Top 10 First Baseman Prospects (Preseason 2017 Edition)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Generally when we view a first base prospect we do so with a bit of skepticism, downgrading them a bit.  That’s not justified, though, and there are a few prospects on the cusp of making a significant impact as soon as 2017.  Who are the best prospects at the position?  Who has the upside to be among the best players in the game?  Let’s take a look:

 

1) Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade – A-/B+
ETA – 2017

Bellinger has evolved into one of the better prospects in the game, showing the potential to hit for power while kicking in at least a few stolen bases (he’s had 8+ every season).  There are at least a few concerns that shouldn’t be overlooked, however.  There’s no questioning the power potential, he had 26 HR last season, but he only added 17 doubles and 1 triple.  With a 0.49 GO/AO while at Double-A, it indicates that he’s swinging for the fences and focusing on hitting for power.  That could lead to a diminished average, despite the improvement he made in his strikeout rate:

  • High-A (2015) – 27.6%
  • Double-A (2016) – 20.2%

He can draw a walk (12.7%), but if the strikeouts rise again to go along with the inflated fly ball rate…  It could get ugly.  How he performs at Triple-A early in the year will be telling, but there’s a chance that the bubble ultimately bursts.

 

2) Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
Grade – B+
ETA – Already Arrived

After there being significant questions regarding his power and if it would ever develop, Bell finally showed signs in 2016 as he hit 14 HR (along with 23 doubles and 4 triples) over 421 AB at Triple-A.  He followed that up with 8 doubles and 3 HR over 128 AB in the Majors, though it doesn’t eliminate the concerns.  Just look at his GO/AO in ’16:

  • Triple-A – 1.30
  • Majors – 1.53

With that many groundballs he may never be an elite slugger, but with a little more growth 18-23 HR is possible.  When coupled with his strong approach at the plate (15.3% strikeout rate, 11.8% walk rate at Triple-A; 7.6% SwStr%, 24.8% O-Swing% in the Majors), that should be more than enough.

 


 

3) Dominic Smith – New York Mets
Grade – B+
ETA – 2017

The question with Smith has always been if he will be able to tap into his power potential, something he finally started to do in ’16 as he hit 14 HR over 484 AB at Double-A (while adding 29 doubles and 2 triples).  It’s still not a big number, but it’s a start and gives hope that he can continue to evolve into a 20-25 HR threat.  If he can, when coupled with his strong approach (he hit .302 courtesy of a 13.7% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate), you are looking at a strong option.

 

4) Casey Gillaspie – Tampa Bay Rays
Grade – B
ETA – 2017

You could call him a “safe” prospect, but there’s some upside potential.  Splitting time between Double and Triple-A last season Gillaspie hit .284 with 18 HR (as well as 34 doubles and 2 triples) and 64 RBI.  He’s also shown a good command of the strike zone at each stop, which is important for a player with his type of power potential:

  • Double-A (357 PA) – 22.1% strikeout rate, 16.2% walk rate
  • Triple-A (203 PA) – 18.7% strikeout rate, 10.8% walk rate

The fact that he’s a switch hitter who produced solid slashes against both RHP (.313/.387/.515) and LHP (.289/.396/.533) at Triple-A adds to the appeal.

 

5) Rowdy Tellez – Toronto Blue Jays
Grade – B
ETA – 2017

Tellez spent the 2016 campaign at Double-A, hitting .297 with 23 HR over 438 AB.  Throw in 29 doubles and 2 triples, as well as a strong approach (17.9% strikeout rate, 12.3% walk rate), and there’s a lot of upside to be found.  He’s finally tapping into the raw power he’s always possessed, and it’s not like the strikeout rate was ever an issue (2015 marks):

  • Single-A (299 PA) – 18.7%
  • High-A (148 PA) – 18.9%

He should open the year at Triple-A and the departure of Edwin Encarnacion should allow him to arrive quickly.  While he doesn’t always get the attention of others, he has the upside to produce.

 


 

6) Chris Shaw – San Francisco Giants
Grade – B
ETA – 2017

A 2015 first round pick, Shaw’s best asset is his power as he combined for 38 doubles, 4 triples and 21 HR in 502 AB between High-A and Double-A last season.  While playing in San Francisco could cap his upside, and the presence of Brandon Belt is surely going to slow his arrival, we know the Giants are not afraid to move prospects in order to bolster their MLB roster.  Shaw could ultimately be a prime trade chip, especially having kept his strikeout rate in check at each level last season:

  • High-A (305 PA) – 23.0%
  • Double-A (256 PA) – 21.5%

Power plus a solid contact rate should make him a strong asset.  Don’t discount him based on the position, as the upside is there.

 

7) Matt Thaiss – Los Angeles Angels
Grade – B
ETA – 2019

There are few questions about Tahaiss’ ability to hit, and his 12.4% strikeout rate in 226 PA at Low-A (shortly after being drafted) helps to support that.  The question is, as a first baseman, is he going to be more James Loney than anything.  He’s listed at 6’0″ and there are obvious questions regarding his ability to tap into his raw power at the next level.

Don’t get us wrong, Loney has carved out a solid Major League career.  That said he’s hardly an impressive name or a standout first baseman.

 

8) Bobby Bradley – Cleveland Indians
Grade – B-
ETA – 2018

He clearly has power, with 56 HR over the past two seasons (he hit 29 HR over 485 AB at High-A last season), and he also can draw a walk (13.1% in ’16).  However he needs to make an adjustment, as his 29.7% strikeout rate at a lower level of the minors is incredibly concerning.  It’s something that needs to be fixed, and there is time, otherwise he’s going to struggle to hit for strong averages at the upper levels.

 


 

9) Ronald Guzman – Texas Rangers
ETA – 2017
Grade – B-

Guzman spent the bulk of the season at Double-A, hitting .288 with 15 HR over 415 PA.  There is power in his bat, though having added just 16 doubles and 5 triples there is reason for concern.  He also showed a good command of the strike zone, though it spiked after his promotion to Triple-A:

  • Double-A – 19.8%
  • Triple-A – 24.5%

Having put up a 22.3% mark at High-A in ’15, it’s fair to be concerned with the rise (even in just 94 PA).  It’s possible he sees another jump upon reaching the Majors, and the concerns about the power are real.

 

10) Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B-

He arrived in September of ’16 and gave a glimpse of what could be possible moving forward by launching 3 HR over 14 AB.  Between Double and Triple-A he hit .282 with 20 HR (as well as 26 doubles and 5 triples), though he did see his strikeout rate rise (22.9%) while at Triple-A.  That’s going to be something that needs to be monitored, because while there is some power it’s unlikely he develops into a 30+ HR threat.  Instead he’ll likely be a consistent 20-25 type home run hitter, so he needs to keep his strikeouts in check in order to be able to post a viable average.  It’s possible he operates more as a platoon player (which is how he was deployed late in the year), though he deserves an opportunity to be more than that.

 

Just Missed – Rhys Hoskins (PHI, B-), Ryan O’Hearn (KC, B-), Josh Ockimey (BOS, B-)

Sources – MLB.com, MILB.com, Frangraphs, Baseball Reference

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Grading System:
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On

Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

3 comments

  1. kingforaday151 says:

    Has AJ Reed lost prospect status? Or has his performance knocked him out of the top 10? Curious to know what you think of his long term outlook, since it doesn’t look like there’s much room for him in HOU infield right now…

  2. chris says:

    Poor Vogelbach. For a guy with nearly the same profile and numbers as Bell, a shocker he is off this list. Heck, if he lost 20 pounds he probably would be a better defender than Bell (who has the range of a stump when you watch him play.)

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    kingforaday151 – Reed has lost his prospect status, so that’s why he’s not on here. That said, even if he did qualify he’d probably be in the B-/C+ range. He needs to actually show something, especially with a 22.6% strikeout rate at Triple-A. It doesn’t give hope that he’s going to make a significant improvement.

    chris – I graded Vogelbach as a C+, which is why he fell short here. The problem is there’s a good chance he’s a platoon player and there are questions as to whether or not his power will translate to the Majors

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