02/07/11 7:00 AM EST
Fantasy draft tiers: First base
Plenty of pop at fantasy's deepest position
By Matt Chaprales / MLB.com
Power numbers fell across the board in 2010, as fewer than five players reached the 40-home run plateau for just the second time since 1995.
Of the nine players who clubbed at least 33 homers, however, six were first baseman. Owners who pass on a big bopper at the position in the early rounds run the risk of leaving themselves at a severe power disadvantage later on.
Because the top five or six first basemen are all worth drafting before the end of the second round, owners should feel comfortable selecting one at any draft slot.
Pujols has stood alone as the consensus No. 1 first baseman for nearly a decade. But a career year from Cabrera in 2010 -- in which his .328/.420/.622 triple-slash was markedly better than Prince Albert's .312/.414/.596 line -- means that Pujols now has a serious threat to his throne.
Owners with a mid-first-round draw will likely have their pick of this list. Given his age and career arc, Votto has the most upside. Fielder -- the youngest of the group -- is coming off a down season, but history indicates he has high bounceback potential. A-Gone is an obvious candidate to submit a career year, considering his stellar track record and new home in the middle of a stacked Red Sox lineup. Teixeira and Howard each suffered through subpar 2010 seasons by their lofty standards and could come at a discount.
Not everyone can score a Cabrera or Teixeira, but first base runs extremely deep this season. The glut of talent is evidenced in this tier, which boasts some well established mashers. Youkilis annually ranks among the Major League leaders in OPS and also has eligibility at third base. Morneau is a former MVP whose only downside is a recent injury history. Dunn may be the gem of the group, as he's cranked at least 38 home runs in seven straight seasons and should enjoy swinging the lumber at the launching pad also known as U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Owners without a starting first baseman at this point in the draft shouldn't wait much longer to pounce. While this tier features a number of solid options, the upside is significantly lower. Sandoval was one of fantasy's biggest busts last season, failing to build on a breakout '09 campaign. There are red flags associated with Zobrist and Lind (uneven track record), as well as Pena and Lee (age). Butler is a safer play thanks to his youth and recent body of work.
Tier 5: Derrek Lee, Luke Scott, Howard Kendrick, Gaby Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, Michael Cuddyer, Ty Wigginton, Aubrey Huff, Ike Davis, James Loney, Lance Berkman, Kila Ka'aihue, Brett Wallace, Daric Barton
There's a lot to sift through in this tier. Owners looking for one more productive season from an aging veteran should consider Lee and Berkman. On the other end of that spectrum sit Sanchez, Davis, Ka'aihue and Wallace, who enjoyed varying degrees of success as rookies in 2010. Huff, Cuddyer and Scott have been quietly steady over the last few years while Loney has averaged double-digit home runs and nearly 90 RBIs in each of his three full seasons.
Establishing depth is the name of the game by the time the players in this group are at the top of the draft board. Overbay stands out as a proven year-to-year performer. Moreland is intriguing because of his huge postseason with the Rangers last year, while Smoak has the potential to produce the biggest bang for the buck. Ambitious owners could certainly turn some heads by making a move for the 21-year-old Freeman.
Tier 7: Jorge Cantu, Todd Helton, Russell Branyan, Dan Johnson, Garrett Jones, Juan Rivera, Xavier Nady, Melvin Mora, Michael Morse, Eric Hinske, Chris Davis Owners are likely selecting bench players from this tier, making versatility a critical asset. Injuries are bound to strike any squad and players with multi-position eligibility are always handy plug-ins. Jones, Rivera, Nady and Mora are appealing for that reason. Owners scouring for a deep sleeper may find one in Morse.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.