2011 Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings- First Base
Traditionally the home of the biggest boppers in the game, first base still has some mighty big bats, but the position is a bit weaker than in the past. There are health questions about some of the top names, weight concerns about others, and one player who you will be surprised to hear may be slipping. So let’s head ’em on up and move ’em on out at first base!
Top Tier Starters– The Heaviest of the Heavy Artillery
1. Albert Pujols (.326, 44 HR, 128 RBI, 116 Runs, 12 SB)
The King of Beasts. The Big Boy on the Block. Phat Albert. Nothing more needs to be said about this future Hall of Famer than if he goes for less than $40 in your auction (or is still on the board after the first two picks in your draft), then your league is filled with nitwits and you have no excuse not to win your league going away.
2. Miguel Cabrera (.325, 37 HR, 125 RBI, 106 Runs, 3 SB)
A baby step behind Pujols, Cabrera is just as consistent in his production as Albert is in his. The only concern is Cabrera’s ongoing battle with the bottle- if he can manage that, then you can bank on top flight numbers from M-Cab.
3. Joey Votto (.320, 34 HR, 119 RBI, 104 Runs, 14 SB)
The reigning NL MVP is all of that and more, and still has upside to grow. Playing in a ballpark about the size of a suburban back yard doesn’t hurt, either. Votto’s numbers won’t be that far off of those posted by Pujols and Cabrera, and the double-digit steals is a nice bonus.
4. Adrian Gonzales (.302, 38 HR, 115 RBI, 101 Runs, 2 SB)
Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, Adrian’s free at last! Liberated from the power graveyard that is PETCO, Gonzales now moves to a home park which couldn’t be more cozy if Adrian had designed it himself- Fenway Park in Boston. As if that isn’t enough, Gonzlaes now finds himself smack dab in the middle of an offensive juggernaut. He should reach these predicted numbers by accident, and there is the potential for a lot more.
5. Ryan Howard (.272, 43 HR, 124 RBI, 91 Runs, 1 SB)
Now we get into the top guys who have some doubts creeping in. Howard is getting older, bigger, and his team is getting worse (Werth gone, Utley injured). He will still give you great power production, but the batting average and runs are going to drop, at least a decent amount.
6. Prince Fielder (.274. 35 HR, 107 RBI, 89 Runs, 1 SB)
Speaking of getting bigger, Prince is approaching the size of his old man, and that’s not a good thing. The long ball will always be there for Fiedler, but the rest of his stat line will depend on what sort of shape he is in. Rule of thumb- the closer to Cecil he gets in size, the closer he will get in numbers, too…
7. Mark Teixeira (.270, 36 HR, 116 RBI, 108 Runs, 0 SB)
Remember I mentioned that surprise guy? Here he is- Mark Teixeira. I know people are willing to write off last year as something of a fluke- they say he was unlucky in balls in play, he still put up big numbers, etc. I am here to tell you that Big Tex changed his swing pretty drastically last year when his annual April shower didn’t end by May. Three is only one reason a guy with Teixeira’s track record changes his wing- he’s having trouble catching up to good fastballs. Whenever I see a player struggle with quality heat to the point that he changes his swing, red flags go up. Those fastball don’t get any slower as you get older. Will Teixeira post excellent numbers? Of course- would be hard not to, playing in Yankee Stadium surrounded by the quality talent that he is. But his game is declining a bit (and his teammates are getting downright old), so don’t pay for the Mark Teixeira of a few years back…
8. Kevin Youkillis (.310, 28 HR, 98 RBI, 101 Runs, 6 SB)
Back from injury, the early word is that he looks fine and will be up and ready to go for 2011. Maybe, but I always knock down guys with injury-filled pasts a bit, and Youk qualifies as just that. You know he’ll lose some time, so you just have to hope his injuries aren’t major and pray to get 145-150 games out of him. If you do, you’ll get both nice numbers and a quality swing player, as Youkillis will qualify at third base as well as first soon into the season.
Bottom Tier Starters- Not far behind many of the guys listed above, but with bigger questions.
9. Adam Dunn (.258, 44 HR, 104 RBI, 90 Runs, 0 SB)
Hate to disappoint you analysts who predict that Dunn’s HR total will jump dramatically as he moves from a big park in Washington to the postage stamp park of the White Sox, but Dunn’s homers have never been ballpark-dependant. The big man gets few cheapies- he just drives the ball into the nether reaches of whatever place he plays. He may get a couple of lazy flies which reach the seats instead of the leather in Comisky, but they will be neutralized by some struggles with pitchers he hasn’t faced before and the aging process in general. Dunn’s HR totals are, in fact, driven by his contact rate- if he hits the ball often enough, he’ll hit 40+ taters wherever he is. Dunn will have nice power stats, just don’t expect a batting title.
10. Justin Morneau (.276, 28 HR, 103 RBI, 89 Runs, 0 SB)
One of the two big injury risks among the starting tiers, Morneau is just coming back from concussion symptoms. This is serious- players have had their careers ended by just such things. According to reports, Morneau is making encouraging progress, so we can say he is worth having on your team. But get a solid backup, just in case- the Twins are likely to monitor his PT, especially early in the season.
11. Paul Konerko (.269, 29 HR, 92 RBI, 77 Runs, 0 SB)
You will have some owners in your league go all crazy over Konerko based on last year’s performance. You will also have some owners in your league who run away from Konerko based on the certainty that he will regress. Don’t be in either camp! Yes, Paulie will post a smaller stat line than his career-season last year, but he’s not going to fall off of the face of the earth. Look for something in between his last two years, which would make him a safe source of HR and RBI.
12. Billy Butler (.315, 24 HR, 95 RBI, 83 Runs, 0 SB)
Butler didn’t meet the power expectations we had for him last year, but the long balls are a’comin’. He’s too good of a hitter not to hit at least 20, especially in that park. While Butler may never hit more than 30, he should do a very good impression of Sean Casey when Casey was at his best, which was mid-20’s honers, 90+ RBI, and a batting average well north of .300. If Butler is sliding along cheap in your auction due to the perceived lack of pop, jump in and grab him, then spend the money you saved on some extra power in the outfield.
13. Kendrys Morales (.289, 25 HR, 88 RBI, 78 Runs, 0 SB)
It’s one of fantasy baseball’s biggest questions- just how bad is Morales’ ankle? He’s had plenty of time to heal, but he is still off the field. He will start the season on the DL, but the Angels say he will be back soon. Hmmmm- maybe he will, but he won’t be bringing Vlad Guererro, Tim Salmon, or Reggie Jackson, with him. The Angels offense is puny without Morales, and frankly not much more virile with him. These projections are based on Kendrys missing basically the first month. If you think he will miss more than that, lower them accordingly.
14. Victor Martinez (.308, 23 HR, 102 RBI, 85 Runs, 0 SB)
Like I said in the catcher article, you don’t want to play Martinez at first, but you can if you must and not get hurt too badly…
15. Ike Davis (.275, 24 HR, 85 RBI, 80 Runs, 7 SB)
One of the few bright spots to wear a Mets uniform last year, look for Davis to improve on his rookie season. Basically, Davis should give you about the same as Adam LaRoche would, but has the potential to surprise and give you a bit more, plus throw in a smattering of steals.
16. Adam LaRoche (.269, 22 HR, 82 RBI, 79 Runs, 0 SB)
Every year Adam LaRoche does the same thing- start slow, finish strong, and give you surprisingly good numbers for what you had to pay for him. While he won’t beat these numbers, he should be right on them- remember, while it seems as if Adam has been around long enough to have played with his dad Dave, he’s only 31 years old…
Top Tier Backups– Most of these guys are good enough to help out as a starter at either first base or DH if you need them…
17. Derrek Lee (.272, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 78 Runs, 0 SB)
Now in Baltimore, Lee should regain at least a small bit of his numbers in Camden Yards. He won’t win your league for you, but he will make a fine backup at first. Partner him up with, say, an Ike Davis, and you should be OK at first base if you want to invest heavily elsewhere.
18. Carlos Pena (.236, 28 HR, 83 RBI, 72 Runs, 7 SB)
No, Pena won’t hit under the Mendoza Line again, but don’t expect him to threaten .250, either. Wrigley will play to his strengths, so expect another season of around 30 bombs. His RBI and Runs will depend on his teammates who, to be frank, aren’t exactly Murderer’s Row. But as a backup source of power at first, he’s useful.
19. Gaby Sanchez (.278, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 75 Runs, 6 SB)
He will start in Florida, which means plenty of AB’s. Sanchez will eventually make it into the top 15 at first base, but not this year. For those of you who really like to roll the bones, you can go after both Sanchez and Ike Davis and bet that one of them goes dog nuts. If you land a big-time, consistent, first baseman, move Gaby up ahead of Lee and Pena, since he has a world more upside than those two (same advice if you’re in a keeper league…)
20. Michael Cuddyer (.278, 18 HR, 86 RBI, 82 Runs, 5 SB)
Primarily an outfielder (and better there), Cuddyer has first base eligibility due to Justin Morneau’s naggin’ noggin’. That’s OK- there are worse ways to backup your starting first baseman than with a solid outfielder, since you should have at least four good outfielders on your roster. Target Field will drain away some power from Cuddyer, but he will play, get plenty of AB’s, and hit in a nice spot behind some very good hitters, which equals RBI chances.
21. Aubrey Huff (.255, 23 HR, 76 RBI, 74 Runs, 0 SB)
How many of you rode Huff’s out-of-nowhere year to your league title in 2010? Don’t expect that to happen again- there is no way Huff repeats that performance. He will drop back to what he is in fantasy baseball- a good backup at first who also qualifies in the outfield. If you do have a burning desire to get Aubrey Huff, spend an extra dollar and roster Brandon Belt, the Giants’ top first base prospect, just in case I’m right about Huff.
22. James Loney (.291, 16 HR, 84 RBI, 73 Runs, 7 SB)
Just entering his prime, Loney might push 20 HR’s this year, but I doubt it. He is what he is- a solid batting average guy who can drive in runs if the Dodgers can get people on base for him. Not a starter in fantasy, but very safe to have on your roster if you need him for about a month…
23. Justin Smoak (.256, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 68 Runs, 2 SB)
Admittedly, Smoak’s rookie season was a disaster. He barely hit his weight, and looked pretty bad at times doing so. But there were some silver linings- 13 homers in 350 AB’s is OK for a young guy (he was only 23 last year), and his slugging percentage did go up later in the year. I’m thinking he just needed to get his feet wet. Granted, playing in Safeco out in Seattle won’t give him many cheap homers, but Smoak has talent, and well worth a shot as your backup first baseman. You could catch lightning in a bottle here…
24. Matt LaPorta (.253, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 58 Runs, 2 SB)
Still trying to find his way in the big leagues, as of now LaPorta is penciled in as Cleveland’s starting first baseman. His power is legit and, if he can get comfortable at one position, he has a chance to settle down and give you some quality backup play. A decent post-hype sleeper.
Bottom Tier Backups– You never know- one of these guys could pull an Aubrey Huff on us this year…
25. Ty Wigginton (.264, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 54 Runs, 0 SB)
What the only thing better than having a 20 HR guy who qualifies at first, second, and (in most leagues) third base? Why, have him move on to Colorado, of course! The biggest question concerning Wigginton is will he get enough AB’s to be useful. If he gets 400+ AB’s, he’ll hit 20 bombs. Not a bad investment of a buck or two for your bench…
26. Mike Napoli (.248, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 54 Runs, 2 SB)
Pretty much the same as Wigginton, except that you would want to use Napoli as a catcher if he’s getting PT.
27. Freddie Freeman (.266, 13 HR, 74 RBI, 65 Runs, 4 SB)
Just a kid (he’s 22), Freeman should get the nod as the Braves’ starting first baseman this year. Some power will develop over time, but Freeman will never lead the league in big flies. But there are plenty of line drives in that bat, and Freeman isn’t under any pressure, so he’s a flier worth taking if your budget is getting low.
28. Brett Wallace (.261, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 60 Runs, 2 SB)
Wallace sure sucked in his first shot at the majors, but he was only 23. For a hot prospect, he was traded a lot, but always in deals for quality. Looks like he’s got the starting first base gig in Houston, which is always a plus, since that’s like getting plenty of swings in your kids neighborhood park. Look for some improvement and, if he gets dialed in, maybe more than you would expect.
29. Garrett Jones (.246, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 58 Runs, 4 SB)
Still on the radar due to his “big” half-season two years ago, Jones will play either first base or outfield (he qualifies at both) in Pittsburgh until they trade him somewhere to be a bench bat down the stretch.
30. Lance Berkman (.255, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 55 Runs, 0 SB)
Going to play outfield now that he’s in St. Louis (Gee, you mean he’s not going to beat out Albert Pujols at first?), Berkman is a shell of his former self. Nominate him for a buck, and drop out if the bidding goes to two…
31. Chris Davis (.245, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 48 Runs, 2 SB)
Only 25, but Davis had better get it going or he’s going to be a Quad A poster boy. Real serious power, but has a hole in his swing (up and in heat) as big as all outdoors. If he can narrow that window a bit, he could explode, which is why he’s included on this list. Get him for a dollar- he could work out and, if he doesn’t, cut him and pick up someone like Kila Ka’aihue or Daric Barton.
32. Mitch Moreland (.248, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 48 runs, 8 SB)
Every year some manager falls in love with some guy on his team, and proceeds to give him more AB’s than he deserves. Mitch Moreland was that guy in Texas last year. He’s the kind of player a manager loves- he’s scrappy! He also has little upside, and his stats in a good year will be very similar to what Chris Davis will put up in a mediocre season. I would rather spend a buck on a higher ceiling than a higher floor and hope Texas trades Davis.
So now you have the rankings at first base. Next up will be the keystone sackers at second. In the meantime, if you are a fan of the NBA, think about picking up my new ebook, “Who Da Man? The Quintessential History of the NBA Draft 1947-2010”, now available on Amazon.com (for you Kindle types) and Barnesandnoble.com (if you’re into using epub files). It’s $7.99, and for your money you get a slot-by-slot breakdown of every player ever drafted in those slots by the NBA, along with featured and best players. I have also ranked every NBA draft in history from worst to best. Until next time, may all your fantasy players bloops and flares find grass and not leather!