The 2012 baseball season is just around the corner. As players gets loosened up at Spring Training, we thought we'd pull from Athlon’s 2012 MLB Preview Magazine to catch you up on some of the top players at each position and help you win your 2012 fantasy baseball league. Today, we look at first basemen, starting with the top tier players and work our way down.
1. Albert Pujols, Angels (A) Let’s say you signed Pujols to a 10-year contract back in 2002. Your fantasy crew would have gleaned 47 BA points, 187 homers, 440 RBIs, 466 runs and even 63 steals more than the median first baseman with 2,000 more plate appearances in that decade. And as for 2012, Angel Stadium plays better for right-handed hitters than Busch. Heck, Albert fractured his wrist last June and still only missed 14 games. Incomparable and indestructible.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (A) Cabrera is now one of three active players to have won a league title in each of the triple crown categories, joining Pujols and A-Rod. The gap between him and first base preeminence is this: no 40-homer and two 120-RBI seasons to six of each for Albert. Not a bad consolation prize, though.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (A) We jumped Gonzalez 34 spots in our 2011 preseason top 100 after he signed with Boston, and even that played out as a bit conservative. He wound up leading the bigs in AVG on contact to the opposite field (.500) and the AL in opposite-field homers (10) — a Fenway effect that makes him a top-10 roto hitter.
4. Joey Votto, Reds (A) Votto’s power is a tad short of the first base elite, but he’s likely going to hit .025 higher than anybody on the list below him. No player laced line drives at a higher rate (26%) last year, and his .363 AVG with runners in scoring position since 2009 is 25 points higher than anyone else in the majors.
5. Prince Fielder, Free Agent (A) Fielder is so feared that only 38.0% of pitches to him were in the strike zone — lowest among regulars. There’s a good reason for that; only Pujols matches his hits-homers-ribs triumvirate since 2006. If he relocates to a friendly venue, slip him ahead of Votto.
6. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (A) Teixeira’s AVGs have regressed from .308 to .292 to .256 to .248, yet he’s kept his HR sum steady from 33 to 39, and his RBIs between 108 and 122. His BAbips imply there’s no cause for alarm; he should settle in the .280-.285 window.
7. Eric Hosmer, Royals A .357 AVG and .965 OPS in his last 34 games tells us that Hosmer’s the real deal. Just 34 walks all year tells us that he has work to do, but also that there’s tons more upside. We’re actually projecting Hosmer ahead of Teixeira, but the raw numbers must be tempered by the fact that Tex has been doing it eight years longer.
8. Paul Konerko, White Sox (E) With two of his five best seasons occurring at ages 34-35, Konerko has proven to be a durable commodity. He is, however, edging toward DH-dom, and his lineup protection is evaporating.
9. Freddie Freeman, Braves Hosmer’s NL doppelganger…six weeks older, a highly analogous stats overlay and almost indistinguishable promise (although we lean a bit to Eric). No 21-year-old first baseman since Orlando Cepeda in 1959 had as many hits (161) or homers (21).
10. Ryan Howard, Phillies (F) A guaranteed full year of Howard would bounce him into the bottom of the first tier, so this will be the most-watched Achilles since the Trojan War. Whenever he returns (estimates range from Opening Day to June), keep in mind his 2010-11 HR-RBI totals were off an average of 18-31 from 2006-09, and that his five-year AVG is merely .266.
11. Ike Davis, Mets (C,F) Davis was off to a big start before a mysteriously persistent ankle injury wiped him out in May. He purports to be 100% now, but since he declined surgery, there’s some unease. The out-of-sight/out-of-mind effect could make him a bargain at your draft, so you’d have to be out of your mind not to have him in your sights.
12. Justin Morneau, Twins (F) Morneau’s missed roughly half of each of the last two schedules with numerous maladies, but when last seen completely healthy (July 2010), he was playing at an MVP level. His spring training will be a page-turner.
13. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (C) The Minor League Player of the Year in some circles and Double-A Hitter of the Year in others, he showed power, patience and poise during his two-plus months in Phoenix. Not enough contact to be a high-average hitter, but he’s a future 30-100 type.
14. Mark Reynolds, Orioles A home run machine (fifth in the majors since 2008) who comes with his usual disclaimer (118th in AVG).
15. Lance Berkman, Cardinals (E) Berkman is a sho-nuff hitter’s hitter whose OPS stands in the all-time top 20. He’s also a 36-year-old injury time bomb who no longer has Pujols hitting in front of him.