become worthy of a pick-up during the season.

 

*Last updated on 3/15/14.

Starbonell

About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.

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