Top 10 First Basemen Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall*”. They will air both the catcher and first base shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

*I will not be doing a top 100

This is not a fantasy list!!

Youngsters Eric Hosmer and Anthony Rizzo were close, but #10 on the list beat em out because of his two full years of big time production.

Dear Lord, please don’t let the MLBN guys list Ryan Howard.

THE LIST

10. Freddie Freeman (ATL) – I think so forget that the sweet-swinging lefty is just 23 years old. He has back-to-back 20-homer seasons and showed improvement in both his walk and strikeout rates from year one to year two improving both by about two percent. His continued ascent makes the loss of Chipper Jones easier to swallow for that offense (not to mention the addition of the Upton Bros) and the best may well be on the way as early as 2013.

9. Allen Craig (StL) – The purpose of these lists is to explore the position right now and project forward for the 2013 season. As such, Craig makes my list. His skills are plentiful and already in place, but he needs to stay healthy which I think he will do in 2013 and show subsequently show everyone what a beast he is with the bat. Those paying attention have already seen the 141 OPS+ the last two years, but that’s only been in 733 plate appearances, a full season of dominating will earn him the attention he deserves.

8. Mark Teixeira (NYY) – He is likely to rate higher on everyone’s list on the show tonight, but that’s based solely on name value. The shift (not be confused with MLBN’s The Shredder) has eaten his batting average and it isn’t coming back. He’s been under .260 the last three years and barring a change in approach, I just don’t see him coming back to the levels we were used to in his 20s when he hit a combined .290, topping .300 three times. His OPS has declined yearly since 2007. He’s still good, but no longer great.

7. Paul Konerko (CHW) – He sputtered to the finish line in 2012, but he’s far from done, even at 37 years old. Despite the down second half, he still finished with the 6th-best OPS+ among first basemen qualified for the batting title. Konerko has at least another big year in his bat, if not maybe even 2-3 seasons.

6. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) – He may not repeat his 2012 breakout that saw him pop 42 bombs, but he’s far from a power fluke. He had a 162-game average of 27 homers for the three years leading up to last year so we had definitely seen glimpses of greatness within his game. Of course Cory Schwartz, Jason Collette, and Matthew Berry have seen the greatness since E40 was in teeball.

5. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) – I’m extremely high on Goldschmidt as evidenced by this ranking, but I think he’s slated for a big 2013. He’s got a great all-around game bringing big power (43 doubles, 20 homers), a good batting eye (10% walk rate), and speed which is rarely seen from the position (18-for-21 SB success rate). He has 30-35 home run upside, too, which could start to shine through as early as 2013 in his age-25 season.

4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) – When your down season is a .299-18-108 season, you’re a damn good ballplayer. That was Gonzalez’s 2012 and while it isn’t what we’re used to (he averaged .306-33-106 from 2009-2011), it was hardly bad. Throw in the trade to LA and I think he’s being slept on a bit. My only major concern is the plummeting walk rate that has gone from 18 percent in 2009 to 13, 10, and then just six percent last year. Thankfully his strikeout rate has held firm between 16 and 16.6 percent in that span. He is still a star.

3. Prince Fielder (DET) – First base is always a position with offensive stalwarts, but I wonder if Prince ever looks things over and shakes his head that even with his numbers he isn’t the unquestioned best at his position. He has missed one game in the last four seasons. Though he peaked at 50 home runs in his second year, he has hardly struggled in the meantime. He is still averaging 36 per season since that 2007 breakout along with a .290 average and 111 RBIs. Plain and simple, he is one of the best the game has seen and he has plenty more in store.

2. Albert Pujols (LAA) – Remember when his career was over in April? And how he probably wasn’t going to make the Hall of Fame in early May? It was an uncharacteristically slow start for The Machine, but the panic button was smashed to bits by far too many people especially since he’d just done something similar in 2011. He is still unquestionably one of the game’s best players and I wouldn’t even quibble with someone giving him the top spot, but for me it was easily…

1. Joey Votto (CIN) – The torch is passed. Yes, he only played 111 games last year thanks to an injury, but he still led first basemen in fWAR at 5.9 among those with 450+ plate appearances. He won his third straight OBP title in the National League and second MLB-wide title in three years. Despite playing just 111 games, he still clubbed a career-best 44 doubles. If he had gotten the 625 plate appearances he normally gets in a season, he was on pace for 58 doubles which would’ve been one shy of Todd Helton’s 59 in 2000, the most in the integration era (since 1947).

I really should do these during the week so I don’t smash four posts (two reviews, two new lists) onto the site in a matter of hours. I’ve just been so deep in the SP guide stuff that by the time Friday hits, I’m like “Oh man, I gotta get my top 10 stuff done”.

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