Here we are at my least favorite position this year. I just don’t see a lot out there for value at first base, and what’s worse is that the second-tier guys are being even more overvalued than the upper-echelon players. It’s to the point that I’d almost recommend waiting until the late rounds to address the spot in mixed-league drafts if one isn’t lucky enough to score Jose Abreu or Edwin Encarnacion.
Jose Abreu (White Sox): Abreu's sophomore slump wasn’t so bad; he joined Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Paul Goldschmidt as the only players to post .290-30-100 lines last year. Oddly, he went from crushing lefties as a rookie to struggling against them last season; he hit righties the same both years. Abreu is a right-handed hitter, so those lefty struggles were probably something of a fluke. He’s in an excellent home run park, and the White Sox lineup should be at least a little stronger top-to-bottom this year. I think he gets back up to the mid-30s in homers and contends the AL RBI crown. He's worth targeting in round two in mixed leagues.
Eric Hosmer (Royals): It came as a surprise to me, but as much hype as Hosmer received during the 2014 postseason, he was still a nifty value pick last spring. And even after a much improved year and another postseason star turn, he’d again seem to be underrated in drafts. Hosmer is currently being taken 75th in Yahoo leagues, while I place him 47th on my draft board. I don’t see him busting out as a 25+-homer guy, but 20-22 is realistic and he’s in a fine RBI spot as the Royals’ cleanup man. The 5-8 steals should help, too.
Byung-ho Park(Twins): The 29-year-old Park will take over as the Twins’ DH after back-to-back 50-homer seasons for the Nexen Heroes in Korea. He doesn’t seem like a very good bet to hit for average in the majors (though he did come in at .343 in Korea last year), but the power should translate fairly well, making him a decent bet for 25 homers as a rookie. He could also add a few steals (10 last year for Nexen, 48 the last four years). He’ll probably open up as the Twins’ sixth- or seventh-place hitter, but he could outperform Trevor Plouffe and Eddie Rosario to move up into the cleanup spot eventually. That gives him some upside as a late-round pick in mixed leagues.
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): One can try to write off the decline in Cabrera’s power numbers. He’s been hurt. He still hit .338 last season. He had 52 doubles in 2014. Still, Cabrera has had fewer homers in 278 games the last two years (43) than he did in 148 games in 2013 (44) or 161 games in 2012 (44). Last year’s isolated slugging percentage was the lowest of his career. I don’t think Cabrera is done as one of the league’s best hitters, but if he’s no longer a 30-homer guy, it caps his ceiling in runs and RBI. While I gave him my highest batting-average projection of any hitter in MLB, I’m skeptical he can do enough in the other categories to amass first-round value.
Anthony Rizzo (Cubs): Does anyone want to count on Rizzo stealing 17 bases again this year? He was 16-for-28 in 436 career games entering 2015, and most of last year’s steals came early before the league caught on (six in April, three in the final two months). Of course, Rizzo has other nice qualities, and the Cubs’ lineup only figures to keep getting better. He can improve a bit on last year’s .278 average, and he’d seem to be a lock for at least 90 runs scored and 90 RBI if he stays off the disabled list. I’m not sure I’d count on him topping 30 homers again, though, and I don’t like him going before Abreu and Encarnacion in drafts.
Joey Votto (Reds): Votto rediscovered his power stroke last year and turned in maybe his most impressive season to date. Of course, all he had to show for it was 80 RBI and 95 runs scored. Now the Reds have traded their second-best hitter (Todd Frazier) and they’d love to move their third (Jay Bruce) if anyone wants to offer up a quality prospect. It doesn’t bode well for Votto, who could lead the NL in both intentional and unintentional walks. He has an ADP of 24 in Yahoo, but I place him 52nd.
Albert Pujols (Angels): The good news was that Pujols reached 40 homers last year for the first time since 2010. The bad is that he had the very lowest OPS for a 40-homer guy in MLB history (.787). He hit just .244, the lowest mark of his career. His OBP has declined a remarkable seven straight seasons. And even with those 40 homers, Pujols managed a mere 85 runs and 95 RBI last year in the Angels’ two-man offense. As he enters 2016, Pujols is coming off foot surgery that has him questionable for Opening Day. He still hits in a shallow lineup in a pitcher’s park. He’s getting taken 76th in Yahoo, while I have him 115th.
Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals): It’s been a long time since Zimmerman was a fantasy stud, and injuries have kept him under 100 games the last two years and 150 games the last six years. Still, he pretty quietly hit 16 homers and drove in 73 runs in his 95 games last year. Prorating that to 140 games would give him 24 homers and 108 RBI. While his upside isn’t what it was, Zimmerman is still the Nationals’ best choice to bat behind Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper in the order, potentially putting him in as many RBI situations as any hitter in the majors. The HGH allegations might complicate things a bit, but he makes for a fine late-round option in mixed leagues (his current ADP in Yahoo leagues is 230).
Pedro Alvarez (free agent): Alvarez hit 27 homers in 437 at-bats last year, and now he’s probably going to land in a ballpark better suited for him. He’s certainly a flawed player; his defense at first was even worse than his defense at third and he’s probably not good enough to DH against lefties. However, he’s a definite threat for 30 homers and he’ll be available late in mixed-league drafts. Don’t be surprised if his average creeps up some, too, assuming he is signed as a platoon guy.
A.J. Reed (Astros): In his first full season as a pro, Reed put up some of the best numbers in the minors last year, hitting .340/.432/.612 with 34 homers and 127 RBI in 135 games between high-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Now, Lancaster is an offensive paradise, but that Reed maintained a .976 OPS in 53 games after moving up was very encouraging. It doesn’t sound like the Astros have any real intention of carrying Reed out of spring training this year, but there isn’t much standing in his way at first base in Houston. If the big numbers continue in Triple-A, he should be up in June and he could offer mixed-league value the rest of the way.
Dae-Ho Lee (Mariners): Lee was one of the top 10 or 15 first basemen in the world five to eight years ago. However, he’s 33 now and his arrival in Seattle on a minor league deal met with little fanfare. I still think he’ll be pretty useful; he’s coming off a .282/.368/.524 season with 31 homers in 510 at-bats for the Softbank Hawks of Japan. He’s a lifetime .303/.387/.514 hitter with 323 homers in 6,170 at-bats between his native Korea and Japan. On the Mariners, it looks like he’ll battle Jesus Montero and Gaby Sanchez for a job serving as Adam Lind’s platoonmate against lefties. Still, an expanded role can’t be ruled out if he produces (Nelson Cruz could return to the outfield in that event). I have him projected at .267-9-31 in 195 at-bats, but as a possible $1 pick in AL-only leagues, he offers considerable upside.