Top 15 Keeper Raknings: First Base

July 12, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; American League first baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers during the 2010 All Star home run derby at Angel Stadium.  Photo via Newscom

Unlike the catcher position, which lacks depth and stability, first base is very deep and filled with players in or around their prime seasons.

Note: These are NOT rankings for 2010. The focus is on long-term keeper values, looking first toward the next 4-5 years and then some prospects that could be moving up this charts during those seasons.

1. Miguel Cabrera l Age: 27
The three-year progression for Cabrera has been almost the exact model of how a player enters their supposed prime at age 27. He is currently the best overall hitter in baseball, trumping the amazing Pujols, which is an amazing statement in itself. Cabrera has improved his BB/K rate while hitting the ball harder than ever before in his career. Cabrera is on pace to set career highs in ISO (Isolated power) and SLG (Slugging Percentage) as well as challenge for the triple crown. He’s still only 27-years-old and right at the start of his prime seasons.
2. Albert Pujols l Age: 30
Interestingly, in some categories Pujols has shown a three-year regression (though this season is not over yet, so no numbers are final). Most notable is the drop in OPS and wOBA. This season, Pujols has been chasing more pitches outside the strike-zone this season while showing a three-year regression in contact rate. These are intriguing trends, but Pujols is still putting up MVP type numbers despite them. While there has been whispers about Pujols’ true age, the official information says that he’ll be 31-years-old in 2011, which is a plateau stage of a hitter’s career. With that in mind, we should expect continued top-level production from Pujols next season.
3. Joey Votto l Age: 26
2011 could be a huge season for Joey Votto as everything seems to be lining up perfectly. Votto is hitting at the prime age of 27 in 2011 (He’ll be 27 this September) and he has a three year track record of progression in BB/K rate, ISO and OPS. He plays his home games in a great hitter’s park and until this season, had shown no problems with hitting left-handed pitching. There’s no reason to think Votto can’t improve on an already MVP-like 2010.
4. Prince Fielder l Age: 26
Fielder swings and misses a lot and chases pitches outside the strike-zone rather frequently. Because of those two factors we should continue to see fluctuations in his AVG going forward. However, he still is a lock to hit 30-plus home runs with the potential for 45-plus. He manages to draw plenty of walks and not strikeout too much (like say, Mark Reynolds). Due to his body type–which can be described as large–Fielder may decline faster than the likes of Joey Votto or Mark Teixeira, but at age 26 he should have several more big seasons left in his bat.
5. Mark Teixeira l Age: 30
Known for being a slow starter, Teixeira took a bit too long to heat up this season, causing his AVG to suffer. However, he may have been a bit unlucky at times as evident by a low .262 BABIP with a solid 19.4 percent line drive rate. He’s just now entering his early 30’s so his production should level off over the next few seasons in the neighborhood of .285-.295/35/100.
6. Justin Morneau l Age: 29
What was shaping up to be a tremendous MVP-like season for Morneau was put to a sudden halt when he took a knee to the head in early July. The resulting concussion has kept him out of action ever since. It would have been nearly impossible for Morneau to sustain his .385 BABIP (22 percent line drive rate) anyway, but there is no doubt that he was in a groove since opening day. It may be too much to expect such a high AVG from Morneau in the future, but .285/30/100 are very realistic targets as he enters his 30’s.
7. Adrian Gonzalez l Age: 28
Even while playing home games in spacious PETCO Park with very little lineup protection–no, I’m not going to say that Ryan Ludwick is enough–Gonzalez continues to approach another 30 home run, 100 run, 100 RBI season. The Padres continue to stand atop the NL West and all trade rumors that surrounded Gonzalez this preseason have been silenced. However, don’t be surprised if talks heat up this winter. A move to just about any other ballpark would increase his overall keeper value. 
8. Kendry Morales l Age: 27
Morales was on his way to another fine season before a celebration from a walk-off home run went horribly wrong. While he should come back next season as a productive hitter, there is a very good chance he never comes close to duplicating his huge 2009 numbers due to an aggressive approach that had not produced high line drive rates in the past.
9. Billy Butler l Age: 24
Many were hoping for a huge power breakout from Butler this season, but instead found a regression in that category. Given his consistent ground ball to fly ball ratios (1.37 in 2009, 1.38 this season), it’s impossible to simply assume that Butler will hit for 25-30 home run power in the near future. Even without the power, Butler should consistently hit around .300 with plenty of doubles and the upside to drive in 100 runs should Kansas City put together a better lineup. He’s only 24-years-old, so there is plenty of room for improvement.
10. Adam Dunn l Age: 30
I’m convinced that there is no ballpark in the world that could hold Dunn’s home run totals down. No matter if he stays with the Nats or heads elsewhere this offseason, Dunn should continue to produce high-end power numbers. His AVG seems a bit inflated this season due to a .343 BABIP.
11. Ryan Howard l Age: 30
While the power potential is obviously tremendous, Howard is a big risk for quick regression. He chases a ton of bad pitches (34 percent this season) and is consistently among the league leaders in whiff rate (swings and misses). Howard is also a .231 career hitter against left-handed pitching. Translated: As soon as his skills start to decline and his bat speed slows, there is very little room for error.
12. Justin Smoak l Age: 23
I was completely on board the Smoak bandwagon when he was called up by the Rangers this season. He has a Mark Texieira-like approach at the plate and projected power to, if not match, at least come close. Smoak seemed to be the victim of bad luck as he continued to hit line drives at a rate over 22 percent yet continued to hold an extremely low BABIP. The culprit ended up being an extremely high amount of infield flies (about 20 percent), which are almost always turned into outs. Seattle’s front office thought highly enough of Smoak’s future that they essentially chose him over Yankees prospect Jesus Montero when trading away Cliff Lee. Going from Texas to Seattle is never good for a hitter, but at least Safeco Field is less of a problem for left-handed power hitters than it is for right-handed power hitters. Despite not getting the results in his first shot at the big leagues, Smoak’s future is extremely bright.
13. Chris Carter (A’s) l Age: 23
All Chris Carter did was catch touchdowns and looking at the stats, one might think that all this Chris Carter does is hit home runs. That is partly true, the A’s prospect has some of the best natural power in the minor leagues and has slammed 26 homers so far in 2010. However, Carter also knows how to draw a walk as evident by his .380 minor league career OBP. While his swing does generate a ton of power, it also generates plenty of swings and misses, which will lead to fluctuating AVG’s at the big league level. Of course, the same can be said about Marlins slugger Mike Stanton and the fantasy world is enthralled by his potential. At least Carter has seen improvement in his strikeout rate over the last few seasons, leading prospect gurus to believe he’ll have some .290-.300 seasons mixed in over his career. As a seemingly forgotten name in top prospect talk this season, Carter could come at a bargain price should you try and acquire him in your deep keeper or dynasty league.
14. Kevin Youkilis l Age: 31
A thumb injury has ended Youk’s solid season, but he should be good to go by spring training 2011. However, one has to be worried about the drop in line drive rate this season to around 16 percent as well as the three-year regression in HR/FB rate. Youk will be 32-years-old before the start of the 2011 season, so we shouldn’t be expecting any sort of improvement. Given what he has done over the past three seasons, no improvement would still make him a very valuable fantasy option, but sooner or later a slow decline will start to creep in.
15. Matt LaPorta l Age: 25
Adjusting to the Major Leagues has been tough on LaPorta, but the high-ceiling power potential is still there. After being recalled from triple-A this season, LaPorta seemed like a much more confident hitter as he hit .282 in July. As the confidence grows, the power numbers will begin to show up. We could easily see consistent 25-30 home run seasons in LaPorta’s future with an AVG that sits in the .265-.275 range.
Others of Note
Ike Davis l Age: 23
Davis’ stock took a big hit after his professional debut in 2008 . That season the power hitting first baseman hit .256/.326/.362 with no home runs over 239 low-A plate appearances. In 2009, the player that the Mets thought they drafted began to find his swing. That season Davis hit .298/.381/.524 with 20 home runs between high-A and double-A. He has spent the majority of the 2010 season hitting in the middle of the Mets lineup and holding his own in the process with 15 home runs and a .185 ISO. The AVG may always be a struggle as Davis’ uppercut swing causes a lot of swings and misses and not enough line drives. His current AB/HR rate would translate to about 23 home runs over 550 at-bats. As he adjusts further to big league pitching, there will be potential for 25-plus home runs annually.
Logan Morrison l Age: 22
Recently called up to play left field for the Marlins, Logan Morrison’s true and future position is first base. Gabby Sanchez has held his own there this season, but the majority seems to believe that Morrison will be the 2011 starter at first. Morrison features a sweet lefty swing that is very contact oriented. He should hit for AVG at the big league level and be a true assent in OBP leagues. However, the big debate is his ultimate power ceiling. He hasn’t shown much power beyond single-A and according to has held very high ground ball rates for the past two seasons. This has held true in his 45 Major League plate appearances this season as well. At the very young age of 22, there is still a ton of room to grow. The base of skills is there already, but to be an impact 1B we’ll need to see some type of progression in power.