2012 Fantasy draft tiers: First base
Powerful early-round options headline deep position
Long considered fantasy's marquee position, first base was overshadowed by outfield show-stealers like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista in 2011. But despite the presence of those superstar fly-shaggers, owners shouldn't overlook baseball's deepest slot in 2012.
Although no first baseman reached the 40-homer mark last season (the first time that's happened since 1994) and only four of baseball's top-10 long ball threats played the position (compared to seven in '09 and '10), first base offers several sure-fire power producers and a number of intriguing breakout candidates.
TIER 1: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera
You simply can't go wrong with either of these sluggers. While there's some concern about Pujols' declining numbers, Prince Albert still triple-slashed .299/.366/.541 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in what was considered a down year in 2011. Fears about the 32-year-old's durability should be put to rest, as a move to the AL will allow for occasional starts at DH and the Angels' lineup is both deep and talented. Cabrera, who led the league in batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448) last season, also bettered Pujols in slugging percentage (.586 to .541) for a second straight campaign. The 28-year-old hit machine is firmly in the prime of his career, and his value only increases with the potential of third-base eligibility and Prince Fielder providing lineup protection.
TIER 2: Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira
This group could be divided into Tier 2 and 2a, with Votto, Gonzalez and Fielder making up the first group and Teixeira the sole member of the latter. Nothing against Tex, who led all first basemen with 39 dingers in 2011, but the Bronx Bomber has hit just .252 over the last two campaigns. Votto holds a slight edge over the rest of the bunch, largely thanks to the 35 bases he's stolen since becoming a full-time player in 2008. If Votto is off the board, A-Gone has as much potential for another monster year as anyone. Gonzalez hit a career-best .338 with 117 RBIs and led the Majors with 213 hits in his first season with Boston. Although a repeat of that average may be asking a bit much, signs point to even more homers in 2012. Then there's Fielder, who joins forces with Cabrera to provide a devastating one-two punch in Detroit. The 27-year-old's drastic drop in strikeout rate from 2010 to '11 shows he may finally break free from the cycle of alternating MVP-caliber years with mere All-Star campaigns.
TIER 3: Paul Konerko, Eric Hosmer, Michael Morse, Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Lind, Freddie Freeman
This third group mixes some new faces with a few seasoned sluggers, allowing owners who missed out on the top tiers to weigh upside vs. a history of production. The seemingly ageless Konerko posted his second consecutive .300-average, 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign in 2011, while the 22-year-old Hosmer lived up to enormous expectations in his first big league action. Morse -- a true late bloomer -- got his first taste of a full-time role last season and produced a tasty .303/.360/.550 line with 31 taters and 95 RBIs. Goldschmidt is a leading sleeper candidate after showing enough in 156 big league at-bats late last season to justify dreams of 30-plus homers at age 24. Freeman is primed to improve in his sophomore campaign after placing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting a year ago.
TIER 4: Ike Davis, Billy Butler, Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Carlos Pena, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Gaby Sanchez, Anthony Rizzo, Mark Trumbo
Health questions abound in this group, but keen owners can strike gold with the right pick. Davis, who will be aiming at shorter home fences this year, was mashing his way to a breakout sophomore campaign prior to a season-ending ankle injury last May. Morales and Morneau are premier talents when healthy, but neither player has played a full campaign since 2009. Howard should rake once back on the field, but recovery from Achilles surgery will likely push his season debut into May at the earliest. Describing Dunn's first year in Chicago as disappointing would be an understatement. He may not return to 40-homer form, but at least a small rebound seems likely at age 32. The 22-year-old Rizzo may open the season at Triple-A, but he has more upside than Butler, Sanchez or Trumbo.
TIER 5: Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Derrek Lee, James Loney, Todd Helton, Mike Carp, Aubrey Huff, Brandon Allen, Jesus Guzman
With 20-plus first basemen already off the board, players in the next few tiers are more likely corner infielders or bench options than regular starters. Smoak has superstar potential but must translate it over a full season. Moreland suffered through a dreadful second-half slide in his sophomore campaign and will be on a shorter leash in 2012. Loney -- a classic low-risk, low-reward selection -- can get hot for a few weeks but has limited power. Veterans Huff, Helton and Lee have already seen their best days. Carp, Allen and Guzman would be more enticing options in stronger lineups and friendlier parks.
TIER 6: Adam LaRoche, Brett Wallace, Chris Davis, Matt LaPorta, Bryan LaHair, Conor Jackson, Lyle Overbay, Jason Giambi, Casey Kotchman
This group blends fading prospects and declining veterans, but a strong season could always be lurking. LaRoche is an interesting pick after smacking at least 25 homers in each season from 2008-10, but a shoulder injury limited him to just 43 games last year. LaPorta, Davis and Wallace have yet to live up to expectations in the big leagues and may not hold full-time jobs all season. Kotchman turned in an outstanding 2011 campaign, boosting his batting average from .217 in 2010 to a career-best .306 clip, but we likely saw his power peak in a 14-homer '08. Jackson, Overbay and Giambi will serve mostly in reserve roles.
TIER 7: Daric Barton, Adam Kennedy, Nick Evans, Xavier Nady, Jeff Baker, Chris Carter, Jordan Pacheco, Juan Miranda
Players from this group are unlikely to make a major impact in standard mixed leagues in 2012. Barton led the AL in walks in 2010, but the 26-year-old hit .212 with no homers in 67 games before a demotion to Triple-A last year. Kennedy and Evans provide multi-position eligibility but little else for fantasy owners. Carter, 25, is a powerful prospect who will battle Barton and others this spring for the A's starting first base gig. Pacheco has just 84 Major League at-bats to his name, but is an intriguing option in leagues in which he also qualifies at catcher.
David Lahti is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.