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Goldschmidt remains fantasy standard at 1B

Votto, Rizzo, Freeman among other stellar options at deep position
MLB.com @FredZinkieMLB

For many seasons, fantasy owners have come to rely on first base as arguably the best outpost for premier power production. The 2018 group at this position compares favorably to any from recent years.

But with the home run surge over the past few campaigns, astute drafters should now have higher standards for early-round first basemen. Many of the players below can combine a lofty home run total with a quality batting average, a noteworthy stolen-base tally or both.

For many seasons, fantasy owners have come to rely on first base as arguably the best outpost for premier power production. The 2018 group at this position compares favorably to any from recent years.

But with the home run surge over the past few campaigns, astute drafters should now have higher standards for early-round first basemen. Many of the players below can combine a lofty home run total with a quality batting average, a noteworthy stolen-base tally or both.

MLB.com's player rankings

Tier 1: Paul Goldschmidt
Despite some late-season struggles (.555 OPS in September/October), Goldschmidt finished 2017 ranked fourth in baseball in both RBIs (120) and runs scored (117) while tying his career high in homers (36). Additionally, the consistent slugger posted an average above .295 for the fifth straight season and reached the 15-steals mark for the fifth time in the past six years. Owners who wish to start their drafts with a stable superstar should have Goldschmidt near the top of their lists.

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Tier 2: Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger
Owners who aren't able to secure Goldschmidt as their first basemen will have four ultra-talented consolation prizes.

Although he is the oldest member of Tier 2 by a wide margin, Votto headlines this group after slashing .320/.454/.578 with 36 homers, 100 RBIs and 106 runs scored last season. The 34-year-old was arguably a tougher out than ever before, posting personal bests in strikeout rate (11.7 percent), chase rate (15.8 percent) and BB/K ratio (1.61).

Freeman followed up a breakout '16 season with another stellar showing, recording a career-best .989 OPS and compiling 28 homers in just 117 games last year. With better health, the 28-year-old is a great candidate to approach the 35-homer and 100-RBI plateaus.

The rest of the second tier includes a boom-or-bust option and one of the steadier hitters in baseball. Bellinger has the potential to lead the National League in homers and RBIs this season after going deep 39 times and driving in 97 runs over 480 at-bats in his rookie year. But with just one season of Major League experience and some swing-and-miss tendencies (26.6 percent strikeout rate), the 22-year-old has more downside than the others in this tier. Conversely, fantasy owners will find almost no risk in selecting Rizzo, who has hovered between 31-32 homers and 89-99 runs over the past four seasons and produced 100-plus RBIs in each of the past three. That being said, the Cubs' star has a lower ceiling than the other players in this tier.

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Tier 3: Jose Abreu, Eric Hosmer, Edwin Encarnacion, Wil Myers
For owners who need more proof about the wealth of studs at this deep position, the third tier includes three 100-RBI candidates and an elite power-speed source.

Abreu will be one of the safest picks at any position in '18, having produced at least 25 homers, 100 RBIs and a .290 average in each of his initial four Major League seasons. While the 31-year-old is part of a retooling club with an unremarkable lineup, he should nonetheless finish the year as a four-category stud.

Hosmer can be viewed as a less-powerful version of Abreu, having driven in at least 93 runs in each of the past three seasons but belting no more than 25 home runs in any campaign. The career .284 hitter is one of the few first basemen with the potential to score 100 runs, having crossed home plate 98 times in two of the past three seasons.

Encarnacion has averaged 38.5 homers, 110 RBIs and 91 runs scored across the past six seasons and possesses greater power potential than anyone in this tier, even at age 35. But the lifetime .265 hitter is more of a three-category option, as he is unlikely to provide a helpful batting average.

Myers sticks out as the anomaly in this group, and really, at this position in general. One of just two players (along with Mike Trout) to reach the 30-homer and 20-steal plateaus in 2017, he possesses a blend of power and speed that can be rivaled only by Goldschmidt among first basemen. However, his fantasy ceiling is suppressed by a low batting average (lifetime .254) and a lack of support from a Padres lineup that produced the fewest runs in baseball last year.

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Tier 4: Miguel Cabrera, Matt Olson, Ryan Zimmerman
A pair of veterans and one intriguing youngster round out the starting options at first base.

Opinions will inevitably be all over the map regarding Cabrera, who plummeted from Tier 2 to Tier 4 in one year after hitting .249 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs last season. Some owners will be excited to take the discount on a lifetime .317 hitter who has 10 career 30-homer campaigns and a dozen with 100-plus RBIs, while others will seek to avoid a 34-year-old who battled a back injury last year and is no longer part of a strong lineup.

Zimmerman is the perfect contrast to Cabrera, having rebounded last season after spending multiple years on the fringes of mixed-league relevance. The Nats slugger is a quality starting option, as he bats in the heart of a talented lineup and hit .303 with 36 homers and 108 RBIs in 2017. But wise owners will not lose sight of Zimmerman's long injury history or forget the fact that the veteran was good but not great over his final 115 games (.269, 23 homers, 74 RBIs) after hitting .435 with 13 long balls and 34 RBIs across his first 29 contests.

Olson is the most surprising name on this list, cracking the top 12 at a loaded position despite having just 70 big league games under his belt. After recording a 40.3 percent hard-hit rate and a 46 percent fly-ball rate while hitting a whopping 24 round-trippers over just 189 at-bats last year, the youngster is on the short list of 40-homer candidates for 2018.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.