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Gold standard: Goldschmidt tops 1B ranks

Cabrera, Rizzo, Votto, Freeman also elite among fantasy first basemen
February 5, 2017

Historically, fantasy owners have relied on first base as one of the premier positions for power production.But in 2016, productive sluggers were abundant all over the diamond. With that in mind, astute owners should now hold first basemen to a higher standard. Those selected in the early rounds should be

Historically, fantasy owners have relied on first base as one of the premier positions for power production.
But in 2016, productive sluggers were abundant all over the diamond. With that in mind, astute owners should now hold first basemen to a higher standard. Those selected in the early rounds should be able to provide more than just a lofty homer total, though the ability to go deep 30-plus times is certainly still a highly coveted trait.
Tier 1: Paul Goldschmidt

Long a terrific five-category contributor, Goldschmidt has provided the full gamut of production to a degree that his peers have been unable to match. Using his fleet feet (32 stolen bases), the lifetime .299 hitter overcame a dip in power last season (24 homers) to remain an elite fantasy option. Even though returning to the 30-steal plateau will be a tall task, the 29-year-old should continue to offer incredible value with his diverse skill set.
• Full fantasy first basemen rankings
Tier 2: Jose Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman
Owners who miss out on Goldschmidt can still choose from a handful of game-changing first-base options in the initial three rounds of mixed-league drafts.
One of the greatest hitters of his generation, Cabrera reversed a declining power trend to record 38 homers in 2016 (after 43 across 2014-15) while notching a batting average above .310 for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons. Having also posted elite marks in average exit velocity (94.5 mph) and fly-ball distance (343 feet) last year, according to Statcast™, the 33-year-old can be drafted with confidence by owners looking for a reliable early-round option.

Locked into the heart of a talent-laden Cubs' lineup, Rizzo joins Cabrera as one of the safest options at the end of Round 1 or the outset of Round 2. The slugger is coming off arguably his best season at the dish, posting career highs in average (.292) and OPS (.928). He also registered his third consecutive 30-homer campaign in 2016, recording 32 long balls to go with 94 runs and a personal-best 109 RBIs.

Given his rate-stats excellence, Votto is a fine Round 3 option in mixed leagues despite falling short of the 30-homer mark in each of the past six seasons and delivering fewer than 100 RBIs in five straight years. Using his outstanding control of the strike zone and ability to consistently minimize soft contact, Votto ranked among the top four big leaguers in batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.434) and OPS (.985) last season.
Freeman raised his game to the next level in 2016, combining his typically lofty line-drive rate (29.1 percent in '16) with a career-high 40.5 percent fly-ball rate to post a .302/.400/.569 slash line and a personal-best 34 homers. The Braves slugger also recorded the sixth-highest average fly-ball distance in the Majors last year, per Statcast™ (344 feet, minimum 50 fly balls). Owners who project major regression for Freeman may miss out on a second straight season of elite production.

Tier 3: Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Davis, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Abreu
The third tier at first base gives owners two reliable sluggers and a pair of boom-or-bust options.
Arguably the most stable power source in baseball, Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers, 110 RBIs and 90 runs per season since the outset of 2012. Although his elevated strikeout rate (19.7 percent in '16) is somewhat troubling, the slugger should continue to post prodigious production after joining the Indians as a free agent in January.

Abreu represents the other safe option in this tier, as he has recorded at least 25 homers, 100 RBIs and a .290 average in each of his three big league campaigns. The slugger started slowly last season, but he quelled concerns about a permanent decline by posting a stellar .338/.402/.568 slash line with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in his final 57 games.
Davis can provide an enormous payoff for those willing to spend an early draft pick on him, but owning the slugger is definitely not for the faint of heart. Though Davis has averaged 41 homers across the past four seasons, his single-year totals have fluctuated greatly in that stretch (53, 26, 47, 38). And during that same span, he has been similarly volatile in the RBI (138, 72, 117, 84) and batting-average (.286, .196, .262, .221) departments.

One of the biggest bounceback performers of 2016, Ramirez avoided the disabled list entirely for the first time since '12, and he delivered a fantastic second half (22 homers, 63 RBIs). If he can stay healthy again, the 33-year-old could capitalize on his spot in an ultra-productive Red Sox lineup to reach the century mark in RBIs for a second consecutive season.
Tier 4: William Myers, Jose Pujols, Eric Hosmer
The fourth tier has three intriguing options, though each comes with some drawbacks.
After battling persistent injury woes over 2014-15, Myers was one of the breakout performers of '16 -- joining Michael Trout and Mookie Betts as the only big leaguers to reach the 25 mark in both homers (28) and steals (28). But the slugger raised doubts about his ability to become a perennial All-Star when he faded in the second half, producing a .223/.316/.381 slash line with a 27.6 percent strikeout rate. Considering his injury history, strikeout woes and inconsistent '16 production, Myers is a high-risk, high-reward draft pick.

Pujols capitalized on the opportunity to regularly hit behind Trout in 2016, ranking fourth in the Majors with 119 RBIs. The veteran could approach 30 homers and 100 RBIs again in '17, but his health is a question mark after he underwent foot surgery in December. Furthermore, fantasy owners cannot expect to receive great rate-stats production from a player who has posted a sub-.800 OPS in each of the past four years.

Hosmer closes out the fourth tier after seemingly taking his game to a higher level in 2016, when he posted a career-best 25 homers and 104 RBIs. However, his ability to duplicate those marks is in question. The first baseman could take a step back this season if he continues to whiff at a high rate (19.8 percent in '16) and experiences a normalization of last year's 21.4 percent HR/FB rate (11.9 percent from '11-15).

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