Top 5 Players Under 25: First Base Edition: Is Cody Bellinger The Future & More

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, 2017). 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.

Next up is first base, where the majority of the established talent has already aged out of eligibility for this list.  It tends to be an “old man’s position”, to an extent, which is filled with established stars but little else…  Or is it?  There’s a wave of talent that has just recently emerged, or is on the precipice, and they shouldn’t be ignored.  Who should be garnering the attention?  Who are the next great first basemen?  Let’s take a look:


1) Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
Age as of 04/01/17 – 24

The question facing Bell has always been whether or not he’d develop enough power to be a viable first base prospect.  While he may never be a consistent 30+ HR threat, he started to tap into his potential last season by hitting 17 HR (14 at Triple-A and 3 in the Majors).  Couple that with 31 doubles and 4 triples, the potential is there to hit 20-24 HR annually. 

While that’s not a sexy number, given the plate discipline he’s shown at the highest levels there’s an awful lot to like (strikeout rate // walk rate):

  • Triple-A (484 PA) – 15.3% // 11.8%
  • Majors (152 PA) – 12.5% // 13.8%

The switch hitter was stronger against right-handed pitching while at Triple-A, but held his own against southpaws (.267/.366/.427).  He could put up seasons of .300/25/100, which would put him among the better options at the position.


2) Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers
Age as of 04/01/17 – 21

You can argue that Bellinger is the best first base prospect in the game, and he has the prototypical makeup but also the prototypical risks.  While he hit 26 HR between Double and Triple-A last season over 410 AB, there’s the potential that he’s starting to sell out for his power.  He only added 18 additional extra base hits and was clearly putting the ball in the air a significant amount (0.50 GO/AO).  His strikeout rate wasn’t awful while at Double-A, with a 20.2% mark compared to a 12.7% walk rate, but there’s the potential for that to rise as he faces more and more advanced pitching.

Bellinger could be a consistent 30+ HR slugger, but given the fly balls and strikeouts it could come with a .250ish average (or worse).  It’s something to monitor, but the former also hasn’t been consistent (0.80 GO/AO at High-A in ’15) and the latter is a bit of a projection.



3) Dominic Smith – New York Mets
Age as of 04/01/17 – 21

Smith is developing similarly to Josh Bell, as we continue to await him to tap into his power potential.  He began to get there last season, hitting 14 HR (along with 29 doubles and 2 triples) over 484 AB at Double-A.  He also showed a strong command of the strike zone (13.7% strikeout rate, 9.2% walk rate), putting him in the same potential range as the top rated player on this list.

Earlier this year we compared Smith with Bell on our Prospects Page, which you can read by clicking here.


4) Casey Gillaspie – Tampa Bay Rays
Age as of 04/01/17 – 24

The switch-hitting former first round pick reached Triple-A last season, combining to hit .284 with 18 HR (to go along with 34 doubles and 2 triples).  He also showed improvement in his strikeout rate upon moving up to Triple-A, while maintaining an elevated walk rate:

  • Double-A (357 PA) – 22.1% // 16.2%
  • Triple-A (203 PA) – 18.7% // 10.8%

As he adds power those numbers are going to play and the results could be impressive.


5) Greg Bird – New York Yankees
Age as of 04/01/17 – 24

A shoulder injury wiped out his 2016 season, which was important in terms to his development.  It’s possible he’s forced to start the season at Triple-A, after the team’s signing of Chris Carter, but if he proves healthy he also should be on the favorable side of a platoon after hitting .270 with 9 HR over 115 AB against RHP in the Majors in ’15.

While the strikeouts were elevated (29.8%), he was better at both Double-A (14.2%) and Triple-A (18.0%).  There could be some bumps as he readjusts, but look for a number more in the 22-25% range to go with ample power.  He has .270 with 25 HR written all over him if he gets full-time AB.


Just Missed – Trey Mancini (BAL), Rhys Hoskins (PHI), Ryan O’Hearn (KC), Bobby Bradley (CLE)

Sources – Fangraphs,

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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:


  1. HH says:

    Where does Sam Travis rank? It seems like he will be up at some point in 2017. What would you project for him this season?

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      I’m not the biggest Travis believer. While he should hit for a strong average I’m not sure there’s enough power to make him a viable 1B option

  2. DJ says:

    I am guessing AJ Reed and Rowdy Tellez were next on the list? I think Reed will be the best of all. Tellez is really under the radar but with Encarnacion gone, his great K/BB rate is one of the better ones.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      They were in the mix, but both have questions/flaws. I know Reed could prove to be a post-hype sleeper, but I need to see something before I start to believe again

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