First base used to be a god-awful position for fantasy prospects. I’d say it’s moved all the way up to “just okay” over the past few months. You’re unlikely to find any fantasy superstars among the names listed below, but there are at least quite a few likely solid contributors. Remember, last week we talked about catching prospects, so don’t get greedy.
Previous entries in this series
Names for 2016
Josh Bell, Pirates
We all know the deal with Bell by now. He’s been on the fantasy radar ever since he was labeled a draft steal back in 2011, and dynasty leaguers have been eagerly tracking his progress. While Bell has yet to produce prodigious numbers at any stop, his smooth, linear progression through the minors is a good sign, and though the power has yet to truly surface he’s the owner of a career .305 average and .375 BABIP. I wouldn’t expect Bell to hit quite at that level in the majors — and certainly not at first — but we’re looking at a potential four-category contributor here, a guy who can hit .280-plus and flirt with 20 homers, sort of like Brandon Belt or Eric Hosmer. He’s also a player who should flirt with outfield eligibility throughout the early parts of his career. None of this will make Bell a stud, but it will make him a starter in most deep dynasty leagues. He just won’t be a savior. Basically, what I’m saying is your team is unlikely to be saved by the Bell.
A.J. Reed, Astros
Listing Reed as a name for 2016 is a bit aggressive—he has just 237 PA above High-A—but all he’s done since joining the professional ranks is mash. Reed smashed 33 homers between High-A and Double-A last season, and while about two-thirds of those came in the California League, no one doubts Reed’s plus-plus power. What some do doubt is Reed’s ability to make contact, and it’s true that he’s likely to be a big-time swing-and-miss guy throughout his career. It’s hard not to fall for the allure of 30-plus homers, though, and while Reed is far from a sure thing, he has the carrying tool, potential contextual factors, and path to playing time to be a fantasy stalwart.
Matt Olson, Athletics
I view Olson quite similarly to Reed (you could call Reed an Olson twin) from a fantasy POV, albeit with a slightly worse hit tool and worse potential contextual factors. Olson also possesses the ability to challenge for 30 bombs, also struggles with the strikeout and could also start seeing the majors in late 2016. He’s showed impressive patience throughout the minors, but the soon-to-be 22-year-old has struggled to hit for a decent average and I think he carries more risk than his Astros counterpart. I still like Olson quite a bit and think he’s a decent buy-lowish candidate in dynasty leagues right now, but there’s definitely a chance his hit tool limits him to a reserve role.
Byung-Ho Park, Twins
I was going to start this blurb cautioning against translating Park’s KBO stats to the majors, but let’s be real—you already knew not to do that. The worry here is that Park’s hit tool and contact issues will prevent him from tapping into his considerable raw power stateside. That being said, his power potential is worth investing in if you have a hole at first base right now and want help on the cheap. I’m not optimistic that Park will finish as a top-25 fantasy first base option next year, but hey, Ryan Howard was a top-175 fantasy batter last year when he hit .229 with 23 bombs and mediocre RBI/run totals. It’s not crazy to think Park can surpass that level of performance, and that will make him worth owning in leagues with more than 14 teams. Just don’t overpay on draft day.
D.J. Peterson, Mariners
It’s, uh, not going so well for Peterson, who’s transitioned down the defensive spectrum to first base and who’s simultaneously stopped hitting since we wrote about him in this series last year. Let’s not totally overreact—Peterson is one year removed from crushing High-A and looking ok in Double-A—but there’s no need to sugarcoat this either: Peterson is only a borderline top-100 name right now. The good news is if Peterson ends up as a poor-hitting first baseman/part-time player he’ll be continuing a proud Mariners tradition.
Trey Mancini, Orioles
Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, and so as Peterson fades from the the corner infielder dynasty rankings, Mancini rises. The pop-up prospect hit .359/.395/.586 in Double-A (no you’re a small sample size) after dominating High-A. While his upside isn’t what those numbers would suggest, he’s a better bet to carve out an MLB role than Christian Walker, who’s ahead of him on the depth chart right now. Mancini is a top-100 dynasty name for me, and unless everyone in your league has access to Bret Sayre’s g-chats, there’s a good chance Mancini is available. He could reach “solid CI contributor” status at some point.
Jesus Aguilar, Indians
I mean, not really, but shoutout to TINO listeners.
Names for 2017 and Beyond
Dan Vogelbach, Cubs
It’s tempting to view Vogelbach’s 2015 season as a disappointment thanks to his low homer total, but overall, hitting .272/.403/.425 as a 22-year-old in Double-A ain’t so bad, especially when you factor in the hamstring and oblique injuries Vogey battled for much of the year. It’s still tough to see how Vogelbach ever gets any playing time on the North Side of Chicago—or anywhere in the NL, really—but he’s still on pace to serve as a non-star, fantasy-relevant DH who we’ll hope appears at first base often enough to gain eligibility. He’s definitely still a top-75 dynasty league prospect and you might be able to get him for relatively cheap right now thanks to his mediocre 2015 statline.
Dom Smith, Mets
I’m not sold yet, sorry. Smith hit .305/.354/.417 in High-A last season, which represents a solid step forward from his previous levels of production. The problem? That .417 SLG, which is close to unworkable for a fantasy first baseman. I get that some people think more power is going to come from Smith, but inventing excuses for Smith’s lack of pop is becoming an annual tradition. I totally buy that he’s a future major-leaguer, but I don’t buy that he’s a good fantasy asset. In fact, for dynasty-league purposes, I’m not sure why we’d view him much differently than…
Sam Travis, Red Sox
Scouting that stat line is foolish, but so too is ignoring success. Travis is a .310/.371/.457 lifetime hitter as a professional. Yes, he was billed as an advanced college bat and he built a lot of that line in the low minors, but he also hit .300/.384/.436 in a half-season in Portland last year, and that means it’s time to start paying a little attention. Travis probably isn’t a first-division starter and almost certainly isn’t a future top-25 first baseman, but if he hits for a good average and can reach double-digits in homers, he’ll be of interest for our purposes. Don’t go out of your way to buy him, but he shouldn’t be ignored if your league rosters 150 prospects.
Jake Bauers, Rays
The son of 24-loving parents who struggle with English, Jake Bauers made solid strides in 2015, mashing 13 homers across three levels and ultimately settling in Double-A. Chris Crawford praised Bauers’ swing in our Rays Top 10 list for 2016, but also bemoaned his lack of pop, which makes this once-exciting proposition awfully disappointing near the end. How very 24 indeed.
Bobby Bradley, Indians
And so ends our popless 1B prospect portion of the program. Enter Bradley, a powerful, compact first baseman who could challenge for 30 bombs some day. He’s eons away as a player with all of nine PA in High-A, but there’s a really good chance he’s a top-three fantasy first-base prospect at this time next year. If you can buy in at the ground floor, do so immediately.
Rowdy Tellez, Blue Jays
Well-behaved Tellez rarely make history, and Rowdy clearly gets that, enacting violence on baseballs across two levels in 2015. The then-20-year-old hit 18 homers across Rookie Ball, Single-A and High-A last season, demonstrating a balanced approach at each stop. With the potential for an above average hit tool and plus power, Tellez has a really nice all around fantasy profile, though he’s lacking pie-in-the-sky upside. Still, if there’s any park that could help him accentuate his natural gifts, it would be the one in Toronto.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Look, Bellinger hit 30 homers, so he gets a mentioned here. Yes, it was in the Cal League, but 30 is a very shiny and round number and it’s late. Bellinger might be an outfielder in the long run and his hit tool could prevent him from tapping into his raw power at higher levels, but he’s a borderline top-200 name right now. I expect him to be traded for an injured MLB starter by May 2017.
We Hardly Knew Ye (Fantasy Value)