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Eddie's Eye: First Base Preview
Eddie Mayrose, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

This week brings us to the deepest position in our previews: First Base. Just a year ago, this traditional resource of power wasn’t very deep at all. However, 2008 saw the emergence of young players like Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, Chris Davis of the Rangers and the Dodgers’ James Loney.

Established stars like Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, new Washington National Adam Dunn and Colorado’s Garrett Atkins moved from other spots to establish eligibility. Finally, the comebacks of Florida’s Jorge Cantu and Aubrey Huff in Baltimore all served to deepen the First Base pool.

So, with all of these choices, does a Fantasy owner look elsewhere and use the depth as a safety net or is it wiser to grab one of the strongest players in order to gain an advantage in an area where all of your opponents will likely be strong? Let’s take a look and see if a game plan emerges.

* * *

ELITE

Many of us made the foolish mistake of passing on Albert Pujols last year due to concerns about his elbow. That Pujols never went on the DL and grabbed his second MVP trophy left egg on a lot of faces. Now that the Cardinals’ superstar has had the procedure done, expect to use a Top 5 pick to land his services.

Miguel Cabrera emerged from Detroit’s train wreck of a season as one of the top Fantasy first sackers after moving across the diamond. For some reason, Cabrera often falls into the second round of mixed league drafts despite his consistently strong stats. If you combine his worst stats for the last five years, he still comes out with a .292 BA 26 HR and 112 RBI. That’s a terrific safety net for this potential Triple Crown winner.

Justin Morneau saw his second MVP award go to Dustin Pedroia last year. As the Twins’ lone power source, he managed to carry the team to a tie for the division crown despite the losses of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. He’s a model of consistency who’s still getting better.

Even though the Padres’ ’07 season was one of the most disappointing in baseball, Adrian Gonzalez rewarded his owners by improving on his stellar ’07 stats. His 14 HR in the spacious Petco Park stand as a testament to his power. That he amassed 119 RBI in the middle of one of the weakest lineups in the game is equally impressive. Throw in the fact that he plays every day and you can see why he merits elite status.

Forget the low BA and all of the strikeouts. Ryan Howard’s power renders those statistics irrelevant. 40 HR, 125 RBI and 100 R seem like virtual locks in that band box of a ball park. Talk up Howard’s deficiencies at the draft table and hope that he falls to you at the bottom of the first round.

SLEEPERS

Joey Votto turned in a solid first season for the Reds and comes into ’09 as the cleanup hitter with Adam Dunn gone. His impressive rookie power numbers leave room for improvement and are protected by his HR friendly home field. One nugget of info your opponents might not know, however, is that Votto had 41 SB over the course of two Minor League seasons. Double-digit SB from a first baseman is huge.

Chris Davis debuted in Texas with a huge first weekend and never stopped hitting. Made even more attractive by his additional eligibility at 3B, Davis is moving up the charts in many mock drafts, currently sitting around the ninth round in mixed leagues. He’s in the middle of a powerful lineup in a great hitter’s park.

It’s not often that you’ll find an established veteran on a Sleepers list but that’s just where 32-year-old Paul Konerko has landed this year. But his strong finish to an injury riddled season, (.294 BA, 13 HR over last two months), coupled with the fact that his average draft position is currently in the neighborhood of Round 20, and he has the potential to be a steal.

OVERRATED

Two years ago, you could make a case for Derek Lee as the most valuable at the position. He had good power, more SB than any other first baseman and had a batting title on his resume. However, after peaking at 46 HR in ’05, Lee broke his wrist early in ’06 and his power hasn’t returned. Worse, his consistent double digit SB total has disappeared.

Garrett Atkins is still a decent bet for 20 HR and 90 RBI. However, his BA has dropped from .328 to .286 over the last two years mostly due to his ’08 BA of .233 away from Coor’s Field. Throw in a declining contact rate and his struggles vs. RHP and he may not warrant the high mid-round pick he’ll cost you.

BUSTS

Casey Kotchman came to Atlanta as part of the Mark Teixeira trade and continued the Punch and Judy hitting style with which the Angels finally tired of. His total lack of power at a traditional power position is something you’ll struggle to recover from all season long.

Lyle Overbay gave some owners hope with the modest ’06 outbreak that produced 22HR and 92 RBI. After an injury marred ’07, he returned to the Jays with a 15 HR 69 RBI stat line that is more consistent with his career performance and fatal to your mixed league title hopes.

PROSPECTS

Billy Butler came into ’08 as the top-hitting prospect in the Royals’ organization. After hitting just 1 HR in the first half of the season, KC sent him down to the minors to work on lifting the ball. Mission accomplished. He posted a .287 BA with 10 HR and 37 RBI in 257 AB after his recall.


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