Ranking the AL East Position by Position: First Base
Sep 11, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first basemanChris Davis
(19) hits a two-run double in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
1. Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles)- No player in baseball broke out in 2013 quite like Chris Davis. Once a top prospect for the Texas Rangers, Davis struggled to gain footing in his first several years in the majors before finally gaining regular playing time by belting 33 home runs with the Orioles in 2012. However, nobody could have expected the huge breakout season that propelled Davis into stardom in 2013 as he slashed .286/.370/.634 with 53 home runs and 138 RBIs, leading the league in homers and RBIs and finishing third in AL MVP voting. It would be reasonable to expect Davis to regress a bit in 2014, but the power is legitimate and should make him a force in the league for years to come.
2. Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto Blue Jays)- Chris Davis was last season’s breakout star, but one of 2012’s major breakout stars was Edwin Encarnacion. He had shown flashes of being a middle-of-the-order threat in the past, but he really became a force when he crushed 42 home runs in 2012 and then followed it up with another great 2013 season that saw him slash .272/.370/.534 with 36 home runs and 104 RBIs. After two straight years of elite power production and still just 31 years of age, it’s conceivable that Encarnacion can continue to produce at this level for the next few seasons and cement himself as a top first baseman in the American League.
3. Mike Napoli (Boston Red Sox)- Napoli had an up-and-down season in 2013, but he closed out the season on a hot streak and a great playoff performance. His overall slash line of .259/.360/.482 was too tempting for the Red Sox to pass up and they re-signed him for two more years this December. While his 2013 season was generally good, however, there are certainly concerns that could implement themselves in 2014. Napoli posted the highest strikeout rate of his career last season (32.4%) as well as the highest BABIP of his career (.367), so regression could be in order next season. Of course, it’s always possible that Napoli could cut down on his strikeouts and put up a similar performance to 2013, but it is far from a certainty for the now 32 year old.
4. Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees)- Two years ago, Teixeira would have been a no-brainer to head this list. While Teixeira could still go back to being the threatening power hitter that he was just two seasons ago, it’s equally possible that his injury-riddled 2013 season could set him back for the long run. After all, Teixeira barely played at all in 2013 due to aggravating his wrist on multiple occasions, and wrist injuries frequently affect hitters’ swings for at least the next season. It’s entirely possible that Teixeira will be a powerful, middle-of-the-order hitter in 2014, but like much of the Yankees’ lineup– he’s no sure thing.
5. James Loney (Tampa Bay Rays)- Loney had something of a renaissance season in Tampa Bay last season after a disappointing 2012 season split between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. He got back to his high-average ways and had his best year since 2007, slashing .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs in 158 games as the Rays’ starting first baseman. However, even if Loney can repeat his solid 2013 season, his ceiling is just too low to place him any higher than fifth on this list. Loney has never truly developed the power that he was projected to grow into, but he should still be a solid option for the Rays despite ranking fifth on this list.