First base is home to many of Fantasy's top sluggers, and its player pool is deep in run producers and hitters who can bat .280 or higher. If you miss out on the very best first basemen, you can still find players who can deliver in most, if not, all categories. This is why so many owners choose to wait to fill this spot in their lineup.
In Head-to-Head formats, this is not a bad strategy, but waiting for your first baseman in Rotisserie drafts may be riskier than it appears to be. The descent down the ranks of first basemen is somewhat gradual in Head-to-Head scoring, but there's an abrupt dropoff from the elite to the second tier in Roto. The top tier in the latter format is five deep -- Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Edwin Encarnacion -- and aside from Encarnacion's surgically-repaired wrist, there are few sources of concern from this group. Once Encarnacion is off the board, Roto owners stand to lose a full standings gain point by settling for the next first baseman in the projection rankings, Freddie Freeman. (Buster Posey and Mark Trumbo are actually ahead of Freeman, but owners could opt to draft them as a catcher and outfielder, respectively). Freeman is the bridge to the next tier, and passing up on him likely means losing at least one more standings gain point.
Losing two points in the cumulative Roto standings might not sound like a big price to pay, but aside from third base, no other position exacts that much of a sacrifice from owners who forego the elite options. While first base is deep in the sense that you can get 25-homer, 80-RBI threats like Brandon Moss, Kendrys Morales and Adam LaRoche late, it still pays to make getting one of the five best options a priority within the first two rounds.
Two of those elite hitters, Goldschmidt and Davis, are reviewed in this column's half-dozen profiles, as the outsized jumps in value that both made last season might make it tricky to value them this spring. Not everyone can own one of the top five, though (unless you play in a five-team league), so I've also thrown in four more first basemen from the middle tiers for whom establishing value could be a little challenging.
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2014 5x5 projections: .310/.398/.554, 33 HR, 118 RBI, 105 Runs,
14 SB in 610 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 19.3 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 1st among first basemen; 601 Fantasy Points, 1st among first basemen
Just prior to getting to work on this year's projections, I took guesses as to whom I thought would be the projected leaders at each position, and I felt pretty certain that Joey Votto would be my No. 1 first baseman. While I figured it could be close between him and Goldschmidt and conceded that the latter would hit for more power and drive in more runs, I thought Votto would more than make up for that gap with walks and a higher batting average. As it turns out, Goldschmidt projects to have more value than Votto in Roto and Head-to-Head formats, and it's not close. Despite a projected on-base percentage that is 39 points lower than Votto's, Goldschmidt could have a decisive edge in RBI by having two hitters with better on-base skills in front of him (Gerardo Parra and Aaron Hill) than the Reds will put in front of Votto (Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips). He clearly has 30-plus home run power, but given that his batting averages on line drives and flyballs in play were slightly depressed last year, he has the potential to blow away his total of 36 doubles from a year ago. That increase could help Goldschmidt to rival Votto with a batting average around .310. Goldschmidt is also no slouch with walks, and he is the favorite to lead all first basemen in steals. He's not only the runaway top projection at his position, but Goldschmidt should be drafted no later than fourth overall.
Chris Davis, Orioles
2014 5x5 projections: .269/.333/.546, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 93 Runs, 2
SB in 590 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 16.1 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 2nd among first basemen; 477 Fantasy Points, 5th among first basemen
Just about everyone in the Fantasy universe is looking for Davis to regress from his 53-homer season, and while a dropoff seems likely, he still profiles to be Fantasy's home run leader for a second straight year. Davis benefitted mostly from an increase in at-bats and a decreased ground ball rate, as his home-run-to-flyball ratio (HR/FB) made a relatively modest jump from 25 to 28 percent. A likely increase in his rate of grounders and of airborne balls that stay in the park will have a dampening effect on his homer output, but the bigger concern is Davis' ability to approach 42 doubles again. I doubt he will, as he is unlikely to repeat a .207 batting average on flyballs, as the league norm is usually around .130. With more flyball outs, look for Davis' overall batting average to fall, as well as his .343 batting average with runners in scoring position, which was obscenely high to begin with. That will also knock his RBI total down to size, plunging from last season's 138 to this year's projected 103. That still leaves Davis with enough home runs and run production to be the second most-valuable first baseman in Roto, but with a high strikeout rate and a middling doubles total, he's merely a second-tier option in Head-to-Head leagues.
Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks
2014 5x5 projections: .245/.303/.484, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 91 Runs, 4
SB in 605 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 14.3 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 7th among first basemen; 457 Fantasy Points, 10th among first basemen
Trumbo's mediocre batting averages prevent him from getting even close to the upper tier, but with three straight seasons in the neighborhood of 30 homers and 90 RBI, it's no surprise to see him as a top 10 first baseman in Roto formats. While owners may want to use him as an outfielder, it makes some sense to employ him as a first baseman in Roto, given the post-Freeman dropoff mentioned above. Trumbo also squeaked into the top 10 in Head-to-Head, which given his high strikeout rate, was a mild surprise. It helped that Trumbo increased his paltry walk rate, played in 159 games and increased his runs from 66 to 85. Moving from Anaheim to Arizona, Trumbo not only gets a substantially friendlier home park, but also a team that should boast a more potent bottom half of the order than what followed him last season. Particularly in Roto leagues where a regression in walk rate would have a minimal impact, Trumbo remains a very good fallback option once the top five first basemen are gone. In Head-to-Head, he's on the wrong side of a moderate dropoff that begins with Davis, so despite his top 10 projection, owners may just be better off holding out for higher-upside options like comeback candidate Albert Pujols or emerging Matt Adams.
Eric Hosmer, Royals
2014 5x5 projections: .285/.343/.444, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 80 Runs, 10
SB in 615 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 13.0 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 12th among first basemen; 461 Fantasy Points, 7th among first basemen
Just maybe Hosmer started to break out in the latter part of last season, as he hit .318 with 16 home runs over his last 98 games after hitting .274 with one home run in his first 61 games. For this season's projections, I didn't really buy into it, as Hosmer's FB rate, HR/FB ratio and Isolated Power were still not all that impressive for a first baseman. Aside from a brief August power surge, Hosmer continued to put roughly half of his hit balls on the ground. Hitters like Hunter Pence and Kendrys Morales have similar ground ball tendencies, and they represent Hosmer's power upside. However, Hosmer still has to put up HR/FB ratios similar to those of Pence and Morales over an extended period. For that reason, even though Hosmer is at a typical breakout age, I don't see him exceeding 20 home runs, and I don't see him hitting .287 on grounders again either. He is good at avoiding strikeouts, so that will help to bump him into the top 10 in Head-to-Head formats.
Jose Abreu, White Sox
2014 5x5 projections: .274/.341/.477, 29 HR, 81 RBI, 66 Runs, 2
SB in 570 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 11.8 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 16th among first basemen; 419 Fantasy Points, 15th among first basemen
Projections for international free agents are always tough to pin down, and Abreu's may be more so than others. He hit for tremendous power in Cuba -- even more than Yoenis Cespedes -- and he gets to play in the American League's best home run park, while Cespedes has had to play in the worst. Because Abreu's Cuban power numbers dwarf those of Cespedes and Yasiel Puig (he put up stratospheric ISOs over .400 in three of the last four years), I've given the rookie a higher home run rate than either of them, though not by much. If he is really that much better as a power hitter than Cespedes or Puig, then we could have a new member of the first base elite on our hands. I'm not willing to bank on that for a player who has yet to play in the majors or minors. I have also gone conservative on his run production stats, given that the White Sox's lineup is full of question marks. With this projection, though, it should be more than safe to draft Abreu in the middle rounds of mixed league drafts.
Brandon Belt, Giants
2014 5x5 projections: .282/.356/.484, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 74 Runs, 4
SB in 510 at-bats.
2014 overall value (projected): 10.8 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 23rd among first basemen; 395 Fantasy Points, 18th among first basemen.
Going into last season, I saw Belt as a potential breakout who could combine the home run power from his minor league career and rookie season with the doubles power and higher batting average that reemerged in his sophomore season. Belt didn't disappoint, as he clouted 10 more homers and tacked on 14 points to this batting average last year, yet a .289/.360/.481 slash line is nothing special for a first baseman. Belt's second-half .326 batting average was impressive, and while he cut back on strikeouts, he also benefitted from a once-in-a-lifetime .392 BABIP. As good as Belt is at hitting line drives, he's due for a little batting average regression, and his power potential might be tapped out as long as he calls AT&T Park home. Thanks to a sizable jump in his HR/FB, Belt hit 11 homers with a .216 ISO in away games, but he was limited to six homers at home. Those splits make me bearish on Belt's prospects for a 20-homer season.