2010 First Basemen Tiers

Let me start off by stating the obvious: first base is remarkably deep this year. I mean, remarkably. That said, it’s still a position that is worth grabbing early on given the abundance of elite-level players at the position sure to go in the first few rounds/for some of your auction’s highest dollar values. In fact, it would not necessarily be out of the ordinary to see five first basemen go in the first round of a standard 12-team mixed league draft followed by a few more in the second and still a few more in the third and fourth. But that doesn’t even begin to dry up the pool which is why matched with the lack of depth at third base, many teams will be looking to scoop two first basemen to cover their 1B and corner infield roster slots.

Unlike with the third basemen, I’m not going to write a full capsule on everybody. The simple fact is that I won’t have enough time this offseason to hit every position with a full rundown if I go that route and I really enjoy the outfield and pitcher lists so I plan to devote my time there. With the podcast taking off, that saps the time that would’ve been used for in-depth capsules on first base, second base, shortstop and catcher. Don’t worry; there will be countless magazines and several other sites available to satiate your need to read more details about each infielder available this year. Besides, I know you’re just here for the rankings anyway.

Tier 1 – The Elite
1. Albert Pujols, STL Cardinals
2. Miguel Cabrera, DET Tigers
3. Prince Fielder, MIL Brewers
4. Mark Teixeira, NY Yankees
5. Ryan Howard, PHI Phillies

Depending on where my pick fell and how the opening round played out, I could envision rostering any one of these five with my first pick. Pujols and Cabrera are obvious to most, but Fielder and Teixeira are almost as obvious to me, too. Fielder is just 26 years old and has already posted two 46+ home run seasons, three straight 100-RBI seasons and has proven to be a batting average asset in two of his four years including a .299 last year. In the two “off” seasons, he still hit a passable .271 and .276.

Teix has disappointed by failing to reach the 43-144 heights of 2005, but I’m more than happy with a four-category beast who promises 100-30-100 with an excellent batting average year after year. And when he does fall short of those thresholds, it’s barely noticeable. In 2006, he “only” scored 99 runs followed by 86 the year after. Those are the only two instances since 2004 where he hasn’t hit those figures. His only departures from the .300 range include seasons of .281, .282 and .292. As for Howard, he doesn’t get much run as a first round because of the fluctuating batting average, but I’m more than willing to subsidize his AVG with an Ichiro or Michael Young later on for the power production he delivers. I think sometimes the fantasy baseball community forgets that we’re not in the early ‘00s anymore so 40+ home run seasons are elite level, let alone 45+ ones. Since 2006, there have been just 13 instances of the latter and Howard owns four of them. That’s right, he’s done it four years in a row and his total accounts for 31% of the whole list. Need more convincing? There have been a whopping five, yes five, 140+ RBI seasons since 2006. Howard has three of them.

Tier 2 – Star Power
6. Joey Votto, CIN Reds
7. Adrian Gonzalez, SD Padres
8. Justin Morneau, MIN Twins
9. Kevin Youkilis, BOS Red Sox
10. Lance Berkman, HOU Astros

A cursory look at Votto’s 2009 line against his 2008 one shows no substantial gain when you see 24/25 home runs, 84/84 RBIs, .297/.322 AVG and 69/82 runs scored, but you have to be careful not to overlook a very key number: 526/469 ABs. He matched or improved his production across the board in fewer at-bats. He’d have had a full on breakout season had he not battled through injuries and depression. Massive gains in OBP (.368/.410) and SLG (.506/.567) show the real growth for Votto in 2009. At 27 years old, he’s poised to follow through on the breakout promise we got a taste of last year. I’d much prefer to take Youkilis as a third basemen, but that doesn’t make him worthless at first, especially if you lock up Alex Rodriguez or Evan Longoria prior to taking Youk.

Injuries sliced into the production of Morneau and Berkman, but I’d happily roster either in 2010 with Morneau the preferable choice if for no other reason than his five year age advantage at 29 years old. In OBP leagues, Berkman remains a true superstar having reached or topped .400 in four of the past five seasons. This year should be no different and while he is showing a four year decline in home runs since 45 in 2006, I think he actually has another 30+ HR season left in his bat. Last year fell short of that mark because of the injury, not because of a skills decline. Big Puma could return a nice little profit on his draft day price, even as a 5th rounder.

Tier 3 – A Mixed Bag
11. Adam Dunn, WAS Nationals
12. Pablo Sandoval, SF Giants
13. Billy Butler, KC Royals
14. Kendry Morales, LA Angels
15. Derrek Lee, CHI Cubs

Do you see what I mean about the depth here? This group is a nice mix of youth and age all with distinct skill sets. They don’t necessarily have flaws, but they lack a little something that keeps them from cracking the top 10. Dunn has the consistently excellent power, but he does negatively impact the batting average. I maintain that the impact is largely overblown in most circles, but it’s still an issue. Sandoval set the world on fire last year, but he’s better suited to fill your third base slot not only because that position is thin but because he doesn’t bring the power you typically like to see out of your 1B.

Butler is similar to Sandoval in that he doesn’t quite bring the power totals you’d like to see for the position and he doesn’t have the luxury of qualifying at another position offset that slight deficiency. However, as one of only two players in 2009 to top 50 doubles, I’m betting on a power spike in 2010 and could see Butler chasing down 30 HR by season’s end. The reason he still rates 13th though is because he is just 24 still and the power spike could still be a year off. I realize that’s a hedge and seems to straddle the fence, but anyone who has done a mock draft with me this winter knows that I fully believe the spike is coming this year. I’m comfortable enough betting on a repeat from Morales in 2010, but the fact that he was waiver wire fodder until last year’s breakout makes him at least somewhat risky. Lee’s age (35) and seemingly aberrant power spike stand out as red flags. Injuries, both nagging and severe, seem to have sapped his power in the previous three seasons so perhaps he was just displaying his 2005 skill with a bit of age progression last year. We will see in 2010.

Tier 4 – Worthy Investments
16. Carlos Pena, TB Rays
17. James Loney, LA Dodgers
18. Chris Davis, TEX Rangers
19. Michael Cuddyer, MIN Twins
20. Paul Konerko, CHI White Sox
21. Todd Helton, COL Rockies
22. Jorge Cantu, FLO Marlins
23. Adam LaRoche, SF Giants
24. Nick Swisher, NY Yankees
25. Nick Johnson, NY Yankees

As the tier name suggests, these are good players to own but either their skills ultimately fall short of those they are listed behind or they have a glaring risk or two that puts them in this 16-25 range. Pena has absurd amounts of power, but he hasn’t topped 500 at-bats ever in his career and while I’ll build a case that a .255-.260 average won’t kill your team as much as many believe, I’d have a helluva time doing the same for a .227 average, which Pena hit last year. Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, Loney has the batting average and logs the playing time but simply hasn’t displayed the power desired at 1B. He is entering his prime this year at age 26.

Davis flopped last year, but has tremendous power and ended with a great September. Cuddyer has a spotty track record after posting his first useful season since 2006 and if he struggles, there are capable replacements on the Twins. Konerko has a few more 30-90 seasons in him. Helton is 100 years old and hasn’t topped 20 home runs since 2004. Cantu has displayed Cuddyer-like inconsistency, but at least managed to avoid being a total bust after his 2008 rebirth unlike his follow-up to his 2005 breakout. LaRoche and Swisher are infuriating to impatient owners, but reward those who wait them out all season with bankable consistency each year. The other New York Nick is a health nightmare, but could put up a 90 run, .290 average, 12 home run odd, but useful season best suited for your corner infield or DH position.

Tier 5 – Still Mixed-League Worthy
26. Matt LaPorta, CLE Indians
27. Garrett Jones, PIT Pirates
28. Carlos Delgado, Free Agent
29. Martin Prado, ATL Braves
30. Troy Glaus, ATL Braves

LaPorta is a guy I’m rather high on for 2010. He had some surgery this offseason which could cause him to start slowly in Spring Training and perhaps through April, but once he gets going he will be a legitimate power source capable of mid-20s home runs with a boatload of RBIs, too. If he hits the ground running right out of spring, he could top 30 homers. Many don’t believe in Jones’ excellent 314 at-bat sample from 2009, but there are parts worth buying into. He won’t knock 40 homers with a 600-AB season, but he could reach 30. Don’t pay for a .293 batting average, look for closer to .270, but the power is real with a tick of speed (another 10 SB season, but in a full season). Delgado is just a season removed from a 38-home run season back in 2008, so I’m reticent to write him off just yet even at the advanced age of 38. Prado’s value is tied to his multi-positional eligibility which includes second and third base. He doesn’t have enough power for first base, but I listed him because he could fill in at corner-infielder. I like him for 2010, but mostly at second base. Glaus doesn’t qualify at first yet, but he will very quickly into 2010 giving him 1B/3B eligibility.

Tier 6 – Single League Options (Youth, Mid Prime, Past Prime)
Brandon Allen
Daric Barton
Kila Ka’aihue
Steve Pearce
Gaby Sanchez
Brett Wallace
Brandon Wood

Garrett Atkins
Willy Aybar
Hank Blalock
Ryan Garko
Micah Hoffpauir
Travis Ishikawa
Casey Kotchman
Daniel Murphy
David Murphy

Russ Branyan
Jason Giambi
Aubrey Huff
Lyle Overbay
Ty Wigginton

There’s a real grab bag of players here from unproven young lottery tickets to uninspiring but capable mid-primers to veterans with a little something left in the tank. Only the deepest mixed leagues (15+ teams) would consider these guys, but single leagues will see these guys filling corner and DH spots as well as reserve rosters. My favorites from each group are Wood, David Murphy and Overbay.


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