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Fantasy Baseball 2013: First Base Primer

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Prince Fielder (USAT Images)

First base has always been a power position, dating back to the days when your great-great-grandfather owned Dan Brouthers* in his 4X4 league down at the Elks Lodge.

Last year, 27 different major league players reached the 30-homer plateau, and nine of them had first base eligibility. Eighteen hitters drove in at least 100 runs, and seven were first basemen. The average top-20 player at this position in 2012 delivered 80 runs, 28 homers and 95 RBIs while hitting .288. If you somehow fail to pile up power stats at first — not easy to do, but possible — then hopefully you'll invest in Bautista, Stanton, Cabrera or some other elite power source. You'll need the help.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

* Seriously, you could not lose with Dan Brouthers back in '87. Check the stats: 153 R, 12 HR (this used to be a big number), 101 RBIs, 34 SB, .338/.426/.562. And the man was 6-foot-2, which today is like being 7-foot-5. Unreal. His mustache by itself was probably worth 3.5 wins above replacement.

It's worth noting that we've entered a transitional period for this position, as a crop of 25-and-under first basemen — kids like Anthony Rizzo (23), Paul Goldschmidt (25), Freddie Freeman (23), Eric Hosmer (23) and Brandon Belt (24) — are ascending the fantasy tiers. Good thing, because we also have a crop of 30-and-over first basemen (several of whom have nine-figure contracts) who may have entered the breakdown/decline phases of their careers. Mark Teixeira is coming off another .250-ish season, now dealing with a wrist issue. Ryan Howard is looking to bounce back from a miserable 2012 campaign, a year-and-a-half removed from his Achilles injury. Albert Pujols had surgery on his right knee in October, following a year in which he posted career-lows in runs, hits, homers, average, OBP and slugging percentage.

In the end, of course, Pujols' worst-ever season (85-30-105-8-.285) was still good enough to deliver third-round fantasy value. Let's begin the Q&A portion of the primer with a discussion of Albert's perceived worth in 2013...

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By now, everyone knows all about Albert Pujols' declining walk-rate, his elevated strikeout percentage and the general weirdness with his plate discipline in recent seasons. With so many numbers trending the wrong direction (including his age), what are the chances that Pujols fails to deliver a top-25 fantasy line in 2013, even in a healthy season?

Scott - I'd be fine to take Pujols in the late-first or early-second round, if afforded that. I can write off April 2012 as an adjustment period most of all. But with all the trends moving in the wrong direction and no one sure of Albert's true age, this isn't a stock I'm going to be proactive or aggressive on. Call him 60-40 to be a Top 25 player (which isn't all that terrible, there's still a reasonable floor here). I know, this all sounds suspiciously hedgy. (It's not intentional).

Brandon - He was a top 20 offensive value in fantasy last year despite a horrendous April. After that first month (acclimating to a new league), he was pretty much the Pujols we expected. And let's not forget that he hit 50 doubles, joining Alex Gordon (51) as the only players to reach 50 doubles in the past three seasons. I'll put him down for only a 25 percent chance that he misses the top-25 this season.

Dalton - Given the stay-healthy caveat, I'll say as low as 15%, even with the peripherals pointing in the wrong direction. Pujols is an inner-circle Hall of Famer who may have been playing through worse injuries than we realized last season, and he's still (ostensibly) "just" 33 years old hitting in the middle of what looks like a loaded lineup. And he gets to beat up on Astros pitching a bunch this year. In other words, I'd be very surprised if he didn't return top-25 fantasy value.

Edwin Encarnacion led all first basemen in homers last year (42), thanks in part to a HR/FB rate that was 50% greater than his career average and nearly double his rate in 2011. Can he possibly repeat? What the heck do we do with him this year? What's the projection?

Dalton - I'm not banking on a repeat of last season, but no one is (if so, he'd be an obvious top-10 pick). While that spike in HR/FB percentage is likely to regress, it sure helps that his 0.67 GB/FB ratio was second highest in baseball last season. Encarnacion's 94:84 K:BB ratio was also impressive for a 40-plus homer hitter, and he's even swiped 21 bags over the past two years. I'm not big on specific projections, but I will say this: Encarnacion has around a 45% chance of having a better fantasy season than Prince Fielder in 2013.

Scott - All homer spikes come with the HR/FB spike, so that's not necessarily an aha moment to me. No one is chasing last year's full line, but I'll go after 30-plus homers here. Encarnacion always had a pedigree; it just took a while for the full blossoming. I'm a little sad we can't call him E-5 anymore, though. Forecast: .269-86-31-90-7.

Andy - The nice thing with Edwin is that everything he hits is a line-drive or a fly ball, so it's tough for him to avoid a decent power total. He gave us 42 bombs last season, so he can be a lot less productive yet still deliver a terrific fantasy line. Put me down for 86-33-99-4-.277.

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Allen Craig (Getty Images)

So we were going to have guess-the-date contest with Allen Craig's first injury of 2013, but he kinda wrecked it by showing up with shoulder pain. Craig has been limited to DH duties in the early weeks of Grapefruit League play. How many games can we reasonably expect from him this season, and what might the year-end numbers look like?

Brandon - I'll buy one extended DL stint for Craig and put him down for 142 games. But I still think that a .300-25-100-85-5 line is conservatively in reach, even if he does miss 20 games.

Dalton - Craig is no doubt a significant injury risk, which is too bad, since he looks like a star otherwise. We can't reasonably expect more than 130 games from him, and therefore he can't be treated among the fantasy elite. I'll guess he finishes in the .300-25-90 type range, which will be incredibly valuable in mixers since you can get 25-ish games from a replacement player while he's out.

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Andy - I'm already on record with my Craig prediction, actually. I'm hoping for 140-145 games, forecasting an 82-26-101-4-.303 fantasy line. It's a shame Craig no longer has 2B eligibility, because that's a position that desperately needs an assist.

[Also: Team Mexico feels hostility amid Arizona's immigration battle]

Choose your Davis: Ike or Chris? (Sorry, Alvin, Chili and Glenn are ineligible).

Brad - Sincerely bummed Glenn is ineligible. As a child he was a Big Noise favorite among the rainbow cummerbunds. But in this Davis debate, Chris is tastiest flavor. We haven't seen his best yet. Off a 33-homer campaign, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he paced the AL in long-balls this year.

Andy - For me, it's Chris. I've got nothing against Ike, but feel that Chris' power ceiling is 40-plus. Last season won't be his career year.

Scott - I'm far more intrigued by Ike's theoretical upside, especially if he finally conquers the mental hurdle of his home park. And Ike's two months of 2012 hell can be mostly attributed to Valley Fever; he was a monster after that. Go get him.

Is there a prospect worth chasing in dynasty leagues this season? Or is the player pool at first just full of LaPortas?

Brandon - I'm stumping for Minnesota's Chris Parmelee. He was on an absolute tear in Triple-A Rochester last year (17 HR, .338 BA in 64 games) before his late-season call up. And he's getting a shot at regular playing time in the outfield for the Twins to open '13. He's a sneaky late-round flyer.

Brad - Here's a ninja in the shadows: How about Milwaukee's Hunter Morris? Corey Hart is expected to miss roughly the first couple months of the season, which should give the former farmhand ample opportunity to prove his mettle. The reigning Southern League MVP spanked 48 homers in his first two professional seasons. If he does indeed start the year manning first for the Brew Crew, he could be one of April's biggest surprises.

[Also: After Teixeira injury, where do Yanks go from here?]

Andy - I'm gonna totally cheat with this question. I'd like to call out a player who A) doesn't actually qualify as a prospect any longer and B) spent most of his time in the outfield last season, not at first base. Washington's Tyler Moore hit 10 homers in just 156 at-bats last season, with another nine bombs at Triple-A in only 29 games. Moore topped 30 homers in the minors in both 2010 and 2011, so the power is clearly real. If he ever falls into a full-time role, he'll be a pick-up of interest.

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Anthony Rizzo (Getty)

While we're dealing with dynasty league issues, please give us your top-5 first basemen for 2015, if you had to draft 'em today...

Dalton - 1) Joey Votto, 2) Albert Pujols, 3) Prince Fielder, 4) Eric Hosmer, 5) Anthony Rizzo.

Scott - Such a great question. 1) Joey Votto, 2) Prince Fielder, 3) Eric Hosmer, 4) Anthony Rizzo, 5) Fab Five Freddie Freeman.

Brandon - 1) Joey Votto, 2) Prince Fielder, 3) Paul Goldschmidt, 4) Albert Pujols, 5) Antony Rizzo.

Who wins the Chicago home run crown this year, Anthony Rizzo or Adam Dunn?

Andy - Gimme Rizzo here, mostly because the range of possible outcomes for Dunn is so wide. It sounds as if Dunn only rarely picked up a bat during the off-season, which doesn't seem like the right approach for an aging player coming off a zillion-strikeout season.

Brad - Rizzo is officially in the hizzo. I paid $23 for the rising star's services in the NL-LABR draft over the weekend. To say I'm all in would be a gross understatement. It would be no shock if he launched 32-35 bombs in his first full big league campaign. Let someone else snack on donut Dunn.

Scott - I still have to side with Adam Dunn in this one specific category, but are his 30-plus homers worth all the batting-average downside you take? I'll have to be in a room with Dunn-haters before I take the plunge. Meanwhile, pour me another glass of Rizzo Kool-Aid. I fully believe in his second-half explosion.

Cecil Fielder or Cecil Cooper? Lee May or Carlos May? Will Clark or Jack Clark? Go...

Brandon - Give me Fielder, who had a seven-year stretch where he averaged 37 home runs – and it was pretty cool seeing him hit No. 50 and No. 51 on the last day of the '90 season against the Yankees. Lee May routs Carlos (doesn't even merit a discussion). And I have to take Will the Thrill over Jack. I was a Jack fan, but Will was one of my favorite players as a kid, and a .880 lifetime OPS is pretty impressive stuff. (Note: If this were a question about my favorite first baseman of all-time, I'd go Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff. Put him in the HOF already: 30-plus HRs for five different teams!)

Scott - Cooper for the timeless stance, and for the ridiculous 1980 season that was obscured by George Brett's .390. I was in on both Clarks, but I like how Will went out on a binge with the Orioles and Cardinals in 2000. I'm picking John Mayberry over the May brothers, and you can't stop me.

[Also: Eric Hosmer replaces Mark Teixeira for USA at World Baseball Classic]

Dalton - Cecil Fielder, I have no idea who either of those Mays are, and OBVIOUSLY it's Will The Thrill.

Andy - Cooper, Carlos, Will. Cooper's 1980 season was silly, one of the great overlooked individual years of all-time. And Carlos made a couple of all-star teams despite the fact that he was missing a thumb. So that's badass.

Brad - Lee, Will and Cooper, for the sole reason he was originally the most publicized guy on the highly-collectible '72 Topps Carlton Fisk rookie card. Mike Garman takes exception.

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Cecil signs for the kids. And for dudes who look like John Oates (USAT)

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Position averages for the top-20 fantasy first basemen, last three years

2012 – 79.6 R, 28.0 HR, 95.1 RBIs, 4.0 SB, .288 AVG
2011 – 84.3 R, 27.2 HR, 95.7 RBIs, 4.9 SB, .294 AVG
2010 – 89.6 R, 28.1 HR, 93.6 RBIs, 3.4 SB, .290 AVG

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