Do you smell it?
Freshly cut grass, roasted peanuts, hot dogs. Wait, there’s eight inches of snow outside?
We are just a few short days away from the beginning of Spring Training, which means that fantasy baseball fans are digging into countless hours of research and preparation. So perhaps it’s a good thing there is so much snow blanketing the outside, allowing us fantasy freaks to have an excuse for staring in front of our computer screens all day. Anyway, with the season rapidly approaching, I figured it would be an ideal time to start previewing the season from a positional perspective.
First up? The deep crop of first basemen.
First base is one of the deepest positions in fantasy land because there is a good mix of young and veteran studs who can hit for power. drive in plenty of runs and hit for average. Let’s start with last year’s best first baseman in fantasy land, Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldy was what his name suggests- gold. In 2013, he batted an impressive .302 with 36 home runs (1st in NL), 125 RBI (1st), 103 runs (3rd), 99 walks (3rd), .551 slugging percentage (1st) and a .952 OPS (1st). That is… that is just insane. Those numbers alone are worthy of a top first baseman ranking, but the fact that he also swiped 15 bags presents him with the upside that the majority of other first basemen lack. The burgeoning superstar improved both his walk and strikeout rate during his breakout 2013 campaign, but was also incredibly consistent, no matter the venue. While at home, he batted a strong .293, but when away from the comfy confines of Chase Field, he actually batted an improved .311 with 19 home runs. He’s also improved his BABIP, which is batting average on balls in play, in each of the last three seasons, meaning he is much, much more than just a power hitter. In fact, his 36 doubles ranked 5th among first basemen from last year. At age 26, Goldschmidt is just entering his prime, meaning there is still room for improvement.
What about home run smasher, Chris Davis? A league-leading 53 home runs propelled Davis to an elite fantasy campaign, becoming the first player since Jose Bautista to belt at least 50 homers in a season. He led the MLB in ISO, was first in the American League in RBI (138) and was second to only Miguel Cabrera in slugging percentage with an insane .634. The power has always been there with Davis, but the .315 batting average before the All-Star break was a bit of an anomaly. He still swung at 36 percent of pitches landing outside of the strike zone last year, so his plate discipline could use a bit of work. Still, the power and RBI potential is vastly there, especially when the Orioles lineup scored the 5th-most runs (745) and posted a decent on-base percentage of .313.
The Very, Very Good
One of my favorite players in baseball has to be Joey Votto of the Reds. The guy is so sound, so consistent, so smart. He simply plays the game of baseball how it’s supposed to be played, and because of that, he has been one of the best fantasy assets among his position for years now. In fact, other than his rookie year and an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, Votto has hit at least 24 homers in every season as a pro. Many have been wanting more out of the power department, as he hasn’t approached 30 home runs since 2009, but because Votto is such a smart hitter, he has provided fantasy owners with plenty of runs. You could make the case that he is the purest hitter in baseball right now, maybe outside of Miggy. Votto has scored at least 100 runs in three of his last four seasons, largely because of his pure hitting ability and plate discipline. In 2013, Votto led the entire majors in walk rate, coming in at 18.6 percent. He also finished second in that category in 2011. He’s seemingly always on base, sporting a career on-base percentage of .419. Votto may not have the upside as some of the other guys, but he’s as safe as they come.
Edwin Encarnacion, meanwhile, has plenty, plenty of pop at the end of his bat. After showing promising signs during his time in Cincinnati, Encarnacion is now averaging 39 homers over his last two seasons. Not trying to bring the great Miguel Cabrera into this again, but Edwin joins Miggy as the only player to hit at least 35 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of the last two campaigns. One of the league’s premiere power hitters will continue to play half of his contests at the Roger Centre, a venue responsible for 1.289 homers per game in 2013, the third-most in baseball.
Finally, I have already proclaimed my love for newly acquired Ranger, Prince Fielder in 2014. Despite having a “down” year in 2013, Fielder still managed to hit 25 homers and drive in a healthy 106 runs, making for a top-10 fantasy first baseman. Now, he leaves the stacked Tigers lineup and joins a very formidable Rangers one. Over the last three seasons, Rangers Ballpark has averaged a healthy 1.5 HR per game (most), 1.16 HR per game (7th-most) and .903 HR per game (19th-most), making for a hitter-friendly venue. However, as Tristan Cockroft points out, left-handed hitters are averaging a 12.8 home run/fly ball ratio, which is well above the league average of 9.9. Texas also brought in one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball in Shin-Soo Choo, who will be responsible for plenty of runs. He finished fourth in the majors in on-base percentage in 2013 (.423). Fielder stays healthy, and I bet he returns to his days of 30-plus dingers.
I also absolutely love guys like Freddie Freeman and Eric Hosmer this year, who haven’t even scratched the surface of their massive upside.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.