First Base Bottom of the Barrel

Today wraps up our first base coverage and we’ve given you some good information on the position. Looking at our 2015 rankings we named the top 30 players for first base. That should be enough for standard leagues, even those that use a CI slot. There is a problem though, not all of those players are first basemen. Out of those 30 players, 11 of them qualify for another position. Odds are none of the catchers ranked will be playing first base for your fake and the same thing could probably be said for players that qualify for third given the lack of depth and talent at the position.

All of a sudden that deep pool of players looks a little thin; good enough for standard 12 and 15 team leagues, but not deep enough for those that use a CI slot. There were 9 players ranked inside the top 30 that didn’t make the final list and a number of others who were not even ranked. None of them are players you should target and there is a good chance that a number of them will be available to you after the draft. It is possible that a few of these players could surprise us and be this year’s Chris Carter.

Last year Carter was ranked inside the top 30 by just one of us here at Fantasy Assembly, being thought of as nothing more than a late round flyer or someone to grab off waivers in case of an emergency. By the end of the season Carter was the 17th ranked first baseman according to ESPN’s player rater and was tied for second in the league for home runs with 37. If you were the guy that used one of your last picks on Carter or plucked him off waivers, you laughed all the way to the bank.

So who will be this year’s Chris Carter? Let’s take a look at the potential candidates.

Joe Mauer: Last year many jumped at the chance to roster Mauer anticipating more at bats and corresponding counting stats. Yea, we all know how that worked out so no need to rehash and open old wounds. In order for Mauer to be useful to us, he needs to hit closer to his career average. Mauer has batted below .294 twice in his entire career so expecting a bounce back here is not unrealistic. Assuming that is true then we should see an uptick in his run and RBI totals. Making a conservative estimate I can see 70 in each of these categories. Now those totals may not seem like a lot until you see that only 15 qualifying first basemen drove in 70 or more in 2015, and just 12 qualifying first basemen scoring 70 or more runs.

This makes Mauer a potential 3 category player for 2015 who will also contribute 8-10 home runs. That is basically how fantasy owners saw Allen Craig coming into the 2014 season. If you’re looking to fill that corner infield slot and wait too long, Mauer could make a nice late round gamble.

Steve Pearce: Speaking of Chris Carter type seasons, Pearce wasn’t even on the radar to start the 2014 season and look what he did in part-time play. At age 32 (in April), is Pearce a late bloomer or did he just have that career year all average players hope for? It’s no secret how I feel about Pearce, but I’ll try and be objective here. The positives are his power potential alone makes him a top 20 player for home runs. While he totaled only 51 and 49 runs and RBIs respectively, he did so in only 102 games. Combined with whoever you played when he wasn’t in the lineup, you’re looking at some nice totals. Pearce also batted over .300 in 3 of the 6 months. The negative side of this is he played in just 102 games so unless you’re able to check your lineup and make daily moves; he could hurt or not contribute on some days. Then there is his 7 years prior to 2014 when he showed little power and was lucky to come close to his career batting average of .255.

The questions you have to ask yourself when looking at Pearce in the later rounds are

  1. Can he hit for the same power in 2015?
  2. Can he maintain the same high average he showed us in 2014?
  3. Can you commit to checking your lineup daily?

If you have any doubts or play in a league that has weekly lineups, Pearce is not your man. If you believe he can repeat and his 2014 wasn’t just a career year, Pearce could produce some nice power numbers for a late round pick. Caveat Emptor

Billy Butler: Butler had a down year in 2014 but gets a fresh start in Oakland. The .271 he batted last year is a far cry from the .295 he has averaged over his career. Part of that can be attributed to the extra swings he took at balls outside the zone. Also the HR/FB% was nearly cut in half and 4% lower than his career total. Other than that, not much changed. His contact, flyball, line drive and strikeout percentages were all in line with his 2012 breakout season. Butler’s average flyball distance was up from 275 feet in 2013 to 283 feet in 2014.

If they can change Butler in Oakland and cut down on the number of bad pitches he swings at, we can expect a bounce back in batting average. Outside of last season, his lowest RBI total over the past 6 seasons was 78. Oakland is all about getting guys on base so we will use this for a prelude for things to come and expect around 80 RBIs. I wouldn’t expect more than 70 or so runs considering the bats behind him and the fact that Butler has never topped 80 runs in his career. Still, 65 to 70 runs combined with an RBI total that would put him in the top 12 for the position and a high average makes Butler an attractive option. Add on 12 or some home runs and you’ve got a Joe Mauer type player on the right side of 30.

As for his alleged batting issues, take a look at his lefty/righty splits

  Left  Right
2011  .306 .287
2012 .331 .306
2013 .275 .293
2014 .321 .255

Some have suggested Butler might be part of a platoon in Oakland, but other than a down year against righties in 2014 he looks like a well-rounded hitter.  Don’t let his disappointing season in 2014 sway you from taking a chance on Butler late in the game if he falls low enough. He’s good for average and RBIs along with better than average run totals.

Kennys Vargas: A hot start after his call up in August was marred by a cold September. The power was still there but the average dropped down to .228 over the final month. The September slump combined with the depth of the position was definitely a factor in why Vargas was not ranked. He also wasn’t a highly touted prospect which I’m sure played a part in some decisions. While he did not make the top 30; that doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive fantasy asset in 2015. He did show enough power in the minors to hit 20 or more long balls. He finished the year with a .274 average which is right between what he hit in A+ and AA. If he can hit for an acceptable average we can expect 60+ in the run and RBI department (dependant on his spot in the batting order). The key here is hit for an acceptable average as most rookies struggle their first and sometimes second go around in the majors.

If the average is there he is a better risk than someone like Mauer or Butler, but if the average isn’t there then he becomes a wasted pick. You’re gambling on upside here, but considering he should only cost you a late round pick he could be worth the investment. Vargas is not someone you would want as your starting first baseman and should be thought of as nothing more than a CI or second utility player until he proves otherwise.

Michael Cuddyer: The soon to be 36-year-old put up a similar though an injury shortened season. Signing with the Mets might make some people wary, but it might not be as bad as you think. He batted .311 on the road in 2013 and .282 last season so the average should not be an issue. Cuddyer also had 16 home runs in Coors and 14 on the road so the home runs might still be there. Plus don’t forget he played his entire career in Minnesota before moving to Colorado and he still managed to hit 20 home runs in his final season with the Twins (10 at home). The numbers are not at issue here; age an injury is the only real concerns. He managed 130 games in 2013 which is close to a full season, but with 101 games in 2012 and 49 games last season you have to wonder how many he will be on the field for in 2015.

Cuddyer is a safer play than Pearce, more reliable number wise than Vargas and a step below Butler for overall production. His numbers can play well as a corner infielder, but more than likely he will be selected earlier and be used as a fourth outfielder for someone’s fake team. This is a worthy investment but with no upside so don’t use too early of a pick here.

Allen Craig: After 3 straight seasons with a batting average north of .300 Craig hit a wall. No, not literally, although with his style of play I can see how one would think that. Craig had issues driving the ball last year, was bad against fastballs and we saw his highest groundball percentage of his career (54%). I find it hard to believe a hitter as good as Craig can go that bad this quick. He is only 30 so while there is a chance he bounces back, there is no guarantee. Assuming Craig does turn things around, you’re looking at someone who can hit close to .300 and drive in runs. The walks were still there so as long as his OBP improves, you could be looking at 70 or more runs making him a 3 category player. Don’t expect 20 home runs again, but 12 to 15 are not out of the question. This would put his value somewhere between Butler and Mauer.

Here is the biggest issue with Craig. Even if he does bounce back and has a hot spring, where does he play? Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez are assured two outfield spots, Napoli is at first (baring an injury) and Ortiz has dibs on the DH position. That leaves Craig fighting for playing time with Shane Victorino and blue chip prospect Mookie Betts. As long as Craig is in Boston, he is not worth looking at. Even if Victorino is traded, he will need a hot spring along with a clunker by Betts to get in the lineup. Monitor the situation right through spring training and adjust things accordingly if Boston makes any moves. Craig could be worth a flyer on another team, but in Boston he is waiting for an opportunity to open up. That’s not something you want on your bench.

Mark Teixeira: One thing about Tex that cannot be disputed, he has power. In 123 games in 2012 and 2014 he hit 22 and 24 home runs. With that power comes RBI potential, he had 84 in 2012 and 62 last season. The 2014 total was low, but the Yankees were a mess so you can dismiss this. Those are the positives, and now for the red flags. He has hit .256 or lower since 2010. His batting average against right-handed pitchers over that time (starting with 2010) is .247, .223, .239, .086 and .215. The strikeouts have steadily increased while the OBP and OPS has slowly gone down. He is striking out and putting the ball on the ground more against fastballs (his former bread and butter pitch). Combine all these factors in with the fact he will turn 35 in April and hasn’t played a full season since 2011.

Teixeira thinks he can play 150 games and the Yankees believe they can fix and or adjust his swing. If both of these things happen and Tex can somehow manage a .250 average and 150 games, you could be looking at 30 home runs and 80+ RBIs. With a healthy Yankees lineup (knock on wood), you’re also looking at 75 or more runs scored. That would make him one of the most valuable bottom of the barrel first basemen available if he is still on the board at round 20 or later. I have zero faith that he will bat higher than .230, hit more than 22 home runs or play in more than 120 games. Don’t let that sway you, just sayin.

Adam Lind: Lind moves to a home park that is very friendly to left-handed power hitters. He has enough power to hit at least 20 long balls, 25 if he receives 500 or more at bats. Lind’s body also gets a reprieve playing every day on grass instead of half of them on concrete turf. The batting average shouldn’t go any lower than .250 so we know his floor, but you can probably expect something close to .280. The biggest knock on Lind is he can’t hit lefties. He has had just over 200 at bats against them over the past 3 seasons with an average south of .200 so if you draft Lind, keep a close eye on the pitching matchups.

Lind can be frustrating to own at times. You know you’ll get power, a good average against right-handed pitchers and acceptable RBI totals. The run totals were low in Toronto, but with a new home and potential new spot in the batting order, we will take a wait and see approach for this category. Lind is a one category player with the potential to be a 2 category guy that won’t help or hurt your batting average. He might be worth a late round pick, but more than likely he won’t be drafted and you can grab him off waivers when one of your other late picks fail.

Jonathan Singleton: There is power potential here, but there is also a major batting average risk. Singleton had a K% over 30 in 2013; that came down to 21.8% in 2014 while at AAA but shot up to 37% upon his promotion to the majors. If the strikeouts continue at a record pace and he can’t hit for an acceptable average, a return to AAA is in the cards – if he even makes the big club out of spring training. The Astros have Carter to play first and newly acquired Evan Gattis to DH so starting Singleton in the minors is an option. While there is upside here, the risk is too high given the options above.

I would leave Singleton to someone else, try again in 2016.

Like I said in the beginning, there are a number of  first base eligible players who were not ranked at all.  Mike Napoli, James Loney, C.J. Cron, Garrett Jones, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse are just some of the more relevant names to know, any one of which could make a short-term impact or fill a void in case of an emergency.  If you have to dig any deeper than this for a first baseman, you are in trouble.

Bottom of the Barrel
First Base Second Base Third Base Shortstop – Outfield – Starting Pitcher – Relievers

Written by 

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

5 thoughts on “First Base Bottom of the Barrel”

  1. Nice article for us in deep leagues. But I question your assumption Pearce is a part time player again in 2015. Like Cuddyer, I expect he will see a lot of time in the OF since Baltimore let Cruz and Markakis walk. Their OF right now looks like De Aza, Jones, and Pearce. I don’t expect Delmon Young to steal away ABs from him. And depending on Machado’s recovery, there may be extra time for him on the infield with Davis at 3B. I’m targeting Pearce as my 4th outfielder in a 12 team H2H points league with 23 weekly starters. 15th round too soon?

    1. True I did not take that into account and that would answer the 3rd question, but the first two are still legitimate.

      Using Jed Lowrie as an example, he was a bench guy who finally received full time at bats in 2013. He exceeded all expectations and batted over .300 for several months. In 2014, well…we all know how that turned out.

      If Pearce is now a full time player, teams and pitchers will have more to go on as far as scouting, gathering information they didn’t have in the past because he didn’t receive enough at bats or playing time to warrant being looked at. After 2014 they have a good idea of who Pearce is and will make adjustments. If Pearce can’t adjust along with them we could see him reverting to his previous numbers similar to Lowrie.

      As a fourth outfielder, he’s worth a shot considering most teams end up with several good options as a fourth outfielder so you will more than likely have a backup should he falter. Round 15? I think that is way too early. Take a look at the results of this expert mock draft
      http://rtsports.com/SiriusXM
      There are 13 teams and Pearce didn’t go off the board until round 22

  2. Chris,

    I like Pearce and I agree that he will be a full time player (or close to it) based on his performance and the O’s roster. I think he is a fine player to target, but based on where he is ranked on most lists, I think you may be able to wait at least a couple more rounds. If he is ranked inside the top 200 on whatever site you are drafting on, then 15th round might be the price you need to pay (not sure if that is the best investment though).

    I will be looking at Pearce outside the top 200. The 15th round is generally a great spot to get a solid, low end closer, perhaps an undervalued SP, or a high upside OF like Pollock or a hot rookie like Pederson. Pearce is still viewed by most as somewhat of a fluke, so unless he starts getting more hype as draft season approaches, I say why not have your cake and eat it too?

  3. Great thoughts guys, thanks. I might be a little too enthusiastic based on his Steamer projections. And in a points league I prefer power over some of the speedy guys going around the same area (Span, Cain, Martin, Crisp, Eaton..). I’ll look to snag him a little later.

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