First Things First

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the second of the off-season fantasy reviews our post-season analysis of the 2011 fantasy baseball season moves to the first base position.

The position is always deep and 2011 was no different. However, for the first time in a decade, the rankings don't have Albert Pujols at the top of the list.

Miguel Cabrera, DET (ADP 7) - Cabrera was everything you could want from your first baseman when you drafted him in the middle of the first round last spring. He led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, scored 111 runs, hit 30 homers along with a league-leading 48 doubles, knocked in 105 runs and posted an OPS of 1.033. He's durable, having played in 150 games or more in eight consecutive seasons, so you can use your roster depth at other more pressing positions. He'll be a first-rounder again next season.

Adrian Gonzalez, BOS (ADP 12) - The move from cavernous Petco Park to the friendly confines of Fenway surprisingly didn't result in Gonzalez hitting more home runs, but no fantasy owners could possibly be disappointed with his production. Gonzalez batted 40 points higher, hitting .338, with 27 HR and 117 RBI. Hitting in the Red Sox lineup and surrounded by more talent than ever, Gonzalez should post these statistics on a year-in, year-out basis.

Albert Pujols, STL (ADP 1) - A historically slow start in April and May resulted in the worst year of Pujols' 11-year career. Don't cry for Albert's fantasy owners, however, his production would still make almost any other player proud. Pujols batted .299 with 105 runs scored, 37 HRs, 99 RBI and an OPS of 0.906. I guess worrying about where to sign a new nine-figure deal wore on him. I'd still pick Pujols No.1 next season and have no second thoughts.

Prince Fielder, MIL (ADP 16) - This one was easy to predict. If you have read any of my columns concerning Fielder you would know that he's posted "monster" statistics in odd-numbered years. Add in impending free agency and it was an easy call to predict good things for Cecil's "little" boy. Fielder batted .299 with 38 HR, 120 RBI and an OPS of 0.981. There is uncertainty in his 2012 fantasy value because he's likely to be playing for another team which may not be as conducive to his Milwaukee days with a powerful lineup and a hitter- friendly ballpark.

Joey Votto, CIN (ADP 5) - Votto posted solid numbers in 2011 (.309, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 0.947 OPS) yet as the defending NL MVP and top-five fantasy selection his production left a sour taste in his fantasy owner's mouth. Of course fantasy owners had unreal expectations after his 2010 season when he batted .324 with 37 HR, 113 RBI and a league-leading OPS of 1.024. Rumors that the Reds were thinking of trading their star first baseman were quickly denied by GM Walt Jocketty and in keeper leagues you should do the same thing.

Mark Teixeira, NYY (ADP 17) - There has been a distinct change in the production from Teixeira over the past two seasons - he's become an "all-or- nothing guy." While he's hit 71 homers since 2010, we've also seen his batting average plummet. From 2004-2009 the first baseman's batting average was always .281 or higher and his OPS above 0.886. In his last two seasons, Teixeira has batted .256 and .248, respectively, with a corresponding drop in OPS. So while he continues to help you in the power categories, he's become a detriment in batting average and a middle-or-the-pack OPS producer. He could fall to a third-round pick in 2012.

Paul Konerko, CWS (ADP 93) - Perhaps Konerko and Teixeira changed bodies in 2010, because while Teixeira's batting average has fallen, the supposedly aging Konerko has had a renaissance over the past two seasons. Konerko's 2010 season (.312, 39 HRs, 111 RBI) can no longer be called a fluke as he backed it up with another outstanding year. His 2011 statistics are third-round quality, yet he was a ninth-rounder in most fantasy leagues. A disappointing 69 runs scored kept him from being a top-five fantasy first baseman.

Ryan Howard, PHI (ADP 13) - Of all the top fantasy first baseman, Howard's season was the least satisfying. As a late-first, early second-round pick, Howards' numbers were well below expectations. Sure they may look okay from afar - 33 HR, 116 RBI, but closer inspection reveals a problem. Howards' batting average was his lowest since 2008 and his OPS a career low 0.835. Perhaps he, more than anyone else, missed Jayson Werth's protection in the lineup. He suffered an Achilles injury in the final at-bat of the NLDS and likely won't be ready for the start of the 2012 season. He also needs a right- handed bat for protection and given that Charlie Manuel seems to prefer Hunter Pence in the No.3 hole, it's not a given that he'll have one. He'll be a high- risk pick in 2012 - one that I won't take.

Michael Morse, WAS (ADP 343) - The Washington Nationals' outfielder became their starting first baseman after Adam LaRoche's season-ending shoulder injury and thrived in the role. He batted .303 for the season with 31 HRs, 95 RBI with an OPS of 0.910 after a slow start (batted .211 in April). He was a much better hitter as an infielder, batting .336 with an OPS of 1.002 while starting at first base. LaRoche may be out of a job in 2012 as I don't believe I would move Morse back into the outfield. Morse was easily the "best bargain" at the first base position given his free agent status on Draft Day.

Eric Hosmer, KC (ADP 392) - It's not often that a rookie can climb into the top-10 at a strong position like first base. And even less likely when he doesn't play his first major league game until his team's 32nd game (May 6). But that's exactly what Hosmer did, batting .293 with 19 HR, 78 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 128 games. The wholesale improvement of the Royals' young offense (ranked sixth in the AL with 730 runs, up 54 runs from 2010) should help Hosmer continue to rise in his sophomore season.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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