Monday, February 20, 2012

(Updated) 2012 Fantasy Baseball Preseason Rankings: Top 25 First Basemen

Two of the best first basemen in baseball signed mega contracts -- more than $200 million each -- this offseason while moving from the National League to the American League.

The Angels will give Albert Pujols $254 million over the next 10 years and the Tigers will give Prince Fielder $214 million over nine years. Only Alex Rodriguez has signed larger contracts.

Based on average draft position (ADP) from Mock Draft Central, that means that only one out of the first eight at the position to be drafted (on average) play in the N.L.: Cincinnati's Joey Votto. While first base is (one of) the deepest positions in fantasy baseball, it's especially deep in AL-only leagues.

Considering Pujols is in his early-30's, it made sense for him to transition to the American League, where he can eventually DH toward the (middle or) end of his contract. Pujols is one of baseball's greatest hitters of all-time.

For the first time in his 11-year career, Pujols hit less than .300 (.299) and drove in less than 100 runs (99). In 2007, Pujols scored less than 100 runs (99) for the only time in his career. And he has hit 32-plus homers in all 11 seasons.

So, in other words, Pujols has had a line of .300-100-30-100 every year with the exception of one run scored, one run batted in and one batting average point.

While Pujols hit a career-low .299, Fielder, who will be 36 years old at the end of his contract, tied his previous career high of .299 last year.

In the past five seasons, Fielder has hit a total of 200 home runs with 565 runs batted in, which is an average of 40 homers and 113 RBIs per season. His career highs during that span were 50 home runs (2007) and 141 RBIs (2009).

With the addition of Fielder, Miguel Cabrera will earn eligibility at third base. As good as Cabrera is regardless of position, he will become even more valuable with third-base eligibility, especially considering the difference in depth at the two positions.

In his eight seasons since his rookie year (2003), Cabrera has driven in 100-plus runs every year and hit 30-plus homers seven times. A lifetime .317 hitter, Cabrera hit a career-high .344 last year.

Here are some more notes on first basemen:

- One player that is often overlooked on draft day, and I'm guilty of it as well, is Chicago's Paul Konerko. Konerko has had back-to-back seasons with 30-plus homers, 100-plus runs batted in and a .300-plus batting average and plays half of his games in a great hitter's park.

- In 128 games last year, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, the third-overall pick in the 2008 draft, hit .293 with 19 home runs, 78 runs batted in and had 11 steals. While he's still only 22 years old and we may see a bit of sophomore slump, Hosmer is one of baseball's great young hitters.

- Switching from a pitcher-friendly park in San Diego to a hitter-friendly one in Boston, Adrian Gonzalez surprisingly hit only 27 home runs, which was a five-year low. That said, Gonzalez set career highs in average (.338) and runs scored (108). He also had 45 doubles and 117 runs batted in, both of which were the second-highest totals of his career.

- The clear top option at first in N.L.-only leagues (as noted above), Votto reached triple-digits in both runs and runs batted in for the second straight season, but he also reached triple-digits in walks (110) for the first time in his career. Not only does Votto hit for average and power, but he has a combined total of 24 stolen bases in the past two seasons.

- Although Boston's Kevin Youkilis has first base eligibiliy, he primarily plays third base, which adds to his value. However, Youkilis is coming off a season where he set a career low in batting average (.258) and, even worse, he has averaged less than 120 games played over the past three seasons, which obviously detracts from his value. In fact, Youkilis has never played more than 147 games in a season.

- San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval played in only 117 games last year, but he still managed to hit 23 homers, only two shy of the career high he set back in 2009, and drove in 70 runs. After the All-Star break, KungFu Panda hit .325 with 15 home runs and 41 runs batted in over 67 games and offers the same 1B/3B versatility as Youkilis.

- Lance Berkman had a great year with a line of .301-90-31-94-2, but the first half told a different story for Berkman than the second half did. Berkman hit 24 homers and drove in 63 runs before the All-Star break and had only seven home runs and 31 RBIs after the break. In 52 games in August and September, Berkman hit only three home runs in 180 at-bats (or exactly one per every 60 at-bats).

- Not only is Michael Cuddyer eligible at first base, but he is eligible at second and outfield as well. In addition to offering fantasy owners positional flexibility, Cuddyer is moving to the friendlier confines of Coors Field this season. Although he played in only 139 games last year, Cuddyer set a career high in steals (11) and hit 20-plus homers for the third time in his career.

Here are our top 25 first basemen for the 2012 season:

1. Albert Pujols, Angels
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
4. Joey Votto, Reds
5. Prince Fielder, Tigers
6. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
7. Paul Konerko, White Sox
8. Eric Hosmer, Royals
9. Michael Morse, Nationals
10. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
11. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
12. Carlos Santana, Indians
13. Mike Napoli, Rangers
14. Michael Young, Rangers
15. Freddie Freeman, Braves
16. Ryan Howard, Phillies
17. Lance Berkman, Cardinals
18. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
19. Adam Lind, Blue Jays
20. Ike Davis, Mets
21. Adam Lind, Blue Jays
22. Adam Dunn, White Sox
23. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
24. Mark Reynolds, Orioles
25. Carlos Lee, Astros

Other Positions: C - 1B - 2B - 3B - SS - OF - SP - RP

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