FANTASY PLAYS: 6 at top at 1B, then wait in your draft
The first base position is all about power as only Paul Goldschmidt and Wil Myers finished the 2016 season with more than 12 stolen bases. You want to either attack this position early, or hold off and wait, as the options drop off quickly after the top six players.
Different fantasy sites account for different eligibility, so Kris Bryant's 39 home runs and Todd Frazier's 40 (and 15 stolen bases) won't be included in this discussion. If you play in leagues where Bryant qualifies as a first baseman, go ahead and take him as the first 1B off the board. Two catchers are eligible at the position, but Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy should be drafted and used only as catchers for fantasy purposes.
NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES
Bryant is not in the rankings, but Ian Desmond is. Desmond has already started taking ground balls at first base as he'll take on a new position in fantasy in 2017, this time with his new team in Colorado. Keep in mind it'll take some time for Desmond to get first base eligibility (anywhere from five games to 20, depending on league rules), so don't go into the draft with the idea of just taking him at the position. Desmond was a 20/20 performer last season and he should be able to improve on 2016's 22 home runs now that he's in Colorado.
Desmond wasn't the only power hitter to switch teams during the offseason. Edwin Encarnacion joined the American League champion Cleveland Indians and some predict a slight dip in production, but it's not enough to change his value. Progressive Field was actually a better home run park than Rogers Centre in 2016, according to ESPN Park Factors. Maybe he loses a few home runs with the division switch, but this is arguably a better lineup than the one he was in with the Blue Jays.
THE TOP SIX
Encarnacion is one of six first basemen going in the first 30 picks. Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo are both first round talents. Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto can be considered undervalued and, therefore, second round steals. Then there's Encarnacion, followed by Atlanta's Freddie Freeman - who could be in line for his first 100-100 run/RBI season. If you don't get one of these six players, don't be afraid to wait it out until later in the draft to strike.
If you include Bryant, Frazier and Mark Trumbo, 10 of the top 20 home run hitters in 2016 have first base eligibility in some fantasy formats. First base has a lot of power to offer and it can be found late in the draft, if you don't mind a downgrade in batting average.
The National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Average Draft Position (ADP) has Albert Pujols as the 13th first baseman off the board and 137th player taken overall. He's 37 and is uncertain for Opening Day due to offseason foot surgery. That said, Pujols had the same offseason foot surgery two years ago around the same time and was still ready to go by the start of the season. Injuries can create a buy low opportunity and it's all about finding value in your draft.
Pujols has the ninth most home runs (71) and fifth-most RBIs (214) over the last two seasons. Cheap power is an understatement considering he's going roughly 60 picks after Chris Davis, who is almost certain to have a worse batting average.
C.J. Cron and Greg Bird were once deep league first base targets, but now that the Angels signed Luis Valbuena and the Yankees brought in Chris Carter it makes regular playing time for those four players tough.
That brings us to Tommy Joseph, who could start at first in deeper formats but is ideally a candidate for a spot where you can play any corner infielder. Joseph hit 21 home runs in only 347 plate appearances last season and he should get at least 200 more PAs in 2017. The Phillies first baseman finished with a 45.1 percent fly ball rate (the league average was 35.3 percent) and he struck out only 18 percent of the time during the second half of the season, compared with 24 percent in the first. Joseph also walked more, and that improved patience should lead to increased productivity in 2017.
Adrian Gonzalez is entering his age 35 season and is coming off a year where he tied a career-low with 18 home runs. He struck out 18.5 percent of the time (his highest mark since 2008) and he saw his fly ball percentage go from three straight years in the high 30s down to 27.5 percent. He hit grounders 46.2 percent of time he made contact, up from 37 percent a year ago. All that - and the fact he's dealing with an elbow injury - makes Gonzalez a hard pass come draft day.
CHRIS' FIRST BASE RANKINGS
1. Paul Goldschmidt - Diamondbacks
2. Miguel Cabrera - Tigers
3. Anthony Rizzo - Cubs
4. Edwin Encarnacion - Indians
5. Joey Votto - Reds
6. Freddie Freeman - Braves
7. Ian Desmond - Rockies
8. Daniel Murphy - Nationals
9. Wil Myers - Padres
10. Matt Carpenter - Cardinals
11. Jose Abreu - White Sox
12. Hanley Ramirez - Red Sox
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com .