Fantasy Baseball Draft Day Bargains and Busts: First Base

Matt GelfandCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  James Loney of the Los Angeles Dodgers poses during media photo day on February 27, 2010 at the Ballpark at Camelback Ranch, in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

For this week’s breakdown, we switch from arguably the scarcest position in fantasy baseball (catcher) to its most plentiful.  

There are uber-sleepers like Billy Butler and Joey Votto, two guys that hit for both average and power who have been slowly creeping up on the 1B elite over the past two seasons.  Both are due to reach that potential this season.

There are old standbys like Lance Berkman and Justin Morneau, who, barring any injuries, can ink in .280/30/100 seasons. 

And, of course, there are the four big guns (Pujols, Teixeira, Fielder, M. Cabrera) who frankly don’t bear mentioning in this column because, well, they’re all first round talent and there isn’t anything I could say that could make you believe otherwise. 

Which leaves us with six real wild cards.  And while it’s exceedingly hard to pick out any three first basemen and advise against them, as even the most disappointing of players are sure to put up acceptable power numbers—it’s those whose skills show signs of erosion and thus make riskier picks on draft day that are singled out. 

Without further ado...

Three Up

Kendry Morales

Prime breakout age?  Check.  Career high HR/FB percentage in ’09? Check.  Sitting pretty in the heart of the Angels' lineup?  Check.  

In his first full season as an Angel, Morales delivered the type of season that made most people forget about Mark Teixeira.  Granted, one could (and should) look at Morales’ numbers last season and conclude a breakout already took place. 

I’d tend to agree—if I didn’t think even more power was on the horizon.  His Herculean second-half (21 HRs, 67 RBI, .328 average) will jack up his draft value this year, but his name still isn’t as household as, say, someone like Kevin Youkilis, who is generally being drafted two rounds earlier than Morales despite a similar .BA and lesser power numbers. 

James Loney

While it seems like Loney’s been toying fantasy owners with his tantalizingly stable .300 BA and moderate power numbers for about a decade, it’s surprising to find out that Loney is only 26. 

And while his numbers from ’08 and ’09 were nearly identical (.289/13/90 in ’08, .281/13/90 in ’09), the number that truly stands out in comparison is his walk rate.  From ’08 to ’09, he increased his walk totals from 45 to 70, while decreasing his K rate from 85 to 68, which shows some very promising plate discipline—although it’s not like Loney (who batted .331 in 2007) needs it. 

He sported a career high in HR/FB% during the second half of last season, which makes this writer think a true breakout season may be looming in 2010.  Knock about 30 points of batting average off Joe Mauer’s absurd 2009 numbers, and you have Loney’s upside. 

Adam LaRoche

LaRoche’s reputation is his worst enemy, despite ridiculous consistency from year to year.  Most owners hear LaRoche’s name and instantly think “slow starter, pay for second half numbers.”

And while his career trends don’t dispute that claim, his new role in Arizona may mean he won’t be readily available on the waiver wire post All-Star break. 

He now once again has an every day job with the Diamondbacks, and it looks like he’ll be batting cleanup sandwiched in between Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds, which means RBI opportunities and runs may be a little more plentiful. 

At 30, he’s got less mileage on him than bigger names like Derrick Lee and Carlos Pena, and 30-HR upside still exists (he hit 32 with Atlanta in ’06).   Does he deserve to be drafted before those bigger power guys right now?  Probably not.  But by the end of 2010, don’t be surprised if he finishes with comparable numbers. 

Three Down

Chris Davis

Like most overly ambitious, upside-seeking fantasy owners, I fell victim to “Chris Davis Mania” in 2009, and felt the subsequent sting of his atrocious inability to hit anything BUT home runs in the first half, resulting in a .202 batting average, more HRs (15) than doubles (10), and a ridiculous 114 Ks. 

Something clicked in the second half after his demotion, as he was able to regain some level of respectability (.308 BA, six HRs in 133 ABs), plus he’ll be hitting sixth in the juggernaut Rangers lineup this season. 

But something about Davis still doesn’t sit well with me, and his improvements in the second half merit a somewhat lesser value because of the limited sample size (33 games). 

While the power is real, I’m not quite ready to buy into “Davis Mania 2010,” and risk my collective team’s batting average when someone like Loney or even Nick Johnson is still available. 

Derrek Lee

Wow.  Where did that come from, Mr. Lee?

Four seasons after an absolutely epic career year (46/107/15/.335), and subsequent power outage after a 2006 wrist injury, Lee stormed back into relevance at the ripe age of 34 last season with a similar line (35/111/1/.306) only without the steals. 

Recurring neck and back spasms may have had something to do with that.  I say 2009’s power spike was an anomaly.  Lee’s batting average should remain consistent, but I’m willing to bet on his power reverting back to the mid-20s level of ’07-’08. 

At 35 and becoming increasingly brittle, don’t pay for 2009 numbers. 

Carlos Pena

As a former Pena owner in 2009, I must say I’m a little relieved to know I won’t be shelling out a seventh round pick on the Dominican Adam Dunn this year. 

There’s only so many “1-for-4, 3Ks” a man can take.  That being said, I’m not complaining about 39 home runs (which could’ve easily been 45 had he not broken his hand with one month left to play). 

Unfortunately, I don’t see much hope for an improvement in batting average (.227 in ’09), as his meteoric fly ball rate and consequent lack of line drives or ground balls has been a boon to his BA, and a major reason behind his declining contact rate over the past two seasons.  

What’s more, his BA versus right-handers (.236) also saw a sharp drop from years past, making me weary that he can even stay above the Mendoza line this season without tweaking his approach. 

Pena says his hand feels “fine,” but I certainly won’t feel fine drafting the golf-balling Pena ahead of somebody like Billy Butler (ADP 84.08).