Fantasy Baseball Focus: National 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!
So, we’ve finished the catchers and now we’re moving to the first basemen of the National League. For those wondering, unlike catchers, first base has a lot of depth. A lot of first-rounders are first basemen, but there are also some players who can be had for relatively cheap and in the low rounds. The National League has lost two of the best players in the game, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, both first basemen. Pujols went to the Angels and Fielder to the Tigers. National League-only leagues will have to get a bit creative this year. There is no need to have a backup at first in the National League, unless it’s a split-platoon situation. The backups are mainly a utility player.
With first basemen, you need to pick your poison. Most, if not all, are relatively close to each other in stats. So, what are you looking for in your first basemen? More runs, more RBIs, more HR or just average? Each one has his own strength.
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 first basemen
1. Joey Votto, Reds — 2011: .309/.416/.531
2. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins — 2011: .266/.352/.427
3. Ryan Howard, Phillies — 2011: .253/.346/.488
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks — 2011: .250/.333/.474
5. Freddie Freeman, Braves — 2011: .282/.346/.448
Atlanta Braves – Freddie Freeman
Starter and future: Freeman, second in Rookie-of-the-Year voting, had a monster year. Of course, being so young, he had his ups and downs, and at times during the year, he was very streaky. For a fantasy option, owners would like to see a little more consistency, especially those in weekly formats. Also, for those in leagues where strikeouts hurt, it would be nice to see him cut down on those. Freeman, at times, was batting in the third spot, so look for him to continue getting premium RBI opportunities. His line for 2011: .282/.346/.448, and he showed tremendous gap power. He hit 32 doubles, 21 home runs and knocked in 76 in his first full year. He’s a long-term value.
As far as alternatives, Martin Prado would serve as his replacement at the current moment. Prado is currently the starting left fielder, and if any significant injuries arise from Freeman, look at the Braves possibly moving top catching prospect Christian Bethencourt to first.
Miami Marlins — Gaby Sanchez, Greg Dobbs
Starter: Sanchez is a similar character to Freeman. Sanchez has a little more gap power and cuts down on the strikeouts, while Freeman has a little more on the average and home runs. Other than that, they are very similar. Miami will have a new ball park this year and a completely remodeled team, so it’s a crap shoot on what kind of overall numbers to really expect from Sanchez. His splits indicate he has less power away from home, hitting only eight homers and 13 doubles in 286 at-bats. In the same 286 at-bats at home, he has more power, batting 11 homers and 22 doubles. His RBIs and slugging percentage are down away from home, but everything else is strikingly similar. I think he’ll do fine, but know his power might dip in year one at the stadium as he adjusts to its confines. He batted .266/.352/.427 on the year last year.
Dobbs is the alternative and can spell Sanchez from time to time. Dobbs is an interesting choice in deep leagues for a backup, he gets his at-bats. He had 400 plus at-bats last year as a super utility player. Has some pop, gap power and doesn’t strikeout much. He’s just not anything fancy. Worth a shot if you’re going to go with other positions first. He can fill in for your outfield and the corner positions.
Starter: Davis figures to be back full-time this year. For those who drafted him in year-to-year leagues, you probably broke your computer the day he got hurt after that great start last year. Those in keeper leagues were probably just bummed. Even though he missed almost the whole year, he supposedly feels fine and should be ready for spring training. He had an impressive year in 2010 as a rookie, but had troubles with plate discipline (meaning he struck out quiet a bit), but most rookies do. He was having another good year in 2011 when an ankle injury ended his season. It’s unknown how much the injury will effect his power, but given how he had the rest of the year off and an off-season to recover, he should be fine. Sometimes rushing an ankle injury can promote further injury and power reduction, but Ike should be fine. Look for numbers close to his rookie campaign and probably a slow start.
Murphy is an identical player to Dobbs, but Murphy can play in many other positions. Although, be prepared for him to be traded. I doubt he will last the whole year in a Mets uniform as they aren’t expected to be good again.
Starter: Howard most likely won’t be playing at the start of the year, due to his injury he suffered on his final at-bat last year. The Phillies went out and got two replacements just in case he doesn’t respond as fast as they hope or doesn’t rebound as quickly as hoped. The problem with Howard is his stats are decreasing every year. What will an injury of this magnitude do to him? Most “professionals” are saying that 25 home runs in 2012 is stretching it for Howard. But you know what, even in his declining years (at age 30, when most are going through their prime), he still finishes in the top 10 in MVP voting. He’s still a top first basemen in the league. But is he a top 50 pick anymore? Doubtful, at least this year he isn’t. Yes, last year I made a trade for him in my keeper league. I already had Adrian Gonzalez and needed more pop in my lineup (it’s a category league). He fit the bill. So, you have him, too, and you need a backup to start the year?
Backup: Thome fits the bill! Thome was signed to a one-year deal by the Phillies this offseason. It’s a solid signing by the Phillies. I truly believe, in a starting role, he still can get 30-plus home runs. He’s just a beast. Thome will start the season, more than likely, at first for the Phillies until Howard gets healthy. After that, he’ll pinch-hit and spell Howard occasionally. His value will significantly decline, as far as fantasy value, just because the NL doesn’t have the DH factor. It’s going to be significantly less playing time for Thome. He’s not worth drafting until the later rounds to fill out a bench unless you know something about Howard that I don’t know. Wigginton is also on the team and can play first but he’s not a factor fantasy-wise. Not on the Phillies.
Starter: LaRoche should be back in business for 2012 after sitting out almost the whole year in 2011. It’s no secret that the Nationals aren’t confident in their first base situation. They tried to land Pujols and Fielder, eventually losing out on both. LaRoche wasn’t steller before he got hurt, but he does provide some pop. If strikeouts hurt you in your league, stay away! He becomes one of the worst first basemen at that point because he strikes out close to 200 times. He’s the Mark Reynolds of first base.
Backup: Marrero is also a top-ten prospect for the Nationals, but his long career just derailed again when he tore his hamstring playing winter ball. I expect the Nationals to buy out LaRoche’s contract next year and either sign a big first basemen or let Marrero take over. He isn’t worth anything this year.
Qualifies: Morse, last year’s first baseman, is being moved to the outfield to accommodate LaRoche coming back. He’s was a top-five first basemen last year. If he still qualifies in your league, pick him up.
Starter: Rizzo came over from the padres during the offseason in a trade that sent Andrew Cashner to the Padres. My first take is I hope Rizzo relishes the position, but from a fantasy-baseball perspective, it is the unknown that makes or breaks a team. Is Rizzo just a quad-A player? His triple-A stats are amazing. His major-league stats, well, are not. I know, he’s only played in around 50 games, but they’ve been less than stellar. If your league uses strikouts as a negative or against you, stay clear. He’s an Austin Jackson-type player. In the minors, he struck out around once every four at-bats. So far in the majors, he’s averaged a K in almost every two to three at-bats. He could very well strike out 150 plus times during his first full year with the Cubs, and that will come with the unknown of “will he produce?” Rizzo, only 22, is the number-one prospect of the Cubs and the number-one, first base prospect in the league.
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