Fantasy draft tiers: First basemen
Power-packed position offers deep well of bats
Draft order tends to determine if an owner's No. 1 pick will be a first baseman.
Aside from Albert Pujols, the premier sluggers at the position typically start to fly off the board in the second half of the first round.
Owners who select Hanley Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez or simply opt to go in a different direction early don't need to worry; the pool of heavy hackers at first base is rich and deep, which means a big bat at the position will still be easily found after several rounds.
Tier 1: Albert Pujols
Pujols pretty much went wire-to-wire as the king of fantasy in 2009. He's in a class by himself and is as close as it gets to a sure thing.
This quartet represents the core of premier power hitters in baseball, which is to say owners can direct their attention elsewhere after acquiring any one of them. All four are sure to disappear in some order in the first round of most drafts.
While not quite on the level of the Tier 2 guys -- Morneau lacks the cumulative power numbers and A-Gone has shown a propensity for second-half fades -- these two can be counted among the game's elite boppers. Consider it a bargain if either can be found in the third round of mixed drafts.
In Morales, Reynolds, Sandoval and Votto, owners have a wealth of youth and upside at their disposal. All four are fresh off varying forms of breakout seasons, but given the glut of established mashers in Tiers 1-3, they all still fly a little under the radar. As for Martinez and Youkilis, their multi-position eligibility only adds to their established value.
Of this veteran-laden Tier 5, Dunn jumps out as the most reliable performer. He's a virtual lock for almost exactly 40 homers, 100 RBIs and a .400 on-base percentage, rock-solid numbers for a guy who doesn't project to go before the fourth round. On the other side, Berkman's sustained struggles throughout the 2009 season suggest he may be on the decline at age 34, especially considering his knee issues this spring.
Since the players in this collection offer varying strengths and shortcomings, owners will have to determine the specific needs of their teams before pursuing one of them. Those who are seeking pop will get their fill from Ortiz and Cuddyer, whereas a guy like Helton can singlehandedly boost a squad's composite stats because of his consistently high average and on-base percentage. Decisions on these complementary, yet integral guys will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Like Tier 6, Tier 7 is replete with guys who may not qualify as superstars, but are nonetheless key contributors to a contending squad. Versatility can become a determining factor at this juncture, as owners need at least a few players who can be moved around to help offset the impact of a potential injury to a blue-chipper. DeRosa has proven himself to be the ultimate utility man over the last few years; Prado and Swisher also fit the bill of productive hitters who can log time in both the infield and outfield.
Along with versatility, depth is another important area to focus on in the later rounds of drafts. While the members of this tier are for the most part complementary players, they can be useful as bench guys, particularly in head-to-head formats where owners must account for off days by plugging in subs. The up-and-comers of the group -- LaPorta and Jones -- even offer the potential for quality numbers.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.