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Steve Gardner, USA TODAY Sports

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Top-rated Joey Votto should be fully recovered from a knee injury that sapped his power last season
  • With Josh Hamilton hitting behind him, the Angels' Albert Pujols could challenge for a Triple Crown
  • With his power and speed, Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt may no longer be a draft-day sleeper

If Cincinnati's Joey Votto is fully recovered from a knee injury that sapped his power over the second half of last season, he should be the initial first baseman off most draft boards. Votto had a ridiculous .474 on-base percentage in 2012, but he hit only 14 home runs in 111 games. Everything looks promising in his offseason rehab, so don't let him slip past the No. 7 or 8 overall pick in mixed leagues.

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The Angels' Albert Pujols finds himself in a situation similar to the one Miguel Cabrera experienced last year, welcoming one of the game's top sluggers into the cleanup spot right behind him in the batting order. The addition of first baseman Prince Fielder gave the Tigers a fearsome 1-2 punch and Cabrera won the AL Triple Crown. It's not a stretch to think that with Josh Hamilton now on board, Pujols could rebound from what was a down season by his lofty standards (.285, 30 HR, 105 RBI) and challenge for a Triple Crown of his own.

Votto, Pujols and Fielder all figure to be gone in the first round of most mixed drafts, but then things get a little murky. Adrian Gonzalez will spend his first full season in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Of course, he did just fine playing in Petco Park for five seasons as a member of the San Diego Padres.

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Billy Butler won the AL Silver Slugger award at designated hitter, but he also managed to play just enough games at first to gain fantasy eligibility there this season. That boosts his fantasy value into the position's top tier.

Risk-reward

The interesting decisions on first basemen will come in the middle rounds of most drafts.

One player who could provide solid value is Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. The 25-year-old slugger has youth and a great home park in his favor. Plus, he led the position with 18 stolen bases (in 21 attempts). Add everything up and - believe it or not - Goldschmidt was the NL's most valuable fantasy first baseman in 2012.

How much do you believe in Edwin Encarnacion's breakout season? It's hard to find fault with someone who hit 42 homers and drove in 110 runs, but there has to be some regression coming. And after splitting time almost exclusively between first and DH, Encarnacion loses his fantasy eligibility at third base.

St. Louis' Alan Craig could end up being this season's Encarnacion. With a career average of .300 and a slugging percentage of .515, he certainly has the ability. He'll qualify in the outfield and at first even though he'll be the Cardinals' everyday first baseman.

Buyer beware

On the down side, it's been three years since Mark Teixeira has hit better than .256. He's now a detriment to a fantasy team's batting average instead of an asset. He's not making up the gap with a higher slugging or on-base percentage either. Now with the Yankees' less-fearsome offense, his run production could take a similar dive.

Bargain hunting

Looking for a late-round sleeper? Oakland's Brandon Moss hit 21 home runs last season in just 265 at-bats. That's one every 12.6 times up, a figure that would have been third-best in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. As the left-handed half of the A's platoon, he'll get most of the playing time.

Finally, remember that there's still plenty of raw power available late in drafts. Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Pena (now with Houston) can give fantasy teams' home run and RBI totals a significant boost ... but batting average is always a concern.

That's the problem with waiting too long to get a first baseman. Those remaining after the first four or five rounds all have significant flaws. You can wait until later to fill your corner infield spots, but the elite talent at the top can put you at a distinct comparative disadvantage at the position if you don't make it up elsewhere.

USA TODAY's preseason fantasy 1B rankings

(Catchers with first base eligibility not included)

  1. Joey Votto, Reds
  2. Albert Pujols, Angels
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
  5. Billy Butler, Royals
  6. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  7. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
  8. Freddie Freeman, Braves
  9. Allen Craig (OF), Cardinals
  10. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
  11. Mark Trumbo (OF), Angels
  12. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  13. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  14. Ike Davis, Mets
  15. Corey Hart (OF), Brewers

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