Major League First Basemen often come from other positions in the minor leagues, meaning you won’t often find a lot of minor league first base prospects with a lot of hype or on Top 100 prospect lists. With the exception of a handful here, this year is not really any different. The offensive standard for first basemen is incredibly high, and very few below can hope to achieve it. In most cases, you’re looking at low-ceiling bats who are near major league ready but may never get a full-time major league job, or young prospects who may or may not have enough offensive ability to produce at the highest level. There aren’t many potential impact major league bats here, but in deeper leagues, most are need-to-know names.
A reminder that I am not a scout. I watch a lot of video and read a ton of information as a fan of all things minor league, but there are no eye-witness accounts of the players listed below. They are ranked based on their fantasy value only. I hope you enjoy! For more first base prospects, check out the Prospect Grid.
The Best of the Best
There are clearly two first base prospects that stand above the rest in 2015: Matt Olson and Josh Bell. Olson is the big power threat, hitting 37 home runs last year with 117 walks in High A as a 20-year-old. His strikeouts are an issue because his swing is a little long, but he works counts well and should produce a good OBP. AA will be a good test for Olson next year; this is a big power first baseman if he can continue his progress in making good solid contact. Josh Bell is being moved to first base because of the Pirates logjam in the outfield. He has a good approach at the plate and makes hard contact consistently, which allows him to put up a good average without a lot of swing and miss. Already 22, next season will be big as far as his development at first base and his ability to hit for more power.
Two draft picks from 2014 lay claim to the next two spots: first rounder Casey Gillaspie and second round pick A.J. Reed. Gillaspie has plus power and a solid approach at the plate. A switch hitter, Gillaspie can hit to all fields from both sides of the plate. At 22, he should see AA next year. A standout two-way player from college, Reed won the 2014 Amateur Player of the Year Award. In his pro debut, Reed hit 12 home runs in just under 250 at bats last year, providing a glimpse into his huge power potential.
The second tier is all about power; some are closer than others, and some approaches are better than others.
Twenty-two-year-olds Greg Bird and Dan Vogelbach both have patient approaches at the plate and the ability to hit for power. Bird had a .305 ISO in limited AA play last year, while Vogelbach spent 2014 in high A, hitting 16 home runs. Both players have some swing and miss in their games, which may limit their ability to hit for average. Bird led the AFL with 6 home runs and is the more advanced bat. Vogelbach can drive the ball to all fields and should put up a decent OBP. Vogelbach has hit everywhere he’s played, but I expect he’ll be tested in AA in 2015.
Christian Walker played 6 games with the big league club last year, hitting one home run and striking out 9 times. Not a perfect picture of what he is, but it’s not terribly off, either. Walker has good pull power and has ascended quickly through the ranks since he was drafted in 2012.
Teenagers Rowdy Tellez and Bobby Bradley check in next. The 19-year-old Tellez slipped to the 30th round in 2013 because teams expected him to go to college. Tellez is 6’4″, 240 lbs and has the kind of power you’d expect from such a big player. With a solid approach at the plate, there is plenty to be optimistic about, but he’s still a ways away. Just 18 years old, Bradley was drafted out of high school in 2014. His debut in rookie ball yielded a .361/.426/.652 line. Bradley has an excellent approach at the plate and drives the ball hard to all fields.
This third tier has a lot of questions, but conceivably these first base prospects could have fantasy value if everything comes together
Sam Travis was a 2nd round pick from 2014, with an advanced bat with plus power potential. He controls the strike zone well and can make hard contact to all fields. Travis is another quality prospect for the Red Sox, though just 272 pro at bats so far. Dominic Smith is the lone prospect in this tier without power, hitting just one home run in 2014 in a tough Savannah park. Only 19 years old though, he has an advanced approach at the plate that should lead to good average and on base ability. Time will tell if there’s enough power to play.
Kyle Parker and Jesus Aguilar both had miserable debuts in 2014. Parker hit .192/.192/.231 in just 26 at bats, while Aguilar hit .121/.211/.121 in 33 at bats. Parker is an athletic first baseman with plus power who will call Coors Field his home. While that sounds like a promising fantasy option, he doesn’t hit for average or walk, and he profiles more as a 7 hitter than a middle of the order bat. Aguilar is a really big, right-handed, power-hitting first baseman who made a brief appearance with the Tribe in 2014. While no one questions his power, his hit tool severely limits his overall package.
A lost 2013 due to Tommy John surgery has put Matt Skole behind developmentally after his monster season in 2012. Skole has very good power, but there is a lot of swing and miss to go along with a good amount of walks. A lost 2014 productivity-wise, Ronald Guzman repeated A ball and hit just .218/.283/.330. The big left-handed hitter has power potential, but at 20 years old, it would be nice to see him take a step forward next year.
Other Prospects to Know
This final group includes some major league ready prospects that likely won’t produce enough for standard fantasy leagues, some extremely young international prospects and a couple of tweeners that could still climb the rankings.
2013 saw the signings of two first basemen from the Dominican Republic: Lewin Diaz and Luis Encarnacion. Diaz played last year as a 17-year-old in rookie ball and hit .257/.385/.451. Now 18, he has big left-handed power but is very raw. Encarnacion also has big power potential, though from the right side. Nearly a year younger than Diaz, Encarnacion has a long road ahead.
Justin Bour, Rangel Ravelo, Max Muncy and Felix Munoz aren’t your typical first base prospects, looking primarily like good average or on-base guys as opposed to power hitters. 26-year-old Bour performed well in 2014, both in AAA and in his brief time with the Marlins, hitting .284/.361/.365. Bour looks to be the incumbent in Miami, though he doesn’t have a lot of power. Traded to the A’s in the Samardzija deal, Ravelo makes excellent contact, though his lack of power to date doesn’t scream first base prospect. His ISO has increased every year though, and at 22 years of age, he may develop some power still. 24-year-old Muncy is very patient at the plate, but his 2013 home run output appears to be largely a product of the California League. Munoz had a great year in 2014, hitting .300/.368/.476 in A ball. The problem is he was 22, and Greensboro is a hitter’s park . Still, Munoz has very good plate discipline and decent bat speed. There’s not a lot of ceiling to dream on — more likely a doubles hitter — but he could carve out a big league career.
Stetson Allie and Keon Barnum are both big power hitters. Barnum has easy plus power potential as a big, left-handed first baseman. At 22, he’ll need to show more than the 8 home runs against the 163 strikeouts he had in High A last season. If he can make some adjustments, look out, but it currently looks like his hit tool won’t be enough. Allie has just been a hitting prospect since 20, but he keeps hitting home runs, though his strikeout rate is also way too high.
And finally, Matt Clark, Adam Duvall and Andy Wilkins each made their big-league debuts last year at advanced ages. All have much better power tools than hit tools. Clark, at 28 years old, came up and hit 3 home runs for the Brewers in just 27 at bats last season. With the Adam Lind signing, it doesn’t look like he will get the opportunity to win the first base job next year. Duvall, 26, also hit 3 home runs in his 73 at bats, to go along with 20 strikeouts. 26-year-old Wilkins has home run power (30 HR is AAA in 2014), but the lack of hit tool may be his undoing. In 43 big league at bats, Wilkins struck out 22 times.
Honorable Mentions to Mike Ford (Yankees), Jayce Boyd (Mets), Ryon Healy (Athletics)
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