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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 First Basemen

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterFebruary 19, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 First Basemen

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    He didn't notch as many homers or RBI as Chris Davis last year, but Paul Goldschmidt is 2014's top fantasy first baseman.
    He didn't notch as many homers or RBI as Chris Davis last year, but Paul Goldschmidt is 2014's top fantasy first baseman.Associated Press

    With the top 150 fantasy baseball players all ordered and ranked on the inaugural Big Board, it's time to get into the individual position rankings.

    After providing some sequencing to the catchers last time out, next up is first base, which is extremely top-heavy. There are a half-dozen studs that will require a first- or second-round pick, including Paul Goldschmidt (pictured), Chris Davis and Prince Fielder.

    Beyond those names, owners can choose from youngsters who may have yet to reach their full potential (like Freddie Freeman and Eric Hosmer) or more stable vets (like Adrian Gonzalez). And while the position isn't quite as stacked as it once was, there are a few mid-rounders who could emerge as stars.

    This is also where players eligible only at designated hitter (or the utility spot for fantasy) are included in the rankings.

    Let's run down the top 25 overall fantasy first basemen and a few others you should watch. 

     

    These rankings consider three factors:

    First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).

    Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

    And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014. Additionally, players are listed in the rankings at the position where their fantasy utility would be most useful.

    Statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

The First Base 'Watch List'

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Chris Carter, 1B/OF, Houston Astros (pictured)

    If you want solely a power play, this 27-year-old who racked up 29 homers (and an MLB-high 212 strikeouts) in 2013 makes for a useful late-round reserve pick, especially considering he's eligible at outfield too.

     

    Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Seattle Mariners

    After missing all of '13 with multiple knee surgeries, Hart has a chance to be a sleeper who rewards owners who remember that his average season from 2010-12 looked like this: .279 BA, 29 HR, 83 RBI. He'll be 32 next month.

     

    Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners

    Seriously, this guy? Again? Hey, think what you want about the perpetual breakout candidate, but Smoak did hit a career-high 20 homers while establishing bests in runs (53), walks (64) and average (.238). No, it's not exactly good, but at least he's still heading in the right direction. More of an AL-only option.

     

    Yonder Alonso, 1B, San Diego Padres

    With just 20 career homers in two full seasons worth of at-bats, Alonso isn't going to bring much in the category that most owners want from first base. Still, after missing nearly half the year with hand/wrist injuries, the 26-year-old with the good approach (.346 OBP) could be 2014's version of James Loney.

     

    Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

    Last year was disappointing for Singleton. On the verge of the majors, the 22-year-old was suspended the first 50 games for a second violation with a drug of abuse, then hit .230 in the minors. He's arguably the top prospect at the position, though, with little blocking his path to Houston. Expect a mid-year call-up.

Nos. 25-21

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    No. 25: Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies

    After you stop laughing, maybe you'll see the benefit in paying pennies for the chance that Howard, 34, has one more 25-homer season in him. He was hitting a respectable .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI last year before succumbing to knee problems. He did that, by the way, in 80 games.

     

    No. 24: Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies

    Like Howard, the 32-year-old Morneau has reached the stage of his career where he needs a caddy to handle left-handers after posting a ghastly .525 OPS against them. He still can do damage against right-handers (.819 OPS), though, and he calls Coors home now. Another former stud trying for one last hurrah? 

     

    No. 23: Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Cleveland Indians

    Although his first season in Cleveland went better for the team than for Swisher, he remained a steady yet unsexy slugger, reaching 20 four-baggers for the ninth straight time. A balky shoulder likely was part of the reason for the 33-year-old's .246 average, so he could be an underrated corner infielder in mixed play.

      

    No. 22: Brandon Moss, 1B/OF, Oakland Athletics (pictured)

    Moss proved his 2012 breakout—at age 28, no less—was legitimate by following up those 21 homers with another 30 in '13. His 27.7 strikeout rate last year kept his average down (.256) and likely will again, but as long as it's in the same range, owners should be happy enough expecting another 25-30 home runs. 

     

    No. 21: Kendrys Morales, 1B, Free Agent 

    Ranking Morales is tricky because, well, dude doesn't have a team yet. Still, as long as he goes to a club that deploys him at first or DH regularly, he won't hurt in any one category (outside of steals). If he lands in a good park or amid a potent lineup, the 30-year-old could even be a corner infielder with upside.

     

Nos. 20-16

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    No. 20: Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees

    Questions abound with Teixeira as he heads into his age-34 year, especially since he was in decline before missing most of 2013 with a serious wrist injury that required surgery after he tried to play through. If—and that's a big "if"—he's healthy, though, it's not like 25 homers and 80-plus RBI is such a stretch.

     

    No. 19: Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

    Adams was great over the final month as a rookie, knocking eight out and notching 15 RBI over his final 25 games after Allen Craig got hurt. The 25-year-old is in line to start the year at first, but Craig's general immobility in the outfield and the pending arrival of top prospect Oscar Taveras could cut into his action.

       

    No. 18: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

    Rizzo, 24, was more hype than help last season, his first full one. A promising half-season in 2012 (.285 BA, 15 HR, 48 RBI) got many to buy in, but the payout was less than generous: a .233 average with 23 homers and 80 RBI. This is a big year for Rizzo's fantasy future, so that .258 BABIP needs to jump.

     

    No. 17: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox (pictured)

    This, folks, is your X-factor at the position. A 27-year-old rookie, Abreu got a big contract ($68 million over six years) from Chicago on the hope that he can follow fellow Cuban stars Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. The guy put up some silly stats in the Serie Nacional and could be a fantasy monster—if the numbers translate.

     

    No. 16: Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers 

    The steady Martinez might be the antithesis of the unknown Abreu. For owners seeking stability without the same upside, the 35-year-old is a safe bet for a .300 average, 15 homers and 80-90 RBI. Avoiding another first-half slump (.693 OPS) and returning to the cleanup spot for the departed Prince Fielder could boost that final category.

No. 15: Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .289 BA, 76 R, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 5 SB (571 PA)

    Nothing really jumps out at you from that stat line, right? There's certainly nothing bad to point out, but nothing too special either.

    What is potentially special, though, is what Brandon Belt did over the second half of 2013, when he triple-slashed .326/.390/.524 while starting on an everyday basis after reworking his stance and swing midseason.

    If there's more of that to come in 2014—and over the entire season rather than just half of one—Belt, 25, could be transforming from a nice little player to own on your roster into a potential starter at first base. Plus, the Baby Giraffe might even chip in double-digit stolen bases from a position where anything north of two is a bonus.

No. 14: Billy Butler, DH, Kansas City Royals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .289 BA, 62 R, 15 HR, 82 RBI, 0 SB (668 PA)

    Just when it appeared that Billy Butler was about to put up a monster age-27 season last year, he turned in a barely-better-than-mediocre one. To make matters worse, Butler played only seven games at first base, meaning he's lost that eligibility too.

    So why does a player coming off a so-so campaign, who is now only useable at the utility position, rank a spot higher than Belt? Mainly because Butler has done it before. Yes, his isolated power dropped to a career-low .124, but it had been a career-high .197 in 2012.

    The big man would do better to return to his more fly-balling ways—his rate has dropped three years running to a new low of 26.4 percent—but he's got consistency, durability and a quality lineup in his corner.

No. 13: Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .259 BA, 79 R, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 1 SB (578 PA)

    Similar to how Butler's loss of first base eligibility hampers his 2014 fantasy value, so does the loss of catcher eligibility for Mike Napoli. Additionally, the 32-year-old did strike out 187 times last year, so the batting average risk is very real.

    On the positive side of the ledger, he did re-sign with the Red Sox, which was a smart move given the surrounding team and ballpark, both of which give Napoli's bat a boost.

    Six straight 20-homer seasons is likely to turn into seven, so the counting stats—namely, runs and RBI—should be strong again, but don't overrate Napoli either.

No. 12: Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .234 BA, 85 R, 34 HR, 100 RBI, 5 SB (678 PA)

    Mark Trumbo is a great example of a player who is better in fantasy baseball than the real kind.

    His penchant for swinging and missing (184 times last year) and sub-.300 career OBP—yes, really—prove he's more than a little flawed as a hitter.

    Unless you play in a league that counts on-base percentage or punishes whiffs, though, Trumbo is a valuable commodity for what he does do: hit homers and drive in runs. His 34 and 100 in those two categories in '13 were both career bests.

    Now that he moves from pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium to hitter-friendly Chase Field in the desert, there's a possibility Trumbo could yet again set career highs. Just be sure to snag a .300 hitter elsewhere to help balance things out.

     

No. 11: David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .309 BA, 84 R, 30 HR, 103 RBI, 3 SB (600 PA)

    The only thing more amazing than what David Ortiz did last year after missing half of 2012 with a serious foot injury is that he did it while sitting out the first 15 games of 2013 while still recovering.

    At this point in his 17-year career, the 38-year-old Ortiz is a risk to suffer a swift, steep drop-off, but until that happens, fantasy owners need to consider him a formidable lineup stalwart. Even if he's only capable of being used in the utility position.

    Fun fact: Ortiz's four steals (against zero failed attempts) last season represent a career high. Apparently, he's showing no signs of slowing down.

No. 10: Allen Craig, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .315 BA, 71 R, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 2 SB (563 PA)

    Allen Craig was on his way to a beastly fantasy season last year when he did what he does—get hurt.

    Despite being 29 already, he's never played more than 134 games in a season, a career high that actually was established last year prior to his missing the final four weeks with a foot injury that kept him out of the postseason until the World Series.

    Still, when Craig was healthy, he raked, as the stats show. Sure, the homers were down a little bit, but who's to complain when he hit .315 and practically drove in 100 even with all that time on the shelf?

    Of course, Craig probably won't hit .454 with runners in scoring position again—the highest mark in the league in since the turn of the century—but he is in the middle of a potent Cardinals one-through-nine, hits for average and power and is eligible at both first base and outfield in fantasy. Just have a DL replacement at the ready.

No. 9: Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .258 BA, 49 R, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 1 SB (443 PA)

    You already know that Albert Pujols the Los Angeles Angel has been a disappointment verging on disaster. What you might not know is that it doesn't have to be more of the same in year three.

    Across 2012 and 2013 with L.A., Pujols hit just .275 with an .823 OPS, numbers that were dragged down by a brutal season last year in which the 34-year-old managed to play only 99 games.

    The reason for that absence? A chronic case of plantar fasciitis finally took its toll. In fact, Pujols' re-aggravation of his foot injury last July stopped him in his tracks—but also more or less took care of the problem.

    Now that he's claiming to be back to full health, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Pujols could be ready to bounce back, especially amid a talented bunch of Angels batters. If that's the case, third time could be the charm.

No. 8: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .293 BA, 69 R, 22 HR, 100 RBI, 1 SB (641 PA)

    No longer the fantasy star he was a few years ago, Adrian Gonzalez is still as solid and dependable as they come.

    Now 31, Gonzalez remains a central bat in a Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that has a handful of stars around him. As long as the team doesn't suffer quite as many injuries as it did a year ago when Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford (among others) all missed oodles of action, it's not out of the question that Gonzalez's runs and RBI totals could see a minor spike.

    Asking for a return to 30 home runs, though, might be a stretch; he hasn't hit that many since 2010 as a San Diego Padre. In short, when it comes to Gonzalez as your fantasy first baseman, you might do a little better, but you could do a whole lot worse.

No. 7: Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .302 BA, 86 R, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 11 SB (680 PA)

    If Gonzalez is all about consistency at this stage of his career, then Eric Hosmer is all about potential—and the bet that the 24-year-old hasn't reached his yet.

    Through the first two months of last season, 2013 looked like it was going to be a letdown, much like 2012 had been. As of June 15, Hosmer was hitting just .269 and, even worse, had merely two homers and 23 RBI in 64 games.

    From that point on, though, The Hoz hit .321 with 15 homers and 56 RBI in 95 games.

    Is Hosmer the genuine slugger that most owners want from this position? No, and he may never be. But a player with as sound of a swing and approach as Hosmer's is capable of all-around fantasy contributions. What he might lack in the HR department (that's HR for "home run"), he'll make up for in average, runs and even steals.

     

No. 6: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .319 BA, 89 R, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 1 SB (629 PA)

    Freddie Freeman's 2013 campaign is what Hosmer's 2014 might look like (with a handful more steals), so it's fitting to rank them back-to-back. Freeman gets the edge here simply because he's done it.

    And yet, there are questions about whether Freeman can do again what he already has. His .371 BABIP was one of the highest in the majors last year, so it would seem some good fortune shined upon him. In other words, take a little off the top of his batting average, and maybe everything else starts to look a little less fantasy-friendly.

    Let's not get too carried away, though. This is still a 24-year-old with a track record trending in the right direction who hits smack in the center of a powerful lineup. Even if Freeman doesn't quite replicate his 2013 in 2014, his production should come close.

     

No. 5: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .305 BA, 101 R, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB (726 PA)

    Here come the big boys. And yes, even after a great, but not incredible fantasy season last year, Joey Votto is still a big boy.

    By fantasy standards, he had quite the odd year, as he maintained—as always—a robust batting average and superb runs scored total, but the homers and RBI numbers came up a little shy of expectations.

    To be clear, this isn't a criticism of the 30-year-old's performance. But Votto actually was a better real life player than a fantasy one in 2013, simply because he yet again led the NL in walk (135!)  (135!) and OBP (.435!), which don't quite resonate as well here. (If you do happen to play in an OBP league, by all means, disregard all of the above.)

    That's not to say he's not still capable of 30-plus homers and 90-plus RBI—to go with that stout average and all those runs—but even if Votto falls short in those categories again, rest assured that he's a borderline first-round draft pick based on his 2013 production as the floor.

     

No. 4: Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .279 BA, 82 R, 25 HR, 106 RBI, 1 SB (712 PA)

    While his power output was perhaps ever so slightly subdued last season, Prince Fielder is sure not to be underrated or overlooked in fantasy drafts in 2014.

    That's because the 29-year-old has a new team with a reloaded lineup and plays half his games at a ballpark that historically has been among the most welcoming to hitters, particularly those who possess Prince-like power.

    In some ways—and this is not really a knock on him—Fielder is the opposite of Votto in that he's better in fantasy than in reality because his game fits more snugly into the standard scoring categories (namely, HR and RBI).

    So if faced with the choice between the two on draft day, remember which version of this sport it is you're playing.

No. 3: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .272 BA, 90 R, 36 HR, 104 RBI, 7 SB (621 PA)

    For any folks who had lingering questions about Edwin Encarnacion following his monstrous breakout in 2012, here's a query for you: Are your questions still lingering?

    Obviously, the answer is: Heck to the no! Not after the 31-year-old could have threatened—or even surpassed—his career highs in homers, RBI and runs scored, all of which were set the year prior, had he not missed most of the final month with a wrist injury. He might've reached double digits in steals again too.

    And for those of you who like this sort of thing to help you fell all warm and fuzzy about your top picks, Encarnacion actually walked 20 times more than he whiffed in 2013. Look for him to keep taking that parrot for plenty of trots around the bases.

     

No. 2: Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .286 BA, 103 R, 53 HR, 138 RBI, 4 SB (673 PA)

    Holy 2013 statistics, Batman! Chris Davis went from breakout slugger in 2012 to absolutely bonkers last year. Question is, can he do that again? The answer, well, that's not so easy.

    You see, Davis, 28 in March, still has many of the same flaws he always has. Chief among them? He swings and misses, like, a lot (29.6 percent last year), and he struggles against against same-sided pitchers (.235/.289/.475 vs. LHPs). Davis also dropped off after the break: .245/.339/.515, compared to an insane .315/.392/.717 before.

    That's not to say he won't be a fantasy monster again this season, because much like Ivan Drago, whatever he hits, he destroysThe power is for real, and another 40-homer, 100-RBI campaign could happen.

    Just expect a comedown in every category, because all in all, 2013 was Davis' career year.

No. 1: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .302 BA, 103 R, 36 HR, 125 RBI, 15 SB (710 PA)

    The only way Paul Goldschmidt could have been more helpful to fantasy owners who enjoyed his 2013 season would be if he also pitched.

    The 26-year-old was above-average in all five categories, including steals, and he was a straight stud in runs, homers and RBI.

    Even more amazing, Goldy showed no particularly worrisome underlying stat or split. In fact, he was just as good at home (.957 OPS) as he was on the road (.948), just as good against righties (.941) as against lefties (.986) and just as good in the first half as in the second.

    That last one was meant literally: His OPS before and after the break was an identical .952.

    The top two overall draft picks are Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera (who you'll find in the third base rankings, where he's still eligible), in whichever order you prefer, but at No. 3 overall, it's hard to pass up Goldschmidt.

     

    Here are the fantasy rankings at other positions:

    Catchers

     

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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