by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Who are the next wave of superstars in Major League Baseball? That’s what we are about to dive into, as we go position-by-position, looking for the best players who are 25-years old or younger (as of April 1, 2014). Obviously, things will be slightly skewed to those who have already reached the Majors and produced, but minor leaguers and their upside will not be ignored.
Last week we kicked off these rankings looking at catcher, so today we move to first base. First base is generally considered the deepest position in fantasy baseball and in recent years there’s been a nice boost in burgeoning young talent. Who is the best of the bunch? Who is primed to be (or already has established himself as) as superstar? Let’s take a look:
5) Matt Adams – St. Louis Cardinals (25-years old)
The biggest question with Adams is simply where the playing time is going to come from. Once we get that answered, there is little doubting that he can make a major impact. He owns a 25.0% HR/OFB in the minor leagues over the past three seasons and hit 17 HR in 296 AB with the Cardinals in ’13 (21.8% HR/FB).
Considering what he did in the minors there is nothing unrealistic in the power and he easily should hit 30 HR with full-time AB. He does need to limit the strikeouts a bit (25.4% in the Majors) if he wants to continue to hit for a strong average, but an 18.9% over the past three years in the minors does give hope.
With Allen Craig potentially at 1B and Matt Holliday/Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos/Oscar Taveras in the outfield, finding AB could be difficult. It’s very realistic that Taveras opens at Triple-A, with Craig at a corner outfield spot, so the potential is there. This could be the official breakout campaign for Adams.
4) Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals (24-years old)
We are set to take an indepth look at Hosmer in the coming days/week, so make sure you check that out for more details. People are going to get excited about his strong second half (.323, 8 HR over 279 AB), but there’s a good chance the average can’t be repeated (.368 BABIP) and the power remained suspect.
Yes, he can hit for an average in the .300 range (15.0% strikeout rate, 20.0% line drive rate), and he also adds some under-the-radar stolen bases (11+ each of the past three seasons). However, a 28.0% career fly ball rate (including 29.1% in the second half of ’13) means he may not be able to consistently top 20 HR. As a first baseman, that’s going to have a negative impact on his value.
3) Brandon Belt – San Francisco Giants (25-years old)
Belt finally started to put things together in 2013, hitting .289 with 17 HR. We’ve heard a lot of hype about him over the past few seasons, so it’s definitely a nice sign. You could easily argue that he can’t maintain the average (.351 BABIP, 21.9% strikeout rate), but he owns a career 23.1% line drive rate and the strikeout rate dropped to 19.8% in the second half of 2013.
As for the power, while he’s not likely going to challenge 30 HR, he posted a 10.6% HR/FB in 2013 (which was consistent all season long). Hitting in the middle of the Giants lineup, if he can continue to add to his power to go along with his average upside, the numbers should be impressive.
Throw in the potential to reach 10+ SB, and he has an impressive package (with more power upside than Hosmer). Even playing in San Francisco, 25 HR seems realistic.
2) Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs (24-years old)
The 2013 season was a bitter disappointment, hitting .233 with 23 HR and 80 RBI over 606 AB. That said, the average has significantly more upside given his .258 BABIP, 18.4% strikeout rate and 19.6% line drive rate. Maybe that’s not the makeup for a .300 hitter, but .270? With better luck he definitely could reach that plateau.
As for the power, it’s clearly there and he has a favorable home ballpark to hit in. He also added 40 doubles in 2013, so would it really be surprising to see the power continue to grow and develop?
Throw in an emerging lineup, with Rizzo anchored in the middle of it, and what’s not to like? He easily can be a consistent .270 hitter with 25+ HR, with 30+ realistic as well. That makes him a must own option in all formats.
1) Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves (24-years old)
Is there any doubt who the best young first baseman in the game is? In fact, Freeman is quickly emerging as one of the elite first basemen in the game… Period
He’s hit 20+ HR for three straight seasons, courtesy of HR/FB rates of 14.0%, 14.8% and 15.0%. There’s no questioning his ability to hit for power and it easily can continue to grow. Is 30+ HR possible? Maybe not for 2014, though it’s not impossible, but long-term he should reach that mark.
Granted, he may not be able to replicate his .319 average from 2013 thanks to his .371 BABIP. However, he makes good contact (19.2% in ’13) and has posted line drive rates of 26.0% and 26.7% the past two seasons (and was at 23.0% in ’11). Even with a drop in BABIP, is there any reason to think he won’t hit for a strong average?
He has the total package and could easily be viewed as a Top 5 option already.
Jonathan Singleton – Houston Astros (too many questions after a disastrous 2013)
Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central
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Make sure to check out all of our 2014 rankings: