We unveiled this series last week as an opportunity for players in deep dynasty leagues, particularly those whose leagues have no eligibility restrictions. Our look at catchers currently outside the positional top 50 who have a shot at threatening those ranks next year is right here, and today we’re on to first basemen. In general this position has less in the way of interesting present big-leaguers, as the second-division and fringe starters already make Bret Sayre’s Dynasty League Top 50, and the step below is mostly guys who’ve maxed out as platoon options. Our 2015 and 2016 sections for the first basemen will also be on the incomplete and speculative side, as first-base prospects are much more frequently made than they are born—and the ones who are born have astronomical attrition rates. So the 2015 class probably includes a bunch of more interesting names that’ll ultimately transition to the position but haven’t yet, and the 2016 class mostly includes guys that won’t have much relevance at all. So goes the life of a deep-league speculator…
Backup Types, But They’re Big Leaguers, So…
Travis Shaw, BOS – Shaw exceeded his rookie eligibility last year, even tantalizing fantasy leaguers with almost enough reps at third base to add some intriguing versatility. The soon-to-be-26-year-old never numbered among the more renowned prospects during his climb through the ranks, but he acquitted himself quite well in his first 250 plate appearances last year, even defying his minor-league platoon issues. It’s unclear how he might sneak into consistent enough playing time in Boston to generate much value, but if the situation arises and his production comes in on par with his rookie effort, he’s a solid candidate to jump onto the end of our dynasty list next year.
Billy Butler, OAK – Butler’s lumber has eaten a few too many of those country breakfasts in recent years, as his bat speed downgraded to “changeup” last season (seriously, he slugged .568 against cambios while struggling to Pierzynskian ISO levels against heaters). He continues to roll over on two-seamers at a staggering clip, and his home ballpark won’t do him any favors for at least the next two years. But! We’re not that far removed from him annually threatening .300 and 20 dingers, and it is at least theoretically within the realm of possibility that he hits his 90th percentile PECOTA projection this year at 30 and forces himself into the mix for no. 50 on this list next winter.
Wilin Rosario, COL – Boy, that happened fast. Once the highly-touted stud offensive catcher of the future in Colorado, Rosario’s hyper-aggressive approach and terrible defense torpedoed that narrative right quick. I wrote at some length in November about his poor season and how he’s fallen down the wormhole on Colorado’s motley depth chart, but he crushed the ball in the Dominican Winter League to serve reminder that there is at least in theory still some thunder in his bat. Who knows, maybe a change of scenery may help the about-to-be-27-year-old restore some of the shine that had him cracking the top 20 on our catcher list this time last year.
[Ed. note – Rosario signed with the KBO after this was filed, but the author wishes to note that the over/under for him is somewhere around a 1.200 OPS and 54 bombs, so it's certainly possible he parlays that into a return ticket to the majors.]
Richie Shaffer, TAM – I’m probably more bullish than most, but I’m a fan of Shaffer as a deep-league investment for production as soon as this season. Any time a once-heralded prospect makes tangible adjustments to rescue a fading career in the high minors I’m very likely to jump on the bandwagon, and Shaffer did that in spades last year. A shorter, more direct bat path allowed him to better utilize his strong wrists and tap into his impressive raw power on a more consistent basis. A cup of coffee in Tampa turned lukewarm quickly, and he’s always going to be a high-strikeout, lower-average guy. But he should have an opportunity to carve out some consistent playing time next summer, and if last year’s adjustments hold there’s 20-homer potential in his bat with enough plate appearances.
Cody Bellinger, LAD – I noted in my scouting report on Bellinger last summer that he was one of the stranger prospects I’d attempted to evaluate, as his 1B/CF position split is quite unique and he was hella young for the level. The plus power he shows in games belies a still-wiry frame that could mature in a couple different ways. And while his 30 bombs at High-A weren’t as overtly aided by his Cal League context as you might assume (Rancho actually plays as a more neutral park for dingers, all things being equal), they were definitely the product of a grip-it-and-rip-it approach that’ll need to improve significantly as he hits the high minors. As noted he was super young for the level, and we’re still probably another year or two away from getting a solid read on the type of body and approach he’s likely to evolve into, but another statistical triumph at Double-A next summer would easily land him in the top 50 in twelve months.
Casey Gillaspie, TAM – Gillaspie ended up on the outside looking in at our Rays list, because the offensive package is okay-not-great for a position-limited player. He showed solid pop in the Midwest League last summer, but scouts continue to question the power ceiling, and that’s a bad thing for dynasty-league value. He can force his way into the mix with a strong year in the offensively-challenged Florida State League, but he’s a guy that’s going to really have to rake above and beyond to shed his current rap and entice fantasy interest anywhere outside of extremely deep formats.
Rangel Ravelo, OAK – Mark Anderson just wrote up Ravello’s strong winter league performance, which was probably enough to put him on the map again after an injury-riddled 2015 campaign. Ravelo can hit, and he can get on base, but he hasn’t really shown that he can drive the ball with the kind of authority you need out of a first basemen. He’s 6-foot-2, 220 pounds though, and stranger things have happened than a hitter that size making an adjustment and suddenly unlocking his raw strength. If that happens he’ll be interesting this time next year as a guy on the verge of a big league debut with a team that has every incentive to push him into a role as a cost-controlled asset who gets on base and plays halfway-decent defense.
Christian Walker, BAL – Walker staggered through a largely unimpressive campaign at Triple-A last year, and when Chris Davis signing that monster deal to stay put (with no opt-out, mind you) Walker’s path to regular at-bats in 2016 got a lot rockier. He’s another one where the power hasn’t manifested in as consistent or impressive a way as had been hoped in his younger days, and unless it does—and quickly—there’s probably nothing to see here next winter.
Miguel Flames, NYY – I mostly just included him in order to spotlight his 80-grade name, but despite being eons away he is also notable for his monster offensive ceiling. A J2 signing in 2014, Flames raked in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old last year after dominating a junior tournament in Venezuela prior to signing. He was signed as a catcher, and continued to clock some hours behind the plate last year, but the Yankees already shifted him to first for about 80 percent of his starts, so the writing seems to be clearly on the wall already. If he comes stateside this year and holds his own he’s a name you’ll be hearing about in the winter of 2017.
Chris Shaw, SFG – I saw Shaw hit one of the most titanic homers I’ve seen in person on the Cape two summers ago, and not a ton has changed in his profile since then. He’s a big boy with big power, but without the requisite baseline of a hit tool to guarantee he ultimately brings the majority of it into games. He also happened to land in just about the worst possible place for his skill set when the Giants popped him on draft day, but he did what he should’ve done by mashing in the Northwest League after signing and could see a significant jump in value if he can keep the train rolling through A-ball this year.
Austin Byler, ARI – Byler was an 11th-round senior sign out of UNLV, and absolutely laid waste to the offensively-charged Pioneer League, leading the circuit in homers and finishing third in OPS. The rap on Byler heading into the draft was that of a metal bat hero, and outside of a strong performance on the Cape in 2014, he has yet to hit regularly outside of a favorable environment. But if he rakes again at Kane County this spring and forces his way to the tasty California League next summer he’s a guy who could generate some juice.
Tyrone Perry, MIL – It wouldn’t be a proper column if I didn’t highlight at least one potential Disciple of Vogelbach in this piece, and Perry may just be that guy. Not from the standpoint of hitting skill, mind you, but rather on account of the 14th-rounder’s listed 6-foot-1, 265-pound frame. He was a high-school draftee last June, but he’s already 20, and the body is already… not good. But hey, he hit well in complex ball, and so we dare to dream the dreams of kings and men.
Carl Wise, TOR and David Thompson, NYM – These names came up internally as a couple of the power bats from the class most likely to wind up at first, though both debuted at third. Both also struggled mightily in their first tastes of pro ball after landing with their respective teams in the fourth round last June. Wise excelled in his first taste of wooden bat hitting on the Cape in 2014, while Thompson led all of college baseball in homers last spring after two seasons largely lost to injury.
Peter Alonso, Florida – The top cold-corner college bat in the class put up a .901 OPS last year and will sit in the middle of the order for the top-ranked Gators this spring. There’s plus power here driven by impressive bat speed, and his approach and selectivity took sizeable steps forward in his sophomore campaign. A big spring in the national spotlight can send him shooting up draft boards in spite of his defensive limitations, and he should be on every dynasty leaguer’s radar with an eye to minor-league drafts next summer.
Carmen Benedetti, Michigan – A two-way player who sat mid-90s out of Michigan’s bullpen last year, Benedetti put together a delicious statistical season for the Wolverines as a sophomore, raking to the tune of a .959 OPS built on gobs of doubles and more walks than strikeouts. His is an all-fields approach, and coupled with a stellar eye and the frame to generate top-shelf power there’s an interesting starter’s kit here for a quality option.
Joey Wentz, Shawnee Mission East HS (Kansas) – Wentz pitches as well, and has reportedly hit 88-90 from the left side, so his bat work may get overshadowed this spring. The Virginia commit is 6-foot-5 and 195, with a frame built to add on bulk. He’s already generated triple-digit exit velocity with the stick, and enters the spring as one of the best two-way prep prospects in the country.
Spencer Brickhouse, Bunn HS (North Carolina) – In addition to the second 80-grade name on this list, Brickhouse is a left-handed bat committed to East Carolina. He has also caught in high school, and if he can somehow defy general biology and physics to stick back there he would immediately leap to the top of catching prospect lists on marketing potential alone. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds already, however, his likeliest future lies as a mashing first basemen. He already draws plus power projection, though the swing is quite naturally as raw as most teenage swings.
Walker Robbins, George County HS (Mississippi) – A Mississippi State commit, Robbins hit 92 from the left side at the PG All-American tournament, so he’s in the Wentz mold of two-way threat heading into his first year of draft eligibility. He’s already 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, so as the body fills out it’s likely to limit him to first base if a team ends up preferring his offensive potential.
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