Fantasy Baseball Focus: National League first basemen

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!

With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder gone, Joey Votto stands above all other competition. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

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.

New York MetsIke Davis, Daniel Murphy

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.

Philidelphia Phillies — Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton

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.

Washington Nationals Adam LaRoche, Chris MarreroMichael Morse

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.

Chicago Cubs Anthony Rizzo, Bryan LaHair

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.

LaHair was supposedly the starter for 2012. The man hit 38 long balls last year in triple-A. Maybe he will battle Rizzo for the starting gig, maybe he will get more playing time in the outfield. His downfall: he’s 28 and already has been labeled a quad-A player. Both Rizzo and LaHair could put up big numbers this year and both could fall flat on their face.

Cincinnati Reds — Joey Votto

Starter: Votto is one of the last remaining “veterans” in a strong position. In five seasons, Votto’s career line of .313/.405/.550 has excellence written all over it. He strikes out 100-plus times a year but also walks 100-plus times a year, so it averages out. He’s on base, averages 31 home runs and stays healthy. What more could you ask for? Votto is a for-sure pick.

Pittsburgh Pirates — (sigh) Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee

Platoon: It’s going to happen. They can’t be satisfied with just one first basemen. They need many. Of the many players on their roster who are listed as a first basemen, the only two you can concern yourself with are Jones and McGehee. My gut wants to say McGehee will be more of a utility player and Jones will get 75 percent of the reps, but who thinks that will actually happen? Both are almost identical players except Casey has a higher lifetime batting average. Although his average dropped close to the Mendoza line last year, it’s safe to say that won’t happen again. It’s a platoon situation there. If you have one of these guys in your lineup, it’s because of the following: NL-only league and there are 20 teams, or you are a die-hard Pirates fan who has seen your fantasy team perform as well as the Pirates in recent years … suck.

Can Lance Berkman carry the Cardinals? I have a feeling he'll do the opposite.

St. Louis Cardinals — Lance Berkman

Starter: It looks as if the Cardinals will go with Berkman at first this year. (Wow, that was a sentence I didn’t think I would ever type.) He’s an interesting option. He can be found at lower rounds in the draft. Most had written him off after he was traded in 2010 and his power seemingly vanished. He returned to the 30-home-run level last year; but the biggest question now: Will pitchers pitch around him? With Pujols gone, it seems Berkman won’t see as many good pitches as last year. Still, if you can grab him in the later rounds (I mean past round 10), he’s a steal. He’ll dip in most categories this year, and I would expect a rise in strikeouts, as well, because he’ll be trying to do to much in replacing Pujols’ production.

The Cards do have two prospects, but both are not worth your time this year and probably the next.

Milwaukee Brewers Mat Gamel

Starter: Well, looking at Gamel’s career stats can have one scratching his head on what the hell the Brewers are doing, but if you take a look deeper into his minor-league stats, you at least get some notion they know what they are doing. Gamel has always been a quad-A player. He’s never produced at the major-league level, but never really has had an opportunity. He has the same potential as Rizzo and LaHair, but what I like is the fact he seems to show better discipline at the plate. He doesn’t strikeout much and tends to see the base a good bit, so it leads me to believe he can be somewhat of a fantasy force this year. He’s this year’s sleeper.

Houston Astros Brett Wallace, Jonathan Singleton

Starter: One would have to wonder how much longer the Astros will let Wallace man the corner. He wasn’t that great of a hitter in the minors and hasn’t produced in the majors. He showed signs he can be, maybe one day, a decent first basemen. And if any team can wait, its the Astros. But I believe Wallace’s days will be over when Singleton makes his debut.

Prospect: Singleton is only 19 and likely two years away from the majors. He won’t have any fantasy impact this year, and at best, the very best, he is a September call-up.

Arizona Diamondbacks — Paul Goldschmidt

Starter: If you don’t already know his name, then you weren’t watching the divisional series against the Brewers last year. He hit .438 and connected on a long grand slam that, more than likely, etched his name on fantasy draft lists around the world. Goldschmidt has tremendous power. He’s a legitimate 30-to-40-home-runs-a-year guy. If you’re looking for a first basemen with some speed, he can swipe 10 bags a year with ease. He struck out a lot in 2010 in A ball (160 plus times) but significantly reduced it to less than 100 the year next. It’s not realistic to expect him to hit what he hit in the minors in his first full year, but a slash line of .285/.360/.600 isn’t far off. I would like to say he’s going to be a sleeper, but most already know his name.

Colorado Rockies — Todd Helton, Jason Giambi

Platoon: Helton and Giambi are both past their primes. If you need a filler, go with Helton. He’ll hit for a good average, doesn’t strikeout as much and seems to get on base. Just don’t expect his old power and be grateful for 15-plus homers.

Los Angeles Dodgers James Loney, Scott Van Slyke

Starter: Loney figures to be the starter, but don’t be surprised if Van Slyke pressures him in spring training. Loney, as a fantasy option, is a headache. He has the potential and is likely to be drafted higher than he should, but produces like a current Todd Helton. Loney is overrated.

Prospect: Van Slyke had a monster 2011 after he seemed to figure out hitting in 2010. There has been rumblings he could be given a legitimate shot at starting this year, yet it’s more realistic for him to hit the majors around July, just after the Dodgers trade Loney. He’s got some pop, but the fear you should have, as well as scouts in general, is can he hit major-league pitching?

San Diego Padres — Yonder Alonso, Jesus Guzman

Platoon: It looks like Alonso and Guzman could platoon this year, but the word coming out of the Padres camp is Alonso will get the first crack. For some reason, they aren’t high on Guzman, but he impresses me quiet a bit; so much so, I picked him up for a quality run at the end last year. Guzman has some speed and can get you some stolen bases with average. Alonso is a power guy with no speed. Alonso is the younger option, while Guzman is years ahead of him, and just like Rizzo, Alonso possesses a lot of power and potential. The big question: which one will produce?

San Francisco GiantsBrandon Belt

Starter: Belt hit nine homers in just over 200 at-bats in his first taste of the big leagues during 2011. His average wasn’t high, but his minor-league stats (averaged around .350 in two years) were fantastic. It’s realistic for Belt to hit 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and hit for a line of .290/.370/.560 — not too much of a stretch for him.

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