Fantasy baseball 2014 draft preview: First base primer
For the first time since 2010, fantasy baseball saw a 50-HR hitter last season, as Chris Davis pounded his way into our hearts. It was really just an exclamation point on his 2012 breakout season, as he convinced all of us that he's for real and he's not going away any time soon.
We also found out that a few other first basemen were for real as well.
Paul Goldschmidt became a top-five fantasy player -- at any position -- with a breakout season just a couple years after entering the big leagues. Freddie Freeman maintained his power numbers, while also adding 50 points to his batting average in 2013. Eric Hosmer finally joined the party, adding about 140 points to his OPS from 2012, and he's still just 24 years old.
We seem to be waving goodbye to several of our favorite slugging first basemen that are aging and slowly slipping down the rankings, like Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira and Mike Napoli. But the position remains in good hands (or bats) with the young players developing now, not to mention, a new Cuban powerhouse that's joining the mix.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
Paul Goldschmidt did enough in his third season to convince experts and rookies alike that he's worthy of being the "first" first baseman taken in most drafts this season. As a matter of fact, he'll likely be gone within the first five picks of your league's draft. He brings crazy power, despite being in an offense that really wasn't expected to do much last season. He pulled it up into the middle tier, and he was responsible for a higher percentage (33 percent) of his team's runs/RBI than any other player in baseball.
But does last year's success automatically mean he's going to do it again in 2014? Not necessarily, but let's look at why things look better for him this season. Mark Trumbo joins the Diamondbacks, adding another power bat to make pitchers stay honest with Goldy. Miguel Montero can't be as bad as he was last year, especially not hitting between Goldschmidt and Trumbo, with 70 homers between them last year. And Goldschmidt also tossed in 15 steals last season. Just in case you weren't fully convinced.
Comeback Player: Justin Morneau
It's strange to think of Morneau as an over-the-hill slugger, mostly because he's just 32 years old. He'll take his (formerly) big, left-handed bat with him to the rare air of Coors Field in Colorado and hope that cures what's been ailing him. What's important to note is that he has posted back-to-back 500 at-bat seasons, so injuries shouldn't be a concern for fantasy owners taking a chance on him late. He'll hit in the second-half of the Rockies' lineup for now, but if he shows some life, he could move up to fifth in the order -- or higher if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki call in sick again.
A conservative estimate would put him at 20 homers with 85 RBI in a healthy 2014 season. But if the move to thin air agrees with him, he could end up being a 25-homer, 95-RBI guy again for the first time since 2009.
Next in line as a comeback candidate behind Morneau? Ryan Howard.
Breakout: Matt Adams
There are a lot of moving parts that need to line up just right for Adams to come through with a breakout fantasy season. First, Adams needed a spot to play. Once the Cardinals allowed Carlos Beltran to leave for the Yankees, that made room for Allen Craig to move out to right field. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are also looking for space for both Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos to get at-bats. Watch this situation through spring training, as it looks like Jay will be the odd-man out, with Adams starting at first base. He's a barrel-chested (bellied?) slugger that picked up 17 homers and 51 RBI in less than 300 at-bats last season. He turns 26 this August, and fantasy owners hope he gets enough at-bats to make him a top-15 first baseman next season, which is about where Allen Craig finished this season.
Potential Bust: Edwin Encarnacion
I understand -- this is crazy talk. You don't like it. You don't agree with it. But Encarnacion is coming off of end-of-the-season wrist surgery, and while he's expected to be ready to play on Opening Day, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be ready to rake. He's currently being drafted early in the second rounds of most 12-team drafts, around players like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre. You have to admit, that's a lot to justify by passing on either of those guys for E.E.
Sleeper: Adam Lind
Just as the Jays could lose some production from Encarnacion, they'll also gain some from Lind, who is already coming off one of the best seasons in his career. He's rumored to be a trade candidate, as well. Considering he's already a late pick in any draft, a change in scenery could only do him well. If he remains in Toronto, he'll be batting cleanup for an offense that is expected to regroup after a disappointing 2013. (Toronto scored more runs in 2012 than they did in 2013, after adding Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera.)
Top Prospect: Jose Abreu
His name is Jose Abreu. That much we know. He's also coming into 2014 with the largest contract ever given to an international hitter. Now, how good of a hitter is he going to be with a White Sox team that scored the fewest runs in the American League last season -- that, we don't know. He's a big man, weighing in at 258 pounds, and the White Sox signed him as a big power hitter. If the White Sox like him more than they do veteran Paul Konerko, which they do, then fantasy owners should look at him as a top-20 fantasy first baseman.
Our rankings only look at players who play first base as their primary position, or played at least 20 games there in their more recent season in the major leagues. Some other players of note with different eligibility requirements are below:
• 10 games: Michael Cuddyer (15), Chris Johnson (12), Victor Martinez (11), Daniel Nava (19),
• Five games: Dustin Ackley (6), Billy Butler (7), Mike Morse (7), Daniel Murphy (7), David Ortiz (6), Kevin Youkilis (6)
• One game: Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, , Matt Carpenter (2), Kelly Johnson (3), Will Middlebrooks, Trevor Plouffe (2)
Remember that first base will get a little boost in talent about a week or so in, as Miguel Cabrera will start at first base once again with Fielder in Texas.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter.