by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
First base definitely isn’t where we go to for the elite prospects in the game. In fact, often times the position lacks true impact prospects and many who show upside are discredited by the masses because they are “only” a first baseman. Is that fair? Not especially, as they deserve credit for their abilities. Who are the best of the bunch? Who has the highest upside? Let’s take a look:
1) A.J. Reed – Houston Astros
#2 ranked prospect for Astros
Grade – B+
We all know that power is at a premium and Reed brings it to the table, having slugged 34 HR over 523 AB last season. He reached Double-A last season and while Astros’ first baseman have had problems with strikeouts Reed shows a significantly better approach at the plate:
- High-A (318 AB) – 19.0%
- Double-A (205 AB) – 20.7%
He also posted walk rates of 15.3% and 11.4%. While his averages did come courtesy of some luck (BABIP of .385 & .383), his makeup profiles as a .280+ hitter thanks to the power. With the likes of Chris Carter and Jon Singleton struggling to emerge, it’s just a matter of time. Obviously the fact that he’s a pure 1B/DH could be seen as a knock against him, but the Astros have a need at the position and Reed should arrive shortly.
2) Dominic Smith – New York Mets
#2 ranked prospect for Mets
Grade – B+ (borderline B)
There’s clearly upside, but there’s an obvious fear that he’s going to be incredibly similar to Joe Mauer or James Loney as a first baseman (aka little-to-no power). He showed a great ability to make contact at High-A last season (15.1% strikeout rate), but “slugged” just 6 HR over 456 AB. His 33 doubles gives us hope that it’s going to start coming around, and at 20-years old (he’ll turn 21 during the 2016 season) there’s certainly time. However, another season of little-to-no power is going to send him spiraling down prospect lists.
3) Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles
#4 prospect for Orioles
Grade – B
Splitting time between High-A and Double-A Mancini showed a lot of power, hitting 21 HR while adding 43 doubles and 6 triples. He also showed the ability to make consistent contact, including a 16.4% strikeout rate over 354 PA at Double-A. While some question is overall upside, it’s hard not to buy into the numbers he’s shown (and there’s potential for the home run totals to take another step forward). With Chris Davis set to be a free agent and his return to Baltimore in question, Mancini is going to be an interesting name to keep an eye on.
4) Matt Olson – Oakland A’s
#5 ranked prospect for A’s
Grade – B
Is he the next Chris Carter type player? He hit .249 with 17 HR (he hit 37 HR at High-A in ’14), but it came along with 139 K (23.8%). With the potential for that number to continue to rise as he moves up against more advanced pitching, it’s possible that he’s never a good source of average. The power will keep him on all radars, just know what you are buying.
5) Bobby Bradley – Cleveland Indians
#5 prospect for Indians
Grade – B
(Updated from team Top 10 Ranking) First base is generally a tough spot to find prospects, but Bradley brings your prototypical power potential from the position. He hit .269 with 27 HR and 92 RBI over 401 AB last season and the left-handed hitter could ultimately prove to be a 30+ HR slugger. Just how many prospects have that type of ability? Of course he also posted a 31.8% strikeout rate at Single-A, so his ability to make consistent contact is going to be something to watch closely. If he can’t correct the issue his average is going to struggle significantly.
6) Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers
#6 prospect for Dodgers
Grade – B
Bellinger exploded in ’15, launching 67 extra base hits at High-A (33 doubles, 4 triples, 30 home runs). The big concern is his plate discipline, with a 27.6% strikeout rate over 544 PA, but most reports don’t think it’s going to be an issue as he matures/advances. He turned 20-years old in July, so it certainly makes sense and he showed improvements as the season progressed (63 K over 222 AB in the second half). He’s definitely a name to watch as he could fully breakout in ’16.
7) Casey Gillaspie – Tampa Bay Rays
#6 prospect for Rays
Grade – B
The switch hitter has power in his bat, with 16 HR over 268 PA at Single-A last season, and also displayed a good eye at the plate (16.0% strikeout rate vs. 10.4% walk rate). His power may not profile the same as some of the others on this list, but would 20+ HR to go along with a strong average be surprising as he continues to advance? At 23-years old you could argue that he was old for the level, which is fair and helps to suppress him slightly down these rankings, but the upside is there.
8) Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
#5 prospect for Pirates
Grade – B-
He was moved from the outfield to 1B, where his bat doesn’t really translate as well unless he figures out how to tap into his power. Sure his 65 K in 489 AB last season was impressive (he also added 65 BB), which should allow him to hit for a strong average, but he mustered just 7 HR (along with 24 doubles and 9 triples). That sounds an awful lot like James Loney, doesn’t it?
9) Josh Naylor – Miami Marlins
#2 prospect for Marlins
Grade – B-
You wouldn’t necessarily know that the 2015 first round pick (12th overall) has significant power potential, after he hit 1 HR over 98 AB in his first taste of professional baseball. However it’s there and it could come quickly. Couple that with his 11 K over 98 AB (10.5%) and he’s showing signs that his bat could carry him. People will downgrade him due to a lack of a true position, with first base seeming likely. Does that hurt his value? Maybe, but it shouldn’t. He can hit and that’s going to put him on all prospect maps before long.
10) Sam Travis – Boston Red Sox
#9 prospect for Red Sox
Grade – C+
Right now Travis does it more with his command of the strike zone as opposed to his power (strikeout rate // walk rate):
- High-A – 15.5% // 9.4%
- Double-A – 12.1% // 11.7%
That said he did have 32 doubles, 6 triples and 9 home runs between the two levels and should develop a bit more power as he matures (he’s currently 22-years old). Will he be able to fully tap into the power, though? That remains to be seen as he’s shown little signs thus far.
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs
Grading System (still in development):
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 Top 10 Prospect Lists: