First base has traditionally been the place where teams dump veterans who can still hit, but can no longer play premium defense. In the wake of the steroid era, however, the position is much younger at the top.
The position is also deep on players with double eligibility. It's rare to see four catcher-eligible players appear among the top options at the potent first base position, but their production justifies the ranking. Mind you, no owner in his right mind should slot Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana or Mike Napoli at first instead of catcher.
First base remains as strong as ever, and is perhaps even deeper. So if you miss out on one of the beasts early, you can find solid production on the cheap throughout the draft. Fantasy players tend to approach first base the same way many MLB teams do: They fill their teams with the best bats possible early, then slot first base and DH with the best remaining options. Even if you miss on your late-round gamble -- catching Adam Dunn on a bad year, say -- new surprises always crop up.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
No. Albert Pujols struggled during his first month-and-a-half in Anaheim last year, but he produced at his career norms for the rest of the season. Miguel Cabrera lost his first base eligibility after moving to third base full time, and Joey Votto struggled with injuries in 2012. A fully healthy Votto or a monster second year in Detroit from Prince Fielder could change things, but for now Pujols remains the top choice at his position and a top-five overall pick in fantasy.
Comeback player: Ryan Howard, Phillies
Howard missed about half of 2012 while recovering from an Achilles tear that kept him from staying at his playing weight, something that tends to hamper 6-foot-4 behemoths in their 30s. Reports this winter indicate Howard is in much better shape now that he's no longer rehabbing. Speed was never part of Howard's game, so we should expect the 33-year-old to shake off the rust and produce his usual 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI after an offseason of health and weight training.
Howard's low batting average a year ago will keep him from being drafted among the top 12, or even top 15, fantasy first basemen. He'll be a great value at that point and will represent an outstanding fallback option.
If you're looking deeper for some other rebound candidates, consider: Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Ike Davis or Mark Reynolds.
Breakout: Freddie Freeman, Braves
Freeman's well-documented vision issues should be resolved this season, allowing the 23-year-old talent to take off for the Braves. Freeman hit just .259 last season, but another year of maturation should help him approach fantasy MVP-caliber numbers of .300/30/100/100/.400/.500. We optimistically project him to finish among the top 10 true first basemen (not including those with catcher eligibility) and to become a top-five option in time -- possibly as soon as this year.
Bust: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Whenever looking for a potential bust -- or a player who is going to struggle to live up to his draft position -- look for a 30-something guy who is coming off a surprising career year. Encarnacion, who jumped from 17 homers and 55 RBI in 2011 to 42 and 110 last season, fits that bill. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, they are going to win 100 games and top a tough AL East division. But there's no guarantee, and something figures to go wrong. Encarnacion might be that problem. Draft him with caution and avoid using a first- or second-round pick on him. Hedge your bets in the third round.
Sleeper: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
First base tends to favor the veteran monster run producers. Younger players are less likely to be counted on, but this season there are some burgeoning stars. Rizzo, 23, is one of the most intriguing. He might not even be drafted as a starter, but he's capable of producing at a .300/30/100/100/.360/.500 clip.
If the hype carries Rizzo into the top 10 at the position in your league, these potential sleepers are likely to slip into the later rounds: Howard, Morales, Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Chris Davis, Ike Davis, Dunn and Reynolds.
Top prospect/rookie: Jonathan Singleton, Astros
As stated, first base is rarely a position where young players dominate, so you don't want to pin your hopes for such a potentially productive lineup spot on a rookie. That said, Singleton has a chance to take off by midseason for the rebuilding Astros. He figures to open the year in Triple-A, so he's not in the rankings below. But if he appears capable of stealing the job in spring training, look out.
If you're looking for a prospect who will play out of the gate and surprise, target St. Louis' Matt Adams and Philadelphia's Darin Ruf.
Other potential eligibles
Our rankings only consider those who play first base as their primary position or played at least 20 games there in their most recent major league season. Here are some other players who are eligible in leagues with different requirements:
? Fifteen games: Wilson Betemit and Jesus Guzman ? Ten games: Daniel Murphy, Dustin Ackley and Eric Chavez ? Five games: David Ortiz, Mike Olt, Lucas Duda, Chris Johnson ? Three games: Pablo Sandoval, Yadier Molina, Trevor Plouffe, Darin Ruf and Jim Thome ? One game: Miguel Cabrera, Chase Headley, Michael Morse, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Doumit, Howard Kendrick and Tyler Flowers
From the rough estimate projections below, your average starting first baseman in a 12-team league should be around .283/29/100/85/4/.366/.510.