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Cullen: Cabrera adds power to deep first base crop

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Scott Cullen
3/20/2014 5:46:06 PM
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First base has always been a position for power hitters, the mashers who can provide home runs and RBI to anchor your fantasy team and the position will improve its depth with a couple of additions this season.

The most notable is Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, who moves across the infield now that Prince Fielder has moved on to Texas.

No matter what position he plays, Cabrera is a top-tier hitter. Since 2007, he leads them majors with 261 home runs, 856 RBI and 706 runs scored, along with a .326 batting average. Leading all of baseball in those categories, with consistent production year after year, makes Cabrera the biggest difference-maker, even when compared with other sluggers at first base.

Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt has quickly emerged as an elite option too, in part because he adds stolen bases to his impressive power numbers. Over the past two seasons, Goldschmidt has swiped 33 bases, most among first basemen, and is one of two (Edwin Encarnacion is the other) to record at least 50 homers and 200 RBI while scoring at least 180 runs.

Unless your league has an on-base percentage as a category, there is a large gap between the value of Cincinnati's Joey Votto in real life (where he's MVP calibre) and in fantasy, where he's among the top handful at first base. Votto's tendency to walk limits his RBI upside, which is a factor in his fantasy appeal.

When you move beyond the top handful of players, there are still plenty of appealing options. Baltimore's Chris Davis has outrageous power. He also strikes out a lot, which slowed his arrival as an everyday player but, after 86 home runs and 368 strikeouts in the past two seasons, he's settled in with the Orioles.

Two of the more interesting options at first base are long-time stars. Prince Fielder has had more than 100 RBI in six of the past seven seasons, but last year's 25 home runs and .819 OPS were career-lows. Going to a hitter-friendly park in Texas does seem like a decent opportunity for Fielder to have a relative bounceback in his numbers.

The other veteran, who has shown more decline, is Albert Pujols, who is coming off his worst season and is pretty much a wildcard for the first time in his career. If Pujols regains his form, even somewhat, then 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average is possible, particularly coming off a season in which his batting average on balls in play was a career-low .258 (same as his average), but there is also the concern that a 34-year-old Pujols isn't going to ever have that legendary bat again.

If you'd rather avoid the risk of those veterans, Adrian Gonzalez is a steady enough performer and Freddie Freeman is a productive younger slugger who has driven in 203 runs over the past two seasons.

Shifting to first base from catcher, Minnesota's Joe Mauer doesn't have the power of a typical top tier first baseman, but he's a career .323 hitter, so if he can stay in the lineup, Mauer will have an opportunity to make a difference in that way.

Kansas City's Eric Hosmer appeared to get back on the right track last season and San Francisco's Brandon Belt has continued to make progress. Both are young, with room to grow, so they offer worthwhile upside if you can't secure the best at the position.

Upside comes further down the list too. Whether it's White Sox rookie Jose Abreu, the Cuban slugger or across town with the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, who could be prime for big numbers with a little better luck (after a .258 BABIP in 2013).

You probably won't have to pay premium prices for someone like Boston's Mike Napoli, even though he's hit at least 20 home runs in six straight seasons, and Oakland's Brandon Moss could be a nice source of mid-to-late round power after slugging 51 home runs in 711 at-bats over the past two seasons. St. Louis' Matt Adams is a slugger on his way up and due for a full-time role this year after hitting 17 home runs in 296 at-bats last year.

If you get desperate, maybe consider the Yankees' Mark Teixeira, who may be ruined by a wrist injury, but has such a track record of putting up power numbers that he's worth a late-round look; certainly around the time that you're willing to venture down the road for Ryan Howard.

Anyway, there are a lot of viable candidates to hold down first base for your team, but if your league incorporates corner infielders and DH spots, suddenly first base can thin out in short order, so don't wait too long. Take a good one relatively early, then worry about the upside/bounceback/sleeper options later.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Miguel Cabrera (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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