Comparing the NL East First Basemen

(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Three of the five starting first basemen in the National League East set career-highs in home runs in 2012. The two that didn't were slowed down by injuries. Needless to say, the NL East has a lot of strong first basemen to watch in 2013.

In 2012, Freddie Freeman set career highs in both home runs (23) and RBI (94) and he did it with less at-bats than in his only other full season in the majors. The only downside was that his average fell from .282 in 2011 to .259 last season. Don't be surprised if Freeman resets his highs in home runs and RBI and pushes his average back up in 2013, because he's got the tools to hit not only for power, but for a better average than what he showed in 2012.

Defensively, Freeman's fielding percentage and range numbers are right around the major league average. He's able to pick balls out of the dirt well and turns potential errors on his teammates into outs.

At just 23, Freeman is one of the big-time young players in the National League East and it won't be surprising if you start to hear whispers of the Braves looking to lock him up long-term.

In Miami, Logan Morrison played some first base for the Marlins last season and it's likely that he'll be seeing even more time there in 2013. Miami did claim young first baseman Joe Mahoney off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles this winter, so there is at least some competition for the first base job, but Mahoney's skills aren't where Morrison's are and it's likely that Mahoney will start the season either on the bench or playing everyday at Triple-A. Of course, with rumors that the Marlins could give in and deal Morrison, Mahoney should probably stay ready for a phone call.

The downside on Morrison is injuries. He played just 93 games last season and had surgery on his right knee - the second one on that knee - and likely won't be ready to go for the start of spring training. It's also doubtful that he will be up to par when the season starts, leaving an opening for Mahoney. The knee problems likely mean that Morrison won't be returning to the outfield any time soon.

Like Freeman, Ike Davis also set career highs in home runs (32) and RBI (90), but saw his average drop in 2012. Davis likely doesn't have quite the potential to hit for average that Freeman does, but there is no denying his run production potential is high. Because he's not surrounded by a lot of other talented offensive players, Davis' production last season is especially impressive. He's one of the more underrated players in baseball, but won't be for long if he continues to hit at the level that he did last season, especially if he brings his .227 average up to a more attractive level.

Davis is also strong defensively, but doesn't have quite the range that Freeman has around the bag. At 25, Davis could be a big force to reckon with in the NL East for years to come.

Ryan Howard had been somewhat of a standard bearer on offense for first basemen, until a torn Achilles in the 2011 post-season derailed much of his 2012 season. The former Rookie of the Year and MVP in the National League, Howard played in 71 games last season, hitting 14 home runs. In 2011, Howard averaged one home run every 16 at-bats and that number dipped to one for every 19 at-bats in 2012, likely due, at least in part, to not having the strength in his bottom half that he had prior to the injury.

What a lot of people didn't consider last year was that even when Howard returned to the lineup, he wasn't 100%. He should be at full strength this season, having had time to recover from the surgery and the rehab that he needed to return. The early reports on him are good and he's been working out in Clearwater for a while, with no restrictions on his movement or activity. Only time will tell just how much of his power will return, but physically, he should be ready to go.

For a while this winter, it looked like the Nationals might not be able to re-sign Adam LaRoche. The two sides finally got together on a deal and LaRoche will return to play first base for Washington in 2013. Freeman and Davis weren't the only NL East first basemen who set career highs in 2012, as LaRoche edged out his previous high in home runs (32), by hitting 33 for the Nationals. He also tied a career-high in RBI with 100, equaling the mark he set in 2010 when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Freeman has had more time in the majors than either Freeman or Davis and finished with a .272 average, right around his career average of .268, even though he hit more home runs than he had since 2006.

Defensively, LaRoche isn't quite as strong as some of the younger first basemen in the division, but he's not horrible, either. He'll make most of the plays around the bag and will save some errors, but isn't going to make a lot of the flashy plays that Freeman and Davis are capable of making.

Ranking the First Basemen in the NL East:
1. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta)
2. Ike Davis (NY Mets)
3. Ryan Howard (Philadelphia)
4. Adam LaRoche (Washington)
5. Logan Morrison (Miami)


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