In this edition of our Two Up, Two Down series, we’ll be covering the first base position. First base is largely regarded as the deepest position in baseball, and for good reason. Five first basemen are being taken in the first round and quite a few more going in the subsequent few rounds. In this article, I’ll be discussing two first basemen who I feel are being drafted too high, and two who you can target later in the draft should you miss out on one of the sluggers early on.
A quick look at last year shows pretty good success. I nailed my two ups as Konerko put up a fine season for a 13th round pick and posted numbers very similar to my projection (.273-80-31-90 projection, .277-75-28-88 actual), and Votto broke out in a big way despite missing 31 games throughout the season. I went one for two on my downs with Berkman having an even rougher season than I had predicted, however Derrek Lee had to go and ruin it for me by completely turning around his decline and posting a huge season. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue my success from last year as we delve into the two up, two downs for 2010.
Nick Johnson – Yankees
Johnson put up one of the most healthy and productive seasons of his career with the Nationals and Marlins in 2009. He played 133 games, the second most in his career, and sported a ridiculous .426 on-base percentage. Now with the Yankees, and likely to be slotted in the second spot in the strongest offense in baseball, Johnson looks like he could end up being fantasy gold. While his health will always be a concern, a combination of Johnson and a waiver wire first basemen to fill in the playing time could easily out-produce quite a few guys being drafted before him. If Johnson is able to stay healthy throughout the season he could knock in a decent amount of runs and score an absolute ton hitting in front of Teixeira and A-Rod. Combined with double digit homeruns and around a .290 batting average and you have quite a bit of value for a guy with an MDP of 243 (21st round).
Adam LaRoche – Diamondbacks
LaRoche has been the epitome of a second half hitter over his career, hitting .252/.326/.447 in the first half compared to .300/.363/.546 after the break, that’s a huge 136 point difference in OPS. After being traded back to the Braves at the end of July last year, LaRoche went on an absolute tear, hitting .325/.401/.557 with 12 homeruns in only 212 at bats. Now with the Diamondbacks, Laroche will play half his games in one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in baseball. So far in spring training over limited at bats, LaRoche has been hitting the ball hard, while the sample size is much too small to making any conclusions, it’s good to see a notorious slow starter hitting well out of the gates. If he is able to maintain some success from the end of 2009 and the start of spring training this year, we could see him break out of the routine of early season struggles and put up a big year for fantasy owners. With an MDP of 210, LaRoche could end up being an absolute steal in the 17th round, and if he does slump to start the season, you can always hold onto him and save his bat for his usual second half tear.
Kendry Morales – Angels
Morales had a break-out year in 2009, hitting .304 and clubbing 34 homeruns in 566 at bats. There are some questions about whether he will be able to repeat in 2010, as his line drive percentage and strikeout rate don’t support a .300 average. Unsurprisingly, it seems a .329 BABIP inflated his average and it’s unlikely he’ll reach the .300 mark again without some improvements. Along with a dip in his average we may see some regression in his homerun rate. It is uncertain whether his 18.1% HR/FB is a product of luck or of a young player reaching his prime and finally living up to his potential. While he may be able to sustain that rate, it’s not really a risk I want to take in the fifth round, especially at a position as deep as first base. While Morales could certainly put up similar numbers to last year, I doubt we’ll see much more growth and it’s likely he could regress in a couple of areas. There are quite a few other guys I’d rather have in the fifth round who carry less risk at shallower positions, let another owner take the chance that Morales will repeat.
James Loney – Dodgers
For the most part, there isn’t a lot of downside to the first basemen at their MDP this year. For the first 15 rounds or so, I think most guys are going about where they should. When I get to Loney, however, it puzzles me to see him going in the 16th round. At this point in his career there is very little upside to Loney, and while there also isn’t much downside, there are better, higher upside picks at this point in the draft. At first base there are guys who could easily provide the kind of production Loney does at the very end of the draft. Guys like Johnson, LaRoche, Konerko and Helton can be had three to five rounds later and could prove to be more valuable by the end of the season. There is just no need to spend anything more on a late round pick on a guy who doesn’t really do anything particularly well. If you’ve waited this long for a first basemen, wait a bit longer and use your mid-teen picks to fill other holes in your line up or grab a couple high upside guys who could actually be a difference in winning or losing your league this year.
Michael Marinakis is a 24-year-old fantasy addict. You can find him roaming the Cafe all day where he posts as GiantsFan14 and waits for Buster Posey, the savior of the Giants, to arrive in the majors.
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