A Look into the Diverse Fantasy Landscape of First Base

Christian Petersen

Historically, first base has been a fantasy position known for its depth and abundance of run-producing, power-hitting beasts. Fantasy players can usually peruse the 30 Major League rosters prior to their draft and scout out 15 to 20 first basemen who they feel are deserving of a roster spot on their cleverly named squad. Sadly, these days are back, back, back...gone. Entering the 2013 season, a consistent first baseman is no easy find and the position's landscape has drastically changed. When filling your first base slot on your fantasy roster, you should not focus solely on the few players standing atop the peak of the position's mountain, but also on the ones climbing both up and down its slopes.

The Rising Stars - Allen Craig, Ike Davis, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt,
Eric Hosmer, and Anthony Rizzo

Allen Craig: 2012 Statistics - .307 BA/ 22 HR/ 92 RBI/ 76 Runs/ 2 SB/ .5224 SLG/ .3541 OBP

In 2012, Allen Craig did a great job of filling the hole in St. Louis left by Albert Pujols. He is a prolific run producer and, although his home run total may not be the most astounding, the guy has some pop. Craig is not a prospect anymore, as he approaches the age of 29 in 2013, but he should now be entering the prime of his career. I expect Allen Craig's RBI and home run totals to increase in 2013, while his batting average should hover around .300. He is a great pick in any format and is a steal going in the 4th round in most fantasy drafts.

Ike Davis: 2012 Statistics - .2274 BA/ 32 HR/ 90 RBI/ 66 Runs/ 0 SB/ .4624 SLG/ .3082 OBP

If you drafted Ike Davis last season, you should have no problem remembering what kind of start he got off to. Davis was barely above the Mendoza Line at the break (.201), but he belted the most homers out of any first baseman in the second half. Out of his 32 home runs, only 11 came at home, which is concerning. Citi Field is far from a hitter's paradise, so I believe that his power numbers will drop off a bit in 2013. However, his average can go nowhere but up. If Ike Davis is still available in the middle rounds of your draft, you should have no qualms about snagging him.

Freddie Freeman: 2012 Statistics - .2593 BA/ 23 HR/ 94 RBI/ 91 Runs/ 2 SB/ .4556 SLG/ .3403 OBP

Out of every young first baseman, I view Freddie Freeman as the safest bet in 2013. This 23 year old possesses a sweet, powerful lefty swing and he finds himself in the middle of a packed Braves lineup. Freeman should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs and I think that he is too good of a hitter to bat below .270 again. Freddie Freeman is absolutely worthy of your draft pick within the first 7 or 8 rounds.

Paul Goldschmidt: 2012 Statistics - .286 BA/ 20 HR/ 82 RBI/ 82 Runs/ 18 SB/ .4903 SLG/ .3595 OBP

Paul Goldschmidt is easily the most well-rounded, young first base option. Goldy can hit for power, average, and he can swipe some bags. Anything over 15 stolen bases for a first baseman is simply awesome and Goldschmidt exceeded that total. He hit over 40 doubles in 2012 and his splits show very similar power both at home and on the road. I do believe that Arizona's loss of Justin Upton will affect the amount of fastballs Goldschmidt will see, but overall I see him as an early round pick.

Eric Hosmer: 2012 Statistics - .2318 BA/ 14 HR/ 60 RBI/ 65 Runs/ 16 SB/ .3589 SLG/ .3043 OBP

After receiving much hype prior to the 2012 season, Hosmer was truly a disappointment. His power numbers were terrible and his average was even worse. This cannot even be attributed to a poor start, either. Hosmer batted .231 in the first half and .232 in the second half. He struggles against lefties (.220) and even against righties (.238). All of these numbers scream, "stay away," but 2012 could have just been a learning experience for Hosmer. He provides fresh legs like Goldschmidt and should steal around 15 bases no matter how terrible he is at the plate. Hosmer is going to fall to the late middle rounds in most fantasy drafts, making him a risk worth taking.

Anthony Rizzo: 2012 Statistics - .2849 BA/ 15 HR/ 48 RBI/ 44 Runs/ 3 SB/ .4629 SLG/ .3424 OBP

Anthony Rizzo has the least big league experience of any player on this list. Rizzo was not a mainstay for the Cubs until after the All-Star break and when he arrived he was very impressive. Rizzo is an easy 20 home run guy in my book, especially playing in Wrigley. The only thing that worries me here is that he hit only .208 against the limited amount of left-handed arms he faced last year. Barring a Hosmerian meltdown, Anthony Rizzo is definitely deserving of one of your early to mid-round picks.

Peak Performers - Prince Fielder and Joey Votto

Price Fielder: 2012 Statistics - .3133 BA/ 30 HR/ 108 RBI/ 83 Runs/ 1 SB/ .5284 SLG/ .4116 OBP

Prince Fielder is the definition of durability. He has missed one game in the past four seasons, which is pretty shocking when you look at his round frame. Prince is one of two players (Joe Mauer being the other) that had a higher walk rate (had to be at least 10% to apply) than strikeout rate last season. Oh yeah, he also bats behind Miguel Cabrera who is arguably the best hitter in baseball. Fielder is the closest thing you can get to a guarantee. He will bat .300, hit 30 bombs, drive in over 100 runs, and stay healthy. Prince has been going in the early second round, but as far as I am concerned, he should be a first round pick.

Joey Votto: 2012 Statistics - .3369 BA/ 14 HR/ 56 RBI/ 59 Runs/ 5 SB/ .5668 SLG/ .4737 OBP

A knee injury was the only thing that got in Joey Votto's way in 2012. He seemed to be on a straight path to a batting title and another stellar season. Votto is a great hitter. There is no other way to describe him. He has the best eye in baseball and seems to always be locked in at the plate. However, upon returning to the Reds after his DL stint had ended, Votto did not record a single dinger over a course of 45 games. This is a cause for concern, but if Votto enters 2013 completely healthy, he too should be drafted in the first round of all fantasy leagues. Do not bank on another 37 homer season that you saw in 2010, but do expect an average above .300 along with 100 plus RBI.

The Falling Stars - Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Paul Konerko, Justin
Morneau, and Mark Teixeira

Adrian Gonzalez: 2012 Statistics - .2989 BA/ 18 HR/ 108 RBI/ 75 Runs/ 2 SB/ .4626 SLG/ .3436 OBP

Adrian Gonzalez is a very good hitter, don't get me wrong, but he is entering the downside of his career. He may still put up an average around .300, but his power numbers are beginning to fall off. Gonzalez has not had a 30 home run season since he left San Diego after 2010 and I do not think he has another one in him. He will continue drive in 100 runs in 2013, like he has in 5 out of the past 6 years, as a part of a stacked Dodgers lineup. However, I believe that you should exercise your 4th of 5th round draft picks towards a higher reward player, such as Jason Heyward or Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ryan Howard: 2012 Statistics - .2192 BA/ 14 HR/ 56 RBI/ 28 Runs/ 0 SB/ .4231 SLG/ .2945 OBP

Don't let the baby face fool you because Ryan Howard, 33, is getting up there in age. When you add a bad Achilles in the equation, Howard's risk goes through the roof. He is basically a one dimensional fantasy player, providing homers and RBI. "Big Piece," as they like to call him in Philly, will most likely be posting a big strikeout total, accompanied by a low average. In his shortened season last year of 71 games, Howard's batting average was atrocious and he couldn't hit a lefty to save his life (.173). There is no reason to take Howard in a middle round when you can find low average, high power guys much later in your draft.

Paul Konerko: 2012 Statistics - .2983 BA/ 26 HR/ 75 RBI/ 66 Runs/ 0 SB/ .4859 SLG/ .3712 OBP

Age is basically the only thing that has ever had me doubting Paul Konerko. He is almost comparable to Jeter in the sense that every year we all sit around and debate whether he can be successful again. I think ole Pauley is on his last legs due to the fact that he will enter the 2013 season at age 37. With rumors swirling already about this being his final year, Konerko is definitely not going to find the fountain of 30 homers and 100 RBI any time soon. However, Konerko is falling pretty late in most drafts, so even though his production is declining, I still would take a chance on him anywhere in rounds 14-16.

Justin Morneau: 2012 Statistics - .2673 BA/ 19 HR/ 77 RBI/ 63 Runs/ 1 SB/ .4396 SLG/ .3333 OBP

Morneau lands on this list in a relatively tragic way because his declining numbers are the result of a freak concussion. The symptoms of said injury stuck around with Morneau for a solid year and a half, causing him to be a shell of his former self. I don't predict another high production season for Morneau in the near future due to the combination of injury, ballpark factor, and just a horrible Twinkies roster. He may be a guy who is worth taking if he falls to round 20 or later, but other than that Morneau is not worth the trouble.

Mark Teixeira: 2012 Statistics - .2506 BA/ 24 HR/ 84 RBI/ 66 Runs/ 2 SB/ .4745 SLG/ .3321 OBP

Teixeira is the most interesting guy in this category. When healthy, Tex can give you 35 plus homers and 100 RBI with ease, but there are so many red flags out there. To start, what happened to the days when Teixeira would bat no less than .280? The short porch in Yankee Stadium must look so enticing that each time Tex steps to the plate, he is left with no other option but to uppercut his swing as if he were slaying a giant. I would not mind seeing a dip in power, but a rise in average for fantasy benefits and I don't think the Yanks would be opposed to the idea either. Here is the most alarming statistic, and bear with me it's a sabermetrics thing. Teixeira only provided 0.57 fastball runs above the league average in 2012, which is well below his 1.16 in 2011. To put it simply, Tex's bat is slowing down. He cannot hit the fastball with prowess as he has in the past and guess what? He will see a lot of fastballs in 2013. So proceed with caution when drafting Teixeira. He may seem like a steal in rounds 8 or 9, but when April hits you might be kicking yourself for drafting him.

The Potential Busts - Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam LaRoche,
and Kendrys Morales

Chris Davis: 2012 Statistics - .2699 BA/ 33 HR/ 85 RBI/ 75 Runs/ 2 SB/ .5010 SLG/ .3256 OBP

In 2012, Chris Davis posted some pretty good numbers. Sure 85 RBI might seem a little low for a guy who blasted 33 dingers, but I certainly won't complain about that. I worry that Davis's 2012 campaign was a fluke. He is a part of a Baltimore team that played Cinderella last year and I fear that if the team does not succeed, Davis will go back to disappointing fans just like he did in his Ranger days. Out of his 33 home runs last season, 26 came at the expense of righties and 22 occurred in Camden Yards. I do not think Davis is worth a mid round pick. Trust me, I drafted him in the 14th round last week and immediately afterwards asked myself, "what have I just done?"

Edwin Encarnacion: 2012 Statistics - .2804 BA/ 42 HR/ 110 RBI/ 93 Runs/ 13 SB/ .5572 SLG/ .3835 OPB

AHHHHH why are people drafting Edwin Encarnacion in the first 5 rounds!? I understand that he hit 42 bombs last year, drove in 110, and even stole over a dozen bases, but come on. He is a product of the Blue Jays glamorous offseason hype. With a more balanced lineup and a returning Jose Bautista, I do not believe Encarnacion will be in the position to mash each time he steps up to the plate in 2013. If you draft him ahead of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, King Felix, or Matt Holliday, consider yourself crazy.

Adam LaRoche: 2012 Statistics - .2715 BA/ 33 HR/ 100 RBI/ 76 Runs/ 1 SB/ .5096 SLG/ .3431 OBP

Wow, I did not see this one coming last year. In 2012, Adam LaRoche surpassed his career high home run total and was a consistent force in D.C. LaRoche hits pretty much every type of pitcher well, batting .268 against lefties last year and .273 versus righties. There is really no statistical support behind labeling him a bust, but that is why the category is labeled "Potential Busts". He may not repeat his 2012 success, but there is absolutely no reason why you should pass him by in the later-mid rounds of your draft.

Kendrys Morales: 2012 Statistics - .2727 BA/ 22 HR/ 73 RBI/ 61 Runs/ 0 SB/ .4669 SLG/ .3199 OBP

Kendrys Morales's decline is very similar to Morneau's, for it is also due to injury. A walk-off grand slam, the high of highs, came crashing down as Morales leaped towards home, shattering his leg. After he fully recovered, he never really returned to his full time role in Anaheim. So the stacked Angels shipped him over to Seattle, the place where power hitters go to fade away. A bigger ballpark and not much protection has me doubting if Morales will ever be able to approach 30 home runs again. I really am not sure how he is going so much earlier in drafts than LaRoche. The reward that comes with drafting him in a middle round certainly does not match the risk.

The Great Pujols Debate: 2012 Statistics - .285 BA/ 30 HR/ 105 RBI/ 85 Runs/ 8 SB/ .5157 SLG/ .3433 OBP

Don't worry, I didn't forget Albert. There has been great debate as to which category Pujols belongs in. Is he still an elite first baseman or is he declining? I believe that he deserves to join Fielder and Votto on the mountain top. Last year was considered a down year for Pujols and the guy freaking hit 30 home runs and drove in 105 runs. Analysts, fans, and probably even his mother were sent into a panic when Albert's first home run didn't come until May. He is now comfortable with the American League's pitching and he has Mike Trout batting ahead of him, while Josh Hamilton will bat directly behind him. He is very capable of clubbing 40 plus homers in 2013 and having an MVP caliber season. Pujols is worthy of a top 5 overall pick. No questions asked.

Drafting a first baseman will not be as easy as it has been in the past. You have to consider all of your options. Go into the draft knowing your plan. If you are not in the position to take one of the top three guys mentioned in the first couple of rounds, you have to decide what path to take. If you are thinking of drafting a young gun, weigh each player's value and make sure you don't wait long enough to see your guy go off the board. Do not over-value older first baseman. Some of them will go early, but a decent amount will stick around for the middle rounds. Also, beware of potential busts. These guys can really burn you, especially if you take them early. Be patient with your first base selection, but make sure you get the production that you need at this very coveted position.