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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' Bud Black: Jedd Gyorko 'learned a lot' from 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko definitely went through a sophomore slump in 2014 after belting 23 home runs as a rookie in 2013. Although, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, Gyorko seems to indicate the injury wasn't the main reason he struggled offensively last season. He hit .210 with 10 home runs in 111 games.

"I think I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," Gyorko said, per MLB.com. "We were struggling as a team. And I think all of us, not just myself, felt like we needed to come up with that big hit to get us going. It's hard to hit when you put that kind of pressure on yourself."

Gyorko missed nearly two months of games last season due to the foot injury, but once he returned, his numbers began to improve. He hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage over his final 55 games. 

"He was better. I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection," manager Bud Black said. "Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."

The Padres are expecting better results from Gyorko in 2015, especially with a revamped lineup that includes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks.

"We saw in 2013 what Jedd can be, and I think there's more to Jedd based on 2013," Black said. "I think last year there were a lot of factors that went into his season that he expected or adjusted to, but that is something he's hopefully learned from. It's a tough game. You've got to work and stay on top of it. In that regard, I think he learned a lot."


Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


Royals invite C J.C. Boscan to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) The Royals signed catcher J.C. Boscan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to multiple reports. Boscan, 35, spent 2014 with the Dodgers' organization, batting .259 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

Adrian Gonzalez confident in 'deeper lineup' for Dodgers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had an MLB-best 116 RBI in 2014, mostly batting in front of the likes of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. While both players are no longer part of the Dodgers' batting order, Gonzalez is not worried about lineup protection, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


 
 
 
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