As does every position, first base is undergoing a bit of a face lift. The old guard that was top of the rankings for years have aged ungracefully (Teixeira) or moved to another position (Miguel Cabrera). That means for some changing of the guard in this year's rankings.
1. Prince Fielder - Yeah, I get that Prince Albert bouced back in the second half quite well, but Fielder didn't need to "bounce back" all season, seemingly quietly posting fantasy numbers to love - .313, 30, 108. He walked more than he struck out, and for the first time in his career, he struck out less than 100 times. We're just entering Prince's peak seasons with this being his age 29 season, so grab hold now because it could be a fun ride at the top.
2. Albert Pujols - After all the turmoil of the start of his Angels career, he still finished 3rd at 1B in fantasy value for 2012 of the guys who will have 1B eligibility in 2013. The numbers aren't quite as amazing, and having the first time he struck out more than he walked since his rookie year raised an eyebrow, but he's still clearly #2 on this list.
3. Joey Votto - Votto was doing what he has been doing since he came into the league last season before an injury slowed him down. Did you know that even with only accumulating 475 plate appearances in 2012, he led the National League in walks?!
4. Edwin Encarnacion - Encarnacion is a tough rank. He was on my watch list last year as a guy who's always had the ability, but just hadn't shown it all yet. He finally put it all together last season, and he was the #1 1B in fantasy last season. That said, 2012 was a whole new level for E5, and this ranking is a bit of hedging that it wasn't all repeatable.
5. Adrian Gonzalez - What you may hear is "ZOMG! He's in a huge park! He'll never produce!" Yep, just like the 5 seasons in the best pitcher's park in baseball in San Diego, where he averaged 32 homers, 93 runs, and 100 RBI per season. He hits for better average now than he did then, almost a sure .300 guy, but his power has taken a noticeable downturn the last two seasons. Be aware of that when you draft him and perhaps find a big power, mediocre average type to offset him.
6. Freddie Freeman - This could be the first one that I hear "Homer!" on, but while my love of Freddie Freeman on the Braves is undoubted, a look at his numbers shows he's ready to bust out. Freeman raised his line drive percentage, home run/fly ball rate, and his walk rate in 2012. Similar progression in 2013 would put him at 30 homers and 100 runs/RBI. The batting average likely won't be .300+, but he could hit .270+ for sure. I may be proven a fool on this ranking, but I believe.
7. Paul Konerko - He's never a "sexy" pick, and he's entering his age 37 season, so there is some reason to worry, but all he's done the last three seasons is average .302/32/97. He likely will be able to be picked later than the 7th 1B, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he's a top 5 guy when all is said and done once again.
8. Mark Trumbo - The boy can flat out knock a ball out of the park. He also gets on base barely over 30% of the time and is entering his age 27 season, so it's certainly possible what we've seen is what we'll get. One major hedge to be aware of - Trumbo played 20 games at 1B last season, but he only started 16. If your league goes by games started, he may only have OF eligibility.
9. Allen Craig - Last offseason, a Cardinals fan thought the Braves and Cards should do a deal with Prado and Craig and leave Craig in left field. I wanted nothing to do with it at the time, and trust me, bringing in Justin Upton instead is golden, but looking back, that may have been a fleece of the Cardinals. Craig isn't going to be Albert Pujols, and he's already 28 this season, but he'll be quite underrated in drafts and could certainly give you .300/30/100 next season if he stays healthy.
10. Billy Butler - One of the biggest knocks on Butler entering 2012 was his Util-only eligibility in fantasy. This year he will have 1B eligibility based on 20 games started at 1B in 2012. While Butler has always hit for average, last season, he put up excellent power numbers as well, ranking 4th among returning 1B in 2012 fantasy value. Why is he 10th, then, you may ask? He seemed to sacrifice batting eye for power, lowering his walk rate and increasing his strikeout rate (though just looking at BA, you'd not see it). There's certainly worry he'll shoot for fences again and see that batting average dip or return to his excellent BA and RBI ways and return to a 15-20 home run guy.
Unlisted, underrated: Paul Goldschmidt - As I was ranking, I kept moving guys past Goldy, yet as I review numbers, I see I'm making the same mistake many are making. Goldschmidt put up the 6th best fantasy season for a returning 1B last season, and he's got nowhere to go but up. I don't know that he'll maintain 18 steals, but he should add to his home run numbers and continue with solid average.
Unlisted, overrated: The aforementioned Mark Teixeira - His aging has not gone well. His walk rate was his lowest since 2005, his ISO was his lowest since 2003, and 2012 was his third year with a BABIP sub-.270, indicating this is perhaps a new expectation for Teixeira and not an anomaly. He's still ranked top 10, and even top 5 (!!) in places, and I ended up with him as my 15th ranked 1B for 2013. Don't overpay for his declining skills like the Yankees have.
Position strategy: Fielder and Pujols should be top-15 picks, and Votto/Encarnacion should go 15-40, but after that, I wouldn't overreach for a 1B as there are a good group from 5 all the way to 13 that I'd be comfortable starting, and that doesn't even include guys who could take a big step forward this year like Eric Hosmer, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Carter, Yonder Alonso, and Brandon Belt. One of my first mock auctions I did, I budgeted $40 for two 1B and I ended up with Freeman and Craig both. I have a feeling their values will only increase as spring training goes on, but that gives you an idea of where the position should be valued. The elite in fantasy no longer reside at 1B...but we'll discuss that later!