The season is fast approaching and there’s no time to waste, so let’s get right to the rankings. (Note: Rankings are based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring).
1. Albert Pujols: In four seasons in the majors, he’s hit .333 while averaging 40 homers, 125 runs, 126 RBIs and even 3.25 steals per season. In case you haven’t been paying attention, he’s good. As long as his foot doesn’t bother him too much, he’ll continue to be good. Something like a .330-.340 average, 40-45 homers, 125-130 runs, 125-130 RBIs and maybe a handful of steals sounds about right.
2. Todd Helton, Rockies: He doesn’t hit a ton of homers any more, and his teammates have prevented him from racking up the RBIs in recent years, but he’s still a great hitter and he still plays half his games at Coors Field.
Helton should once again be good for a .340-.350 average with 30-35 homers, 115-120 runs and 110-115 RBIs. He’s not as good as Pujols, but he’s really not that far off for fantasy purposes.
3. David Ortiz, Red Sox: A lot of people thought Ortiz would have trouble matching his numbers from 2003, but then he went out and posted significantly better numbers. Now people should realize that he was a good hitter all along, and he just needed to stay healthy and he’d have a chance to be really good.
Ortiz is still only 29 years old, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be almost as he was last year. He should hit .290-.300 with 35-40 homers and playing in Boston’s lineup should allow him to knock in at least 115 runs, although he’ll probably only score 80-90 runs.
4. Jim Thome, Phillies: Thome wasn’t quite as good last year as in 2003, but he was still pretty darn good. He’s hit at least 42 homers in four consecutive seasons, and last year’s 105 RBIs were 13 fewer than in any of the three previous seasons.
He’s not getting younger, but he’s still not that old at 34. He should be good for a .270-.275 average with 40-45 homers, 90-95 runs and 105-115 RBIs this season. If he can have one of his seasons with a .290-.300 average, he’ll be even better than this ranking.
5. Carlos Delgado, Marlins: Delgado wasn’t quite up to his usual standards last year, mostly because of some injury problems early in the season. Once he got healthy, however, he was as good as ever, hitting .330 with 17 homers in 200 at-bats from the beginning of August on.
He should be able to hit like his old self this year, and he’ll be hitting cleanup behind three hitters with pretty good on-base percentages. I’d expect a .280-.290 average with 35-40 homers, 90-100 runs and 110-120 RBIs.
6. Mark Teixeira, Rangers: He took a big step up from his rookie season, hitting .281 with 38 homers, 101 runs and 112 RBIs. Even if he doesn’t get any better, that could make him a top-five fantasy first baseman, depending on how much better Thome and Delgado are than they were last year.
I’d expect Teixeira to be pretty close to what he did last year, maybe a .280-.285 average, 35-40 homers, 85-90 runs and 100-110 RBIs. It wouldn’t surprise me if he improves to .300-40-125 though.
7. Richie Sexson, Mariners: One thing Sexson can definitely do is hit home runs. He’s hit 45 homers twice in his career, and even last year he hit nine in 23 games. Moving to Seattle might hurt his production some, but I still think he’ll be good for a lot of power.
The key for Sexson will be staying healthy enough to play at least 150 games like he always did before last year. If he does that, he should be able to hit .270-.275 with 40-45 homers, 90-95 runs and 110-120 RBIs.
8. Derrek Lee, Cubs: I keep waiting for Lee to have a big home run total some year, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Even without that breakout, however, he’s still a valuable fantasy player because he has decent power and he steals bases.
He didn’t steal quite as many bases last year as the previous two seasons, but you don’t need to steal a ton of bases to have an advantage over the other first basemen. This year, I think Lee will hit .270-.275 with 27-30 homers, 10-15 steals, 85-90 runs and 90-95 RBIs.
9. Travis Hafner, Indians: Hafner didn’t display a ton of power last year, and I don’t think he’ll quite hit .311 again this year, but he should still be one of the top 10 fantasy first basemen. He’s helped by the fact that Cleveland should have a good offense, giving him the opportunity for plenty of runs and RBIs.
I’d say that Hafner will probably end up hitting .295-.300 with 25-30 homers, 90-95 runs and 100-110 RBIs.
10. Justin Morneau, Twins: I think Morneau will end up deserving a better ranking than this, but I’m tempering my expectations because he had a difficult offseason and because I could see him struggling with his batting average early in the season and getting off track a bit.
Ultimately, I think he’ll hit .270-.280 with 35-40 homers, 80-85 runs and 100-110 RBIs. If he does that, he’ll be a top six or seven first baseman. However, he could easily hit just .260 with 30 homers and 85-90 RBIs, which would be problematic if you’re expecting the former set of numbers.
11. Paul Konerko, White Sox: After four straight seasons as a consistently average fantasy first basemen, Konerko mixed things up a bit the last two years. He was terrible in 2003, and then he was very good last year, hitting .277 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs.
I don’t think he’ll be quite that good this year, but he should still be serviceable as a starter either at first base or utility or corner infield in most leagues. I’d expect a .270-.275 average, 30-35 homers, 75-80 runs and 100-110 RBIs.
12. Shawn Green, Diamondbacks: The good news is that Green will benefit from playing half his games in Arizona instead of Los Angeles, and that he hit very well over the second half of last season. The bad news is that he’s still hit just .273 with 47 homers combined over the last two seasons, and he’s not getting any younger.
It wouldn’t surprise me if playing in Arizona allows Green to hit .290 with 35 homers, 90 runs and 110 RBIs, which would obviously make him worth more than this pick. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he hits .270 with 25 homers, 75 runs and 90 RBIs. More likely, he’ll be somewhere in the middle.
13. Sean Casey, Reds: Casey’s career development is very parabolic so far. He was excellent in 1999, slumped to terrible by 2002 and bounced back to excellent last year. The good news is that he’s provided ample reason to think that he can be a very nice hitter when he’s mostly healthy.
The bad news is that he sometimes has trouble being mostly healthy, and he’s now broken the 30 years old barrier. This year, I’d expect him to hit .310-.315 with 15-20 homers, 80-90 runs and 80-90 RBIs.
14. Brad Wilkerson, Nationals: Wilkerson’s not going to hit for a real high average, but he has power and he can steal some bases. The big question is whether he can give you 100-plus runs or 100-plus RBIs, because Washington doesn’t seem to know yet whether he’ll bat first (as he did most of last year) or fifth.
Either way, I’d expect him to hit .260-.265 with 27-32 homers and 10-15 steals. If he leads off, he’ll score 110-120 runs and drive in 65-70. If he bats fifth, he’ll score 75-80 runs and knock in 100-110.
15. Jeff Bagwell, Astros: Bagwell turns 37 years old in May, and he’s looked like he’s about done at times the past few seasons, but he just keeps putting up decent numbers. Last year, he hit .266 with 27 homers, six steals, 104 runs and 89 RBIs, and he was one of the top dozen or so fantasy first basemen.
However, his power numbers (27 homers, .465 SLG) were easily the lowest he’s posted in the last nine years, so he probably is slowing down. This year, I’d expect him to hit .260-.265 with 25-30 homers, half a dozen or so steals, 90-100 runs and 85-90 RBIs.
16. Phil Nevin, Padres: Nevin struggled mightily with Petco Park last year, hitting .265 at home and .310 on the road. If he doesn’t figure it out, it might hurt him again, and he’s still getting older (34 now) and an injury risk.
If he stays healthy (which means playing 140-150 games), he should be able to hit .275-.280 with 25-30 homers, 75-80 runs and 90-100 RBIs. But he almost played as many games last year (147) as the previous two seasons combined (166).
17. Erubiel Durazo, A’s: After a disappointing first season in Oakland in which he hit .259, Durazo made up for it last year by hitting .321. This year, I don’t think he’ll hit nearly as badly as he did in 2003 or nearly as well as he did last year.
His power as a full-time player has also been something of a disappointment, with 43 homers in 1,048 at-bats the last two seasons after hitting 28 homers in 397 at-bats the previous two years. I’d expect him to hit .290-.300 with 20-25 homers, 75-80 runs and 80-85 RBIs.
18. Lyle Overbay, Brewers: Overbay had a very solid first full season, but there is a red flag. He hit .344 with 10 homers, 48 runs and 62 RBIs before the All-Star break, and .245 with six homers, 35 runs and 25 RBIs after it. The question is whether he got tired, pitchers figured him out or it was just random.
My guess is it was some of all three, and I think he’ll hit .290-.300 with 10-15 homers, 75-80 runs and 80-85 RBIs this season. That would make him sort of a Casey-lite.
19. Mike Sweeney, Royals: It’s amazing to see how fast Sweeney’s fallen, and how far. He’s only two years removed from a three-year span in which he hit .333-29-144, then .304-29-99, then .340-24-86 (as injuries started to pop up). Now, he’s played 214 games the last two seasons combined and hit just .290.
This year? Who knows? He could suddenly stay healthy and hit .310 with 25 homers and 110 RBIs (not likely). Or he could yet again play 100 games and hit .290 with 15-20 homers and 80 RBIs. I wouldn’t be afraid to take him as an early backup, because he hits whenever he’s healthy.
20. Ben Broussard, Indians: Broussard not only improved his overall numbers last year, in his second season with at least 100 games in the majors, but he was also an absolute terror in the second half. He hit .300 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 210 at-bats after the All-Star break.
If Broussard gets 500-plus at-bats this season, he could definitely hit .270-.280 with 20-25 homers, 70-75 runs and 90-95 RBIs.