While first base may be rich and plentiful, it is not as deep in elite talent as some might think. Don’t get me wrong, the guys listed below the top 10 are still good players to have on your roster, but it’s those in the top 10 that could be the difference makers. Now I will cover the top 24 but you’ll notice several names missing, namely catchers. I considered added them to the top 24 but instead listed them at the end, and where I would rank them among the top 24. For more coverage of those players, see Catchers: Top 24 for 2014.
There are 14 first basemen on the move this year. That list consists of Justin Morneau (signs with Rockies), Paul Konerko (re-signed w/White Sox), Kevin Youkilis, Corey Hart (signed with Mariners), Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli (re-signs w/Red Sox), Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske, Xavier Nady, Casey Kotchman, James Loney (stays with Rays), Mike Morse (signed with Giants), Lyle Overbay and Adam Lind. With the exception of Hart, Morales & Napoli, none of them will be mentioned here and are not worth owning except in the deepest of leagues.
Finally I would like to give a special salute to Mr. Todd Helton who has officially retired.
As always, Feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
1. Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks): There was some skepticism after his rookie campaign but I think he has erased any doubts people might have had. Goldy is the complete package and a 5 category stud, and speed is a hard thing to find at first base. He hit equally against right & left-handed pitchers, has a great OBP and is a machine with runners on. Chase field did suppress his batting average some but not his power and the slight dip in average doesn’t affect the overall product. Definite first round material.
2. Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays): I had my doubts after his monster breakout year in 2012, but Edwin went on to put up numbers this year that were almost a mirror image of what he did the year before. The one big difference between the two years is he cut down his strikeouts in 2013. His batting average will never be much above the .280 mark but I can overlook that given his 40+ HR power and contributing 90+ runs and over 100 RBI’s. He also has a little speed but at age 31 I don’t see Toronto giving him the green light that often. I don’t know if he’s first round material without looking at all the players out there, but he won’t stay on the board long.
3. Prince Fielder (Rangers): For the first time in 7 years, Prince did not reach the 30 home run mark. It wasn’t just his power that was missing either. His walk total dipped, his runs scored were lower than we’re used to and his OPS was in the toilet (well, in the toilet for Fielder). Unofficial sources say he had some off the field issues to deal with, something we’ve all seen before with numerous players. If this is the case and his head is in the game next year, I expect the Prince of old to be back putting up numbers between his 2011 & 2012 season. Ignore the one year slump unless you hear otherwise.
Edit: 11/21 – Prince Fielder has been traded to the Texas Rangers.
4. Joey Votto (Reds): For the past few years it was Votto & Pujols at the top, but Joey has slipped the past few years. His batting average, run production, BB/K ratio, OBP have all stayed the same, but the power hasn’t been there and his RBI production has fallen off. Maybe because he’s such a good hitter we all expected him to put up numbers like he did in 2010 every single year. I think a more realistic way to think about Votto now is as a very good hitter that has a chance to reach 30+ home runs but will more than likely give you around 25 with a .300 average. As for his dip in batting average with runners on I have no explanation, but given his history I’ll write this year off as a fluke.
5. Chris Davis (Orioles): Crash floundered along in Texas for four season until it got to a point where management and fantasy owners alike had enough. He was finally shipped to Baltimore where he didn’t do much to impress his new club upon his arrival. In 2012 at the ripe old age of 26, something clicked for Davis and he put together a season we’ve all been waiting for but had given up on. And this year, he blew last season’s numbers away to lead all first basemen in points. So why isn’t he higher?, 2 reasons. First is he strikes out way to much to maintain an average close to .290 and the second is he still has a problem against lefties. Consider this a career year and expect number around or above what he did in 2012.
6. Albert Pujols (Angels): Pujols was once a staple at the top of all draft sheets and a universal top 3 pick. He could rank higher, but I’m gonna take a realistic approach of the soon to be 34-year-old. His walks have fallen off the past 3 years so his normal .400+ OBP has sunk to the 340 range (which is still good but not elite). Also that dependable .330 batting average has been below .300 for 3 straight years. Finally that 40+ HR power he once possessed is probably gone and he will now be lucky to hit 30 over the wall (if he’s healthy). He hasn’t fallen off the way Mark Teixeira has, but the signs of decline are there. He’s still a top option to have, but with so many other younger and healthy options to choose from…..he’s no longer a must have.
7. Freddie Freeman (Braves): Many people have said in the past, once Freeman figures out lefties the sky’s the limit. This year Freeman hit .275 against left-handed pitchers and everything seemed to fall into place. He surpassed the 20 home run mark for the 3rd time in as many years and added close to 100 points to his OPS, and all at the young age of 24. Freeman could be even better next season provided he has truly figured out lefties. He’s a young hitter who could hit 30 home runs in a season so the potential is there, the only question is how big of a step will he take next season?
8. Allen Craig (Cardinals): I considered other players for this spot, but Craig claims this one for his superior bat. .308 in NCAA, .308 in the minors and .306 in the Majors. Regardless of what you think of Craig… the man can hit, and there aren’t that many guys in the league you can put in front of him when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position. I think fantasy players put a lot of expectations on him this year, extrapolating numbers from his previous season and seeing a 30 home run hitter. Unfortunately if you look at all his numbers from college to present he’s more of a 20+ home run hitter. That’s not what we expect from a first baseman, but if he can keep up that high batting average and knock in 100 or so runs nobody would really complain. He’s been labeled as injury prone by some, but the knee injury in 12 & foot injury in 13 were due to hard play and not conditioning so labeling him as glass is unfair.
9. Eric Hosmer (Royals): He had a promising rookie season followed by a sophomore slump, so naturally people expected him to take a step forward this year. The first two months had people scratching their heads and throwing up their hands, but then a good thing happened…Kansas City fired their hitting instructor and brought in George Brett. It didn’t take long after the change for Hosmer to start hitting like the player we hoped he’d become. His overall numbers weren’t anything special, but if you look at the difference between his first and second half you’ll see reason for excitement. He has the same potential and upside and is the same age as Freddie Freeman.
10. Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers): Gonzalez could easily rank 7th as there is not much difference in what you can expect as far as production for the players ranked 7-10. The days of Gonzo hitting 30+ home runs are over. Today’s Gonzalez will hit in the .290 range, can drive in runs and put up around 20 long balls. Like I said with Craig, this isn’t what you expect from a first basemen but dependability can go a long way. There is no upside to be found here, but if you want a dependable first baseman to deliver good numbers in 4 categories with little risk, he’s your man.
11. Billy Butler (Royals): Eric Hosmer displaced him at first base, but Billy usually gets in enough games for him to qualify there in many leagues (he played 7 games at first so check your league rules). Butler hit 29 home runs in 2012, but what many thought was a breakout might have just been a career year. At age 27 this was supposed to be his break out year, but instead he delivered typical Butler numbers. He started slow like Hosmer above and while he turned his batting average around near the mid-way point, the power was mediocre at best. His walk rate this year was the best of his career which is a plus. If you draft him, expect numbers in line with his 2011 campaign with the possibility for a little more.
12. Mark Trumbo (Angels): Trumbo continues to show off his power stroke, but he also continues to strike out in droves and his batting average is taking the brunt of the damage. Taking a page from the Adam Dunn school of hitting, Trumbomb was swinging for the fences and surpassed 30 homers for the second straight year and increased his run production as well. On the negative side his strikeout total is alarming. Also while you may be able to live with a .244 batting average, it was .233 against right hander’s and even worse with runners on base. If you draft him make sure you’ve got a couple of guaranteed .300 hitters to balance the damage.
13. Mike Napoli (Red Sox): He’s been popular for years, mainly because he qualified at catcher. He’s a free agent this year, but unless he lands on a club that wants to use him behind the plate as a backup, he’s just a first baseman this year which lowers his value considering the company he’s in. It’s hard to say what you’ll get here. You could get a .230 average or a .270, you could get 20 homers or you could get 30 homers and you could get 55 ribbies or 80 plus. It all depends on which Napoli shows up and where he lands. At catcher I could deal with the possible discrepancies but not at first. He could be a good pick, but I’d pass on this one.
14. Corey Hart (Mariners): He has never received much fanfare or garnered much attention from the fantasy world. He’s the fantasy sleeper darling that gets drafted in the mid-rounds and produces top 10 first baseman power. 2013 was a lost year for Hart as he missed the season with injuries. In fact he’s missed time during several years due to injuries, and coincidentally he misses time during the odd years (he missed time in 2009 & 2011 as well). That could be good news for fantasy players going into 2014. A healthy Hart can be an asset on any team. He could move up or down a few spots depending on where he signs.
15. Ryan Howard (Phillies): How the mighty have fallen. That’s 2 years in a row Howard has missed significant time due to injuries. He still has enough power to launch 25 bombs and rack up close to 100 RBIs, but you will have to deal with a mediocre batting average and the fact that he may miss time again. Declining skill sets you can guesstimate with some accuracy, but injuries are the bane of our existence in fantasy world. If you can get him late enough he’s worth the risk as a utility player or for your CI slot, but I would pass on him if a few of the options below are available.
16. Anthony Rizzo (Cubs): There are a lot of Rizzo fans out there, but I’m not one of them. Putting my personal feeling aside, he showed in the minors he has some power, but that was in the PCL so my expectations are tempered. He did hit 23 home runs this season for the Cubs so the power could be for real, but his batting average against lefties was below .200 and barely above that on the road. Power, potential and youth are good things to have on your side but if he doesn’t improve his batting eye, he’s a few years away from being nothing more than a platoon player. If you’re looking for a potential future player he’s worth a bench spot, but if you want to win this year…look elsewhere.
17. Kendrys Morales (Free Agent): He’s not the 30+ home run guy we all saw in 2009. Morales is a 21 home run guy who will give you decent run production and RBI numbers with a batting average around .280. He’s basically a younger version of Nick Swisher and will probably be overlooked come draft day. Morales is a free agent but where he ends up shouldn’t affect his value much as he put up similar numbers the past two years for the Angels & Mariners. A move to a hitter friendly park will help his overall numbers, otherwise he comes up somewhere between what he’s done the past 2 years.
18. Michael Cuddyer (Rockies): Cuddyer is not a first baseman by trade, but he has played first base in the past and played enough games at first to qualify in many leagues. Plus with Helton heading out into the sunset somebody has to take the reins. It only makes sense given his age that he moves to first. Cuddyer had a career year in terms of batting average. Prior to this season he hit anywhere between .265 and .280 so don’t draft him based upon this year’s numbers. The thin air of Colorado has a tendency to rejuvenate careers (I’m looking at you Vinny Castilla) and while I don’t see him repeating the average, the rest of the numbers are certainly within reach. He’ll be 35 next year so there could be some regression, but it will be minimal.
19. Mark Teixeira (Yankees): Some will blame the past 2 years on injuries, but his skill set was on the decline way before then. He’s hit .256 or lower since 2010 and his OBP, OPS and BB have gone down steadily each year since then. Also 2009 was the last year he batted above .250 against right-handed pitchers. Next year Tex will be 34 and coming back from wrist surgery. If it were any other kind of injury I might label him as a two category player who would deliver good power & RBI numbers and runs contingent on the team around him and his place in the lineup. But, a wrist injury to an aging player who’s on the decline….I’m not so sure here. Wait until spring to see how he’s healed and go from there. He’s an early late round injury stash for now but could have a little more value if the wrist is 100%.
20. Brandon Moss (A’s) / Chris Carter (Astros): They no longer play for the same team, but they still mirror each other as far as their numbers go. Moss/Carter won’t win you a batting title, they’ll likely be on the bench when there is a lefty on the mound and sit for some home games, but on the road against right-handed pitchers… that’s where they do most of their damage. If you’re in a daily league and can play the lefty/righty matchups either one is a good player to own. They can still frustrate you against right-handed pitchers though, but the power they’ve displayed is real.
21. Nick Swisher (Indians): His batting average took a hit this year, but otherwise it was a typical unimpressive year. He struggled against right-handed pitchers (which isn’t the first time) and with a 20 point drop in home batting average it’s clear he misses hitting in Yankee Stadium. He qualifies for 1B and OF so he adds some flexibility, and he still has some pop and is capable of putting up an acceptable batting average. My view, he’s nothing more than a bench player or fifth outfielder. Pass.
22. Adam Laroche (Nationals): Before this year there were two things you could count on when it came to LaRoche. He would be a player you would want on your team in the second half and you could usually grab him off the waiver wire sometime in June. A two month-long slump and the brick wall he hit against left handers killed his overall bottom line. Expect a rebound in the average department next season, but his overall numbers aren’t anything to get excited about. He’ll be 34 next year and he doesn’t seem like the kind of player that will age well. Caution is advised.
23. Brandon Belt (Giants): He’s been on many people’s sleeper list for several years now, but Belt keeps hitting the snooze button to get another 5 minutes. This season was a nice step forward as he either maintained or increased his overall numbers, and while the increase was nice to see it wasn’t enough to pay the bills in fantasy land. He’s not a bad backup player to have or a fallback option for CI, but not someone to invest anything more than a late round pick on. He won’t help you much, but he shouldn’t hurt your batting average.
24. Matt Adams (Cardinals): Adams could very well deserve to be ranked in the teens somewhere, but unfortunately it’s October and I’m not privy to what St. Louis has planned for the future. In the minors he has shown the ability to hit for average and power, and displayed that power in the limited at bats the Cardinals gave him in 2013. If they move Allen Craig to the OF and he lands the first base job, Adams moves up to #13 and has the potential to finish in the top 10. (sleeper)
On the outside looking in.
Ike Davis deserves a mention here as he has a big bat and could be a power threat. If he looks good in spring training he might be worthy of a late round pick with a chance to challenge anyone below the top 10.
Jonathan Singleton deserves a mention as well. He was the jewel piece of the Hunter Pence deal with Philadelphia. He’ll probably start the year in AAA so unless you have a very deep bench there is no need to draft him. He projects to be a .285 hitter with 25+ home run power. He strikes out a lot but he does walk enough to offset this. Expecting a high average upon his promotion would be foolish, but his power could translate to the major league quickly.
Andy Wilkins is another young player like Singleton. He won’t be a high batting average guy but his ability to draw walks should give him a decent OBP. Wilkins also has good power and should be able to hit 20 home runs with the potential for a little more. With Paul Konerko leaving via free agency, the first base job is wide open in Chicago. The Sox may opt to sign a one year guy to cover first just in case, so look for Wilkins to possibly start the season in AAA. I see growing pains in the beginning, but a solid overall player in 2 to 3 years.
Victor Martinez played 11 games at first this year so he should qualify in most leagues. He batted .300 and gave us good RBI numbers, but his run production was that of a catcher and 13 home runs isn’t enough if you’re going to be someones starting first baseman. He’ll be 35 next year and with his power down the past 2 years you have to wonder what will decline next. If he qualifies for catcher next year he’ll have value, but as a first baseman his value is limited to corner infield.
Finally we have David Ortiz. Big Papi only played 4 games at first last season so odds are unless your league rules are very relaxed, he’s not going to qualify for you. Since the number of True DH players are limited, I’ll list him here. Just like A.J. Pierzynski Ortiz has been dismissed for a few years now by fantasy owners, but at age 37 he put up another typical Ortiz season (almost identical to his 2011 numbers). If he qualified for first I’d hesitantly place him at 13 (14 if Matt Adams starts at first), although the numbers he’s put up that last 3 years probably warrant a higher slot. Ortiz will be 38 next season and while regression finds all players eventually, it hasn’t located Papi yet. If you need a power bat for your DH spot, look no further.
As for the catchers that may or may not qualify for first base in your league, feel free to insert them above at the following rankings moving the existing player down.
Buster Posey 11 (21 games at first)
Jonathan Lucroy 17 (14 games at first)
Carlos Santana 19 (29 games at first)
Joe Mauer 21 (8 games at first)
Be sure to check out the entire Top 24 for 2014 Series.