For those people wondering why I didn't include Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the player rankings for catchers, I felt the need to justify my position.

Everything that I have read recently points to the fact that Saltalamacchia will split time with Gerard Laird, which will decrease his fantasy value. The Rangers' official Web site still lists Laird above Saltalamacchia on their depth chart.


Now, there are still rumors that the Rangers are trying to deal Laird. If this happens and Saltalamacchia becomes the full-time catcher, then he would probably rank between eighth and 12th on the list.

But, until he gains any significant playing time, his numbers will be dragged down by the fact that he needs to split time with Laird. I expect big things from Saltalamacchia, but I think he's still at least a year away from being a full-time catcher with big-time fantasy value.

I appreciate all of the comments and e-mails on the topic. I hope my explanation clears up any confusion on Saltalamacchia. If he is available and you think he's going to have a breakout year, then don't hesitate to draft him. Don't let my advice stop you from taking the gamble to win your league if you truly think he's worth it.

Now, let's try to sort out the best first basemen in the major leagues. In my opinion, grabbing the best first baseman possible is the key to fantasy success. Ideally, the top first basemen in the league will carry your fantasy team with their ability to hit for a high batting average, 40-50 home runs and at least 125 RBIs.

Let me preface my rankings by saying that the top five players are pretty much interchangeable. It's going to be hard to predict which one has the best season. Even if one of the five players outshines the others, they will all put you in pretty good shape to win your fantasy league. Be sure you grab one of these players in the first round of your draft.

1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals – Pujols hit 17 fewer home runs in 2007 than he did the previous year. Despite playing in 15 more games last season, he also had 34 fewer RBIs and his average was slightly lower than it was in 2006. Even with the decline, he still hit .327 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs. In seven seasons, Pujols has never batted below .314 and he has had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs every year. If he stays healthy – more on this at the bottom of the entry – then he is still the best first baseman in the majors.

2. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers – Fielder emerged as a top-notch first baseman last season by erupting for 50 home runs and 119 RBIs. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate that performance this season, but he's ahead of Ryan Howard because there's an outside chance that he'll be able to hit .300 as well.

3. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies – Howard followed his MVP season in 2006 by picking up 47 home runs and 136 RBIs last season. If he can improve on his batting average (.268 last season), then he'll be the most valuable first baseman available. He strikes out a lot, so be sure to keep that in mind if your league counts that statistic.

4. Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves – The Severna Park native has hit at least .280 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in every season since his rookie year. He'll likely hit around .290 with 35-40 home runs and 110-120 RBIs. Also, keep in mind that it's a contract year for Teixeira this season. There's added incentive for a big season from Teixeira.

5. Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins – It's hard to predict Morneau's batting average because he hit .239 in 2005, .321 in 2006, and .271 last season. One thing is certain – he'll give your fantasy team at least 30 home runs and 110 RBIs. If his batting average is close to the .321 that helped him win the AL MVP in 2006, then he could become the top option at first base.

6. Lance Berkman, Houston Astros – Last season, Berkman had 34 home runs and 102 RBIs. He only hit .278, which is the lowest his batting average has been in a full season in his career. However, Berkman is a career .300 hitter, so he's likely to improve the batting average. This makes him an attractive option that may be overshadowed by the five players ahead of him.

7. Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs – Lee recovered from an injury-plagued 2006 season to hit .317 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs last season. He won't reach his career high in home runs (46), but he could establish a career high in RBIs (107 RBIs in 2005). Lee will also likely hit above .300 again this season.

8. Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays – The biggest question regarding Pena is whether he is able to duplicate his breakthrough season (46 home runs and 121 RBIs last year). While I don't think he'll be that good again this season, I also don't think that he'll completely disappear. He's likely to hit around .280 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Weren't the Orioles rumored to be interested in this guy at one time?

9. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres – Since he became the everyday first baseman for the Padres in 2006, Gonzalez has proven that he can contribute at least 25-30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs to your fantasy team. He'll also hit around .300, which makes him a good alternative if you fail to pick up one of the top first basemen.


10. Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox – Konerko will need to improve his batting average (.259 last season), but he's also good for at least 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. His career batting average is .281, so it's likely that his average will improve. The addition of Nick Swisher to the White Sox lineup could also contribute to an increase in Konerko's numbers.

And the best of the rest…

11. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies

12. Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers

13. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox

14. Ryan Garko, Cleveland Indians

15. Adam LaRoche, Pittsburgh Pirates

16. James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers

17. Carlos Delgado, New York Mets

18. Casey Kotchman, Los Angeles Angels

19. Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks

20. Richie Sexson, Seattle Mariners

21. Mike Jacobs, Florida Marlins

22. Lyle Overbay, Toronto Blue Jays

23. Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics

24. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

25. Kevin Millar, Orioles


Player to watch: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals – Now, more on the injury concerns with Pujols. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pujols recently showed reporters how he is unable to fully straighten his right elbow. The article says that the elbow injury has affected Pujols since 2003, but escalated last season. Although he elected to not have surgery on the elbow, the problem should be monitored. If you decide to select Pujols as your first baseman, be aware that he could suffer the lingering effects of the injury. Don't say I didn't warn you.