Monday, February 21, 2011

Fantasy Forecast: First Base

For all the talk of 'The Year of the Pitcher" in 2010, one position remained largely unaffected by the improved hurling - First Base. Long the linchpin of a productive fantasy offense, first base has solidified itself as the deepest reservoir of offensive numbers in all of fantasy baseball, and it begins at the top of the list, with Albert Pujols.

Allow me to take a moment to opine on Pujols current contract status. As it stands now, the nine-time All-Star has broken off talks with the St. Louis Cardinals, the only team he has ever played for. He is going to play out his last season with them, for an economical $16 million dollars, and then reopen talks after the season. Let me just say here that the Cards would be silly to let him get out of town. I don't care if he wants $30 mil a season, you need to keep the three-time NL MVP, and face of your franchise, around until he retires. He will be worth every penny, both on the field, and because he gives so much of his salary back to the community.

Without further side-tracking, here is my list of the top-10 fantasy first basemen for 2011.

1. Albert Pujols - St. Louis Cardinals This man is in a class by himself. Let me rattle off some stats for you, in case you have been under a rock for the last 10 years: Pujols is the first player in history to hit at least 30 home runs in his first 10 seasons in the league. He has never had a batting average lower than .312, never gone deep less than 34 times in a season, never driven in less than 103 runs and never scored fewer than 99 runs himself. In short, his patchwork "worst" season would still make him among the most valuable fantasy baseball assets in any season. The guy even stole 14 bases last season! He does it all! Not bad for a former 13th round pick.
Look for business as usual for The Machine this season. .320/40/120 with 12 steals and 110 runs scored, to boot. If you have the first pick, TAKE HIM! or regret it the rest of the season.

2. Joey Votto - Cininnatti Reds I originally had Votto, the reigning NL MVP, third on my list, but with some off-the-field issues arising for my No. 2, Votto slides up a spot. He does not have the track record that Pujols has, but he is just as big of a threat to impact all five offensive fantasy categories.
A career .314 hitter, the 27 year-old just broke the 30 HR plateau for the first time last season. He has upped his walk totals in each season, and there is no reason to think that his skills should decline this year.
I expect Votto to top 35 HR and 110 RBI again, with a batting average around .320. He also picks great spots to swipe a bag here and there, and his double-digit steal potential sets him apart from the rest of the pack.

3. Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers A DUI charge early Thursday morning (Feb. 17th) , coupled with a history of alcohol abuse dropped the Venezuelan out of my No. 2 ranking. Pending any sort of suspension from the league, he could tumble further.
Miggy has been as steady as they come in his eight-year stint in the majors thus far, cranking out 30+ HR season after 30+ HR season. He doesn't steal as often, or as successfully as he used to, and these off the field issues are a concern, but I still feel that he will produce if given the opportunity.
Provided he can climb out of the scotch bottle he fell into on Wednesday night, Cabrera should have no trouble turning in another 35 dingers, and 115 RBI with an average around his career .313. If you draft him, beware. His mind may not be focused on baseball, especially early in the season as this DUI situation plays out.

4. Adrian Gonzalez - Boston Red Sox A-Gonz has averaged 32 HR and 100 RBI over the last five seasons, all played in cavernous PetCO Park. With his move to the red stockings this season, Gonzalez gets his first chance to bat in the heart of a formidable lineup, and the implications are very promising.
Heath is not a major concern for the 28 year-old, who has played in no fewer than 156 games since becoming a full-time starter in 2006. So the real question becomes, what exactly will Gonzalez do with 575+ at bats in the Sox lineup? Coming off of a season where he hit 31 homers and added 101 RBI, I estimate that both of those numbers take a jump now that he will be routinely crushing balls over the Green Monster.
I expect him to bat in the .285 neighborhood with 40+ long balls and 110+ RBI.

5. Kevin Youkilis - Boston Red Sox I wrestled with listing Youk with the third basemen, as that is the position he will be manning this season for the Beantowners. Yet, since this is a draft preview, and he won't be eligible to fill the 3B slot in your fantasy lineup until at least the day after opening day (depending on your league's eligibility rules) I have him here in my first base preview.
Despite his 2010 season ending early with a thumb injury, all reports indicate that Youk is primed and ready to roll into the 2011 season. He has kept his batting average north of .300 for three straight seasons now, while displaying 25+ home run power if he remains in the lineup (19 HR in 102 games last year).
I expect Youkilis to make a push for 30 HR this season to go along with a .300 average. Look for him to drive in close to 110 runs, and score almost 100 more himself.

6. Ryan Howard - Philadelphia Phillies Howard nursed an injured ankle for a long stretch of the 2010 season, which caused him to miss some games, and also resulted in a drop in his power numbers (31 HR/108 RBI). It is because he struggled through an injury, not merely a slump, that I am not ready to write-off Howard as "on the decline" as many of the other fantasy analysts are.
True, Ryan may never hit 58 long balls again, as he did in his 2006 MVP campaign, but I think a return to the 40 homer, 130 RBI threshold is more than just a possibility. Howard will have to adjust to batting without Jayson Werth behind him, so the average may dip a bit, but the Phillies offense should still be among the best in the majors, let alone the National League.
I am thinking 39 dingers, 123 RBI and an average in the low .270s.

7. Mark Teixeira - New York Yankees Tex was unable to overcome his trademarked slow start last season, posting a career-low .256 batting average. The 30 year-old has surpassed 30 HR in six of his seven MLB seasons, despite playing on four different teams over that span.
Can his batting average survive another miserable .136 average in April? Probably not, but I do think he can improve on that showing from 2010.
Teixeira's average will be around .275, below his career .286 mark. As he enters his third season with the Yanks, look for Mark to supply 32 HR, bring in 110 runs and score another 100.

8. Prince Fielder - Milwaulkee Brewers Much like Tex, Prince's averaged plummeted last season, and his homer and run production numbers suffered as well. Fielder seems to be following an up-and-down trend across the board, which may indicate that he will be on the upswing again this season. That, coupled with the fact that he is in the final year of his contract, and the 268-pound vegetarian looks primed to bounce-back in 2011.
Numbers in the vicinity of .270/40/115.

9. Justin Morneau - Minnesota Twins After a knee to the head ended his 2010 campaign prematurely, many fantasy owners were forced to scramble to replace MVP caliber numbers this big Canadian turned in over the first half of the season. News of lingering after-effects of the head injury have tempered expectations for the 29 year-old heading into 2011.
Provided he is ready for opening day, I have no problem listing Morneau as a top 10 option at first base. He batted .345 with 18 dingers and 56 RBI to start last season, and while the batting average is not sustainable, the power threat is real.
I anticipate a .285/30/110 type of performance from Justin, just as long as he can keep his noggin out of the way of oncoming traffic.

10. Adam Dunn - Chicago White Sox One thing is certain with Dunn, no one will put more weight behind the ball than this 285-pound behemoth. Just look at his HR totals for the last eight seasons, 32 being the low point, 46 the high.
The constant knock on the 31 year-old has been his batting average (and strikeout totals). The long and the short of Dunn's situation is he will get you homers (I predict 40 for him this season) but with a batting average in the high .250s, is the reward worth the price?


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