Have you ever ranked M&Ms? Or Skittles? Or really anything that looks different but is really exactly the same? That my friends is what it’s like to rank first base prospects at this point in history. The Cody Bellingers, Rhys Hoskins, Dominic Smiths, and the like have moved onto the show, and we’re left with a bunch of guys that should all be ranked tenth. Seriously, you’ve heard of 1A and 1B, but have you ever seen 1A through 1Z? Realistically I’m splitting more hairs than a louse with an ax on this post. As I type this I’m looking down at a sticky note with about 27 names scribbled on it. I’m old school, I crush sticky notes all day, everyday. My brain is more or less a table with 1,000’s of yellow sticky notes. Does that mean I’m organized or a mess? You decide. I don’t have time to figure this stuff out, I have first baseman to rank! So far we’ve covered starting pitchers, outfielders, shortstops, third basemen, and 2nd basemen in our 2017 positional wrap up. Which leaves us just catchers to cover after today, and I think you know how I feel about catching prospects (psst why bother?). Anyway onto the shallowest position in the minors, which is funny because it’s possibly the deepest position in the majors. Well, the deepest from a fantasy perspective. On to the rankings!
The player on this list most likely to blossom into a fantasy star in the next two years. Despite contact issues coming into 2017, Bradley did well to drop his strikeout rate to an acceptable 22%, while maintaining a 10% Bb%. Rather impressive for a player who was 20 coming into the season, and spent the whole year at the AA level. It’s not his OBP that puts him at the top of this list, it’s his light tower power, and potential 40 homer ceiling.
2. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF | Level: A+ | 2017 Stats: .304/.379/.481 12 HR, 69 RBI, 8 SB
Initially left off this list because I considered him an outfielder, but if Rooker is making this list, than so should Alvarez. The talented 20 year old, with the powerful lefthanded swing, burst onto the scene putting up monster numbers in the Midwest League with the Astros affiliate Quad Cities. He hit upon promotion to high A Buies Creek, but struggled for stretches following. His K% improved at high A, but he walked less, and didn’t get to his power with the same frequency. I’m willing to dismiss it, as he was young for the level. Make no mistake about it, Alvarez is one of the top power bats in the minors.
Despite breaking his hand in the first two weeks of the season, and missing most of April and May, Alonso returned with a vengeance. A player highly touted by both Halp and myself following the draft and into the offseason, Alonso is often ignored by top prospect lists. But don’t get it twisted homeboy can hit. After mashing in the Florida State League for three months (not an easy feat), Alonso finished the season off in AA Binghamton, slugging .578 in 11 games. He’s a righthanded hitting first baseman, and that gets some people in a tizzie. Rhys Hoskins laughs at those people. I really like Alonso’s mix of power and contact ability, as he rarely strikes out, and still maintains .500+ slugging percentages. One knock on Alonso is he doesn’t walk much, ultimately limiting his OPS and batting average potential. But there’s 30 homer pop in that bat, and he has no split issues, absolutely mashing vs lefties.
It’s not often that a first base only prep player goes in the first round, let alone the first 15 picks in the draft, but that’s the case with the Royals Nick Pratto. He ranked 184 on my mid-season top 200, and 12th overall in my pre-draft prospect rankings. The former California prep star has loose wrists, all fields power, and feel to hit. For this reason he gets loads of Joey Votto comps. I’m sure to be a bit higher than most on Pratto, but he may have the highest upside on this list. He’s still three plus years away, so he’s not the right fit for every league, but you should be aggressive in going after Pratto in first year player drafts of deeper dynasty formats.
Though he was ranked behind players like Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay heading into this June’s draft, Rooker has had arguably the most impressive showing of any player entering pro-ball in 2017. After just 22 games at rookie level Elizabethton Rooker earned promotion to high A Fort Myers of the Florida State League. From there he hit 11 homers in 40 games and slugging .552 splitting time between first and the outfield. There’s 40 homer pop potential in Rooker’s bat, giving me the confidence to aggressively rank him this season.
Let’s just get this out in the open, I’m a little nervous about Smith’s power translating to pro-ball. Look no further than last year’s highly touted hit tool first corner guy Will Craig. While Smith’s production wasn’t bad, and he did manage to connect for his first homer in a playoff game a couple weeks ago, 3-4 homers in the statline would have gone a long ways. The contact and approach are outstanding, let’s hope he can snap out of the power drought and tap into 20-25 homer power. Some view Smith as the replacement for Goldy in Arizona, but a move to a corner outfield spot would not surprise me.
Since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 draft Rios has hit 51 homers, driven in 167 runs while slashing .306/.353/.549. So why the hell is he constantly looked over? I get it, he doesn’t look like a ball player, and his skills don’t necessarily translate to scouting grades, but all he’s done is hit across every level of the minors. Seriously every, single, level. All of them. His raw power is huge, and his game power ain’t too shabby, but he’s first base only, and doesn’t walk a ton. Rios gets a lot of AAAA labels, but I refuse to completely dismiss a track record that spans 1,000 at bats. A .270/30/80 peak isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
8. Dan Vogelbach, 1B Mariners | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: .290/.388/.455 17 HR, 83 RBI, 3 SB
When will the Jelly Donut of Swat finally leave the nest of mother hen Prospector Ralph? I’ve largely ignored Vogelbach this year, instead pretending he was actually playing in the bigs. The skillset is known, elite on base ability, contact, and raw power. He can look awful on swings, and is a streaky player, but I still believe the ability to hit .270 with 25 homers is there, and he’s not far from the show.
Diaz is the unusual power first prospect that pairs 70 grade raw power with feel to hit, and much of his early success is rooted in excellent mechanics at the plate, and superior bat control. Diaz is the most likely to bust out huge in 2018, with the potential to shoot up top 100 lists with a good showing in high A. Might be my favorite Twins hitting prospect not named Royce Lewis.
After setting the world on fire in spring training many were calling for Bauers to break camp with the Rays. A great season from Logan Morrison, paired with the Rays preference to wait until prospects are 5 years from qualifying for social security before bringing them up, kept Bauers in AAA all year. There’s an excellent chance he’s in the mix at first as early as April, with an outside chance he breaks camp with the club. Superior athleticism, and off the charts baseball IQ make Bauers a sleeper. The best baserunner on this list by a wide margin, Jake the Rake offers elite approach, and enough pop to be dangerous.
Another unheralded former early round pick from the 2015 draft, Shaw displayed massive power at Boston College, slugging .611 his junior year. He hit well at AAA Sacramento in 2017 slashing .289/.328/.530 despite striking out 29% of the time. Shaw’s swing and miss and middling approach leave some questions as to how he’ll translate at the next level, but there’s some opportunity in the power starved Giants lineup (lowest slugging in MLB). Whether he plays everyday in the left field or at first remains to be seen.
The Next Two
11. Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP Rays | Level: A | 2017 Stats: .232/.349/.376 4 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB
McKay ranks numero uno on the MLB.com top 10 positional ranks for first base. So he has his fans as a positional talent. I on the other hand have completely flipped from where I was in May, and prefer McKay as a left handed starting pitcher, and the numbers back it up. That said, McKay, if he focused on hitting full time, could be a very solid power prospect I just don’t buy that he’s ever going to pursue that route full time. On the off chance he does I have ranked him here.
12. Josh Naylor, 1B Padres | Level: AA | 2017 Stats: .280/.346/.415 10 HR, 64 RBI, 9 SB
When is the power really going to show for Naylor? He’s always had a nice hit tool, showing the ability to get the bat on the ball, but the power hasn’t come along the way one would hope. Particularly for a player with 70 grade raw power, and legendary batting practice exploits. Much of his lack of power prior to this season was blamed on poor plate approach. Naylor made major strides when it came to his patience at the plate almost tripling his walk rate in 2017. I still have hope that Naylor can put it altogether, and if the improvements made in his full year in San Diego are any indicator it wouldn’t shock me to see a power surge in 2018.
Bat speed, raw power, athleticism, and a great development organization, Santana is one of my favorite sleepers at any position. There’s swing and miss concerns, and not a lot of approach, but the raw skills are there for his bat to play at a corner infield spot.