First Base used to be where fantasy owners loaded up on players that provided big power along with a huge average. Those days are seemingly gone at the position, though there is more depth than perhaps first glance. Adding in Miguel Cabrera‘s eligibility at 1B early in the season, and the position has solid depth, if not the star upside it once possessed.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks – Goldschmidt made some huge strides forward in 2013 from the very good to the elite. He’s now clearly the top name at the position and should provide value in average, home runs, R/RBI, and he even adds in double-digit steals, which is unusual for a 1B. He’s still got some ceiling to go, but projecting better numbers than 2013 could lead a lot of people to overdraft Goldschmidt. He’s currently going in the top 10 of drafts, and that’s well-earned, but some drafts have had him in the top 3, and I cannot see him quite that high.
2. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles – Davis didn’t come from nowhere, but the monstrous totals he produced in 2013 were certainly outside of expectations. His change in approach in the 2012 season has produced significant results for him. Davis has been on fantasy radars so long that many feel like this is one of those post-30 career blow-ups, but Davis will only be 28 in March. He’s a lock for significant power, though he could be anywhere from .270-.290 with that power, so there’s some risk.
3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds – Votto got a lot of notoriety outside of fantasy last season for his lack of “clutch” when he was seemingly more content to wait out the perfect pitch rather than attempting to swing at a pitch that could drive in a run, leading to some low RBI totals for a guy hitting 3rd and putting up the batting average he did. Votto’s power has also seemingly plateaued at high 20s home runs. There is a lot of value in the high amount of plate appearances with high average and the consistent runs that Votto produces when healthy, but he’s not going to be a 40-homer guy for you most likely.
4. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers – The move of Fielder for Ian Kinsler was one of the major trades of the offseason, and it could have payoffs for both players. Fielder gets to return to a park much more akin to his early days in Miller Park in Milwaukee with Texas’s cozy confines. That said, Fielder has had two underwhelming seasons in Detroit with 30 and 25 home runs after averaging 38 from 2006-2011. Those power numbers should return, but where the batting average will fall along with that level of power is what has Fielder at this point in the rankings.
5. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels – Pujols is possibly the greatest right handed hitter of the last 10 years, but the injury bug has certainly held him back since he signed his mammoth contract with the Angels. He could barely move down the line, yet he produced a line that extrapolated to a high 20′s home run season with 100 RBI in a full season. With the time of healing, a rough period out of the gate would not surprise anyone, but Pujols still could put up another season like 2012, when he stumbled poorly out of the gate and still finished with a .285/85/30/105/8 line, which is elite 1B production in the modern environment.
6. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays – Encarnacion could be swapped with the guy right below him depending on your league’s position eligibility requirements. If he’s eligible at 3B as well in your league, Encarnacion is the better bet as the value of he and Freeman’s numbers are very similar, though they come to that value in different ways. E5, as his old nickname goes, has tremendous power, and perhaps has as much power as anyone at this position not named Chris Davis. He won’t be hitting .290, but he’s not going to hurt you in batting average, and he gets you the added bonus of a few steals as well.
7. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves – If Encarnacion is not eligible at 3B, you can switch these two as their offensive lines are so close that the only thing that really sets him ahead is that 3B eligibility. Freeman is just coming into his own, and many feel the Braves’ extension to Freeman is akin to the extension Goldschmidt got before his breakout 2013 campaign. Freeman is a different type of hitter whose breakout is likely to be more along the lines of .330 and 30 homers than .300 and 40 homers, but that is still extremely elite production. With the lineup he has around him and his youth (one month from being the youngest guy on this list, older than only Hosmer), owners should feel quite confident in pursuing Freeman in 2014.
8. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals – The youngest player on this list has struggled to gain his footing at the major league level to the level expected when he was a top prospect coming into the 2011 season. Hosmer has shown the ability to put the bat on the ball at a good rate and even add a little speed, but he’s not yet shown a solid power stroke. Last season he did hit 54 extra base hits, so there’s some progress, but that was also in 680 plate appearances. He’s got a world of upside and should give owners solid runs and batting average at present.
9. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers – While not the elite hitter he was when he was traded to Boston, he has settled into a consistently top-ten producing first baseman. He should give you mid-20s home runs, solid average, and roughly 180-200 combined R/RBI. How you value Gonzalez depends a lot on where you value upside versus stability as he’s in a group of five players here where he’s the consistent one of the bunch, and the two guys before and after him have more upside than Gonzalez. You can bank Gonzalez’s production, and that certainly has more value than many owners give.
10. Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals – Over the last few seasons, Craig has flashed the ability to hit for a solid average and post very good to even elite RBI rates. The “problem” that fantasy owners have had is that Craig has not shown himself to be a power hitter to go along with that production, even though his swing, body style, and place in the lineup would assume he has power to use. He’s going to be likely to give you 15-25 home runs along with high RBI numbers and good average, so not elite numbers, but certainly useful.
11. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants – People were expecting huge things of him before 2012, and he stumbled, so many have written him off. You would be wise not to do the same. Belt has solid contact with a swing that could improve to the point of flirting with .300 a few times in his career and the power is present in his bat. It’s not 40-homer power, but 30 isn’t out of the realm of possibility. If in 2019 we’re looking back, and Belt has posted 3 .300+ seasons and 3 30 homer seasons in that time, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised. Now whether they’ll come in 2014 or when each number will come is what keeps Belt this low on the list, but there is certainly upside to this.
12. Mark Trumbo, Arizona Diamondbacks – Trumbo may be one of the bigger winners of the wheeling and dealing done by Kevin Towers over the offseason. Trumbo has light tower power and has shown this in one of the toughest divisions to hit home runs in within the major leagues, so hitting on the road against the Dodgers or Padres won’t intimidate him, and he’ll have the benefit of hitting at home at Arizona’s ballpark and also having Colorado on his plate for significant time. He won’t win a batting title, but Trumbo could be a legit challenge for the NL home run lead in his current situation. Trumbo is also athletic enough to provide some steals for his owners, so if you can afford the batting average hit, he can provide well in other numbers for you.
13. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox – Big Papi just doesn’t seem to completely slow down. He’s not hitting .330 with 35 homers and 115 RBI anymore, but he should be around .300 with 25-30 home runs and solid RBI numbers. Be aware that he very well may play sparingly during interleague in NL parks, but he gives you solid play until he doesn’t, and we don’t know when this will hit.
14. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals – In leagues where players who are primarily DH are listed as Utility only, Ortiz and Butler are really the only two to worry about. Butler only played 7 games in the field in 2013, so it’s possible he won’t qualify at 1B for you. His 2012 power numbers certainly look like the outlier rather than the rule. Butler is a high-teens, low-20s home run guy with good average that will have good RBI numbers. Don’t pay for 25+ homers with him like a number of teams did last season and then were disappointed. If you draft him for what he is, you’ll be very pleased.
15. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox – In my projection system, Abreu has the lowest batting average of any player in the top 15. That said, I honestly have no clue where his batting average could end up, and anyone who says they have any semblance of an idea is lying to you. Cuban players give us a world of variation, but recent successes of guys like Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes in their first major league exposure have spoiled fantasy owners into expecting instant success for Cuban players in their first year. Abreu does have power that is off the charts, but whether he’ll be able to catch up to major league pitching is truly unknown. He should produce very good power for the time he plays, but if he hits .230 with power rather than .280 with power, he may lose time in a Chicago lineup with options of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn for 1B/DH rather than Abreu if he struggles.
Position strategy: There are a few elites here, but after those few elite guys, there is such depth here that if you get any guy from 5th through about 17th, you’ll have a starting quality first baseman. Keep an eye out on bounce-back seasons from poor performance and/or injury from guys like Ike Davis, Mike Morse, Corey Hart, and even Justin Morneau in Colorado, all of whom could be fantasy viable in 2014.