Fantasy Baseball Focus: American League first basemen
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Editor’s Note: Fantasy Baseball Focus is a breakdown of each league, position by position. Each team receives a fantasy analysis on the starter, backup and future prospect if there is one. In case you’re wondering, is there a schedule? Why, yes! Thanks for asking. On the right hand side of the page (your other right), look for the Fantasy Baseball Focus headline. Jamie Shoemaker will analyze the National League, while Dan Kirby handles the American League. Good luck in your fantasy leagues!
The landscape at first base in the American League changed dramatically over the offseason. With Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena joining the junior circuit, the position is stockpiled with some of the best fantasy players. If you are in an AL-only league and you don’t have an All Star first baseman, you need to start thinking about other hobbies. Here is my breakdown of the position, along with this handy guide to help you at the draft.
For-sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.
Top five American League first basemen
1. Albert Pujols, Angels — 2011 stats: 105 R, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .299/.366/.541
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — 2011 stats: 111 R, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .344/.448/.586
3. Prince Fielder, Tigers — 2011 stats: 95 R, 38 HR, 120 RBI, .299/.415/.566
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox — 2011 stats: 108 R, 27 HR, 117 RBI, .338/.410/.548
5. Mark Teixeira, Yankees — 2011 stats: 90 R, 39 HR, 111 RBI, .248/.341/.494
Starter: Reynolds will supply big-time power as he has averaged 37.7 home runs and 91 RBI over the last three seasons. However, he has also hit just .228 over that same span with an incredible 630 strikeouts. If you are in a league that counts strikeouts and OBP, you might want to look for better options. In a standard 5×5 roto or head-to-head league, he is a solid pick as he can also swipe around 10 bases a year. Just make sure you have some high-average hitters to balance him out.
Backup: Davis is a good option as a backup in deeper leagues as he can provide some nice power if given playing time. The 6’-3”, 225 lb lefty has averaged a home run every 22.8 at bats over his career but also strikes out every 2.9 at bats. Like Reynolds, he is an all-or-nothing hitter who won’t pay any dividends unless Reynolds get injured, or your league is very deep.
Prospect: Mahoney, a 24-year-old, 6’-6” and 240 lb lefty, opened eyes at the Arizona Fall League hitting .325 with four home runs and 22 RBI over 20 games. Over 88 games split between single- and double-A, he hit .294 with 11 home runs and 68 RBI in 2011. He plays very good defense and is a high-average hitter whose power is just starting to come around. He may not be a big contributor this season but could get a September call-up, if not earlier.
Starter: Over the last five seasons, Gonzalez has averaged 33 home runs, 107 RBI, with a .295 batting average and .908 OPS. He has also only missed five games during that span, showing the durability fantasy owners love. He enjoyed a career year in his first season perched in the middle of a potent Boston offense, hitting .338 with 27 home runs, 117 RBI and a .957 OPS while scoring 108 runs. A three-time Gold Glove winner, he is assured to avoid the DH-only tag for quite some time. Go ahead and grab him in the first couple of rounds without hesitation as he is one of the most consistent players in the game. A for-sure pick.
Backup: Ortiz only played two games at first last season, so depending on your leagues rules, he may not qualify. If he does, the 36-year-old still has a lot left in the tank. He had a bounce back year of sorts in 2011, hitting .309 with 29 home runs, 96 RBI and a .953 OPS. It was his highest batting average since 2007, so expect a more reasonable .275-.280 mark in 2012, but the power numbers should remain at 25-30 home runs and 85-95 RBI. A relatively safe pick, just don’t reach too high on him.
Prospect: Over 48 plate appearances with the red Sox over the last two seasons, Anderson has yet to get an extra base hit or an RBI. At 6’-4” and 220 lbs, he has the frame built for power but has only averaged a home run every 40.6 at bats in the minors. He does have a very good batting eye as evidenced by his .372 career OBP, almost 100 points better than his .276 batting average. Unless Gonzo goes down with a serious injury, Anderson won’t provide much value this season.
Starter: Konerko continues to be one of, if not the most underappreciated players in baseball, especially fantasy baseball. He posted his second straight 30-100-.300 season in 2011, and over the last 13 seasons, has averaged 29.4 homeruns, 92.5 RBI and a .286 batting average. He won’t steal a base but will give you 30 HR/100 RBI with a good average even on a bad White Sox team. A for-sure pick in my eyes, and one you can get in the middle rounds as people continue to sleep on him.
Backup: Dunn is going to be an interesting pick come draft time. After one of the most forgettable seasons by any player in recent memory (Andruw Jones comes to mind, as well), many have already written him off and will stay away at all costs at their drafts. Over 122 games, he hit .159 with 11 home runs, 42 RBI and a .569 OPS. Keep in mind, however, Dunn is still just 31 years old and his paltry numbers weren’t a result of injuries. It was all mental, and with an offseason to clear the cobwebs, Dunn could be primed for a comeback year. After all, this is a guy who averaged 40.3 home runs, 101 RBI and a .910 OPS from 2004-2010. A sleeper pick for 2012.
Prospect: Viciedo is a tank at 5’-11” and 230 lbs. He hit .296 with 20 home runs, 78 RBI and a .856 OPD over 505 plate appearances for triple-A Charlotte in 2011. He also shows a good approach at the plate with 85 K/45 BB over that span. Still just 22 years old, the power potential is great, and he could see some significant time at DH this season if Dunn’s woes continue. Not going to steal bases, but should hit for a good average with enough power for a deeper league roster spot.
Starter: LaPorta has yet to fulfill the potential that made him the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Brewers. He has mashed the ball at the minor-league level, posting a .298 average, .956 OPS and a home run every 18.4 at bats over 1,046 plate appearances, but has struggled with big-league pitching. Over 1,008 major-league plate appearances, he has a .238 batting average, .701 OPS and has hit a home run every 33.6 at bats. At age 27, the clock is ticking on his opportunities, but the Indians appear to be giving him a long leash as they don’t have many other options at first base. Not a guy you want as your starting first baseman, but a good option as a backup as he will most likely be good for around 20 home runs, 70 RBI and an average that won’t crush your team with a full season’s workload.
Backup: Hafner hasn’t played a game at first base since 2007 but could get some opportunities this season if LaPorta stinks it up. Injuries have taken their toll on the once-feared hitter as he has missed 285 games over the last four years. Still, he hit .280 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI and a .811 OPS over 94 games last season. He is worth a late round flier if you need some power and is a guy who won’t hurt your average. Duncan is a good pickup in deeper leagues as he will qualify at both first base and the outfield depending on your league’s rules. He hit .260 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI over 247 plate appearances in 2011. He could also get extended time at first which would make him more appealing as he has the power to hit 20-25 home runs with a decent average given significant playing time.
Detroit Tigers — Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera
Starter/backup: Fielder will be the starting first baseman this season for the Tigers with Cabrera moving over to third. However, Miggy will be eligible at first since he played all of last season there, and with Fielder most likely hitting behind him for protection, could have a career year, as Ryan Braun did in 2011 en route to winning the MVP award. Cabrera lead the league with a .344 average in 2011 while hitting 30 home runs, 105 RBI and a 1.033 OPS. His 162-game career averages are .317, 33 HR, 118 RBI and a .950 OPS, and he’s still only 28 years old and the best right-handed hitter not named Pujols in baseball. As a for-sure pick as there is.
Fielder is coming off a .299, 30 HR, 120 RBI and .981 OPS season, and the league change shouldn’t effect him one bit. Hitting in the middle of a potent Tigers lineup, he should produce similar numbers as last year as Comerica Park and Miller Park are nearly identical when it comes to park-factor numbers. Having only missed one game over the last three seasons, Fielder also gives owners zero durability concerns. Like Cabrera, Fielder is a first-round pick, and without a doubt, a for-sure pick.
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