Few positions in fantasy baseball can compete with the overall depth of talent you can find at first base. Sluggers. Guys who hit for average. Early-round fantasy studs that you can anchor your squad around.
My early 2011 fantasy first baseman rankings include:
1. Albert Pujols, STL. No surprise here. Pujols has been the cream of the crop for quite some time and there’s no reason to doubt he’ll continue in this role. Despite the contract negotations that seem to be going nowhere. Despite the small dip in each of the five major fantasy statistical categories in 2010 from what he did in 2009 in spite of his 19 more at-bats. To Pujols, this is all about as important as a pimple on a super model. A minor inconvenience, but nothing to worry about.
2. Miguel Cabrera, DET. Few things have been as consistent as Cabrera the past half-decade. In fact, he saw an increase in homers, RBI, runs scored and batting average last year despite 63 less at-bats. If only he stole some more bases, then perhaps Pujols would have some stronger competition for the top overall slot.
3. Joey Votto, CIN. The chinstrapninjas.com fantasy baseball gurus were plugging Votto hard for quite some time now. It was easy to see Votto was on the cusp of greatness. He complied with a breakout 2010 campaign in which he produced numbers eerily similar to Pujols and Cabrera. Factoring in his 16 stolen bases (four times as many as he swiped in 2009), I was tempted to push Votto ahead of Cabrera. The only reason I didn’t is because Cabrera has produced elite numbers for quite some time. Votto needs to pad his resume a little more before I bump him up this list. However, I could see myself ranking him first overall by this time next year.
4. Ryan Howard, PHI. Here’s where the debates may begin. After the top 3, I see a significant drop to my second tier of first baseman, currently led by Howard. This group has the potential to be a first-round fantasy talent, but comes with more question marks. For Howard, the red flags are fewer than the next three guys on this list, so he gets the nod here. His homers have seen a five-year fall-off since the 58 he smacked in 2006, but he still crushes the ball enough to keep ahead of the competition. The Phillies lineup struggled at times last year, but the team has too many playmakers not to rebound, and Howard should reap the benefits.
5. Mark Teixeira, NYY. I’ve always been a big fan of Teixeira’s, even before he landed on my beloved Yankees. He has hit 30 or more homers seven consecutive years and counting. He plays in one of the most feared lineups in the sport today, and that protection is hard to overlook. However, where in the world did the .256 batting average come from in 2010? For a guy who has consistently hit right around .300 the past six years, the .256 is a big red flag. Of course, he is much too talented and protected to not bounce back in 2011.
6. Prince Fielder, MIL. Another big slugger who struggled majorly out of the gates in 2010, Fielder is about equal to Teixeira in my book, except I trust Teixeira’s lineup more. A plus for Fielder is that he was able to turn an abysmal start to the season to a decent second half, but those who took him in the first or second round had several months of agony to endure first. He still has ample talent and ability to be a force at the position from a statistical standpoint, and for now, I’ll consider 2010 a fluke.
7. Adam Dunn, CWS. Some will think it heresy to rank Dunn this high over younger, more athletic options. But have you looked at his numbers the past bazillion years? No one has cranked out the homers like he has consistently the past seven years, even while playing on a woeful Washington Nationals squad with very little protection. The one major knock on Dunn has been his abysmal batting average. And for years, the guy’s plate discipline had been nearly non-existent. Except, look closely at 2009. he finished with a .267 batting average. He followed that up with a .260 in 2010, meaning was basically the same as Teixeira and Fielder while hitting more homers. His signing with the White Sox will put him in a lineup with protection he hasn’t seen in years, and he has the potential to be a really solid first base option at a fraction of the cost of guys higher (and even a few lower) on this list.
7. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS. Another guy I have loved for years from both a fantasy and real-life standpoint. He has produced consistently strong numbers despite hitting in a sub-par lineup with little protection in a well-known pitchers’ park. So, the news that he has been acquired by the Red Sox and their much more hitter-friendly environment and much deeper lineup would lead one to think Gonzo could do great things in 2011. And he could. However, I’m not ready to jump on the hype train just yet. I’m extremely leary of his major shoulder surgery this past fall. Sure, the Red Sox must have taken that into account when they acquired Gonzo, but he’s still a ways away from baseball shape. Recent news suggests he won’t even be swinging a bat until March. Time will tell, and this is one situation worth watching during the spring training rituals.
8. Kendry Morales, LAA. Many were wondering this time last year if Morales’ major 2009 breakout was a fluke or something to rally around. We didn’t get a full picture of his 2010 encore thanks to season-ending surgery on a broken leg in June. Except, looking at his numbers to that point and projecting them over the course of a full season, and he would have put up Teixeira-type numbers with a batting average about 30 points higher than the Yankees slugger. Morales should be back in time for spring training, and we’ll get a good look at how he responds during the spring regimen. He isn’t a guy you’re expecting a lot of stolen bases out of, anyway, and one would think that he could be a nice later-round sleeper at the position.
9. Justin Morneau, MIN. I love this guy’s potential if he can stay healthy and hammer out hits like he did during stretches of 2010. He finished the season with a Joe Mauer-esque .345 batting average, and while his power numbers were a little down last season, he could easily bounce back. The big question for Morneau is the concussion he suffered late in 2010, which is still affecting him at the moment. Recent news from Minnesota suggests that the team is “optimistic” he’ll be ready for spring training. The longevity of concussion symptoms is the concern for me, but we have all of spring training to better assess his health situation.
10. Kevin Youkilis, BOS. Many fantasy baseball pundits have Youkilis much higher in the rankings. I really can’t understand why. Guess I never warmed up to the Red Sox first baseman/third baseman who has just one really solid season in eight years of major league action. Injuries have hampered him, and he has yet to hit more than 30 homers and doesn’t do enough on the basepaths to make up for the lack of power (at least in terms of others higher on this list). With Adrian Gonzalez coming to town, Youkilis will primarily play third base, which is where he has more fantasy value in my opinion, but not enough to get him any higher on this list.
11. Paul Konerko, CWS. After 13 seasons in the majors, Konerko had a major resurgence in 2010, tapping back into the power numbers we all enjoyed during his prime. The .312 batting average nearly matched his career high (3.13 in 2006) and his 39 homers were the most since he slammed 40 in 2005. The addition of Adam Dunn should help give Konerko more protection in the White Sox lineup. Still, one would expect his numbers, especially his batting average, to deflate at least a little closer to his career average. Still, Konerko isn’t a bad option after all the younger guys are cleared off the boards.
12. Billy Butler, KC. For a closet Royals fan like myself, there isn’t a lot to get excited about in KC, except perhaps Butler. As talented as he is, we all expected him to be much more established at this point in his career. However, perhaps 2010 was a sign of things going in the right direction. His .318 batting average was very helpful to owners who needed to slow the bleeding by more risky power hitters on their rosters. Butler’s 15 homers left a lot to be desired from a guy who had shown in the minors that he could hot for power. However, he’s young enough that the power stroke could still be developed. At this point at the position, there are a lot of question marks, and Butler’s potential makes him an intriguing option at this slot.
13. Victor Martinez, DET. My top-ranked catcher, Martinez is also eligible at first base in most every hosting format. He’ll see a decent amount of designated hitter duties, too, in 2011 with his new team. For more on Victor, check out my comments here.
14. Buster Posey, SF. Another catcher with first base eligibility in a number of leagues, Posey has the potential to do great things in his first full season at the major league level, however, you’d be silly not to expect a few growing pains yet, too. See more about Buster in my early catcher rankings post.
15. Ike Davis, NYM. Another dropoff in talent at this spot, in my opinion, I was looking at Davis, Derrick Lee and Carlos Pena here. Except, Pena’s batting average mirrored Paris Hilton’s weight more than I’d like in 2010 and Derrick Lee was cast off from Atlanta after just one season and finds himself on a Baltimore squad that will be facing a lot of Yankee, Red Sox and Rays pitching. Davis, on the other hand, is heading in the right direction potential-wise. He was a little streaky in the power department in 2010, but that is to be expected for such a young player. His .264 batting average and 19 homers will only get better with seasoning and maturity.
Who is in your top 15 first basemen for 2011 list? Want to make a case for someone I’ve forgotten? Don’t agree with my order? I’d love to debate the topic in the comments below!
Make sure you check out my other early 2011 fantasy baseball rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | ss | OF | SP | RP
And don’t miss ep’s early look at the Top 10 fantasy baseball players per current ADP.