To be honest, I keep going back and forth as to how I feel about first base this year. Some days I look at the group and think that I need to get one of the elite because the position isn't as deep as we're used to it being. Other days, I find myself thinking that I wouldn't mind having Brandon Moss or Jose Abreu if it means I can load up on other positions early. When doing mock drafts (and one real draft), I seem to gravitate a little more toward the former line of thinking. The elite options that we've come to expect is still there but the gap between the top and bottom has gotten much wider. The reason for this gap is not necessarily that the talent drops off severely but, as you move down the ranks, there are question marks everywhere.
It wasn't long ago that the top rounds of drafts were dominated by the likes of Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard. These players were locks for close to or more than 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. Last season, only two players - Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera - hit more than 36 home runs. Well, Cabrera is back and will add a familiar face to a different looking top tier of the position. Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion are the cream of the crop now and offer similar stats to their predecessors. They join Prince Fielder, Joey Votto and Cabrera to form a very strong group. These guys are going to cost a top pick. Are they worth it? Looking at the rest of the pool, I believe they are.
<p><img src="http://cdn1.sbnation.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/27666737/20130427_kkt_aa3_454.0.jpg" /><font size="1"><i> Photo credit: Bob Levey</i></font></p>
After the previously mentioned players, we come upon rising stars such as Freddie Freeman and Eric Hosmer. They're hanging out with a couple of old reliables who aren't so reliable anymore in Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez. Freeman and Hosmer are a new breed of first baseman who rely on a gap approach that uses the whole field to post high batting averages possibly at the expense of a few home runs. In today's game, when home runs are more evenly distributed and batting averages are plummeting, the profiles of these players are becoming more valuable. What these players lack, however, is the track record of the other boys in the band. Pujols and Gonzalez may be on the downside of their pinnacles but they are veterans with something left in the tank and are both still very strong hitters. While we try to figure out how good Freeman and Hosmer can be, we wonder if Pujols and Gonzalez can recapture some of how good they were.
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<h4><span class="must-reads-star"><img src="http://cdn2.sbnation.com/assets/3608771/star.png" /></span> First Base: Next Generation <span class="must-reads-star"><img src="http://cdn2.sbnation.com/assets/3608771/star.png" /></span></h4>
<div class="must-reads-compact-link-container"><a href="http://www.faketeams.com/2014/1/28/5348766/freddie-freeman-ready-to-take-the-next-step?utm_source=sbnation&utm_medium=mustreads&utm_campaign=blogs">Freddie Freeman<span class="must-reads-compact-byline"></span></a>
<a href="http://www.faketeams.com/2014/1/28/5352956/first-baseman-profile-eric-hosmer-kansas-city-royals?utm_source=sbnation&utm_medium=mustreads&utm_campaign=blogs">Eric Hosmer<span class="must-reads-compact-byline"></span></a>
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Once we get past these guys, we find Allen Craig. When Allen Craig has a bat in his hand, he has the potential to be every bit as good as the guys ahead of him. Problem: He's averaged 109 games over the last three seasons and never played more than 134 games. Along with Allen Craig, we find Mike Napoli - a dude with big power but a history of injury troubles, as well. Speaking of power, Mark Trumbo might hit even more home runs in Arizona but likely won't stop striking out.
There's a group of catchers that have first base eligibility but if you're playing a catcher in your first base slot, something went terribly wrong for you in your draft. There are also a couple guys with a lot of potential but relatively little experience. Jose Abreu is a hot name and I think he will have some success but how much of that success we see in 2014 is unknown. It looks like Matt Adams will finally get his chance to play every day but expecting him to pick up where he left off in the playoffs seems a little optimistic. Anthony Rizzo showed a lot of promise in the minors but the jury is still out on whether that will translate to the big leagues.
Where will Kendrys Morales sign? How many at bats will Brandon Moss receive? Will Mark Teixeira bounce back? How much will Coors Field help Justin Morneau? What will a year away and a downgrade in ballpark mean for Corey Hart? There are risks at every position as you move deeper into the player pool, but we're not as accustomed to seeing it at first base the disparity between the top and bottom is getting bigger.
First base boasts a top tier of high potential, low risk players that should fill the first few rounds. I'm not saying to reach for a first baseman and, in the first few rounds, I would always suggest taking the best player available. However, I don't think I would feel comfortable with a player outside of the top ten or so as my starting first baseman. You can't go wrong with one of the top guys and I think they will provide almost as much return on investment as later picks because they are so good and so safe (yes, I consider Chris Davis safe - if nothing else, the HRs and RBIs will be there and I believe in his revamped approach last year). Hosmer and Freeman might actually be drafted a little too early this year but they are young and keep getting better so the sky is the limit for them. I think Pujols and A-Gon offer the most potential reward as they will almost assuredly be taken after most of these guys are off the board and they have the potential to finish the year in the top 5. As always, feel out your draft but this isn't the year to pass on a first baseman because there are a bunch of alternatives down the road.
<p><i>You can follow Zack on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/FantasyNinja8" target="_blank">@FantasyNinja8</a>.</i></p>