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June 21, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Positional Primacy: First Base

by Jason Parks

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Not so long ago, the minor leagues were stacked with Michelin star level first basemen, prospects with first-division ceilings and middle-of-the-order offensive prowess. The current crop of talent is more pedestrian, looking more like buffet fare than fine dining, but for several involved, the developmental process could still produce a fantastic dish. That’s four food references in the first paragraph, for those scoring at home.

Similar to the process of projecting relief pitchers, projecting first basemen often has a foundation in deficiency; it’s a position that openly welcomes the athletically inferior. However, to enter the position’s warm embrace, the athletically inferior must qualify for the love by showing the requisite offensive mastery. Let’s face it: If you can’t hit, you won’t be manning first at the highest level.

For this article, I talked to scouts about players currently at the position and players who might end up at the position, and tried to sort them accordingly. Like the article on relievers, if a source didn’t offer information on a player, I didn’t force their name. Instead of trying to determine the position’s “best” prospect, let’s do the cute little tier thing [read: thang], ranking the best of the buffet, the best of the “currently playing another position” crop, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2009 draft class, which could produce as many as five first-base prospects.

Currently at the Position: Buffet Fare Division
Mathew Adams (Cardinals)
TCF: This abnormally large human continues to rake in the face of skeptics who question the sustainability of said raking. I have to admit, I’m one of the skeptics. Adams has a terrible body, and I just can’t envision that body producing a swing that will play at the highest level. A scout told me that the swing is surprisingly sound, and the power will play at the major-league level, so what do I know?

David Cooper (Jays)
TCF: Cooper lacks the middle-of-the-order power most teams desire at first base, but he has a mature approach and some gap-to-gap pop, which gives him a chance to become a second-division regular. The 24-year-old doesn’t offer much to dream on, but could carve out a major-league career if the hit tool takes a step forward.

Clint Robinson (Royals)
TCF: Another abnormally large human and overachiever, Robinson continues to defy expectations by hitting for average and power at Triple-A. Seen by most as a classic Quad-A player, Robinson will have to prove he can hit major league-quality pitching before that label is removed. Of course, you have to be given the opportunity to face major league-quality pitching before you can prove yourself against it, but that’s another story.

Joe Mahoney (Orioles)
TCF: This abnormally large human has plus-plus raw strength and some contact ability. Mahoney’s big strength doesn’t always translate to big in-game power, but the bat has enough potential to play at the position. He has second-division projection, but at 24 years old, the future has to arrive soon for Mahoney. [Insert clever “Police Academy” joke here.]

Chris Marrero (Nationals)
TCF: Once a top-tier prospect at the position, Marrero has lost his shine in recent years, looking more like a platoon bat than a major-league regular. Marrero can still flash plus power potential, but his offensive contribution this season is centralized in his home park (.387/.447/.613), while reports of his shaky performance on the road are confirmed by the numbers: (.207/.268/.300).

Lars Anderson (Red Sox)
TCF: Only a few years ago, Anderson was considered the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, and the likely heir to Boston’s first-base throne. While he still has the tools to become a major leaguer, the future role has slipped from first-division regular to likely platoon bat, as Anderson’s inability to hit lefties continues. The hit tool still shows some promise, but let’s not pretend that his performance in Triple-A is promising. The power that was once projected in his swing has gone from suck to blow.

Telvin Nash (Astros)
TCF: Nash has plus-plus raw power potential, but the hit tool doesn’t receive the same love, projecting to be fringe-average at best. He’s only 20 years old, but his body is already mature he has below-average speed. Nash will need to mash to survive the minors, and his hit tool will have to cooperate to get the raw power to translate to game action. If the bat develops, Nash could be a second-division starter and have enough power to have value at first.

Tyler Townsend (Orioles)
TCF: Townsend is an aggressive hitter with plus power potential and a smooth left-handed swing. His approach needs refinement, and his swing can get lengthy, but scouts I spoke to like the offensive skill set. As a 23-year-old in High-A, Townsend will need to prove himself at a higher level before we start to take him seriously.

Currently Playing Another Position, but Let’s Not Rule Out an Eventual Move to First Base Division
Jesus Montero (Yankees)
TCF: This is kind of cheap; Montero was born to be a designated hitter, and I doubt he gets the opportunity to play first base for the Yankees. However, as a prospect who could technically find a home at the position, Montero deserves to get his day in the sun.

Montero could be special at the plate, with the ability to hit for a high average and produce well above-average power numbers. In other words, the bat is good enough to have value despite the obvious defensive deficiencies. Montero could have been a major leaguer last season, and should have been at the major-league level to start this season, but regardless of when his time arrives, his bat will carry the burden of success. He is by far the best hitter on this page.

Chris Carter (Athletics)
TCF: Carter is an abnormally large human with plus-plus power potential and a mature approach at the plate. He can handle the outfield now, but the 24-year-old isn’t exactly gaining athleticism, and his future home will probably be at first base. Carter has the power to profile as a legit middle-of-the-order masher at the major-league level, but he’s never going to make enough contact to hit for a high average.

Yonder Alonso (Reds)
TCF: Currently masquerading as an outfielder because of the MVP ahead of him on the depth chart, Alonso has the natural athleticism of a designated hitter but is a capable defensive first baseman. With a plus hit tool and a mature approach at the plate, the 24-year-old projects to hit for a high average while reaching base at a healthy clip. The power is more gap-to-gap than over-the-fence, but he does show some home-run pop, projecting to hit 15-20 per season at the major-league level. Alonso looks like a solid-average regular in the majors, but not a first-division starter.

Edinson Rincon (Padres)
TCF: Scouts love this 20-year-old Dominican’s offensive potential, but his ability to stick at third base is in question. Rincon has the arm for third, but the athleticism isn’t a plus attribute and the speed, which currently grades as a 30 on the 20-80 scale, is trending down. Rincon projects to be a plus hitter with at least solid-average power, but he would need to hit those projections to have value at first base. If he doesn’t lose athleticism during the physical maturation process, left field is always an option as well.

The 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks Amateur Draft Division
Paul Goldschmidt
Requirements: Drafted in the eighth round (2009)
TCF: Goldschmidt  is one of the strongest individuals in the minors who uses his elite raw strength to punish balls with his torque-heavy swing. I’m still not sold that his bat speed will play against better pitching, but the 23-year-old product of Texas State has taken a step forward this season, and some scouts think the output is legit and sustainable at higher levels. Again, I’m not sold because I question the bat speed, but I’ve been wrong about Goldschmidt before and I’ll probably be wrong again. I’d like to label him a Texan, but he was born in Delaware, so if you are looking for my bias, that’s a good place to start.

Matt Davidson
Requirements: Drafted in the supplemental first round (2009)
TCF: This 20-year-old has plus power potential and some contact ability. His swing can get long, and his approach can get too aggressive, but the middle-of-the-order offensive tools are there to develop. Davidson’s arm is also strong, but the athleticism is average and the body isn’t going to help matters as he ages.

Bobby Borchering
Requirements: Drafted in the first round (2009)
TCF: Borchering is a switch-hitter with plenty of pop in his bat, but an aggressive approach and lengthy swing (especially from the left side) open up avenues for exploitation. Borchering is currently playing third base but lacks the tools to stay at the position long-term, thanks to his fringy arm and iffy athleticism. If moved to first, he has more than enough offensive projection to have value at the position.

Marc Krauss
Requirements: Drafted in the second round (2009)
TCF: Krauss has a lumbering swing with plenty of power but is long to the ball. His hit tool is below average, and he relies on raw strength to leverage the ball out of the park. Krauss, who currently plays in the outfield, profiles better at first base, where his well below-average speed and below-average arm aren’t as limiting. Because of the defensive liabilities, Krauss’ value is tied to his bat, and the fact is that his bat isn’t good enough to hit in the middle of a lineup. He has legit power, but the swing isn’t conducive for consistent contact, and his inability to hit lefties could make him a platoon option at best.

Ryan Wheeler
Requirements: Drafted in the fifth round (2009)
TCF: Wheeler brings a good combination of solid-average tool projections to the plate, but nothing that is going to look sexy in the middle of a lineup. Wheeler currently plays third base and stands a better chance than his contemporaries of sticking at the hot corner, but his defensive tools aren’t anything to write home about. His ultimate value is tied to his bat, and his bat looks to be solid but not special.

The “Just Because I Can” Division
Riann Spanjer-Furstenburg (Braves)
TCF: He lacks a major-league ceiling, but that’s a plus-plus name. Let’s celebrate this attribute.

---

Make sure to check out the other articles in Positional Primacy series:

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

39 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

fflakes41

New game:
chug a summer ale (of your choice) every time Jason uses the phrase "Abnormally Large".

On the baseball side:
Will either Borchering or Davidson be able to stay at 3B, and if so, do their bats play bigger there?

Jun 21, 2011 05:31 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

The bats would play bigger at 3B than 1B, but I'm not sure either player will offer much in the field at the position. I think Davidson has the better skill-set for the position (defensively speaking) because of his arm, but both players lack the range/quick reactions to excel at 3B.

Jun 21, 2011 07:07 AM
 
leites

Jonathan Singleton?

Jun 21, 2011 05:33 AM
rating: 1
 
leites

And thanks, by the way, for writing this series. It's great fun to read.

Jun 21, 2011 05:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Talked to a few people who believe he can stick in LF. He will appear on the rankings at that position.

Jun 21, 2011 07:03 AM
 
R.A.Wagman

Jason - great series. Have you heard anything about Michael McDade? He's 22, enormous (6-1", 260) and has an 865 OPS in his first go-round at AA. True split-hitter with no tangible L/R/ split. Thanks.

Jun 21, 2011 06:43 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Not a great prospect, but a well-rounded player, which makes him interesting. Big body and the swing can get a little long but he's making better contact this season and he clearly has some pop. He's actually not a bad defensive 1B either. Some question how far up the chain the bat will play, but he's a good sleeper right now.

Jun 21, 2011 07:19 AM
 
Peter7899

Can a Cub fan think that there's any hope Justin Bour or Rebel Ridling might be average 1B in the future? Or do we just hope Vogelbach becomes a vegetarian?

Jun 21, 2011 06:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Bour crushed in May, but it's the FSL and he's a 23 y/o college hitter. As a 25th rounder, Bour looks more like an organizational player than anything else.

Vogelbach has monster power, but he also has a monster body for an 18 year-old, so there is some concern there. I want to see how the swing translate to the pro game before going crazy with the projections. The power is legit.

Jun 21, 2011 07:26 AM
 
Peter7899

Just checked Bour's splits. .344/.416/.672 with 15 HR versus RHP, .185/.206/.246 and only 1 HR versus LHP. At least he's got the long end of the platoon, amiright?!

Jun 21, 2011 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
greenfrog

Cooper is hitting 386/442/575 in the admittedly inflationary PCL. He has 27 doubles so far (but only 4 HR). His BB:K ratio is 22:17. It's weird - these number would suggest that his hit tool is already quite advanced, but he often looked overmatched during a brief callup this year. It might be worth it for some NL team to try to obtain him cheaply - he could have a similar trajectory to that of Brett Wallace.

Not sure if the Jays would let him go for a song, though.

Jun 21, 2011 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

The hit tool needs to take a step forward against major league pitching. Of course, you have to face major league pitching to adjust against major league pitching. I don't think he needs to be in the minors at this point. He's never going to be a big power threat, but his approach should put him in good hitting situations, and if the hit tool can step up against top tier pitching, Cooper should be able to stick at the level. He's not going to be a prototypical 1B option, but if he can hit for a solid average, get on-base at a healthy clip, and show some gap-to-gap power that translates to doubles, he should have enough value to hang around for a while.

Jun 21, 2011 07:42 AM
 
kcheaden

Hello Lyle Overbay

Jun 21, 2011 15:04 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Considering who the Jays have been running out at 3B, and Brett Lawrie's injury - I think either of Adam Lind or David Cooper might be worth trying at the hot corner. Laugh - but how much better are Jayson Nix, John McDonald and Edwin Encarnacion - really?

Jun 22, 2011 04:58 AM
rating: 0
 
leites

I saw the at-bat where Cooper hit a monster HR shot to CF off of Josh Bard. It made me think that he had power potential, even against a major league quality fastball. I guess it is a mistake to extrapolate from that one at bat?

Jun 22, 2011 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

He's not powerless, but you may have also noticed how many harmless, shallow fly-outs he had as well. Check his splits: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=coopeda01&year=&t=b

Jun 22, 2011 12:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Just looking at this from the point of who might be a first division starter one day, or even someone you might roster as your 1B in a not immensely deep fantasy league - would that be restricted to Montero, Carter, Goldschmidt, maybe Borchering/Davidson. Anyone else?

Jun 21, 2011 07:44 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Not at this point. The young talent at the position is thick at the major league level, but thin at the present at the minor league level. Out of that group, only Montero really stands out as a first-division no-brainer, and I'm not sure he will be playing 1B.

Jun 21, 2011 07:50 AM
 
formersd

If you wrote this article 2 weeks ago, would Rizzo have been your #1?

Jun 21, 2011 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

As a legit 1B, yes, Rizzo would be number one. If we throw Montero in the mix, which, admittedly, is liberal, he has the higher offensive ceiling and is the superior prospect.

Jun 21, 2011 08:30 AM
 
timber

As long as you're doing "what if," if you had included all the other young 1B promotions (Hosmer, Freeman, Belt), how would that group plus Rizzo be ordered?

Jun 21, 2011 08:39 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Hosmer was a top 5 prospect in my eyes, so he would be #1 on this list. I'd rank the group: Hosmer, Freeman, Belt, Rizzo. The Freeman/Belt/Rizzo group is very close.

Jun 21, 2011 09:04 AM
 
Cromulent

If you included Smoak, where would he fit? Thanks for indulging me, by the way.

Jun 21, 2011 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

No problem. Hosmer is still #1. He's on #TeamLegend.

New order w/ Smoak: Hosmer, Smoak, Freeman, Belt, Rizzo.

Jun 21, 2011 12:30 PM
 
vtadave

Care to move Freeman around now?

Aug 17, 2011 22:59 PM
rating: 0
 
mcdogerry

Any interest in Mike McDade, he is still relatively young for AA?

Jun 21, 2011 08:58 AM
rating: 0
 
John Douglass

"Alonso has the natural athleticism of a designated hitter" is one of my favorite phrases I've read in a while.

Jun 21, 2011 09:02 AM
rating: 2
 
jedjethro

This is a great series; thanks!

Jun 21, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: 1
 
adamcarralejo

So is Jerry Sands more of a OF to you, or just a marginal prospect?

Jun 21, 2011 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He's a guy with over 100 major league ABs, so I didn't consider him for the rankings.

Jun 21, 2011 11:08 AM
 
adamcarralejo

Scott Van Slyke is putting up numbers in AA and playing 1B - does he have any major league potential left or purely a org player?

Jun 21, 2011 11:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I think he's better than a straight-up org player, but I'm not sure about the major league future. He's certainly putting up solid numbers in Double-A. Killing LHP and getting on-base. Turns 25 soon.

Jun 21, 2011 11:12 AM
 
bjfrankfort

Yeah , I hate Delaware too.

Jun 21, 2011 11:14 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I love going to Blue Rocks games, though.

Jun 21, 2011 11:16 AM
 
ColonelTom

Is either Matt Rizzotti or Cody Overbeck likely to be a big-league contributor at some point?

Jun 21, 2011 11:58 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I doubt it. Look like AAAA types at best. Could get a few cups of coffee, but I doubt they have the bats to stick around at that level.

Jun 21, 2011 12:23 PM
 
amazin_mess

How fat is Matt Adams anyway? Fielder? (5'11" 280)??

Jun 21, 2011 22:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Listed at 6'3'' 230 lbs. I'd wager he's closer to 275 lbs. He's a big boy.

Jun 21, 2011 23:00 PM
 
basejaw

This group is about as exciting as a trip to the Proctologist

Jun 22, 2011 09:19 AM
rating: 1
 
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