NL Central Preview: First Base

Finally continuing my NL Central Preview as I look at first basemen. My life was way busy over the past two weeks but now back at home with the snow falling outside I’m left with nothing to do but write, so that is what I shall do.

The NL Central is packed with good first baseman. The field is led by one of the best players of all time in Albert Pujols and right behind him is Joey Votto. But you can’t forget Prince Fielder up in Milwaukee either.

I think I’ll start backwards and work my way up…

6. Brett Wallace, Houston (.222, 2 HR, 13 RBI in 51 games)
A former Cardinal farm hand, Brett Wallace has moved quite a bit the last few years and has been dealt in trades or peripheral trades for players such as Matt Holliday, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt. Not a bad resume builder at all. However, with the lack of experience and his struggles last season, it was hard for me to really predict him any higher than he is. I’d expect a better performance in 2011, but I wouldn’t expect much more than .250 with 15 HR from him. First base is pretty much his to play in Houston and they believe in him there. That will be a big help for a developing player.
5. Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh (.247, 21 HR, 86 RBI in 158 games)
Jones followed up his great rookie season with a much worse sophomore season. In 82 games in 2009 he hit 21 HR and needed almost double that number of games to hit 21 again. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Jones, but based on his performance this is a very fair position on this list for him.

4. Carlos Pena, Chicago (.196, 28 HR, 84 RBI in 144 games for Tampa)
Pena had quite the down season last year as he hit under .200 as Tampa’s first baseman. At his best, Pena is a guy who can hit 40 HR and he signed in Chicago in an effort to rebuild that reputation as one of the league’s big hitters. To have a guy who could potentially hit 40 HR as the fourth best first baseman in the division shows the depth of talent at the position in the NL Central.

3. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee (.261, 32 HR, 83 RBI in 161 games)
In what is probably Prince’s final season in Milwaukee, the team has certainly gone all-in. They’ve acquired Zach Grienke and Shaun Marcum as they attempt to bring their team into competition with the Reds and the Cardinals. With a renovated Milwaukee team and being in a contract year, I expect Fielder to put up a career year in 2011 and lead the league in homers for Milwaukee. The team will be close enough come the trade deadline where they will have to heavily weigh a decision to keep him or trade him, but I think they’ll keep him in the hopes of finding post-season success.

2. Albert Pujols, St. Louis (.312, 42 HR, 118 RBI in 159 games)
This is a Cardinals blog, right? Then how can I have Albert Pujols at #2? Albert might be among the best players in major league history, but that doesn’t automatically qualify him for the top spot when his performance on the field is surpassed. Over the last couple seasons, Pujols’ walk rate has dropped and his strikeout rate has increased. Everything we heard was that he would make a bigger mark if he had protection. Perhaps he is trying harder with Holliday behind him? That’s possible, but his value has declined over the past couple seasons and I think Votto is the better player right now.

1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati (.324, 37 HR, 113 RBI in 150 games)
The 2010 NL MVP is my pick as the best first baseman in the NL Central going into the season. While Pujols is in decline, Votto is still moving towards his prime. While he may not improve much over his numbers that he put up in 2010, and actually I expect him to regress in his power numbers to the lower 30s, he is as critical to Cincinnati’s success as Albert Pujols is to St. Louis’.

Combined with the previous prediction for the catchers, the order stands as follows:

  1. St. Louis — 11 pts
  2. Cincinnati — 9 pts
  3. Chicago — 8 pts
  4. Milwaukee — 6 pts
  5. Pittsburgh — 6 pts
  6. Houston — 2 pts