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Fantasy Baseball Preview: First Basemen

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Ryan HowardGot power? The first base class has plenty of it, with at least a dozen players who could mash 30-plus home runs this year. Of course, if you’re looking for more than that, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and (if healthy) Albert Pujols have the potential to blast 40 long balls, drive in more than 115 RBI and score 100 runs.

If you miss out on any of the top four studs, don’t fret because there are at least six or seven star-studded players who will not only give you plenty of pop, but also a decent batting average and RBI production. Of that group, Mark Teixeira projects to have a great year in his first full season in Atlanta, while Lance Berkman and Derrek Lee are also consistent fantasy producers.

Now, if you’re asleep at the wheel and miss out on the top 15 players (not recommended, by the way), you’ll still find value in oldies but goodies like Jim Thome, Todd Helton and Frank Thomas. But be aware that Thome and Thomas are likely to wind up on the DL at some point during the season and, really, their main contribution is in the power department. (Neither is expected to score many runs and they might top out with a .275 batting average.)

Finally, keep an eye on youngsters James Loney, Conor Jackson and Casey Kotchman. All three have loads of fantasy potential and you never know when the next Adrian Gonzalez (30 dingers in just his second full season last year) will sprout into stardom.

*NOTE: All analysis based on standard 5x5 roto leagues

The Studs

Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
.268, 47 HR, 136 RBI, 94 runs, 1 SB, 199 K, 107 BB, 529 AB

Okay, so Howard’s 2007 effort was a far cry from his MVP campaign in 2006, but he eventually picked up the pace after a slow April and looks primed for a bounce-back season. He’s almost a lock to hit 50 home runs and drive in 130-plus runs, and it’s highly doubtful his batting average will resemble what it did in 2007. To be safe, split the difference between his ’06 BA (.313) and his ’07 BA (.268) and figure he’ll hit around .290. Select him with confidence; in fact, he looks like a safer pick than the usually top-ranked Albert Pujols, who enters the season with questions about his elbow.

Letdown Alert
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
.327, 32 HR, 109 RBI, 99 runs, 2 SB, 58 K, 99 BB, 565 AB

Not many players consider .327-32-109 a down year, but that’s exactly what 2007 was for Pujols. Worse yet, in mid-February news broke that Pujols could have Tommy John surgery to repair a bad elbow (a procedure that takes almost a year to fully recover from). When he’s healthy, Pujols is the best first baseman in the game and a likely top-three pick. But therein lies the dilemma: will he be healthy? You’ll likely still have to invest a first-round pick in Pujols to find out. You'll need to decide if that’s a gamble you’re willing to take.

Prince FielderPrince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
.288, 50 HR, 119 RBI, 109 runs, 2 SB, 121 K, 90 BB, 573 AB

Is there a more exciting fantasy player this year than Fielder? At only 23, he’s just scratched the surface of his potential, and the fact that he learned to become a more patient hitter in the second half of 2007 has owners’ drooling over him possibly becoming a .300-50-130 player. Some publications even view him as the top-rated first baseman, but that seems like a reach so early in his career. We may very well be singing a different tune next year, though.

David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
.332, 35 HR, 117 RBI, 116 runs, 3 SB, 103 K, 111 BB, 549 AB
Big Papi is just clutch. Despite being bothered by nagging shoulder and knee injuries last year, Ortiz still managed to play 149 games and even hit a career-best .332. Owners know exactly what they’re getting in Ortiz. There should be no reservations about taking him among the top 10 players, considering his consistency and the lineup he hits in.

The Stars
Take 'Em Travis Hafner, Indians
Don’t be scared off by his drop in production last year – he had an outstanding September and has plenty of talent around him to have a bounce back season.

Carlos Guillen, Tigers
He still qualifies as a shortstop, hits in a stacked lineup and should avoid the usual nagging injuries with a move over to first base. Sounds like a solid pick to us.

James Loney, Dodgers
He’s ready. This kid has immense talent and could wind up belting 20-plus long balls, driving in 90 runs and finish with a .299 average. Not bad for a guy who’ll last until the mid-rounds.

Leave 'Em Carlos Delgado, Mets
Do you want a 35-year-old injury risk whose batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage have declined since 2005? Neither do we.

Jason Giambi, Yankees
Sure, he might hit over 35-home runs. He might also miss most of the year with various injuries, too. Let someone else gamble on whether or not he’s still got enough left in the tank for one more run.

Joey Votto, Reds
Good, young, exciting player with plenty of upside. But the odds of a player breaking out in his first full season aren’t good – especially when he plays for the Reds.

Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves
.306, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 86 runs, 0 SB, 112 K, 72 BB, 494 AB
Teixeira hit 17 of his 30 home runs after being traded to the Braves last year, a fact that has many owners intrigued by what he can do with a full season in Atlanta. He’s a pure hitter in every sense of the word, and will likely produce another .300-30-100 season, making him a solid second- or third-round choice.

Lance Berkman, Houston Astros
.278, 34 HR, 102 RBI, 95 runs, 7 SB, 125 K, 94 BB, 561 AB
Berkman is the model of inconsistent consistency. You don’t know if he’s going to produce .300-35-120 numbers, or .275-25-100. But the most important thing is that he’s not going to completely tank, and he’s not an injury risk. You just don’t know if you’re getting a second-round talent in the fourth round, or vice versa.

Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs
.318, 22 HR, 82 RBI, 91 runs, 6 SB, 114 K, 71 BB, 567 AB
Lee might never come close to the 46-home run season he had in 2005, but he did hit 16 of his 22 long balls in the second half last year, perhaps suggesting he’s on the verge of a 30-home run season again. He’s also a consistent .300 hitter, with the potential of finishing with 100-plus RBI hitting in the heart of a solid Cubs lineup.

Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians (DH)
.266, 24 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs, 1 SB, 115 K, 102 BB, 545 AB
Hafner is going to scare some fantasy owners following a disappointing 2007 campaign, but there’s reason for optimism. He had an outstanding September last year, in which he finished with 23 RBI, and his average was 12 points better in the second half of the season. With a solid supporting cast, Pronk is due for a rebound year.

Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
.271, 31 HR, 111 RBI, 84 runs, 1 SB, 91 K, 64 BB, 590 AB
So which Justin Morneau will show up in 2008? The one that hit 24 home runs and batted .295 before the All-Star break last year, or the one that finished with only seven long balls and a .243 BA in the second half? Magic Eight Ball says Morneau will better the .271 BA he produced last year and once again close in on 30 homers, but the .321 mark he finished 2006 with is probably a reach.

Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres
.282, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 101 runs, 0 SB, 140 K, 65 BB, 646 AB
Gonzalez is oozing with potential after producing career bests in home runs, RBI and runs scored. He appears to be developing into a .300 hitter and at only 25, he’s likely to produce power numbers similar to 2007 for years to come. Now if he could only limit the strikeouts and produce more walks, he would be the complete package.

Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
.259, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 71 runs, 0 SB, 102 K, 78 BB, 549 AB
Konerko was a complete disappointment in 2007 after posting a career-high .313 BA in 2006. However, his career numbers suggest Konerko is not likely to repeat last year's .259 average, and with many owners scared off he could be a decent steal in the later rounds. He’ll provide adequate power production, although he might not score a ton of runs in a weak Sox lineup.

Value Alert
Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers
.296, 21 HR, 102 RBI, 86 runs, 13 SB, 93 K, 55 BB, 564 AB
Guillen is a worthy selection for multiple reasons. For one, he’ll still qualify as a shortstop, which obviously makes him a versatile pick. Also, he’ll greatly benefit from hitting in Detroit’s stacked lineup, and his body should take less of a beating at first than it would at short, which should help eliminate the nagging injuries that normally develop over the season. He’s a nice, safe choice in the middle rounds who -- bonus -- should again throw in a handful of steals.
The Muscle

Jim ThomeJim Thome, Chicago White Sox (DH)
.276, 35 HR, 96 RBI, 79 runs, 0 SB, 134 K, 95 BB, 432 AB
Despite his age (37), Thome continues to be a solid fantasy player. He’s usually a threat to make an appearance on the DL, but his OPS has been consistently high and he’ll pop 30-plus home runs and close in on 100 RBI. Just don’t expect his run totals to reach more than 80, and he’s likely to hit around .275 again.

Letdown Alert
Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays
.282, 46 HR, 121 RBI, 99 runs, 1 SB, 142 K, 103 BB, 490 AB
Pena is a bit of a mystery after batting a career-high .282 with 46 home runs and 121 RBI last season. Is it unthinkable that he’ll produce those kinds of numbers again this year? No. Is it unthinkable that he played over his head in 2007? Hell no. Just to be safe, assume his average will drop this season, but in Tampa's improving lineup, his home run and RBI numbers should be more than adequate for an owner who couldn’t get his hands on a better option in earlier rounds.

Richie Sexson, Seattle Mariners
.205, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 58 runs, 1 SB, 100 K, 51 BB, 434 AB
It’s hard to call out Sexson’s name on draft day without feeling a little embarrassed selecting a player who hit .205 last year. But he should be fully recovered from the hamstring injury that nagged him, and it’s not out of the question he’ll get back to knocking in close to 100 runs and belting 30-plus dingers.

Letdown Alert
Jason Giambi, New York Yankees
.236, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 31 runs, 1 SB, 66 K, 40 BB, 254 AB
Giambi doesn’t offer much to get excited about these days. He hasn’t produced a 450-at bat season since 2003 and at 37, there’s not much left in the tank. Still, if (and this is a big if) he can stay healthy, he might produce 30 home runs and 80 RBI again.

Frank Thomas, Toronto Blue Jays (DH)
.277, 26 HR, 95 RBI, 63 runs, 0 SB, 94 K, 81 BB, 531 AB
At this point in his career, Thomas is what he is – a .270 hitter who’ll hit 25-plus home runs and knock in 90 RBI. You could certainly do worse, and even though he’s an injury risk, the Blue Jays have improved their supporting cast, making Thomas a decent DH-only option.

The Fallbacks

Todd HeltonTodd Helton, Colorado Rockies
.320, 17 HR, 91 RBI, 86 runs, 0 SB, 74 K, 116 BB, 557 AB
After totaling a career-high 116 free passes last year, Helton has a lot to offer owners in leagues that account for walks and strikeouts. While he certainly isn’t a power hitter anymore, he appears to be an even more patient hitter in his older age. He’ll likely hit over .300 again this season and provide adequate RBI numbers in a solid Colorado lineup.

Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
.288, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 85 runs, 4 SB, 105 K, 77 BB, 528 AB
Youkilis’ numbers won’t blow anyone away, but it’s worth noting that his OPS and BA have improved every season since he’s been in the league. He has tremendous plate discipline, so it’s not out of the question that he’ll turn into a consistent .300 hitter in his old age. He’s still one of the top-15 first basemen, and much like Guillen and Helton, he’s a safe pick.

Value Alert
Ryan Garko, Cleveland Indians
.289, 21 HR, 61 RBI, 62 runs, 0 SB, 94 K, 34 BB, 484 AB
Garko definitely has potential to become a .300 hitter and even a player who consistently hits 30 home runs. However, he also loses playing time when Victor Martinez moves to first, and his strike-out-to-walk ratio is poor. Will he continue to improve in his second full season or is he just a role player in the making? Either way, he’s a decent risk.

Adam LaRoche, Pittsburgh Pirates
.272, 21 HR, 88 RBI, 71 runs, 1 SB, 131 K, 62 BB, 563 AB
Given his regression from Atlanta in 2006 to Pittsburgh to 2007 – not to mention his supporting cast – LaRoche may never reach his full potential. However, he did hit .310 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI in the second half of last season, so maybe there’s still untapped potential.

The Future Value Alert
James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers
.331, 15 HR, 67 RBI, 41 runs, 0 SB, 48 K, 28 BB, 344 AB
Loney is drenched in fantasy potential after belting nine home runs, slugging .709 and leading the league in RBI with 32 for the month of September. He looks every bit of a .300-30-100 hitter and those in keeper leagues might be wise to select him a round or two earlier than he’s projected.

Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks
.284, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 56 runs, 2 SB, 50 K, 53 BB, 415 AB
Mr. Potential. Jackson had a tough first half in 2007, but finished with another fantastic second half, prompting owners to once again get excited about the potential of a breakout season. While Jackson cut his strikeouts from 73 in 2006 to 50 in 2007, his power numbers are weak and he might split time with Chad Tracy. However, at 25, his upside is intriguing and worth a look in the later rounds.

Casey Kotchman, Los Angeles Angels
.296, 11 HR, 68 RBI, 64 runs, 2 SB, 43 K, 53 BB, 443 AB
Many viewed Kotchman’s 11 home runs as a major disappointment, but given his age (25) owners should show more patience. He has a great supporting cast, can hit for average and is a patient hitter for someone so young. The home runs will come, and they might even come this season. Pairing him with a more proven player is wise, but view Kotchman as a potential sleeper.

Letdown Alert
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
.321, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 11 runs, 1 SB, 15 K, 5 BB, 84 AB
There’s reason to jump on Votto this season and there’s reason to avoid him. While his batting average and on-base percentage show massive potential, he’s sure to struggle at times in his rookie season as he learns the nuances of the game. Still, Votto is a sleeper and a possible future stud in the making.

Daric Barton, Oakland A’s
.347, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 16 runs, 1 SB, 11 K, 10 BB, 72 AB
Barton crushed four long balls over the season’s final three weeks last year and has shown outstanding plate discipline, but he’s extremely young (22) and going to lose at bats to Dan Johnson and Jack Cust. The future is bright, but he might be worth a pass in non-keeper leagues this year.

The Rest

Aubrey Huff, Baltimore Orioles
.280, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 68 runs, 1 SB, 87 K, 48 BB, 550 AB
Much like LaRoche, owners are intrigued with what Huff did in the second half of 2007. He hit .309 with nine long balls and posted a slugging percentage of .508. He could near a .290-20-85 season, which would be solid for owners looking to fill a corner infield slot near the end of their draft.

Value Alert
Lyle Overbay, Toronto Blue Jays
.240, 10 HR, 44 RBI, 49 runs, 2 SB, 78 K, 47 BB, 425 AB
After such a disastrous 2007, Overbay would appear to be a fantasy liability, but he’s actually a decent late-round sleeper. He hit .274 with six home runs in May before missing two months with a hand injury. For an owner willing to take a risk, Overbay, a career .283 hitter, might produce a .300-20-85 season in a solid Toronto lineup.

Carlos DelgadoCarlos Delgado, New York Mets
.258, 24 HR, 87 RBI, 71 runs, 4 SB, 118 K, 52 BB, 538 AB
There’s not much to get excited about with Delgado after elbow and wrist injuries have derailed his career the past two seasons. His batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage have all declined since 2005, and at age 35 there’s probably not much left in the tank. For those hoping to add some pop to their team, Delgado might be worth a look late. If not – just pass.

Dimitri Young, Washington Nationals
.320, 13 HR, 74 RBI, 57 runs, 0 SB, 74 K, 44 BB, 460 AB
Assuming Young (who won Comeback Player of the Year last season) will again hit over .300 is a risky proposition, considering it was the first time since 2000 he accomplished the feat. He’s 34 and has averaged just 14 home runs over the past three years. Proceed with caution.

Mike Jacobs, Florida Marlins
.265, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 57 runs, 1 SB, 101 K, 31 BB, 426 AB
Will this finally be the year Jacobs breaks the .260-15-50 mold? At 27, he’s entering the prime of his career physically, but he’s done next to nothing to get fantasy owners excited about his potential. He might be worth a look in the final rounds, but there will likely be better options available.