Continuing my series of the best Keeper Building Blocks for those with an eye toward 2012, let’s take a look at the remarkably deep position of first base. While it is almost certainly the deepest position on the diamond, at least for hitters, it is heavy with premium talent. This means we see a lot of early round talent from the position so finding cheap keepers at the position isn’t always a priority, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Joey Votto (CIN, 27 years old) – Yes, Votto is a premium early round, top dollar talent, but his meteoric rise to stardom means he could still be in the midst of a cheap contract in some leagues. This is the case in two of my leagues and so I thought it might not be a rarity. Obviously, you’d have to sell the farm to get him, but if you are building for 2012, you shouldn’t be concerned about selling off multiple high dollar, non-keeper pieces to acquire him. I fully realize that he won’t be on a cheap contract in ALL leagues, but given his unique circumstances, I thought he was worth mentioning.
Adam Lind (TOR, 27) – What the hell was that 2010 all about? After a .305-35-114 breakout in 2009, Lind cratered like no one could have predicted falling to .235-23-72. He has bounced back in full force and he is currently on pace for a massive season, even exceeding 2009, at .339-44-130. Even if he “only” puts up a 2009 line, he is still going to be an appealing keeper because his 2010 failure drove down his price this preseason.
Gaby Sanchez (FLO, 27) – A strong rookie year from Sanchez last year got him some attention, but sub-20 HR first basemen aren’t in high demand and they often end up in the corner infield of a fantasy team. However writing him off as a sub-20 HR 1B may have been a premature judgment as Sanchez has done some impressive work 70 games into his second season. He is on pace for a .312-28-100 season which would no doubt boost him into the second tier. He has improved his walk and strikeout rates while nothing in his batted ball profile suggests the extra power is huge fluke. As a second year player he is cheap in almost all leagues and worth acquiring for a 2012 title run.
Justin Smoak (SEA, 24) – He underwhelmed in his 100-game debut season last year, but in 63 games this year he already has one more double and one home run fewer than last year despite 123 fewer at-bats. Even though it is still not great, his .253 batting average is much improved from last year and I think there is growth potential for this youngster. There may be some prospects you would find more desirable than Smoak because they are the new thing that hasn’t yet struggled in the majors, but remember how highly touted he was coming in and he is now more advanced than the first year guys we are seeing this summer.
Eric Hosmer (KC, 21) – This would be the type of prospect I suspect people have higher than someone like Smoak because fantasy baseball owners love blue chip prospects. I am a big Hosmer fan too, but let’s be careful with our expectations. His 600 at-bat pace for his current numbers would be 19 HR and 82 RBI and he’s insanely young so it is reasonable to project some growing pains for him whether this year or at times during 2012. He is definitely someone worth pursuing as a keeper piece, but don’t expect him to produce at an elite level right away in 2012. It could happen, but it would be an upset.
Ike Davis (NYM, 24) – I might have had Davis a little higher, but I would like to see him return from injury first. He was off to an excellent start this year after a nice debut last year, but a 17% HR/FB suggests that his 30+ home run pace (prior to his DL stint) was unlikely to hold and probably would have evened out somewhere in the low-to-mid 20s. Even still, at his cost he is definitely someone to acquire.
Mitch Moreland (TEX, 25) – An oddity in Moreland’s stat line this year is his meager RBI total (20) compared to what has otherwise been a strong season. Part of the problem is that 55% of his at-bats have come with the bases empty and during that time he has hit seven of his eight home runs (he had a grand slam wiped out by a rainout earlier this year, too) and another part is that only 22% of his at-bats have come with runners in scoring position and he has sucked in just about all of them with a .196 AVG and .587 OPS. But RBIs are team-dependent so I focus more on his dual-eligibility at first and the sneaky-thin outfield as well as his 20-25 home run power. He isn’t a great player, but he’s probably $1 in a lot of leagues which makes him pretty valuable.
Brandon Belt (SF, 23) – This is tentative because we have to see him do something first. Plus, in some leagues he was in the auction as opposed to the minor league draft and that drove his value up a lot. For example he is $17 in one of my NL-Only leagues which is way too high of a price to consider him a keeper.
Anthony Rizzo (SD, 21) – Another tentative one as he has just eight games under his belt so far. He and Belt are pretty close in my eyes so it’s a personal preference thing. I lean toward Belt because I have seen more of him and believe in his skills, but Rizzo is almost certain to be cheaper in most leagues because he is probably on a rookie level contract (which is usually $5) so make your judgment based on your league. Like I said, in that league where Belt is $17 I’m not interested, but he’s probably $5 in some leagues and that’s where I would give him the edge over Rizzo.
A lot of young first base has emerged and if you can get some of it for your core you can still supplement it with a big first base bat in next year’s auction or draft. Power has been drying up a bit the last two years so don’t feel that just because you have one of these guys that you are set at the position. Look at it as a beginning to your power base.