For the last decade and beyond, first base has provided two categories in abundance: home runs and RBIs. It’s been the meat and potatoes of many a fantasy lineup.
And yet, that seems to be changing.
Consider this: In 2003, 10 first basemen finished 30+ home runs. In 2013, only five did – and one of them, Miguel Cabrera, isn’t eligible at first base this year. As for the 25-homer club, same deal. In 2003, 15 players reached that mark. In 2013, only seven did.
What does this mean? Well, two things: One, power is on the decline, and two, first basemen with power are that much more valuable.
Here is the order in which I would draft them.
The Top 12
1) Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Three years ago, you probably didn’t even know who Paul Goldschmidt was, and now he’s the top first baseman in fantasy. Only 26, Goldschmidt’s home runs, RBIs and batting average rose each of the last three years, culminating in a monster 2013 campaign in which he hit .302 with 36 home runs and 125 RBIs. And, as if that weren’t enough, he finished with 16 steals, easily lapping the first-base competition. Add it all up, and you’ve got the top first baseman in fantasy – not to mention a no-brainer first-round pick.
Projection: .306 average, 33 home runs, 121 RBIs, 100 runs, 15 steals
2) Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
After hitting 44 home runs in his first four seasons in the bigs, Davis has erupted for 86 in his last two, including a whopping 53 a season ago. That alone makes Davis a virtual first-round lock, but keep in mind he was a different player last year after the All-Star break (.315/37/93 before versus .245/16/45 after). He’s an attractive player, to be sure, but don’t necessarily bank on 50+ homers – or his .286 batting average, which was a career high.
Projection: .272 average, 40 home runs, 110 RBIs, 94 runs, 2 steals
3) Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
Fielder had arguably his worst season in the bigs last year – and he still finished with 25 home runs, 100+ RBIs and a .279 average. This year, he’ll be in a ball park better suited for his left-handed power stroke. I’m buying.
Projection: .305 average, 34 home runs, 112 RBIs, 92 runs, 1 steal
4) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
After playing seven years of ho-hum big-league baseball, Encarnacion exploded in 2012, belting 42 home runs. He followed with 36 last season and has finished with 100+ RBIs, 80+ walks and a .270+ batting average each of the last two years. There’s a lot to like here.
Projection: .285 average, 35 home runs, 105 RBIs, 95 runs, 5 steals
5) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
You can criticize Votto’s selective approach at the plate all you want; he’s still the best pure hitter in the National League. His .435 OBP was second in the majors to Miguel Cabrera, he’ll flirt with 30 home runs, and he’s played 150+ games in three of the last four seasons. As long as your league emphasizes OBP – and seeing as how it’s not 1992, it should – Votto should not escape the second round under any circumstance.
Projection: .325 average, 27 home runs, 100 RBIs, 98 runs, 6 steals
6) Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
If I don’t get one of the five first basemen above, I want Freeman. He’s hit 20+ home runs each of the last three seasons – astounding given that he’s only 24 – and his RBIs, slugging percentage and walks keep increasing, while his strikeouts keep decreasing. Oh, and did I mention he’s only 24?
Projection: .301 average, 24 home runs, 110 RBIs, 97 runs, 2 steals
7) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Gonzalez was solid across the board last year – a .293 average, 22 home runs and 100 RBIs. Now, I want to see what he can do playing with Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig for a full season.
Projection: .299 average, 23 home runs, 104 RBIs, 88 runs, 1 steal
8) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
When it comes to fantasy, Posey as a catcher is great. Posey as a first baseman is kind of meh. His average and OBP are solid, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for power. Anything beyond 20 home runs and 80 RBIs is a gift.
Projection: .310 average, 18 home runs, 86 RBIs, 81 runs, 1 steal
9) Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Hosmer has been highly touted for several years, but we’re still waiting for that breakthrough campaign. True, he hit a career-high .302 last year, but he’s yet to reach 20 home runs or 80 RBIs in a season. Then again, he is only 24, so the upside is considerable.
Projection: .291 average, 23 home runs, 90 RBIs, 84 runs, 12 steals
10) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
Once the no-questions-asked first overall pick, Pujols, 34, barely cracks the top 10 at his position. After plantar fasciitis limited him to 99 games last year, Pujols is hoping for a bounce-back campaign in every sense of the word. But remember: fantasy is about numbers, not names. Don’t reach for Pujols – and don’t expect more than 20-25 home runs.
Projection: .280 average, 24 home runs, 90 RBIs, 82 runs, 1 steal
11) Mark Trumbo, Arizona Diamondbacks
His home runs and RBIs have risen each of the last three seasons, and last year he set career-highs with 34 and 100, respectively. So what’s the problem? Trumbo, 28, has never hit even .270, never finished with an OBP above .320 and last year he struck out 184 times. Still, he’s going to a more hitter-friendly park in Chase Field, meaning he could flirt with 40 home runs. That’s great value for a mid-round price. Just make sure you surround him with high-OBP guys to help cushion the blow.
Projection: .259 average, 37 home runs, 98 RBIs, 81 runs, 3 steals
12) Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals
Craig earns a spot in the Top 12 mainly because he’s also eligible as an outfielder. That gives you options, and in fantasy – as in reality – options are good. Craig isn’t necessarily great at anything, but he’s not going to kill you in anything, either. He hit just 13 home runs last year, but he did finish with career-highs in RBIs (97), average (.315) and OBP (.373). He’s also a safe bet for 70+ runs. In short, Craig doesn’t offer the whole puzzle, but he does provide some pretty nice pieces.
Projection: .306 average, 15 home runs, 93 RBIs, 88 runs, 3 steals
With home runs on the decline, first basemen with power need to be gobbled up – and gobbled up quickly. But don’t go crazy. I’ll take Joey Votto over Mark Trumbo all day, every day. But if you miss out on a first basemen with 25-homer pop, that’s going to put you behind the eight-ball, and in fantasy, that’s not a place you want to be – especially on draft day.