July 22, 2007
Positional Rankings - First Base
The First Baseman list is similar to the catcher list in the sense that it's about as deep as a wading pool. But unlike the catcher list, there are all sorts of players who will join this list later, as most first basemen don't start there, they end up there. Plenty of fine hitters from the upcoming third base and corner outfield lists will be no more than first baseman in the end. But let's stick to the players actually at the position for now. Again: minor leaguers only, and holding off on 2007 draftees.
Last year was a bit of a lost season for Barton, who began the year as a 20-year-old in the Pacific Coast League, struggled at first and then missed most of the season after breaking a bone in his elbow on a pickoff play collision. He got off to another slow start this year, hitting just .221/.306/.314 in April, but he's been on fire ever since, hitting .347/.438/.536. Barton is among the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, but the power is probably never going to produce more than 15-20 home runs annually, as his level, contact-oriented swing offers little in the way of loft or backspin. A brief trial at third base proved to be a total disaster (at least defensively), but the A's are trying to make a move to get Barton's bat into their lineup for the final two months of the season, and he should be their starting first baseman in 2008. He's not the prototypical player for the position by any means, but he'll be a guy who should compete for both batting and on-base percentage titles on an annual basis.
Votto is similar to Barton in that he's probably major league ready, and the parent club is trying to deal a veteran (Scott Hatteberg) to make some room for his big league debut. Like Barton, Votto also got off to slow start this year, batting just .192/.347/.346 in April. After a trip to the eye doctor revealed that Votto was in desperate need of corrective lenses, he took off, hitting .335/.417/.492 since May 1st. He's not the pure hitter Barton is, but he has at least average power, and should provide the Reds with an upgrade at the position, if not stardom.
An eighth-round pick in 2005, Pearce got on the prospect radar after hitting 26 home runs last year, but the knocks against him revolved around his size (5-11, 200) and the fact that he was old for the level. Now that he's succeeding to an even greater degree at Double-A, he's looking like the Pirates' first baseman of the future. Pearce has plus power and much-improved hitting skills, as he has a good feel for contact and is more than just a one-dimensional slugger. The Pirates haven't had a first baseman produce more than 20 home runs or 100 RBI in this decade, but Pearce has a good shot at providing some homegrown delivery on both fronts.
Undrafted out of junior college, Kaaihue had a monster debut last year, and he's silencing his critics with a remarkable season at Myrtle Beach, the toughest hitting park in the Carolina League. In road games, the big Hawaiian is mashing to the tune of .309/.428/.644 with 13 home runs in 149 at-bats, and he has true plus-plus power. Kaaihue is a big, slow, hulking first baseman who has future Three True Outcomes all-star potential, evidenced by 20 home runs, 52 walks, and 87 strikeouts in 293 at-bats so far this year. He'll probably never hit for much of an average, but his secondary skills will more than make up for it.
A 15th-round pick in 2005 out of a Las Vegas high school, Carter won the Pioneer League home run title last year, and has built on it by leading the South Atlantic League with 20 home runs going into the weekend. Carter is similar to Kaaihue in the sense that he's loaded with power and has good plate discipline, but his all-or-nothing approach to hitting will always limit his batting average. The White Sox are suddenly desperate for many things, but a power-hitting first baseman is not one of them, and they'll take it slow with Carter.
Anderson was one of the best hitters in California's high school class last year, but he got mixed reviews from scouts, and his million-dollar price tag dropped him out of the top of the draft. The Red Sox took a flyer on him in the 18th round and inked him for $825,000, which is looking like a fairly sound investment at this point. Anderson hit over .300 in each of the first three months of the season, but a recent 4-for-36 slump has seen his numbers dip a bit. With just eight home runs in 352 at-bats, he hasn't shown much power, but there is plenty of potential for it, although his strikeout rate (89 in 352 at-bats) is a cause for concern. He has tremendous upside, and despite the fact that he's having a pretty good season, there is still a significant gap between the present and the projected future.
After hitting 69 home runs over the past two seasons, Koshansky's power output has taken a surprising dip in the friendly confines of Colorado Springs, with just 15 blasts in 348 at-bats. Koshansky has above-average hitting skills and power, but with Todd Helton locked in at first base, it's hard to figure out what Koshansky's future is, and at 25, he's not getting any younger. There's no projection in him, and he's no more than an average first baseman in the end, but for the organization, he could be seen as more of a decent trading chip than anything else.
Among the biggest players you'll ever seen in a uniform, Blanks had an injury-plagued full-season debut in 2006, but has been healthy and productive this year at Lake Elsinore. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Blanks was over 300 last year, which angered the organization; his battle with the bulge will be as much a part of his development as his battles with the breaking pitch, which he still struggles with. Blanks is a remarkable athlete for his size, having already stolen eight bases, and he's a fine defender as well. When he first signed, the Padres envisioned him as a possible Dave Parker-like talent if he could get down to about 260 pounds, but with that looking pretty unlikely, the bat will have to carry him at first.
A second-round pick out of Tulane last year, Hamilton's power ranked with that anyone else in last year's draft, and he was among the Florida State League home run leaders with 13 when he was pushed to Double-A, an aggressive assignment for a player in his first full year of play. Hamilton has struggled since the promotion, as more advanced pitchers have been able to get him to chase breaking balls, but he's a true power threat from the left side. Still, it's a bit of a mystery as to why he's being moved so aggressively through the system when there are no opportunities for a first baseman at the big league level; they have some guy named Pujols there, who I hear is pretty good.
10. Aaron Bates, Red Sox
Anderson isn't the only slugging first baseman the Red Sox tabbed in last year's draft, as they nabbed Bates out of North Carolina State in the third round. Bates has big power and draws walks in droves (60 in 315 at-bats), and scouts are nearly universal in seeing him as one of the few players whose performance means something in the Playstation-esque environment of Lancaster, but the consensus is also that they'd like to see him do it at Double-A, something he might get a shot at when he returns from an ankle injury.
Arguably the best pure hitter among college players in the draft, the Brewers selected Matt LaPorta with the seventh overall pick, but they think they can turn him into a left fielder. Beau Mills rewrote the NAIA record book before going 13th overall to Cleveland. A third baseman in college, he's already splitting time between third and first base as a pro, while also struggling at Low A (.244/.287/.372) in his first exposure to advanced pitching. Supplemental first-round pick Sean Doolittle (Oakland) is an outstanding fielder, but his limited power doesn't profile well for the position.
Jordan Brown, Indians: Can hit for average and draw walks, but power is below average.
Keep An Eye On
Brandon Buckman, Cardinals: A 19th-round pick out of Nebraska last year, Buckman hit .341/.384/.590 for Low-A Quad Cities, but remained under the radar, with more than one pro evaluator asking me what I knew about him at last month's Midwest League All-Star game. At 23, he was old for the level, and he's struggled a bit since a promotion to the Florida State League, but at six-foot-six and 210 pounds, he's an eye-catching talent with plenty of power from the left side, but an approach that needs work.