Pretty strong group of first baseman in the AL, led by a former Triple Crown winner and two-time league MVP, and a Cuban who had one of the great rookie seasons in MLB history. Here's my Top-5 ranking and the players' futures odds at sportsbooks.
1. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
OK, Tigers fans, don't go crazy on me. Let me explain why Miguel Cabrera, one of the greatest hitters of his generation is not No. 1: I think he's starting to break down. But I'll get into that below. As for Abreu, the White Sox signed him to a six-year, $68 million deal in October 2013 and at the time it was a questionable investment since he was an unknown. Now it looks like larceny for the Pale Hose. Abreu was a unanimous AL Rookie of the Year in 2014, leading all big-league rookies in average (.317), home runs (36), RBIs (107), hits (176), doubles (35), runs scored (80), OBP (.383), slugging percentage (.581) and OPS (.964). He was only the fourth rookie to hit at least .300 with 30 dingers and 100 knocked in since the award has been given out (1947). Abreu did all that with little else around him in the lineup, and the 2015 White Sox have added Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche, who will hit behind Abreu. FanGraphs projects Abreu to hit .293 with 36 homers and 102 RBIs this season.
MLB Free Pick: Abreu is given an 'over/under' of 35.5 dingers at sportsbooks. Abreu's power did tail off in the second half last season but his average rose. Playing half his games in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, I'm going 'over' the homers.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Clearly Cabrera is the No. 1 first baseman in all of baseball if he's healthy. I just wonder if he will be. Last year, Cabrera hit .313 with 25 home runs and 109 RBIs in 159 games while hobbled by bone spurs and a stress fracture in his right ankle. Those are pretty darn good numbers but nothing close to Cabrera's 2013 (.348, 44 HRs, 137 RBIs) and '12 (.330, 44 HRs, 139 RBIs) seasons when he was the AL MVP. Cabrera, who turns 32 in April, had offseason ankle surgery and still hasn't been cleared to take ground balls or hit live pitching, although that should be soon and Cabrera should be OK for the season opener. I'm also a tad concerned about Cabrera's protection in the lineup because the guy hitting behind him, Victor Martinez, is dealing with his own recovery from surgery and might not be ready for the opener. Martinez was amazing last year but is 36. FanGraphs projects Cabrera to hit .314 with 30 homers and 99 RBIs in 139 games. So apparently I'm not alone believing Abreu has a better year.
MLB Free Pick: Miggy is given an 'over/under' of 30.5 homers, with 'under' a -125 favorite. Go 'under,' albeit likely only by a couple. I still believe Miggy makes at least one trip to the DL.
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
This might seem way too high to some, but I'm high on Toronto this season as it could have the best lineup in the American League and Encarnacion might be a good longer-shot AL MVP candidate at sportsbooks. He was limited to 128 games due to injury in 2014 but had 34 homers and 98 RBIs with a .268 average -- he's never going to hit for a high average. Encarnacion went crazy last May with 16 homers. The Blue Jays were one game out of first place on July 5 when Encarnacion suffered a quad injury that cost him six weeks. It seemed to bother him the rest of the way as Encarnacion had only eight dingers after the break. FanGraphs projects Encarnacion to hit .268 with 34 homers and 75 RBIs in 128 games. If he can play 150, look out.
MLB Free Pick: Encarnacion has a home run total of 34.5 on MLB odds. I'm going 'over.'
4. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The bad news is that Pujols still has the worst contract in baseball. The good news is that he bounced back from an injury-plagued, disastrous 2013 season by playing in 159 games last year, his most since 2010 with the Cardinals. Pujols hit .272 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs. Solid numbers, but still the worst full season of his career by far. Did I mention he's 35 and will be paid through 2021 on his $240 million deal? Wow, that's going to get ugly soon. Perhaps not boding well for Pujols is the uncertainty of Josh Hamilton in the Angels lineup. He's out until May at least due to shoulder surgery and now might be suspended too in the wake of a drug relapse. The Halos also lost excellent offensive second baseman Howie Kendrick this offseason in a trade. So why even pitch to Pujols or Mike Trout now? FanGraphs projects Pujols to bat .268 with 25 homers and 76 RBIs in 138 games.
MLB Free Pick: Pujols is given a homers total of 26.5 at sportsbooks. I'll go slightly 'over' with my MLB picks.
5. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Apologies to Baltimore's Chris Davis or Cleveland's Carlos Santana, but I'm putting Hosmer at No. 5. True, he hit just .270 with nine home runs and 58 RBIs last season for the American League champions. But Hosmer is just 25, and I think about to have a monster season. He definitely had a monster 2014 playoffs, hitting .351 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 15 games. That earned him a two-year, $13.9 million contract. FanGraphs projects Hosmer to hit ,278 with 18 dingers and 74 RBIs. I think his average is much better than that.
MLB Free Pick: Hosmer doesn't have a homers title but is listed at 155.5 hits. He had 136 in 131 games in 2014 but 188 the year before in 159 games when he hit a career-high .302. Go 'over.'