Our 2012 keeper rankings focus on leagues that must gage the value of players for at least the next 3-5 years.
First base is a deep fantasy position and features a nice group of young up-and-comers that should see their spot on these rankings increase with each passing season. Here are our top 34 first base keepers…Note: All players on our keeper rankings lists have appeared in the major leagues. For prospect rankings, check out our 2012 5x5 rankings lists. Some players are not listed here due to their value at other positions or likelihood that they will not retain 1B eligibility past 2012.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 29 – One of the best pure hitters in baseball. There’s still a 40 home runs season in there somewhere.
2. Joey Votto, 28 – The only thing that will keep Votto’s numbers down is the fear he instills in the hearts of opposing managers. As long as he’s not intentionally walked about every other at-bat, he should continue cranking out 30-plus homers on top of all the other fantasy goodness.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 29 – The fact that he’s already had shoulder surgery is a bit of a concern, but his skills are tremendous and his home ballpark is a perfect fit for his swing.
4. Prince Fielder, 27 – As, you may have read or heard, not every team is crazy about giving Prince a long-term deal do to concern that his body type will cause his skills to regress faster than normal. He's only 27, so fantasy GMs won't have to worry about a potential decline for a while.
5. Albert Pujols, 32 – If we’re ranking for 2012 alone, I’d put Pujols just behind M-Cab. However, with a focus on the long-term, and considering he’s 32, his keeper value takes a hit. Would it be out of the question for his career to be in a steady decline in a year or two?
6. Eric Hosmer, 22 – In his first crack at the big leagues, Hosmer hit .293/.344/.465 with 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases in only 128 games. He should improve on those numbers in 2012 and continue to do so over the next several seasons. He’s definitely a long-term gem of a keeper.
7. Mark Teixeira. 32 – Despite some rising fly-ball and pop-up rates, Tex still has plenty of upside left. I mean, the man was one home run away from hitting 40 last season.
8. Brandon Belt, 24 – Belt just needs to play consistently, but the Giants seem to be trying everything they can to prevent that from happening. He has the tools to become a .300/.370 type of hitter with 25-plus home run power and speed to steal double digit bases.
9. Freddie Freeman, 22 – Freeman has an impressive first full MLB season and he should be able to improve a bit off of that solid base. While his game is more line-drive oriented right now, he should be able to improve his power potential as he matures. He doesn’t have the best plate discipline, however, which might hold him back from becoming a consistent .290-.300 hitter.
10. Paul Goldschmidt, 24 – The power is 100 percent legit, but his long swing should lead to high strikeout rates in the big leagues. Buy for the power, but don’t expect much AVG.
11. Ike Davis, 25 – Davis is still on the mend after a nasty ankle injury that seems to not want to heal. When 100 percent, he has the power to develop into a 30 home run bat, but he’s probably not going to hit .290-.300 consistently, if ever over a full season.
12. Anthony Rizzo, 22 – The trade that moved him from San Diego to the north side of Chicago could end up being a huge boost to his career. Theo and Co. clearly see him as their 1B of the future. Rizzo has enough power to hit 25-plus home runs annually, but he’ll have to show the ability to hit southpaws and limit his strikeouts at the big league level before becoming a fantasy fixture.
13. Kendrys Morales, 28 - His fractured tibia has to heal sometime, right? At least he's doing "baseball activities" right now.
14. Mark Trumbo, 26 – Look past the 29 home runs and you have a player that is inherently risky. Trumbo doesn’t have good plate discipline or contact skills, so he’s no lock to improve his AVG. It wouldn't surprise me if he actually regresses in his sophomore season.
15. Mark Reynolds, 28 – Same as ever, Reynolds is a great source of power, but may never even sniff .250 again. His value would be much higher if he could stay at third, but his defense was simply unacceptable there.
16. Ryan Howard, 32 – Howard’s torn Achilles definitely dampers his 2012 outlook. Going beyond that, there are some serious concerns that his body-type will cause an early decline. His next full season will likely be 2013, and he’ll already be 33.
17. Gaby Sanchez, 28 – Solid contact and line-drive skills give him some upside in the AVG department, but ultimately his power upside is limited. His age gives him the edge over a player like Konerko, who would rank higher in 2012, but not 3-5 years down the road.
18. Paul Konerko, 36 – From 2008-2009, Konerko looked like a player in the midst of a decline. Over the last two seasons, however, he’s looked like a player in his early 30s, rather than mid-to-late 30s. That being said, he will be 36 on opening day, so his keeper value takes a hit.
19. Adam Dunn, 32 – This might seem risky given Dunn’s complete lack of, well, anything in 2011. However, one way to look at it is that 2011 was just a really horrible transition year and it will end up being the outlier of his career. His home run totals since 2004: 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38, 11. What’s more likely? That 2011 was a fluke or that, at age 32, he’s done?
20. Justin Morneau, 30 – We simply can’t know when or if Morneau will ever be the same. He continues to battle post concussion symptoms. Should he get back on the field healthy, his raw talent gives him enough upside to consider in deeper leagues.
21. Justin Smoak, 25 - Smoak had a tough year in 2011. He tried to play through thumb injuries, dealt with the death of his father and then suffered a fractured nose from a ground ball. Plate discipline and raw power are still there, don't give up on him just yet.
22. Carlos Pena, 33 – Pena still has the upside to hit 30-35 home runs, but his low AVG inevitably limits his value outside of OBP leagues.
23. Adam Lind, 28 – Hasn’t done much against lefties over the past couple of seasons. 2009 seems well behind him at this point.
24. Jesus Guzman, 27 – Guzman’s bat is capable of producing a few .290-.300 seasons, but playing time might be an issue with Yonder Alonso and Kyle Blanks looking to take hold of the starting 1B job in San Diego. Guzman isn’t likely to hit more than 15-20 homers per season, which isn’t great for a fantasy 1B.
25. Mike Carp, 25 – Carp has some intriguing power, but his swing generates too much swing-and-miss to count on much in the AVG department
26. Mitch Moreland, 26 – He’ll need to resolve issues against lefties to become much more than a platoon partner. .
27. Kyle Blanks, 25 – There is plenty of power potential in Blank’s game, but health and a high frequency of swings and misses mean he may never hit for much AVG in the big leagues.
28. Carlos Lee, 35 – A two-year regression in HR/FB rate indicates that his power decline might continue as he ages into his late 30s. However, his contact and line-drive skills remain solid.
29. Casey Kotchman, 29 – 2011 was a nice season for Kotchman, but if he doesn’t hit for a high AVG, he doesn’t contribute much for fantasy owners. His .335 BABIP last season was the highest of his career and he hit the ball on the ground over 50 percent of the time. Don’t bet on a repeat.
30. Derrek Lee, 36 – He still shows the skills to put together a .275/25 HR season, but nagging injuries seem to be an issue as he heads toward his late-30s.
31. Aubrey Huff, 35 – For some reason, Huff seems to rotate his performance each year. One year, he’s good; the next, not so much. Last year was a bad year, so you have the whole production rotation/flip thing going for ya.
32. Chris Carter, 25 – Known for having plus-plus raw power, Carter has yet to translate his minor league success to the big leagues. That transfer may never happen if he can’t make more contact against big league pitching. His power, however, makes him worth watching.
33. Matt LaPorta, 27 – LaPorta’s propensity for fly-outs and whiffs makes him look more and more like a busted prospect. There’s still power potential in there…somewhere.
34. Todd Helton, 38 – Helton can clearly still hit, but at age 38 the end is near and injuries could creep up at any point.
Players either more valuable at other positions or not likely to maintain 1B eligibility after 2012: Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, Michael Morse, Daniel Murphy, Michael Cuddyer, Lucas Duda, Chris Davis.