Position Primer: First Base

More primers: Outfield | Starting pitcher

More 1B analysis: Yahoo! 1B ranks | Spin Doctors: Billy Butler vs. Kendry Morales

Each year, there are a handful of talent-scarce roster spots that cause panic in the fantasy community, but first base is never among them. This season – like every other season in recent memory – the position appears to be loaded.

In an average draft, seven first basemen will be selected in the opening two rounds. Three of the top four finishers in the 2010 Yahoo! fantasy ranks were first basemen – Albert Pujols(notes), Miguel Cabrera(notes), Joey Votto(notes) – and all three were Triple Crown challengers. Fifteen different players at this position hit at least 25 home runs in 2010, and that list doesn’t include Justin Morneau(notes), Kevin Youkilis(notes) or Kendry Morales(notes), three elite talents who were knocked off-pace by injuries. There were several guys who ranked outside the top 15 at this spot who nonetheless delivered respectable counting stats, worthy of Util-status on fantasy rosters. And two of the most dangerous sluggers in baseball – Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and Adam Dunn(notes) – made NL-to-AL moves during the offseason, enhancing their projected value in the process.

In short, there are plenty of first basemen to go around, enough that mixed leaguers won’t have to fret about this position.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still fill it early, however, because this is also where you’ll find the 100-30-100 seasons. And under normal circumstances – that is, when Jose Bautista(notes) isn’t hitting like it’s 1977 and he’s George Foster – this position offers the strongest 50-homer candidates. Ryan Howard(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) have both reached that plateau, and Pujols hammered out 49 back in 2006, a year in which he spent time on the DL. (Todd Helton(notes) has a 49-homer season on the resume, too, just for the record. But the projection is slightly lower this year. Like, by 40). Having mock-drafted more teams than I care to remember over the past three months, I can tell you that my preferred draft position is something in the 2-4 range. From that spot, you can select a top-tier shortstop or third baseman in the first round – think Hanley, Tulowitzki or Longoria – then snag either Howard or Fielder in Round 2.

(Quick aside: In keeping with Primer tradition, we’ve attached stars to the tiers below. And yes, it’s completely ridiculous that a player like Howard has only three next to his name. Clearly, he’s not a three-star hitter relative to the rest of the player pool. But my preference is to use the tiers to define groups of similarly valuable players; this leads to problems when you have a five-star rating system. Please think of Pujols as, say, a seven-star player, then make the necessary adjustments as you move down the ranks).

Given the overall depth at first base, it should come as no great surprise to hear that this year’s prospect crop is promising. You’ll find the key names in the sixth tier below. The player who has the clearest path to major league at-bats is Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman(notes), a 21-year-old who hit .319 with 18 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2010. There are questions about Freeman’s power ceiling (even though he’s basically a house: 6-foot-5, 240 pounds), but he presently sits atop the depth chart, and you can’t really argue with last year’s stat line. Freeman was young for his level, too. San Francisco prospect Brandon Belt(notes) posted remarkable numbers across three minor league levels at age 22, hitting .352/.455/.620 with 23 homers and 22 steals. The immediate problem for Belt, however, is the pile-up of vets throughout the Giants’ roster. Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer(notes) rates just ahead of Freeman and Belt on most prospect lists – John Sickels’ succinct analysis: “This guy is really damn good” – but he’s temporarily blocked by Billy Butler(notes) and Kila Ka’aihue(notes).

So, to review: First base is still stacked with talent, still supplying a significant percentage of the early-round fantasy selections, still providing useful options for corner-infield and utility spots. And there’s young talent on the way, too. Perhaps it’s possible to screw up this position at the draft table, but it won’t be easy.

Position averages, top 20 first basemen in year-end Yahoo! rank
2010 – 89.6 R, 28.1 HR, 93.6 RBI, 3.4 SB, .290 AVG
2009 – 87.6 R, 31.4 HR, 100.0 RBI, 4.7 SB, .290 AVG

(Note: Auction values are from the 2011 Yahoo!/PFW Draft Guide, with minor tweaks).

First Base – Tiers
   Albert Pujols $50

   Miguel Cabrera $45 Joey Votto $44

   Adrian Gonzalez $40; Ryan Howard $40; Prince Fielder $38; Mark Teixeira(notes) $38; Kevin Youkilis $35

   Adam Dunn $27 Buster Posey(notes) $24 Kendry Morales $24 Victor Martinez(notes) $23 Billy Butler $23 Justin Morneau $20 Paul Konerko(notes) $17

   Ben Zobrist(notes) $9 Carlos Pena $9 Pablo Sandoval(notes) $9 Howie Kendrick(notes) $9 Aubrey Huff(notes) $8 Carlos Lee(notes) $7 Mike Napoli(notes) $6 Adam Lind(notes) $5 Adam LaRoche(notes) $5 Derrek Lee(notes) $5 Michael Cuddyer(notes) $3 James Loney(notes) $2 Gaby Sanchez(notes) $2 Ike Davis(notes) $2 Luke Scott(notes) $2 Lance Berkman(notes) $2

   Mitch Moreland(notes) $1 Justin Smoak(notes) $1 Matt LaPorta(notes) $1 Freddie Freeman $1 Daric Barton(notes) $1 Todd Helton $0 Dan Johnson(notes) $0 Garrett Jones(notes) $0 Juan Rivera(notes) $0 Lyle Overbay(notes) $0 Kila Ka’aihue $0 Brad Hawpe(notes) $0 Brett Wallace(notes) $0 Ty Wigginton(notes) $0 Russell Branyan(notes) $0 Michael Morse(notes) $0 Melvin Mora(notes) $0 Jorge Cantu(notes) $0 Xavier Nady(notes) $0 Chris Davis(notes) $0 Eric Hinske(notes) $0 Pedro Feliz(notes) $0 Daniel Murphy(notes) $0 Steve Pearce(notes) $0 Lars Anderson(notes) $0 Yonder Alonso(notes) $0 Eric Hosmer $0 Brandon Belt $0 Brandon Allen(notes) $0

Top 5 first basemen

Brandon Funston

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
  1. Albert Pujols – Simply the major’s greatest hitter   1. Albert Pujols– Never (expletive) with the Pujols.   1. Albert Pujols – Safest player to take No. 1
  2. Joey Votto – Canadian clubber is OPS dynamo   2. Miguel Cabrera– Numbers finer than aged scotch   2. Joey Votto – Best of 2010 came on road
  3. Miguel Cabrera – He’s Albert Pujols with warts   3. Joey Votto– Domo arigato, love me some …   3. Miguel Cabrera – Straighten up and fly right
  4. Adrian Gonzalez – Park/team wise, outhouse to penthouse   4. Adrian Gonzalez– Coast switch will boost   4. Adrian Gonzalez – Petco for Fenway? Yes, please
  5. Ryan Howard – Best power play in fantasy   5. Prince Fielder– Contract motivation means 45+ HRs   5. Ryan Howard – Relax: career .279 average

Top 5 first basemen you’ll reach for

Brandon Funston

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
  1. Adam Dunn – New locale enticing; 40 HRs assured   1. Kendry Morales– Four-cat dreamboat at bargain   1. Kevin Youkilis – Multi-position grab, wicked awesome
  2. Aubrey Huff – ’10 more his typical than exception   2. Ben Zobrist– 2010, not 2009, the anomaly   2. Ryan Howard – Most misunderstood player at position
  3. Adam Lind – Love “last year’s bum” discount   3. Gaby Sanchez– .280-25-90-80 year very possible   3. Adam LaRoche – Boring, cheap, productive, consistent
  4. Carlos Lee – ’10 seriously unlucky; see Lind   4. Adam LaRoche– Good for at least .270-25-90   4. Carlos Pena – Easy profit if he hits .250
  5. Adam LaRoche/Derrek Lee – Beltway vets nice 25/85 fallback   5. Lance Berkman– STL legendary for reviving careers   5. Billy Butler – I’m ready if Evans passes

Top 5 first basemen you’ll shy away from

Brandon Funston

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
  1.Miguel Cabrera – Price too high for baggage   1. Ryan Howard– Peaks and valleys mind-numbing   1. Kendry Morales – I won’t make health assumptions
  2. Paul Konerko – Bizzaro Carlos Lee in ’10   2. Aubrey Huff– Very small chance of duplicating ’10   2. Paul Konerko – Unpredictable ebb, flow to career
  3. Justin Morneau – Let blind optimists have him   3. Carlos Pena– For the love of Leon Durham!   3. Aubrey Huff – Never buy after boffo year
  4. Carlos Pena – Like to sleep at night   4. Pablo Sandoval– Donut relapse sure to come   4. Justin Morneau – Park concerns, durability concerns
  5. Albert Pujols – I never get No. 1 pick   5. Howie Kendrick– Funston, breakout will never happen   5. Adam Lind – 2009 will stand as outlier

Top 5 last-round first base lottery tickets

Brandon Funston

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
  1. Lance Berkman – Pujols, Holliday orbit equals rejuvenation   1. Dan Johnson– Clubbed 37 HRs in 451 ’10 ABs   1. Luke Scott – Clobbers at Camden: .958 OPS
  2. Justin Smoak – Too soon for post-hype status   2. Kila Ka’aihue– Now or never, Hawaiian Hulk   2. James Loney – Return to 2008-09 is acceptable
  3. Matt LaPorta – Because 30-HR breakout not unfathomable   3. Michael MorseMarcus Thames’(notes) long lost son   3. Ike Davis – Handled lefties and home park
  4. Mitch Moreland – Bet the Texas contact high   4. Matt LaPorta– Regular PT could mean 22-27 HRs   4. Justin Smoak – Post-hype discount came quickly
  5. Brandon Belt – Could force Huff to left   5. Juan Miranda(notes)– Power darkhorse if Branyan bombs   5. Dan Johnson – Do Rays have a spot?

Top 5 rookie first basemen for ’11

Brandon Funston

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
  1. Freddie Freeman – Gaby Sanchez value for cheaper   1. Freddie Freeman– Tremendous talent but still filling out   1. Brandon Belt – Please find room for him
  2. Brandon Belt – Has future batting champ upside   2. Brandon Belt– Bat clearly ready for bigs   2. Freddie Freeman – Steps onto Reggie Cleveland All-Stars
  3. Yonder Alonso – 1B blocked, bat ready now   3. Eric Hosmer– Destined to be September difference-maker   3. Brandon Allen – Power, patience, versatility
  4. Eric Hosmer – Huge talent could move fast   4. Jerry Sands– “Impressive” according to Mattingly   4. Eric Hosmer – See you in September
  5. Jerry Sands – Has what Loney doesn’t – power   5. Yonder Alonso– Needs to transition to OF   5. Yonder Alonso – Votto pushes him to OF