Now we’re moving into a category with some meat to it – and not just because a number of these names could politely be referred to as “plus-sized”. We’re not exactly in a golden age for the 1B position in fantasy, but there’s still plenty of talent up towards the top. It’s when we get into the teens and beyond at the position where things are starting to get a little muddy. And after that, it just becomes one enormous wasteland. The great 1B we’re accustomed to seeing are getting older, and the next wave coming to take their place have not exactly worked out as planned so far. This isn’t likely to get much better over the coming years, as first base prospects are not exactly plentiful. So if there are going to be reinforcements on the way, they’ll have to start migrating from other positions on the diamond.
One other thing you’ll notice, which was much less of an issue at catcher, is that I’m only ranking players once positionally through out this entire series. That means, while guys like Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Nick Swisher may have 1B eligibility, you’re unlikely to be using them there because their other eligibility is much more valuable. If you want to see how Posey stacks up against the rest of the 1B crowd, you can find that in the Top 500 that’s coming out at the end of the project. Also, I’ve included all DH-only players in with the 1B crowd because creating a DH-only list is pretty useless (until the National League adopts it).
And now your top 50 dynasty league first basemen, with commentary:
#1 – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
#2 – Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
#3 – Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
It’s nearly impossible to quibble with the fact that these three should be the top tier at the position. However, once you get into ranking them, the quibbling may never stop. I view Votto and Fielder as essentially a coin flip, with my tiebreaker going to Votto because his body type is one that traditionally holds up better as hitters age. That said, Fielder has been one of the most reliable players in all of baseball and is making great strides to reduce his strike outs – which should allow him to continue to hit for a solid average. Pujols comes in third mostly because of his age, as he’s more than three years older than either Votto or Fielder. I’m not nearly as down on Pujols in the short term as some others (he’s my #1 option at the position in 2013 alone), but those extra years make a big difference when the short-term value is a toss-up.
#4 – Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
#5 – Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
This one is a simple choice of whether you believe in the decline or the breakout. And as much as I do think that Encarnacion’s step forward was legit, I can’t put him ahead of Gonzalez, who I like to get back to a more typical level of performance for him in 2013. Plus, if you didn’t look at their birthdays, you’d probably think E5 had a few years on Gonzalez – however, he’s only seven months younger (they will both be 30 on Opening Day). I wrote more about Encarnacion here.
#6 – Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Yes, this is an aggressive ranking, but I’m still very bullish on Hosmer’s long-term value. And plus, once you see the players listed behind Hosmer, you’ll see that while it’s certainly a leap, it’s not a huge leap. For me, Hosmer still has MVP caliber upside as a potential .300-30-15 type of player – and he’s still only 23 years old. I would not be surprised at all if he reestablished himself as one of the preeminent young hitters in the game this season and ended up at #1 on this list for 2014. More on Hosmer here.
#7 – Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s really hard to look too far past a first baseman who steals 18 bases, especially when they also have 25+ HR potential and can hit for a decent average. What Goldy has going for him, ahead of the next two names on this list, is the fact that his 1B eligibility is real.
#8 – Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals
#9 – David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (DH)
These two are grouped together for good reason – you just wish they would always have 1B eligibility. Butler actually will go into 2013 with the designation, due to exactly 20 games played at the position this past season; however, Ortiz and his 7 games are left out in the cold. If given the choice of these two players over the next two seasons (assuming they both had the eligibility), I still take Big Papi, as I think there is an elite season or two left in his bat (like he was on his way to in 2012 before getting hurt). Beyond that, it’s clearly Butler and his value is buoyed by the fact that he may pick up year-to-year 1B eligibility once he moves on from Kansas City. He’s below average at the position, but he’s playable.
#10 – Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
#11 – Ike Davis, New York Mets
Two more young power bats, Rizzo and Davis bring slightly different skill sets to the table. Davis has the potential for more power, as he demonstrated by hitting 32 HR in a down year. Rizzo has the potential for a higher average, as he strikes out less and has more of a line drive oriented swing. Both should carve out nice careers as back-end of the top-10 caliber first base options until conditions improve at the position. I wrote more about Davis here.
#12 – Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Oh how the mighty has fallen. Once a lock for a top-5 spot on any list like this, Teixeira has failed to adjust to the litany of shifts that he sees, and his batting average has suffered. And while I expect his power to bounce back to around the 30 HR mark in 2013, he is never going back to the player who was once good for a .280-.300 average on a yearly basis.
#13 – Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros
#14 – Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
#15 – Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
I’m optimistic about both of these players having a second act to their careers. And while LaRoche got off to a better start from a performance angle (hitting .271 with 33 HR), don’t underestimate the importance of Morneau getting on the field for 570 PA. I like Morneau to take another step forward in 2013 in his return from post-concussion syndrome in both the average and power departments.
#16 – Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
While it’s true that Konerko has nearly epitomized the consistent performer for over a decade now, there’s no ignoring the fact that from Memorial Day to the end of the 2012 season, he hit .254/.324/.400 with 15 HR and 42 RBI. And going into his age-37 season no less. By no means am I saying he can’t bounce back for another season or two, but it’s folly not to at least consider that this was the beginning of the end for the fantasy star.
#17 – Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres
Don’t sleep on Alonso, who hit .285/.352/.430 with 6 HR and 39 RBI in 256 second half at bats during 2012. With the aid of some slightly closer fences from 2013 going forward, I like Alonso’s chances of becoming a high-average 1B with at least average power. He can be a poor man’s Adrian Gonzalez.
#18 – Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs
#19 – Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Freeman is great in a deep league because he won’t hurt you anywhere and he’ll probably come cheap. But in a 14-16 team league (or shallower), he’s likely to always be a guy you’re on the look out to replace. As opposed to Davis, Rizzo and even Alonso, there’s not a whole lot of upside with Freeman, and he may just top out as a .275 hitter with 20 HR a year for the rest of the decade. There’s certainly value to that, but he’s closer to replacement level than you’d want out of a 1B.
#20 – Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
The biggest question with Belt is how much power he’s going to have going forward, as he’s just not a very valuable guy if his HR totals hover in the teens. The strikeout rate (23.9% in the majors and 22.7% at Triple-A) doesn’t lend itself to high averages, so unless he wants to start stealing 20+ bases a year, it all boils down to the power. And for the record, I think he’ll top out in the low 20’s — it just may never happen while he’s in San Francisco.
#21 – Kendrys Morales, Seattle Mariners
It’s amazing to say that a player moving to Safeco is going into a better offensive environment, but that’s precisely what it looks like for Morales.
#22 – Chris Carter, Oakland Athletics
When a slow-developing slugging prospect hits 16 HR in 67 games, while playing in a home park that stifles power, I’m paying attention. That K-rate of 31.5% is atrocious, but there had to be a reason he’s not 15 spots higher on this list.
#23 – Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
#24 – Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
We’re getting close to the end of the line with both of these guys, and the end won’t be pretty. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can sneak another 30 HR season or two out of them, but with the other stats they’ll put up, you’ll probably wish it wasn’t your mess to clean up.
#25 – Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers
Ladies and gentlemen, I present your new DH in Texas. If he could get 500 AB, he’d be a top-10 option at the position in 2013, but I certainly wouldn’t put any money behind that one. He’s also still only 35, so don’t assume this is a one-and-done type of deal – if he hits, he may stick around.
#26 – Mark Reynolds, Cleveland Indians
Reynolds is the perfect type of hitter to have on your bench. He’s extremely streaky, he can carry a team when he’s on and it’s not terribly difficult to tell when he’s in the midst of a hot streak.
#27 – Matt Adams, St Louis Cardinals
#28 – Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers
You don’t have to go much further down this list to find out who the Berkman signing was bad for from a fantasy angle. With 7 spots already spoken for in the lineup (Beltre, Kinsler, Andrus, Cruz, Pierzynski, Berkman, Murphy), Moreland would have to beat out and hold off at least two top-150 prospects (Profar, Olt, Martin) for playing time. And if he gets traded, he’s almost certain to end up in a worse offensive environment.
#29 – C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
#30 – Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers
#31 – Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners
Yes, this list is starting to get pretty ugly at this point. Smoak gets the nod over the rest of these bats because he both had the highest pedigree as a prospect and even last year, he still hit 19 HR in 132 games. The new fences should help Smoak, and if he gets traded because of the Morales acquisition, even better – Smoak hit a horrifying .198/.270/.289 with 4 HR in 232 AB in Safeco versus .235/.308/.434 with 15 HR in 251 AB on the road.
#32 – Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers
With Corey Hart scheduled to miss at least the first month of the season, Gamel will get his last shot to prove he should be in the Brewers’ long-term plans. I still think the guy can hit in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, he’s running out of chances.
#33 – Brett Wallace, Houston Astros
#34 – Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
Sure, either of these guys could be good again – I’m just not betting on them actually doing it. For Wallace, it’s getting back to his minor league glory days. He didn’t embarrass himself down the stretch in 2012, which is a start, but he’s got to improve his strikeout rate. For Lind, he needs to rediscover the power stroke. When he’s hit for fewer than 20 HR in a season, it’s because he’s hitting too many ground balls. In fact, his only two seasons of a GB rate higher than 45% were 2008 (50.9% GB rate, 9 HR) and 2012 (48.3% GB rate, 11 HR).
#35 – Brandon Moss, Oakland Athletics
#36 – Luke Scott, Free Agent
#37 – Travis Hafner, Free Agent (DH)
#38 – Carlos Lee, Free Agent
#39 – Travis Harrison, Minnesota Twins
#40 – Matthew Skole, Washington Nationals
There are many divisive prospects in baseball today, but with the exception of Darin Ruf, Skole might be the one with the widest range of opinions. Yes, he hit .291/.426/.559 with 27 HR across Low-A and High-A, and followed that by hitting .305/.419/.525 with 3 HR in the AFL, but he’s also 23 years old and struck out in nearly a third of his at bats and is a bad defensive 3B (hence his appearance on the 1B list). Let’s wait until he shows he can hit at Double-A before we get too excited, shall we?
#41 – Hunter Morris, Milwaukee Brewers
And to see how excited we get about 24 year olds who put up a .920 OPS in Double-A, see Morris. The bar is just so high as a 1B prospect.
#42 – James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
#43 – Carlos Pena, Houston Astros
#44 – Matt LaPorta, Cleveland Indians
#45 – David Cooper, Toronto Blue Jays
#46 – Gaby Sanchez, Free Agent
#47 – Mauro Gomez, Boston Red Sox
#48 – Matthew Olson, Oakland Athletics
#49 – Casey Kotchman, Free Agent
#50 – Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies
I can’t even.
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