Every Friday I will take a snapshot of this year’s current crop of prospects at each position relative to how they were ranked a year ago. I’ll examine the top performers, those who did not live up to our lofty expectations, and the key graduates. Our rankings last year were compiled by Andy Germani and myself, and I know we have our fair share of hits and misses. The point of this exercise, though, is to highlight players to target heading into 2017, as well as those to look at moving while they still have name value.
There was only one graduate in 2016, and he certainly didn’t live up to his shared #1 billing. A.J Reed and Josh Bell both just missed losing their rookie eligibility or we’d have a much bigger (and better) group to look at. Reed’s season may have been worse than Park’s, but Bell really did a heck of a job. Last year’s Top 25 First Base Prospects had very mixed results overall with more disappointments than not among at least the first fifteen. Fortunately we learn more in our failures, meaning we should be geniuses when it comes to ranking the first base prospects for 2017.
(2016 rank in parenthesis)
(T1) Byung-ho Park, Twins: This one got ugly quick, and not for lack of power as Park hit 12 home runs in his 215 major league at bats. It was the really the 15% SwStr rate that did him in as he struck out 33% of the time, hitting just .191. It didn’t get a whole lot better for Park after his demotion to AAA, where he struck out 32 times in 128 at bats, hitting .224. On the plus side, Park hit the ball hard 37% of the time and ranked 12th overall in average fly ball distance at nearly 310 feet. The trouble is that Park is 30, and there may not be enough development time for him before his skills start deteriorating. I’m going to wish for the best, but am ready to call this ranking of ours a swing and a miss.
(18) Trey Mancini, Orioles: Mancini topped 20 home runs for the second straight year. This time he did it across three levels, including three big league homers in five September games. There’s no question about his power, especially against left-handed pitching. There are contact concerns for the big right-handed hitter, but it will be hard for the Orioles to keep him in AAA for long next season. He’s blocked at first base for the foreseeable future, but maybe they let Pedro Alvarez walk and turn to Mancini for similar, cheaper production.
(T16) Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: I listed Bellinger as someone who might fall in the rankings after his breakout 2015, but he made me look stupid with a stellar 2016. The power remained, and he even decreased his strikeouts while walking more across two higher levels. Let’s look at his numbers and levels over the past two seasons. Remember that he is just now 21 years old.
Bellinger has put himself into consideration for the top spot among all first base prospects for 2017. Certainly, had Josh Bell gotten three more big league at bats it would be a stronger case, but he’s moved up that much.
(T16) Rhys Hoskins, Phillies: Hoskins hit 38 home runs in AA last year, finishing second among all minor league hitters to teammate Dylan Cozens. Hoskins is 23 years old already, and while the power is obviously there, he benefited from one of the best hitter’s parks in the minors. He’s got a good approach at the plate, striking out at a manageable 21.2% rate while walking at a solid 12.1% clip. There is a lot to like here, but the age and the ballpark lead me to be more cautiously optimistic than I might otherwise be.
(T5) Matt Olson, Athletics: Here is a quick look at the numbers Olson has put up over the past three years. It’s an ugly trend happening:
Olson got a brief look with the Athletics in September, where he went 2-21 but with 7 walks. He has a history of solid on base skills, but they’re nowhere near where they once were. Olson is also getting a look in the right field, but there isn’t a lot of room for Olson to sneak in anywhere barring some break out on his part. I worry that he ends up in a platoon role based on his lack of production vs LHP, where he hit just .167 with a 36% K rate.
(T7) Sam Travis, Red Sox: Sam Travis is expected to be ready for Spring Training after missed most of last year with a torn ACL in his left knee. Perhaps it is unfair to drop him too much in the rankings as he was starting to look like a potential answer for the Red Sox at first base in 2017. Then again, life is not always fair. If the Red Sox look to fill David Ortiz’s spot internally next year there is still a shot he can contribute. I really like the bat, but nearly a full year of lost development certainly took its toll on the young right-handed hitter’s prospect stock. It might be a great time to buy low.
Video courtesy of Mass Live
The New Faces
Matt Thaiss, Angels: Thaiss was drafted in the first round of last year’s amateur draft as a pretty advanced college bat. The Angels played him exclusively as a first baseman after he spent his college years behind the plate. The switch from catcher to first base is a significant hit to his fantasy value, but he has enough power and contact skills for the bat to play. Thaiss did a solid job in his pro debut with 19 extra base hits in 52 games. He walked 10% of the time, while striking out at just a 12% rate. Already the Angels’ top prospect, Thaiss adds some excitement to a system that needed such an injection.
Peter Alonso, Mets: Alonso is a big right-handed first baseman who has a ton of raw power, and just might walk enough to make up for likely a less-than-stellar batting average. He makes hard contact consistently though and did well in Low A ball last year, hitting .321/.382/.587. A 21-year-old bat out of the University of Florida, Alonso could move quickly through the ranks.
Video courtesy of 2080 Baseball
Tyler Austin, Yankees: Austin is a little old to be breaking into the top first base prospects, but it’s not like he hasn’t been here before. In fact, heading into 2013 he was considered a top-100 overall prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com. A wrist injury contributed to a poor 2013 campaign, and his power never came back until 2016. In AAA this year, Austin hit .323/.415/.637 earning him a promotion to the major leagues. In 31 games with the Yankees Austin hit 5 home runs but with 40% K rate and an 18.8% swinging strike rate. Those numbers are bound to improve, but he will likely always suffer with a poor batting average.
If given regular playing time, there’s little doubt that he could hit 20-25 home runs. With the other internal candidates that the Yankees have in Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder, and the numerous free agent options available, it’s far from a guarantee that he will ever have that chance. It’s been a fun ride in 2016 though, and I have to think he’ll get every opportunity at least.
Next week I will take a look at second base prospects, where the top guy is on the move – to another position.
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