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Reality Check: Looking at first base for 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Once again, we break from the grind of September baseball to take a sneak peak at next year's rankings, focusing this week on the first base position.

It's a deep position made only deeper by the growing number of catchers who use it as sort of a semi-siesta, resting their legs without resting their bats.

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(Looking at you, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana.)

Would you actually play any of them at first base? Not if you could help it. But because the first base rankings would be incomplete without them, here they are, chest protectors and all, bumping out the players you might actually target at the position.

So even though you'll find 20 names here, you shouldn't expect to see recent up-and-comers Todd Frazier, Chris Carter and Brandon Belt. You shouldn't expect to see one-time mainstays Kevin Youkilis, Kendrys Morales and Mike Napoli. You shouldn't expect to see the steady but unspectacular Michael Cuddyer and Nick Swisher. You shouldn't even expect to see Mark Trumbo, who looked like a lock for the top 10 before falling flat on his face in the second half. There just isn't room.

You should expect to see serious production, though. In a 12-team league, nobody should come out of the draft bemoaning his first baseman.

Keep in mind that even though these rankings do reflect my personal preferences to a degree, they also account for perception. After all, they wouldn't do you much good if they weren't anywhere close to what you'd see on Draft Day. Any justification I have to stray from the rankings I'll mention in the text below.

Onward!

Top 10 first basemen for 2013:
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
4. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
5. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays
6. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers
7. Joe Mauer, C/1B, Twins
8. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals
9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
10. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks

Don't like seeing Pujols at the top? I'll admit his slow starts each of the last two years have been a bit disconcerting, especially with him entering his mid-30s, but considering both times he rebounded with the same numbers you would have expected of him in his prime (he's batting .318 with 28 homers and a 1.014 OPS in 377 at-bats since May 16), you can't really say he's on the decline. His potential to sustain that pace over a full season makes him the cream of the crop at first base still. Even if he falls a little short, as has been the case this year, he's about on par with Votto.

And it's not like Votto has been the best first baseman on a per-game basis anyway. That honor, at least for right now, goes to Encarnacion, who trails only Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera in per-game production this season. He doesn't seem like an elite first baseman, but he's right on the border of that tier, separating Pujols, Votto, Fielder and (sigh) Posey from the rest of pack.

Wait, what happened to Miguel Cabrera? As things stand now, he'll be third base-only next year. Look, you can't have it all. Just embrace the eligibility at the weaker position and move on.

Gonzalez figures to be a hotly debated pick next year given how much he has disappointed this year. It's not all bad, of course. Since July 6, he's hitting .320 with 10 home runs and an .899 OPS in 222 at-bats. But even if he performed at that pace all season, he'd still be half a step back from where he used to be and a full step back from the Pujols-Fielder-Encarnacion class. In fact, I'm not sure he deserves to be as highly regarded among first basemen as Mauer is among catchers, but I give Gonzalez the nod in the rankings because of Mauer's durability concerns. And let's be honest: If Gonzalez rebounded with 35 homers next year, it wouldn't shock anybody. What's the ceiling for Mauer? Twenty?

Speaking of shocking people, if I told you Encarnacion, Votto and Pujols are averaging the most Fantasy points per game of this group, who would you guess is fourth? The answer is Craig, who I actually consider a bit undervalued here. He's been nothing but a stud since returning from offseason knee surgery in early May and nothing but a .300-hitting, .900-OPS guy since signing with the Cardinals in 2006. And with Lance Berkman talking retirement, whatever concerns remain about his playing time are about to disappear entirely. I don't know if the average Fantasy owner would select Craig over Teixeira, who has all the name value, but an assured .300 batting average vs. a .250-ish mark is an easy call for me.

One notable omission here is Billy Butler, who will likely be a few games short of retaining first base eligibility next season. Granted, he might regain it within the first few weeks, but his DH-only status to start the year could cause him to slip to his usual sixth- or seventh-round range even with his newfound power. Hypothetically speaking, he would rank ninth among first baseman, just ahead of Teixeira.

Next 10 first basemen for 2013:
11. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
12. Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Brewers
13. Carlos Santana, C/1B, Indians
14. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
15. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
16. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
17. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets
18. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals
19. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies
20. Adam Dunn, 1B, White Sox

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My decision to address this position by groups of 10 breaks up the Goldschmidt-Freeman duo, which is unfortunate since that's probably the closest call at first base next year. It's a matter of preference, really. Both are young, high-upside players who have put up similar numbers in their sophomore seasons. The difference is the way they've arrived at those numbers. While Freeman has endured the usual ups and downs, Goldschmidt had a clear turning point in mid-May and has hit .306 with 16 homers and a .926 OPS in 95 games since. If he's been able to sustain that level of production for that long, who's to say it's not the new baseline for him? At age 25, he's probably closer to his big breakout than the 23-year-old Freeman is.

Morneau ... that's all about name value, right? Actually, I'm pretty encouraged by his performance this year. Though he's hardly back to MVP form, he's a different player from last year, when he was recovering from a severe concussion and wrist, knee, foot and neck surgeries, and he's continued to progress over the course of the season, batting over .300 since the All-Star break. With another year removed from all that nonsense, I'm not so sure he can't take another step forward. Given the shortcomings of the players behind him, it seems like a worthwhile gamble.

Yes, I include Konerko among those players. Yes, I know injuries are partially to blame for his recent lack of production, but at age 37, will next year really be any different? All I know is he's been outscored by both Hosmer and Davis (and Jordan Pacheco and Chris Johnson) since May 28, and I'm not into predicting turnarounds for players his age.

Frankly, I'm more likely to gamble on Hosmer or Davis even though I expect them to go a little later in drafts. Sure, their overall numbers aren't so great, but they have upside. Davis has shown his in recent months, rebounding from an early-season bout with valley fever to put up about the numbers everyone expected from him from mid-June on. Hosmer requires more of a leap of faith, but Jason Heyward's rebound from an inexplicably bad sophomore season gives me some reason for optimism. The reason I'd go with Hosmer over Davis in the middle rounds is purely a matter of upside. Davis is a nice player in a Corey Hart sort of way, but Hosmer could someday be elite. Here's hoping he shows signs of it next year.

After him, elite is no longer an option. LaRoche, Howard and Dunn are all built to meet needs, not fulfill dreams. Howard and Dunn are both all-or-nothing sluggers, and LaRoche ... well, he's just a safe contributor if you're not in a position to gamble. I know the skeptics will suggest I'm putting too much stock into what's shaping up to be a career season (or close to it), but LaRoche is the 10th-ranked first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues right now. Dropping him to 18th seems more than fair. Besides, if you go back and calculate his per-game production from some of his past seasons, it's about on par with what Gonzalez and Konerko have done this season. The reason you don't remember it that way is because players were generally putting up bigger numbers then. While offensive production as a whole has declined in the post-steroids era, LaRoche has remained about the same. Looking at it that way, this year's performance has some legs to it.

For the record, I'm down on both Howard and Dunn. Howard will turn 33 this offseason, so I'm not sure a few months of rest is all he needs to get back to hitting 35 homers every year. And Dunn, after an encouraging first couple months when his walks and batting average were more or less back to normal, has done nothing more than hit a few balls extremely hard in the three months since. Personally, I'd rather have the unranked Trumbo, whose late-season collapse I suspect is related to the back spasms he suffered in late July.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Padres' Jedd Gyorko on sporadic playing time: 'It's always tough'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko was out of the starting lineup for the fifth time in six games Monday, and he has been working with hitting coaches Mark Kotsay and Alonzo Powell to jump-start his lagging bat, U-T San Diego reports.

"It's always tough," Gyorko said about the sporadic playing time. "But at the same time, we're trying to win games, obviously. So when the opportunity presents itself, you've just got to go out there and perform. I think that's the main thing for now."

Gyorko has hit just .149/.231/.191 in 47 at-bats.

"We need to get Jedd going," manager Bud Black said before Gyorko's start Sunday.


Orioles-White Sox game postponed again Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) The Orioles-White Sox game was postponed for a second straight day Tuesday due to protests near Camden Yards. No makeup date has been announced for the game yet.

White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and Orioles starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez were scheduled to start Tuesday's game. No word yet on how this will affect both teams' rotations moving forward.


Blue Jays' Gibbons continue to show confidence in Castro, Osuna
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) Blue Jays rookie relievers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have both endured some struggles as of late

Castro suffered his second loss of the season Monday against the Red Sox, which came two days after he suffered his second blown save. He has allowed at least one run in four of his last five appearances.

Osuna has allowed one run in two straight appearances and suffered his first blown save Monday.

"[Castro has] had a couple of tough ones," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Monday's loss, per MLB.com. "Maybe we'll back him down a little bit. But same way with [Roberto] Osuna, we have confidence in these guys. We're asking a lot out of them, but it's just the way it goes. You find some things out.

"I love both of them, I think they're both going to be great pitchers when it's all said and done, but we're asking a lot out of them, and I'm not sure how fair that is."

It appears Castro might be pitching his way out of save opportunities, as Brett Cecil could return to the closer's role shortly. Still, Gibbons is hoping the 20-year-old Castro can overcome his recent struggles.

"I hope he understands the reason I'm putting him in there is because I have confidence in the kid," Gibbons said. "I also understand how tough it is in the big leagues, and you take your lumps. He's a tough kid, he really is. He's going to be a [heck] of a pitcher."


Rangers' Choo working through some major offensive struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:27 am ET) It doesn't matter where Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo bats in the lineup these days -- he still can't buy a hit

Choo, who was dropped to seventh in the batting order Saturday, went 0 for 4 on Monday against Seattle, extending his hitless slump to 20 at-bats. He last got a hit April 19.

"You watch him and he's definitely not getting the desired results," manager Jeff Banister said of Choo, per MLB.com. "It's been a challenge for Choo this month. He continues to work. He continues to study."

Choo is batting .096 (5 for 52), which is a league-low among qualified hitters. His only multihit game came on April 9. 

"This is a guy that has proven to be a professional hitter, lifetime .290 hitter, this is a guy that we believe in what he's going to be," Banister said. "This has been a tough stretch for him."


Astros OF Colby Rasmus thriving on the road in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:13 am ET) Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus has been a different hitter on the road than at home in 2015. Through 17 games, he is batting .067 (1 for 15) with no home runs or RBI at home, while he is batting .350 (14 for 40) with one triple, three doubles, three home runs and seven RBI on the road.

Rasmus is batting .345 (10 for 29) with four multihit games, two doubles, two home runs and five RBI through seven games on the team's current road trip.

"I say in the last homestand I was just seeing some things and feeling my way through what was going on with my swing and where I needed to be, and in this road trip I've been able to make some adjustments on what I felt I needed to do and they helped me a lot," he said, per MLB.com. "Yeah, I feel good about it, just battling."


Rockies' Weiss expects Tyler Matzek to make next start
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:07 am ET) Rockies pitcher Tyler Matzek said he was just suffering from cramping Monday when he came out of his team's 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks prematurely due to a hamstring injury, MLB.com reports.

"It was just cramping up," Weiss said. "It cramped up on a few of those warmup pitches and on the first pitch of that inning, and I didn't want to push it."

Manager Walt Weiss considers the injury a short-term issue and expects it won't keep Matzek from pitching later this week in San Diego.

"Yeah, he'll make his next start," Weiss said. "I expect him to make his next start."

Matzek moved to 2-0 with his win Monday and owns a 2.70 ERA and 13:13 K:BB ratio in 20 innings over his first four starts.


Dodgers' Mattingly: 'We're going to have to find at-bats for' Guerrero
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Monday's game that the team has to find more playing time for infielder/outfielder Alex Guerrero after the rookie's hot start, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We're going to have to find at-bats for Alex the way he is swinging," Mattingly said.

Mattingly said that Guerrero could play at shortstop, third base and left field. He may start to see extended action in left field if Carl Crawford, who is dealing with an injury to his side, has to go on the disabled list. Guerrero is 11 for 22 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 11 appearances.


Dodgers to evaluate LF Carl Crawford Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:55 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Monday's game that left fielder Carl Crawford will be evaluated Tuesday after coming out of the game with pain in his right side, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Mattlingly added that the issue "sounds like" an oblique injury, which typically take about a month to heal. That timetable would likely land the outfielder on the disabled list.

"Historically, things like that don't really go away overnight," Mattingly said. "But we've got to give it a shot."

If Crawford does need a trip to the disabled list, it would be his fifth stint in four years, all for injuries to different parts of the body. He has hit .245/.260/.408 with one home run, three RBI and one stolen base in 49 at-bats.


Astros OF George Springer swipes three bases Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:42 am ET) Astros outfielder George Springer didn't have a hit or RBI on Monday against the Padres. However, he still found a way to make an impact in a 9-4 win.

Springer drew three walks Monday and had a career-high three stolen bases. He had never had more than one stolen base in a game prior to Monday. He also finished with two runs and two strikeouts.

Springer, who is 7 of 8 in stolen-base attempts this season, is batting .235 (8 for 34) with a .500 slugging percentage, .872 OPS, two home runs, three doubles, four RBI, eight runs, eight walks, 12 strikeouts and five stolen bases in his last nine games.


Mets recall Rafael Montero from Triple-A Las Vegas
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) The Mets recalled pitcher Rafael Montero from Triple-A Las Vegas Tuesday.

Montero will make his first start of the season Tuesday in Miami after opening the season in the bullpen and being send down to the minors to prepare for a starting role. He is expected to stick in the rotation, as the team will turn to a six-man rotation temporarily to help reduce the workload on Matt Harvey's arm.

Montero struggled in two Triple-A starts, giving up six runs (five earned) in 7 2/3 innings but racking up seven strikeouts against only one walk.


 
 
 
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