Position Primer: First base

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How rich is the talent pool at first base this year?

Well, two players have 50-homer seasons to their credit (Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder), yet neither of them crack the top tier at the position. Four active first basemen have won MVP awards, four have claimed batting titles, and 12 have reached the 40-homer plateau. If you review the list of the career leaders in OPS, you'll find that six current first basemen rank among the all-time top 50. And No. 51 is Mark Teixeira. And No. 65 is Adam Dunn.

So there's no shortage of respectable first basemen. In a 12-team public league, every owner is going to feel OK about the production they receive from the position, and there will be plenty of 1B-eligible players remaining to fill "Util" spots. Things won't get messy in AL- or NL-only formats, either. The position is simply loaded. There are several veterans clinging stubbornly to fantasy viability (Carlos Delgado and Jason Giambi combined for 70 home runs last season), and others who are obvious bounce-back candidates (Paul Konerko delivered a .910 OPS in the second half). The middle tiers are a mix of young, high-upside players (Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Billy Butler) and established semi-stars (Derrek Lee, Garrett Atkins and Aubrey Huff).

It's important to note, however, that you can't ignore first base in the early rounds of a draft simply because there are ownable names buried in the position ranks. Fantasy baseball is ultimately a numbers game. The guys who occupy the top tiers at first base are going to out-produce the average owned player in multiple categories, and by several standard deviations. That's exactly the sort of talent you need to pursue in Rounds 1-4. It's also the reason why seven first basemen are taken within the top 30 picks of a typical draft. It's true that Derrek Lee should be owned in your league, but it's also true that the projected difference between Lee and Albert Pujols is massive.

In fact, we've assigned Pujols to a tier of his own for 2009. He was the top-ranked player in the Yahoo! game last year, and he's still just 29. Pujols has hit .330 or higher in four of the past five seasons, he's exceeded 40 home runs four times, and he's averaged 118 runs and 122 RBIs during his eight-year career. If you revisit that list of all-time OPS leaders, you'll see that Pujols' mark of 1.049 is the fifth-highest in baseball history, behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds. It's not difficult to argue that Pujols is the game's greatest right-handed hitter, ever. Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Howard follow him in the position ranks; Pujols out-hit those guys by 65 and 106 points of batting average last year.

Albert should never fall beyond the fourth pick in a standard fantasy draft. The next tier of first basemen should be off the board by the end of Round 2. – Andy Behrens

First Basemen -- Tiers

Albert Pujols

Miguel Cabrera
Ryan Howard
Mark Teixeira
Prince Fielder
Lance Berkman

Justin Morneau
Adrian Gonzalez
Kevin Youkillis

Joey Votto
Derrek Lee

Garrett Atkins
Chris Davis
Victor Martinez
Adam Dunn
Carlos Pena
Carlos Delgado
Aubrey Huff

Conor Jackson
James Loney
Jorge Cantu
Paul Konerko
Carlos Guillen
Jorge Cantu
Pablo Sandoval
Adam LaRoche
Billy Butler
Jason Giambi

Casey Kotchman
Hank Blalock
Mike Jacobs
Casey Blake
Todd Helton
Jose Lopez
Nick Swisher
Ryan Garko
Lyle Overbay
Matt LaPorta
Chad Tracy
Gaby Sanchez
Travis Ishikawa

Top 5 First Basemen -- Overall

Brandon Funston

Andy Behrens

Brad Evans

Scott Pianowski
1. Albert Pujols – Has hit over .300 vs. both LHP and RHP 7 straight years 1. Albert Pujols – He's in the innermost ring of the inner-circle Hall of Famers. See above. 1. Albert Pujols – All Phat Albert does is rake phat numbers - .330-35-115-100 lock 1. Albert Pujols – Insurance keeps him out for WBC, but says his elbow is fine
2. Miguel Cabrera – He's the AL's upper-middle class version of Pujols 2. Miguel Cabrera – Cabrera is like Pujols Light 2. Miguel Cabrera – Will crush AL pitching like Baconators - .300-35-120-90 reachable 2. Miguel Cabrera – Absolutely tore up the AL in the second half
3. Mark Teixeira – 5 straight years of 30+ HR, 100+ RBI, and now sitting pretty in middle of NYY lineup 3. Ryan Howard – You'll need to offset the batting average, but you can't ignore the counting stats 3. Ryan Howard – Repulsive '08 BA should rebound to .265-.275 range; nice bargain at turn 3. Mark Teixeira – No downside heading to Broadway and ALâs top offense
4. Ryan Howard – If I had a .280 BA guarantee, I'd move him up a spot 4. Mark Teixeira – Remarkably consistent, and hitting in the heart of a scary lineup. 4. Mark Teixeira – New threads pack plenty of pressure but career year very possible 4. Ryan Howard – Power is ridiculous to all fields but he struggles against left-handers
5. Prince Fielder – 24-year-old turned it around with 26 HR in final 103 games in '08 5. Prince Fielder – The 24-year-old arrives slimmer and well-compensated this spring. To be continued … 5. Lance Berkman – Consistency king always dependable; surpassed .290-30-100 five times since '01 5. Lance Berkman – Surprising steals disappeared in second half; donât pay for them
Top 5 First Basemen -- Undervalued
Brandon Funston Andy Behrens Brad Evans Scott Pianowski
1. Pablo Sandoval – Likely heart-of-order 1B/3B/C has more upside than teammate Molina, going 30 spots ahead of him 1. Prince Fielder – … and the guy hit 50 HR in his age-23 season. Might not have seen his best just yet 1. Pablo Sandoval – Catcher-eligible with .310 BA upside and going after pick 230? Shame. 1. Adrian Gonzalez – Screened by the city, held down by the park, still a no-risk superstar
2. Carlos Pena – At pick No. 107 in Y! ADP, a nice consolation for those who missed out on Howard in R1 2. Joey Votto – He was a 20/20 player in the minors, and finds himself in a terrific hitting environment 2. Joey Votto – Canadian Soprano loaded and cocked; .321-11-44 second half in '08 2. Carlos Pena – He's gone off in Tampa (77 homers, 223 RBIs) but no one talks about him
3. Paul Konerko – 13 HR in final 43 games of '08 suggests there's still some life left 3. James Loney – We've been discussing him for years, but he's still only 24 3. Carlos Pena – Rays master blaster is a poor man's Howard 3. Garrett Atkins – It's trendy to bash him but the 2008 line wasn't that bad
4. Aubrey Huff – If '08 line for former Y2K top 20 prospect was a fluke, what was '03 and '04? 4. Garrett Atkins – He's universally disliked, but Atkins still deliverd a line that worked (86-21-99-.286) 4. Conor Jackson – Slowly becoming more aggressive, could finally unlock 20 HR pop 4. James Loney – Kemp and Ethier get the buzz, Loney gets lost in the shuffle.
5. Carlos Guillen – Going outside top 200 in Y! ADP despite proven .300/15 HR/15 SB skills and soon-to-be 3-position eligibility (1/3/OF) 5. Paul Konerko – Wasn't the luckiest hitter last season (.247 BABIP), yet finished strong 5. Billy Butler – This is the year Mr. Belvedere serves up taters not squirrel slayers -- 1.41 GB/FB '08 5. Aubrey Huff – Full repeat unlikely, but he can get most of numbers back and at a cheap price
Top 5 First Basemen -- Overvalued
Brandon Funston Andy Behrens Brad Evans Scott Pianowski
1. Adam Dunn – Too much 1B depth to use top 70 pick on a .240 hitter 1. Chris Davis – It's not that I don't like him, but given lofty ADP, Davis is no bargain 1. Aubrey Huff – Career year likely a mirage; expect 10 fewer homers, 20 fewer RBIs 1. Chris Davis – He's still a maybe to me; elsewhere, he's seen as a sure thing
2. Joey Votto – Like Loney in '07, people paying a little too much for a 9-HR September 2. Carlos Pena – You get Adam Dunn's average without the guaranteed 40 homers 2. Derrek Lee – Marginal power now the norm after second straight 20 HR season 2. Adam Dunn – Batting-average risk, the silent killer
3. Nick Swisher – Adam Dunn with less power. Take LaRoche several rounds later instead 3. Mike Jacobs – Can't touch LHPs at all, and the Royals have plenty of DH/1B-types 3. James Loney – He’s Casey Kotchman with a few more RBIs; 20 HRs a pipe dream 3. Kevin Youkilis – How do we know he'll keep 2008's power?
4. Casey Blake – 35-year-old may have hard time holding off DeWitt at 3B 4. Adam LaRoche – Can't own him in April – career .179/.274/.325 hitter in the opening month 4. Carlos Guillen – Peripherals remained strong despite injuries in '08, but a very boring 1B 4. Casey Kotchman – Calling someone Mark Grace 2.0 isnât really a fantasy compliment
5. Mike Jacobs – Consistency and durability issues, plus KC has other 1B options 5. Todd Helton – The power vanished in '05, and health is a constant worry 5. Jorge Cantu – Remarkable resurgence a riveting feat, but 20-25, not 30-plus, HR likely 5. Todd Helton – Wonky back takes him off my mixed-league cheat sheet, even in Colorado
Top 5 First Basemen -- Prospects
Brandon Funston Andy Behrens Brad Evans Scott Pianowski
1. Matt LaPorta – At 24, it's time for his power bat to get some big league seasoning 1. Matt LaPorta – Terrific power potential, but he may not debut as a first baseman 1. Lars Anderson – Effortless, patient hitter could be the next Lance Berkman 1. Lars Anderson – Handled move to Double-A just fine, could be less than a year away
2. Lars Anderson – Perhaps only a Lowell or Big Papi injury away 2. Kila Ka'aihue – Hit 37 HR in the high minors at age 24, with a 1.085 OPS … and the Royals traded for Jacobs 2. Gaby Sanchez – Will battle Dallas McPherson this spring; .314-17-90-17 at Double-A in â08 2. Justin Smoak – Mark Teixeira clone is on fast track, but thereâs gridlock at the corners here
3. Gaby Sanchez – Marlins like his plate patience and have playing time to offer 3. Lars Anderson – The 21-year-old might be a year away, but has a refined eye and good power 3. Yonder Alonso – Most refined bat in 2008 draft could force Votto to OF late-season 3. Logan Morrison – Florida State League shielded his power; might eventually shift to outfield
4. Justin Smoak – Electric bat will be major-league ready soon, but will need a trade/injury to open up an opportunity 4. Gaby Sanchez – Logan Morrison is the better prospect, but Sanchez is in the mix this year 4. Chris Carter – Position-less power prospect blasted 39 dingers with High-A Stockton last year 4. Eric Hosmer – Lost most of his first development year but future is bright
5. Kila Ka'aihue – Nice combo of power and patience and, nearing 25, he's got biological clock motivation 5. Yonder Alonso – Reds top prospect should nudge Votto to left field by 2010 5. Justin Smoak – Drawn comparisons to former Ranger Teixeira; 2010 debut probable 5. Angel Villalona – Less bagels now equals more taters down the road