Preseason Top 10 First Baseman Rankings Review: The Indians’ Bobby Bradley Rising & More

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The minor league All Star games are starting to roll in, making this a good time to start taking a look back at our preseason rankings.  Whose value appears to be on the rise?  Whose value is plummeting?  Let’s take a look:

 

1) Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade – A-/B+
Current Grade – Graduated

Injuries helped to open the door for Bellinger, and he’s smashed through it and entrenched himself in the Dodgers’ lineup.  That’s not to say that he is going to maintain his ridiculous pace, and there’s obvious risk that the average regresses:

  • 29.8% strikeout rate, courtesy of a 14.3% SwStr%
  • 50.0% fly ball rate, indicating he’s swinging for the fences
  • 32.4% HR/FB could regress

It wouldn’t be surprising to see him hit .240ish the rest of the way (he’s currently at .268), but at the end of the day he’s fully lived up to the hype.

 

2) Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
Grade – B+
Current Grade – Graduated

He’s been a disappointment, hitting .233 with 14 HR and 34 RBI, so if he was getting a grade off those numbers he’d probably take a step backwards (think around a B).  That said, the biggest question hovering over him was his power and that hasn’t been an issue.  He’s showing a good command of the strike zone (9.2% SwStr%, 26.8% O-Swing%) and after a poor line drive rate in May (13.4%) he’s at least starting to turn things around in June (19.4%).  Don’t be surprised if he fully heats up in the second half and posts an A- type performance.

 

3) Dominic Smith – New York Mets
Grade – B+
Current Grade – B+

Despite hitting .324 at Triple-A, it would be easy to knock him down a peg if you just looked at his 8 HR.  However he hasn’t been overmatched by Triple-A pitching (17.0% strikeout rate), has been hitting the ball hard (27.6% line drive rate) and has been producing an ample amount of extra base hits (20 doubles and 1 triple).  As we saw with Bell, it’s often that the power is the last thing to develop and Smith should start tapping into his as he continues to mature.  It’s not to say that he’ll be a 30 HR hitter, but 20-25 with a strong average is going to be an above average option in the Majors.

 

4) Casey Gillaspie – Tampa Bay Rays
Grade – B
Current Grade – B

It’s been an extremely disappointing season at Triple-A, hitting .225 with 7 HR over 267 AB.  Before we get too down on him, though, he hasn’t been overmatched (9.1% SwStr%) and his .268 BABIP shows that he’s been a bit unlucky (22.3% line drive rate).  He may never be an impressive power hitter, but he’s much better than what he’s shown thus far and should rebound strong in time.

 

5) Rowdy Tellez – Toronto Blue Jays
Grade – B
Current Grade – C+

In 222 AB at Triple-A he’s been a disaster, hitting .212 with 5 HR (as well as adding just 11 doubles and 1 triple).  He may not be swinging and missing a ton (9.4% SwStr%), but he’s not hitting the ball hard (16.6% line drive rate) and is popping it up far too much (31.2% IFFB).  Strikeouts aren’t the only indication of being overmatched and these numbers are highly disappointing.  His fly ball rate is up as well (39.6% to 42.5%), which may not seem like a lot but it could represent a bit of a change in approach.  He’s been particularly bad against LHP (.069/.169/.121) and that could indicate a platoon is in his future.  There’s still potential, but his stock is starting to fall. (Note: There have been recent reports of him dealing with off the field issues, so we need to take that into account)

 

6) Chris Shaw – San Francisco Giants
Grade – B
Current Grade – B

He’s split time between Double and Triple-A, combining to hit .285 with 9 HR and 43 RBI.  He’s hit the ball hard at each level, and while the strikeouts are up since the jump it’s still a small sample size (111 PA) and we have to give him time to fully adjust (line drive rate // strikeout rate):

  • Double-A – 25.5% // 16.9%
  • Triple-A – 27.2% // 23.4%

He hasn’t fully tapped into his power this season, but he did hit 21 HR last year (63 total extra base hits) and still needs time to mature.  Either way, compared to some of the other first baseman who have struggled his value is holding steady (if not rising slightly).

 

7) Matt Thaiss – Los Angeles Angels
Grade – B
Current Grade – B-

Playing at High-A he’s hitting .258 with 7 HR and 41 AB over 283 AB.  Those numbers don’t jump out at you, but you have to remember this is his first full season in professional baseball and he’s shown an ability to make consistent contact (8.8% SwStr%) and work a walk (10.7% walk rate).  Then again his ability to handle the bat was never a question, it was if he was going to be able to hit for enough power.  Playing in the California League he hasn’t shown capable quite yet and that’s going to drop his value (unless he starts showing us more).

 

8) Bobby Bradley – Cleveland Indians
Grade – B-
Current Grade – B (and could jump to B+ before the year is over)

Strikeouts continue to be the biggest question, as his 23.9% strikeout rate has helped him to a .247 average at Double-A.  Of course he also owns a 12.3% walk rate, continues to hit for power and has actually dramatically improved the strikeout rate (he was at 29.7% at High-A last season).  It’s all promising, and looking at an improved SwStr%, despite the jump in level, just adds to it:

  • High-A (2016) – 15.9%
  • Double-A (2017) – 12.3%

With the power unquestioned (and this writeup came before his recent 3 HR performance), the value of Bradley appears to be on the rise.

 

9) Ronald Guzman – Texas Rangers
Grade – B-
Current Grade – B-

There was never a question if he could handle the bat, and he’s hitting .320 with just 47 K over 272 AB at Triple-A.  The issue was if he’d hit for enough power to justify as a first baseman, and with 9 HR he has not yet answered that.  With more groundballs than ever before (1.15 GO/AO), time will tell if he ever taps into the power.  Throw in a .362 BABIP, and his stock is fairly stagnant.

 

10) Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles
Grade – B-
Current Grade – Graduated

Obviously if you just look at the numbers (.321, 14 HR, 43 RBI) it would appear that this was a low grade in the preseason.  That said he’s benefited from a .387 BABIP and 26.4% HR/FB, while showing less than ideal plate discipline (33.5% O-Swing%, 15.4% SwStr%).  Throw in a concerning batted ball profile (15.9% line drive rate, 49.0% groundball rate) and there’s reason to believe that a significant regression is coming.

 

Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs

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

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