Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 20 First Basemen from This Point Forward

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterJune 20, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 20 First Basemen from This Point Forward

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    The following countdown touts my picks for the top 20 first basemen in fantasy—from this point forward.

    To clarify, this listing is not necessarily a celebration of those who posted stellar stats from April 4-June 19 or those who were prominently featured in the preseason rankings.

    It's simply a compilation of the best assets moving forward. It's also a rundown of the 20 most appealing 1B-eligible hitters to pursue in trades for the stretch run. (There are a lot of stars with dual-position versatility.)

    When originally crafting the list, I was surprised that neither Freddie Freeman, Mike Napoli nor Justin Morneau made the final cut.

    But in a season where the real depth at first base runs almost 30 deep, hard choices had to be made somewhere.

    Enjoy the show!

20: Lucas Duda, New York Mets

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    2012 Stats: 11 HR, 42 RBI, 27 Runs, .268 BA

    Skinny: This Mets masher warrants the last countdown slot over Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, Justin Morneau, Jordan Pacheco, Ike Davis, Brandon Belt, Carlos Pena, Yonder Alonso, Adam LaRoche, Justin Smoak and Mark Reynolds for two primary reasons:

    1. Duda, who has dual-position versatility (1B/OF), is hitting at a .304 clip with two homers and 10 RBI since June 5. He also has seven homers and 22 RBI in the last 30 days.

    2. Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (.190 batting since May 21) has to overcome vision problems and a substantial finger injury before re-establishing himself as a top-20 asset.

19: Michael Morse, Washington Nationals

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    2012 Stats: 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 Runs, .230 BA

    Skinny: The Morse ranking has little to do with his poor seasonal numbers to date. That's fairly obvious.

    Instead, it's a complete leap of faith based on two factors—Morse's excellent production in 2011 (31 homers, 95 RBI, .303 batting) and the extreme hope he'll be a major contributor in the Nationals' playoff push down the stretch.

    Therein lies the beauty of this countdown: Sometimes you have to throw out the recent numbers of productive veterans...and wait for a 15-, 30- or 45-day run of statistical excellence to kick in.

    And that goodness will come.

18: Michael Young, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 3 HR, 27 RBI, 31 Runs, 2 Steals, .271 BA

    Skinny: From one struggling asset to another...

    It wouldn't be a stretch to link Michael Morse and Michael Young here. Both players have fallen woefully short of expectations this season, and yet, their respective teams are still counting on the veterans to get hot in the final three months.

    Sure, Young has the luxury of hitting in a more vaunted lineup, perhaps baseball's best; but there's really no excuse for batting below .200 in seven-day and 15-day cycles. After all, we're talking about a time-tested star with six 200-hit seasons since 2003.

    As a result, Young has earned the right to play his way out of a significant funk, minus any definitive judgments.

17: Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2012 Stats: 8 HR, 28 RBI, 19 Runs, 1 Steal, .327 BA

    Skinny: There is nothing flashy about Craig's four-category game. Just consistent numbers at every stage of a long season.

    From a 15-day (.292 batting) and 30-day standpoint (three homers, .288 batting), Craig has been a solid asset.

    But it's his seasonal marks with on-base percentage (.411), slugging (.627) and OPS (1.038) that clinch this lofty ranking amongst the 1B-eligible stars.

16: Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats: 14 HR, 32 RBI, 38 Runs, 1 Steal, .247 BA

    Skinny: It took Prince Fielder leaving Milwaukee for greener pastures (money) and Mat Gamel sustaining a season-ending knee injury for Hart to take over first base.

    But fantasy owners may need more time to determine if it was a beneficial move.

    Since May 21, Hart is batting only .217; and from a seasonal perspective, he's a long shot to replicate superb numbers from the 2010 season (31 homers, 102 RBI, 91 runs, seven steals).

    That aside, Hart still has value in 12-team roto leagues. His dual-position versatility (1B/OF) and promising numbers with homers (14) and doubles (18) suggest a 30-day breakout may be on the horizon.

    At the very least, fantasy owners can use those power-based positives as trade bait before the All-Star break.

15: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2012 Stats: 9 HR, 30 RBI, 26 Runs, 6 Steals, .282 BA

    Skinny: It's absurd that Goldschmidt (seven homers, .347 batting, .432 OBP, 1.165 OPS since May 21) is a free agent in the majority of MLB fantasy leagues.

    And yet, this is the world we live in. A world where owners aren't fixating on the almighty stat line with free-agent hitters—30-day track record.

    What's not to like about a red-hot hitter who's on pace for 20 homers and flashed 30-homer power in the minors (twice)?

    And what's not to like about a masher who has a plum lineup spot with a Diamondbacks offense that currently ranks in the top 10 for runs, hits, homers, RBI, batting average and OPS among National League clubs?

    Bottom line: If possible, please don't reward sloppy owners that are tediously late to the Goldy party.

14: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

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    2012 Stats: 12 HR, 31 RBI, 32 Runs, .288 BA

    Skinny: Davis has been a little flat of late, notching just two hits in his last 18-at bats (as of June 20).

    But one bad week cannot detract from the solid numbers he's posted in four categories throughout the season, spurred on by a .335 on-base percentage. Especially coming off an eight-game stretch (June 6-14) that yielded a .382 batting average with three homers, eight RBI and eight runs.

    Think about it: If you were in Las Vegas three months ago, and had the option of betting a large sum of money toward, 'Who would have the higher OBP through June 20—Davis or Michael Young?' one would have picked against Young (not even a Davis family member).

    And yet, Davis has done a superb job of quietly living up to the fantasy expectations that were so high just three years ago, while playing a starring role on a playoff-contending team.

13: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    2012 Stats: 8 HR, 32 RBI, 27 Runs, 6 Steals, .218 BA

    Skinny: It's fun to conveniently ignore certain stats. It's fun to dismiss Eric Hosmer's .218 batting average from April-June as a small-sample trend that has little chance of repeating itself in the season's final three months.

    Of course, it helps that Hosmer is batting .293 with three homers and five steals since May 21. It also helps that he plays a prominent role on an emerging club that's swimming with 27-and-under talent.

    Put it all together, and Hosmer—a viable 20/20 candidate—has too much raw ability and positive mojo to warrant a low ranking for this ultra-competitive countdown.

    For now, at least.

12: Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies

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    2012 Stats: 10 HR, 44 RBI, 36 Runs, 7 Steals, .270 BA

    Skinny: This endorsement should be even more fruitful to the fantasy owner who gets three-position versatility (1B/2B/OF) out of Cuddyer—one of the Rockies' few gems from a season that's slowly careening out of control.

    (And I don't think a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limits will break this funk.)

    From a 30-day perspective, Cuddyer's batting .294 with four homers. Regarding splits for April, May and June, he's three-for-three in sporting on-base percentages above .300 and OPS marks above .800.

    And from a five-category standpoint, Cuddyer has a great shot at eclipsing last year's output in runs (70), hits (150), homers (20), RBI (70) and steals (11).

11: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

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    2012 Stats: 5 HR, 36 RBI, 31 Runs, .257 BA

    Skinny: Of the top-20 assets in my preseason top 60, Adrian Gonzalez has likely been the biggest disappointment to date (with Tim Lincecum running a close second).

    But let's not overreact to a slow start that includes deflating numbers over the last 30 days (.232 batting) and a power slump that could result in less than 20 homers come October.

    In the last six full years (2006-11), Gonzalez has per-season averages of 31.3 homers, 103 RBI, 95.3 runs and a .296 batting average.

    Throw in the fact that he calls Fenway Park home and it would be foolish to believe Gonzo's July-September stats will mirror that of a treacherous first half.

10: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 23 HR, 52 RBI, 42 Runs, .225 BA

    Skinny: It's typically not in my nature to bestow All-Star honors to random guys hitting .225, but it's impossible to ignore Dunn's prodigious marks in homers, RBI, runs, on-base percentage (.369) and OPS (.928).

    How's this for weird? Dunn has struck out 109 times and drawn only 54 walks this season. Couple that with the aforementioned .225 average and there's really no rhyme or reason for his sneaky-good penchant for getting on base.

    Can Dunn continue this incredible pace of remarkably disparate numbers? Who knows.

    But things are rolling too much to extend only cursory props for July, August and September. After all, we're talking about a 32-year-old power hitter with a homer range of 38 to 46 from 2004-10 (seven straight seasons).

9: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Stats: 19 HR, 46 RBI, 39 Runs, 6 Steals, .279 BA

    Skinny: Two isolated days of fantasy success shouldn't cement a ranking here; but in Encarnacion's special case, it was validation of a tremendous run in April and May and the necessary fuel to believe in a prosperous finish.

    On June 18 and 19, Encarnacion belted two homers, the first moon shots since he suffered a hand injury in early June (hit-by-pitch). This two-day glory was the perfect ending to a 30-day period that included a .310 batting average and six homers.

    This isn't to say Encarnacion is a cinch to post great numbers from this point forward. With the Blue Jays getting ravaged by pitching injuries (Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison), the Toronto hitters may feel more pressure to carry the club to victory every night.

    That could have a negative effect on a free-swinging talent like Encarnacion (24/48 BB-K ratio). But then again, I was preparing for the worst after the hand injury...and E-5 has apparently weathered that storm, without incident.

8: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    2012 Stats: 3 HR, 32 RBI, 33 Runs, 3 Steals, .314 BA

    Skinny: There's a certain coolness to Mauer's fantasy status this season.

    For starters, he has great symmetry with RBI, runs and batting average. He also has balance on the field, racking up double-digit starts at catcher, first base and designated hitter.

    By extension, fantasy owners should be motivated to acquire Mauer (.356 batting since May 21) in trade talks. By any means necessary.

    Now that he's 1B-eligible, it's time to act fast on a dual-position asset who will likely carry teams in batting average from this point forward.

7: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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    2012 Stats: 12 HR, 40 RBI, 35 Runs, 1 Steal, .253 BA

    Skinny: It's a little surprising that Teixeira (111 homers, 341 RBI from 2009-11) didn't bat above .300 during the Yankees' recent 20-4 tear.

    But his other 30-day numbers (seven homers, 20 RBI, 17 runs, .405 OBP, .600 SLG, 1.005 OPS) were stellar enough to believe Tex will be a sublime fantasy asset in the season's final three months.

    Since May 21, Teixeira boasts a top-three ranking among Yankees hitters in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS.

    Last but certainly not least, Teixeira has a tremendous walks-to-strikeout ratio of 17/19—another indication of his excellent plate discipline.

6: Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 16 HR, 48 RBI, 32 Runs, 4 Steals, .326 BA

    Skinny: From the opening bell, Trumbo has had a remarkable season for the Angels, so much that it would be a crime to exclude him from top-six consideration.

    Among third basemen for May, Trumbo ranked in the top seven in homers (second), RBI (seventh) and batting average (third). Heck, the slugger even tallied three steals for the month!

    For June, Trumbo already has a pair of two-homer games and separate efforts of four, five and six RBI. And from a 15-day perspective, Trumbo has six homers, 20 RBI and a robust .340 batting average.

    Bottom line: While it's true Trumbo only has 217 MLB games under his belt, there's no indication of a slump anytime soon.

    He's the perfect low-key, three-positional asset (3B/1B/OF) in fantasy.

5: Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 13 HR, 38 RBI, 35 Runs, .357 BA

    Skinny: Konerko was the hottest hitter on the planet from May 14-29 (.568 batting, five homers). And then from June 4-19, he was merely a superstar asset, batting .317 with two homers.

    Put it all together, and Konerko is once again a healthy lock for 30 home runs—and an eighth season of 28-plus homers since 2004.

    His early-season greatness aside, Konerko shall remain a sell-high commodity in fantasy circles, based on one unavoidable truth.

    His age (36) suggests that Konerko won't be able to maintain this prodigious hitting pace once the calendar hits August and September. It also gives Doubting Thomas fantasy owners a baseless excuse to believe the slugger will melt in the Chicago summer heat.

    But Konerko has a career homer range of 62-70 for the months of July, August and September (at least 326 games per month) for a rough average of one homer every 4.93 games. His per-game homer average for the months of April, May and June is about 1/4.78.

    In other words, don't let the facts get in the way of a popular myth about Konerko's powers of sustainability.

4: Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 10 HR, 44 RBI, 35 Runs, 1 Steal, .311 BA

    Skinny: Looking at the numbers, it would be a stretch to say that Fielder (.326 batting with three homers since May 21) has a good shot at replicating last year's output in homers (38) and RBI (120).

    Batting left-handed at Comerica Park essentially seals his fate in the two departments.

    On the flip side, I love Prince's chances of tallying 90 runs and batting above .320 for the schizophrenic Tigers. By extension, I'll be surprised if his on-base percentage and OPS aren't comfortably above .400 and .900 by season's end.

    That's not a bad trade-off for Fielder, who remains a viable candidate for 25 homers and 100 RBI.

3: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 11 HR, 43 RBI, 33 Runs, 4 Steals, .258 BA

    Skinny: As stated a few weeks ago, Pujols' fantasy owners had no choice but to wait out a high-profile power slump that consumed good chunks of September (2011), April and May.

    The fantasy GMs certainly couldn't cut Pujols, undoubtedly the greatest hitter of this century, and they couldn't trade him in 12-team leagues, either. At least not at the slugger's typical sky-high market value.

    And true to form, Pujols eventually caught fire and began making up for lost time. Since June 5, he's batting .353 with three homers; and from a 30-day perspective, Pujols boasts a .337 average with three steals, eight homers and 25 RBI.

    Does this run of five-category success suggest Pujols is slump-proof from this point forward? Uh, probably not. But are you going to doubt the consistency of a future Hall of Famer with 456 homers, 1,372 RBI and a lifetime average of .326?

    I didn't think so.

2: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 14 HR, 55 RBI, 40 Runs, 3 Steals, .313 BA

    Skinny: Miggy (.371 on-base percentage) was my No. 1 fantasy asset heading into the season, a ranking that somehow failed to predict Josh Hamilton would rack up nine homers and 15 RBI in a six-day span (May 7-12).

    That aside, Cabrera has been great, but hardly dominant to this point, which suggests his own Hamilton-esque window of reckoning is on the horizon.

    Check out any at-bat from this season: Miggy never gets overwhelmed by pitchers and seldom gets fooled on isolated pitches. And by all accounts, the offseason weight loss—aiding the transition to third base—hasn't affected his power at all.

    Bottom line: Even if it's the longest of long shots, it still wouldn't hurt to make a bold trade play for Miggy's services—as soon as humanly possible.

1: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    2012 Stats: 13 HR, 45 RBI, 45 Runs, 4 Steals, .369 BA

    Skinny: Votto (.464) is the only regular at his position hitting at a .400 clip in the 30 days.

    Since May 21, Votto also holds the following rankings among first basemen: First in runs (21), first in hits (45), first in doubles (13), sixth in homers (six), sixth in RBI (17), fourth in steals, first in batting average, first in on-base percentage (.543), first in slugging (.784) and—surprise—first in OPS (1.327).

    One last measure of greatness: Very few players can dominate the walks-to-strikeouts ratio like Votto (55/53). His plate discipline is off the charts.

    In other words, Votto has more than justified his No. 5 overall status back in March; he's also in the charter-member discussion for National League and Fantasy MVP.

    As a result, it was incredibly easy to select Votto over Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Mark Trumbo and Miggy Cabrera for the highest honor among first basemen.

    Bottom line: There is no reasonable fantasy trade too rich or complex...when it involves landing the best corner infielder from this point forward.