First base is a real glamour position in fantasy baseball coming into the 2010 season. The best at the position form a veritable who's who of MLB all-star sluggers: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera. To call the position deep is a severe understatement. Teixeira, Gonzalez, Fielder, and Cabrera all took steps forward or dispelled fears in 2009. Teixeira showed he could handle the spotlight in NYC; Gonzalez proved that Petco is not death sentence for power hitters; Fielder improved his stats across the board, and Cabrera, after a down year in his first season in Detroit, stepped up in a big way (until the last week of the season).
With that said, there is still value to be had, and also pitfalls to avoid, if you don't take one of these studs.
There currently are 15 players with first base eligibility going in the first six rounds of mixed league drafts - average draft position in parentheses: Albert Pujols (1), Mark Teixeira (6), Prince Fielder (8), Miguel Cabrera (9), Ryan Howard (10), Mark Reynolds (19), Victor Martinez (22), Joey Votto (28), Adrian Gonzalez (30), Kevin Youkilis (35), Justin Morneau (44), Pablo Sandoval (46), Adam Dunn (54), Kendry Morales (55), and Lance Berkman (56). The first 5 aren't really discussion-worthy; these are 1st round fantasy studs and should be treated as such in 2010.
Right now, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis look like they're being drafted where they should be: in a 10 team mixed league, you should be very happy to plug one of them into your roster at 1B and enjoy a decent average with a bunch of homers, runs, and RBI. We've already looked at V-Mart, so we'll ignore him for now. Morales is a wild card - if he can hit .300 again, he's a stud. If that drops to .280, then his ADP is too high. What do you think? If you believe in the average, grab him. If not, let it ride.
That leaves us with Mark Reynolds, Justin Morneau, Pablo Sandoval, Adam Dunn, and Lance Berkman.
Justin Morneau and Lance Berkman look like .280/25/90/80 (AVG/HR/RBI/R) guys, with Berkman throwing in a handful of steals. These are useful numbers - but not the kind that you should be spending a 5th or 6th round pick on when you consider who else is out there. Adam Dunn is what he is: low average and 40 homers. Again, useful, but not a great pick in the 5th round.
Pablo Sandoval and Mark Reynolds are two of the most polarizing players coming into drafts this year. Reynolds went off last year to the tune of 44 homers and 24 steals. After amassing 11 steals in four minor league seasons, and 11 more in two seasons in the pros, the 24 steals were a real boondoggle for his owners. To put it mildly, with the low batting average (.257 career), if he can't replicate both the homers and steals, he isn't worth close to a 3rd round pick. The Kung-Fu Panda fully broke out last season, but there are a lot of concerns: bad body, bad line up, bad park, high BABIP, swings at everything. As both of these guys are primarily third basemen, I'll leave the analysis there.
If you miss the big 5, and don't get Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis (for first base), or Kendry Morales (if you like him), don't fret, you're still in good shape. By my count. there are five guys who should be just as good as Justin Morneau or Lance Berkman in 2010, but are being drafted much later. They are: Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, Billy Butler, James Loney, and Adam LaRoche. While each of these players provide different skills, each is likely to have roughly as much overall value as Lance Berkman, Adam Dunn, and Justin Morneau. Let's take a deeper look.
Carlos Pena - Tampa Bay Rays
Current ADP: 76 2009 Stats: .227/39/100/93/3 Projected 2010 Stats: .245/35/100/85/3
At this point, we know what the former top prospect is going to provide. Low batting average, a ton of homers, 80-100 runs and RBI, and maybe a steal or two. How is this different from Adam Dunn? The differences: Adam Dunn has outfield eligibility, while Pena is in a better lineup and occasionally steals a base. Simply put: Dunn's outfield eligibility is not worth enough to take him 2 rounds earlier than Pena at that point (round 5) of your standard mixed league draft. Would you rather have Adam Dunn and RHP Tommy Hanson (81st overall) or Carlos Pena and RHP Adam Wainwright (57th overall)?
Derrek Lee - Chicago Cubs
Current ADP: 86 2009: .306/35/111/91/1 Projected 2010: .290/27/95/85/3
After a slow start, Lee finished the year at .306/35/91/111/1. In my opinion, ideal production from your first baseman. Admittedly, he's getting older, and according to Hit Tracker, Lee hit 12 "Just Enough" homers and 1 "Lucky" homer. A slight dip in power, and you could be looking at a 20 homer guy. That said, he's locked into the middle of the Cubs lineup, and if healthy, seems like a lock for 85 runs and 95+ RBI.
Billy Butler - Kansas City Royals
Current ADP: 87 2009 Stats: .301/21/93/78/1 Projected 2010 Stats: .300/20/90/75/1
After upping his BB% and ISO, a lot of people think Billy Butler is primed for an even greater breakout in 2010. In 2009 he put up a solid .301/21/78/93/1 in a bad Kansas City lineup. While still bad, the Royals do look improved this season, and with Mike Jacobs no longer around, playing time won't be an issue. It's rare that you can find such a solid all-around hitter in the 9th round of your drafts, and with another step forward this season, I could easily see him putting up similar numbers to Kevin Youkilis. That said, watch out for Butler getting over-hyped as a sleeper pick, like Chris Davis last season. He's not going to suddenly turn into Albert Pujols, so if his ADP starts creeping up into the low 70s or high 60s, you may want to pass.
James Loney - Los Angeles Dodgers
Current ADP: 229 2009 Stats: .281/13/90/73/7 Projected 2010 Stats: .294/13/80/65/5
Your classic Mark Grace type, Loney can be a good fit if you drafted Chase Utley in the first round as you'll be getting great power production from the 2B position, whereas Loney is never going to be a great power hitter. If you can stomach the low HR total, you'll be getting a player in the 23rd round who will hit in the middle of a lineup that was 4th in the NL in runs scored in 2009, and looks even better this year with a full season from outfielder Manny Ramirez, continued development from outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and some bounce back from catcher Russell Martin and shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Adam LaRoche - Arizona Diamondbacks
Current ADP: 244 2009 Stats: .277/25/85/66/1 Projected 2010 Stats: .270/25/90/75/2
Not for the faint of hearth, this notorious slow starter is the last viable starter going off the boards in your mixed league draft. He's moving from a fairly extreme pitchers' park to a fairly extreme hitters' park. Based on his ADP of 244, he's the perfect guy to grab at the end of your draft if you really want to wait on 1B, or if you're looking for a guy to stash on your bench. Depending on the quality of your league mates, you may be able to pass on him altogether on draft day, and then trade for him (or snag him off the waiver wire) at the all-star break before he heats up in July and August.
What's your strategy? I personally will pass on most of the top guys based on the depth of the position and wait for a good value to present itself later in the draft. Remember: if you're in a 10 team mixed league, after Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Howard go in the 1st 2 rounds, only half of your league mates are going to be looking for a 1B. Once Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, and Lance Berkman are gone? You should have your pickings of everybody else on this list.