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January 23, 2014

Fantasy Players to Target

First Basemen

by BP Fantasy Staff

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First base is a position that harbors many good fantasy players. These are some the aforementioned good players who we feel are comparatively more good than their peers.

Brandon Belt, Giants
Heading into 2013 there were legitimate concerns about Belt’s power and by extension his viability as an everyday major-league 1B. Belt answered those concerns with a strong season, complete with 60 extra-base hits, a solid walk percentage (9.1) and a pretty damn good 139 wRC+. Belt plays in extreme parks the majority of the season—AT&T and PETCO strongly favor pitchers, Coors and Chase Fields both favor hitters, and LA falls somewhere in the middle, depending on what time the game starts. He hit well on the road in 2013 and his production didn’t nosedive at home. Belt will be undervalued this year, and while he isn’t an elite-level 1B, he provides enough production to warrant being a starter in standard fantasy formats. —Mauricio Rubio

Allen Craig, Cardinals
Craig was one of my biggest targets in 2013, I was taking him earlier than anyone in late-fall, early-winter mocks. For me, I have no problem targeting a player whose missing ingredient is health. Too often when we are targeting sleepers and breakthroughs, we are projecting growth or acquisition of a skill that he has yet to display: “Power will come with age and doubles will turn into homers.” I would rather know he can do it on the field and hope that his body cooperates for six months.

Craig’s ability to hit wasn’t the question. Could he finally log 600 PA? It turns out the answer was “no.” He logged a career-high 563, though, and still did plenty of damage in that time. For a sleeper pick that technically failed—he didn’t earn the third-fourth-round price I was paying—I was pretty happy with the results. He finished with a .315-71-13-97-2 line and it would’ve been tough to swallow as only a first baseman, but he had outfielder eligibility and the low power output is much more palatable there, especially with the third-best* batting average and sixth-most* RBIs.

With that, I’m going back to the well. He made it through five months unscathed before suffering a Lisfranc foot injury on an awkward base-running incident. He returned for the World Series, which is encouraging with regard to his health for 2014. As mentioned, the power output was far from special particularly for a first baseman, but it’s a tradeoff for his excellent batting average and the combination plays just fine at a corner infield spot. However, if jumps back up to the .532 SLG of his first two seasons, he could deliver mid-20s homers and have no problem as a starting first baseman in a mixed league. I’m cheating a bit since I’m likely targeting him only to move him off of 1B, but it still counts.

(*among OFs w/550+ PA) —Paul Sporer

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Despite losing his third-base eligibility, Encarnacion is a prime target for power-thirsty seekers. Six first basemen reached 30 home runs in 2013 (down from eight in 2012), and two of them—Mark Trumbo and Adam Dunn—hit below .235. Encarnacion batted .272 despite a fourth-worst .242 BABIP; a return to normalcy could push Encarnacion’s batting average over the .300 mark, which would put him in the discussion for fantasy’s best first baseman (if you discount Miguel Cabrera’s eventual eligibility at first). If you do miss out on the consensus top three (Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis, Joey Votto), don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Encarnacion. An MVP season isn’t far off. —Alex Kantecki

Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
Adrian Gonzalez hurt his shoulder. He lost his power stroke. Now he’s on the wrong side of 30 and a past-his-prime has-been. He’s being dropped further down the boring veteran tier of first basemen this off-season, to the point where sexy upside like Adams or Abreu may be more tempting to owners by the time he gets drafted. But there’s reason for attention here. He dramatically changed his hitting approach last season, making a conscious effort to pull the ball after seeing his ability to drive pitches to left fade with age. The switch appears to have stabilized an ISO nosedive, and when you couple his BA and RBI consistency with 20 homers you've got a solid play. He’s also one of the safest bets around to accrue his counting stats, as he’s logged at least 156 games played every year since 2006. He’s being drafted in the 50s right now. And that’s great because he’ll allow you to go big on scarce up-the-middle and big upside players in the first three rounds of the draft while knowing that your first base production will still be just fine. —Wilson Karaman

Eric Hosmer, Royals
I know, I know. You’re tired of people on the internet telling you that Hosmer is the best thing since sliced bread. But while conveniently portioned dough may still have a leg up on the Royals first baseman, Hosmer should narrow the gap in 2014 as he builds on his performance as fantasy’s eighth-best 1B from 2013. After hitting .250 in April and .269 in May, Hosmer hit better than .300 for the rest of the season. Part of that success was due to a higher BABIP, but Hosmer also hit for a higher slugging percentage in the season’s second half, boosting his line-drive and fly-ball percentages and slightly upping his walk rate as well. What we’re left with is a closer approximation to the player many thought Hosmer would become when in the minors, and though the huge power may never come a .300-plus average with 20-plus homers and 10-plus steals is quite a valuable player. Don’t let the post-prospect fatigue get to you: Hosmer is turning into the real deal. —Ben Carsley

Brandon Moss, Athletics
The idea of “targeting” Moss may seem odd, given the wealth of hitting talent that has first base eligibility and his obvious flaws. But while hitting for average may not be his thing, Moss does hit for power, and he does it rather cheaply compared to where you’re going to have to reach to get other first baseman. At 31 years old, he doesn’t ooze upside like some of the other names on this list, though he’s only a year removed from a .291/.358/.596 slash line in 296 plate appearances. Given his fulltime workload last year (505 PA), it’s not surprising to see a dip in the rate stats, but he still slugged .522 and upped his home run total from 21 to 30. While he’s unlikely to hit .291 again, he managed .256 in the BA department last year, and that won’t kill you. Add in his almost nine percent career walk rate and it only makes him more attractive. I expect another 30-home-run season for Moss in 2014, and given how much later you can take him, that’s great value. —Craig Goldstein

Albert Pujols, Angels
The rules are different for extreme superstars, even ones who are past their prime. Pujols shows statistical signs of decline and has injury risk, but will finally be in a better place with his plantar fascia injury heading into the 2014 season and I like the odds of his numbers bouncing back as a result. Even last season, with the hobbling injury, he still hit 17 homers in just 99 games—and while the .300 averages may be a thing of the past, I'm reasonably confident putting 30 homers as his power floor if he can keep healthy. Of course, that's always a legitimate concern with sluggers entering their mid-30s. Plus, having Mike Trout on base for you over 40 percent of the time can't hurt his odds of getting back to 100 RBI. I will be drafting Pujols ahead of Freddie Freeman in 2014, and will be doing so proudly. —Bret Sayre

Joey Votto, Reds
A cursory look at Votto’s stat line might lead to the conclusion that declining slugging percentages will lead to a continuing dip in power and make Votto a candidate to write off in fantasy. However, there isn’t much in Votto’s statistical profile (outside of a slightly lower fly-ball rate in 2013) to indicate that there is any kind of real decline coming. Detractors will point to Votto’s diminished RBI total and cite this as a warning flag to stay away. While this is legitimate fantasy concern, part of this dip was a simple fluke. In 2013, Votto slugged 97 points lower with men on base than with the bases empty. This was the first time Votto did worse with the bases empty than with men on since 2009. It is extremely unlikely that last year’s extreme trend continues. Even if Votto is “only” a 25-home-run guy in 2014, he’s a top-shelf hitter whose contributions across the board make him elite. Don’t run away from him if he’s sitting there at the right spot in the first round. —Mike Gianella

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Fred... (01/23)
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