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July 28, 2015

Some Projection Left

Ask The Industry: First Basemen

by Christopher Crawford

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A friendly reminder on how this works. I asked three scouts and two front-office members the following question: If you could start your franchise with one player at each position, what player would you take? I then asked those scouts/front-office members to submit an MVP-style ballot at each position, with the first place vote counting for five points, second place for four, etc.

Next up: First baseman. Because dingers, that’s why.

In all seriousness, this is always a tough group because there’s the obvious pressure on the bat that doesn’t come from any other position. There are talented bats manning the not-so-hot corner right now, but as you’ll see in the voting, there’s far from a consensus as to who rates at the top.

***

AL front-office member: Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Why: “In a couple of months, I might look foolish for picking Bell, because what Reed has done this year is really impressive. I go with Bell though because I believe in his hit tool more – the swing isn’t beautiful but I’ve seen him hit every pitch on every part of the plate hard, and there’s not a lot of prospects who can do that. I actually think if he was part of another organization he’d probably be playing in the outfield, but I don’t think they’re trading him, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was their first baseman as soon as next year.”

His top five:

1. Bell

2. A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros

3. Dominic Smith, 1B, New York Mets

4. Gregory Bird, 1B, New York Yankees

5. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

***

NL West scout: Reed

Why: There are three guys here that come to mind, and I really like all three, but I just can’t ignore what Reed has done at two levels this year. He’s the worst athlete of the three, and even if it’s true that first base is the least important defensive position, I think Smith gets some consideration because he’s so good around the bag. Offensively though, Reed I think is a cut above; there’s a real chance he becomes a middle of the order hitter, and I think we all underrated his feel for hitting coming out of the draft. Bell’s a good one too, but I think he’s been usurped by Reed.

His top five:

1. Reed

2. Smith

3. Bell

4. Bobby Bradley, 1B, Cleveland

5. Sam Travis, 1B, Boston Red Sox

***

AL Central scout: Bell

Why: “Pretty easy [decision] for me. There’s only one of these guys that has a plus hit and power tool, and that’s Bell. My only question is can that power translate in games; there’s no reason he should be slugging in the 400’s [Ed. Note: It’s at .436 as of Monday] when you generate that kind of bat speed and strength. Still, if we’re playing by the rules that we can have just one of these guys when we start this imaginary franchise, I’m going with Bell, with Smith a fairly distant second.”

His top five:

1. Bell

2. Smith

3. Reed

4. Bird

5. Travis

***

AL East scout: Vogelbach

Why: “The risks with Vogelbach are obvious. He’s a snail on the bases, he’s a bad athlete now and that’s not going to get better. But this kid can really, really hit. It’s an easy comparison, but I see a little bit of Prince Fielder in him – with a little less power and maybe a little more feel for the strike zone at this point in their development. You will need a guy to run for him late in games, and ideally you’d have him as your DH because of the lack of defensive chops, but I really do think the bat is going to overcome those deficiencies.

His top five:

1. Vogelbach

2. Smith

3. Reed

4. Bell

5. Bird

***

NL front-office member: Reed

Why: ”Boy, this one is tough, there’s a lot of guys I like but don’t love. Smith is the one with the most upside, but the lack of power production is concerning. Bell is the most complete hitter but we’ve gotten less-than-spectacular reports about how he looks around the bag and the production has only been so-so.

Reed is sort of the in-between. He doesn’t have Bell’s pure offensive package or Smith’s natural talent, but I think he’s actually the most advanced hitter of the bunch, and I feel like his high floor makes up for the lack of ceiling compared to those other names. It’s really close, but right now I’d take Reed. If you ask me again in two months I might change my answer.”

His top five:

1. Reed

2. Smith

3. Bell

4. Travis

5. Olson

Points: Reed 20, Smith 19, Bell 18, Vogelbach 5, Bird 5, Travis 4, Bradley 2, Olson 2

Winner: Reed

***

In addition to those polled above, I asked some members of the prospect team which first base prospect they’d start a franchise with.

Wilson Karaman: Give me A.J. Reed. Double-plus raw power doesn't grow on trees, and the approach to actually bring it into games is even more rare. In addition to being one of the most prodigious power bats in the Cal League this year he was also one of the most advanced. I don't care that his bat speed's not elite. He sees it at the plate, with a plus combination of tracking ability and command of the zone that helps him routinely put himself in the best possible positions to let 'er rip, and his raw strength is elite. He takes his walks but it's by no means a passive approach, and he'll jump up on a first-pitch mistake with the best of 'em. He's on the short list of guys in the minor leagues who I'd feel comfortably projecting a .900-plus prime OPS for, and that's all I've ever wanted from my first baseman. The defense is competent enough that he's not going to give back too many of the runs he creates with the bat, and when you balance the ledger he's going to be an above-average Major League player.

Mark Anderson: The pickings are pretty slim, considering we're forced to seriously ponder prospects such as Greg Bird, Dominic Smith, and Matt Olson, but there is one prospect that stands out ahead of this crew: Pirates first baseman Josh Bell. With more consistent loud contact this season, and a return of his projection as a legitimate power threat, Bell at least fits the mold as a potential first division regular at first base. There's still some risk tied to Bell's development, as he has yet to begin putting things together in one neat package at the upper levels of the minor leagues, but there's at least enough feel for hitting and raw power to suggest it can come together over the next couple of years. I'm not left with the same confidence when considering the other three mentioned above, and while I like Dan Vogelbach's bat the best of this bunch, I don't want him standing anywhere but the batter's box on my team. Bell's the guy here, almost by default for me, but if we're thinking creatively, I'll take Rafael Devers and the likelihood he slides across the diamond to first base before all is said and done.

Craig Goldstein: Dan Vogelbach’s bat is highly appealing in this scenario, especially since I’m of the mind that I’d like to see hit and power tools for first base prospect add up to 14. That’s obviously a tall order, but it’s also why first base prospects are hard find. Flowbro’s lack of athleticism is an issue for me though, not just on defense but in regards to how he’ll age. For that reason, I’d pick Josh Bell. He’s got the potential for plus hit and power tool, and I’m a fan of the recent addition of a leg kick to allow him to better access his raw power in game situations. The field is fairly flat though, so there are a number of guys who are reasonable selections here.

My choice: This is probably as good a place as any to let you know that I am not – and never have been – a believer in Dan Vogelbach. I see a guy with two 55 to 60 tools in the hit and power, but I also see a guy with two 20s and a 40 in the speed, glove and arm; and even if he’s in the American League, the risk just doesn’t come close to outweighing the reward. I hope I’m wrong, because I want everyone to succeed and be good at their jobs, but I just don’t see it.

This really is a three-man race, and I don’t think you necessarily can go wrong with Bell, Smith or Reed. What Reed has done in 2015 is very impressive, and though I don’t believe these high averages are sustainable, I do think he’s a potential .260/.350/.500 hitter; and one who can move quickly through the system. Bell has been a personal favorite since 2011 and has had more ups than downs since entering the system, but I do worry about the negative reports defensively and there’s a lot of pressure on that hit tool.

As much as I like the two names above, my choice is Smith. Is he the riskiest of the three options above? Yes, but I think the ceiling for the 2013 first round pick is the highest, and every month I get a report coming back mentioning how much better he looks compared to earlier in the year. I value improvement, and as someone who believed Smith had a borderline plus-plus hit tool in high school along with a chance to be a plus defender at first, he’s the guy I’d want to start my franchise with. It’s really, quite close though.

Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here

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