Previous entries in this series
Usually, this is the most depressing column I write in this series (aside from Relief Pitchers, which I’m pretty sure Bret Sayre only makes me write as retribution for all the times I am a little shit to him throughout the year). But this year, the first base list is only mildly depressing! It’s true that there’s not much impact potential among minor league first basemen right now, but there’s actually a pretty deep crop of guys who should at least be fantasy factors in deeper leagues. It’s not sexy, but once upon a time I wrote about Jordan Lennerton, so I’ll take any improvement I can get.
Also, apologies in advance to C.J. Cron.
Names for 2017
Josh Bell, Pirates
Let’s address the elephant in the room; yes, I wish Bell hit for more power. Bell is not your typical mashing first baseman, and when I think of HR totals that will likely be more in the 15-20 than the 25-30 range, the feeling that I feel is sad. But let’s not lose sight of everything that Bell can do, which includes hitting for average, getting on base a lot and driving some balls over the fence. I compared Bell to Brandon Belt in the Pirates top-10, and since that was only a few days ago and I’m all into minimizing effort, that’s a comparison I’ll stick with here.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Even given Bell’s proximity and floor, there’s an argument to be made that Bellinger is the best first base prospect in dynasty. He has the raw power we crave. He’s athletic enough that we’ll never have to worry about him moving off first base (unless it’s to the OF, which is good) and he’s not so far away from the majors himself. He’s got real strikeout issues that can’t just be brushed away with his age, but frankly, this is a guy I feel good betting on. Bellinger is a top-50 dynasty prospect for me, and even if he’s just a HR-driven first baseman with a low average, well, god knows you’ve used guys like that before.
Dan Vogelbach, Mariners
Bret and Wilson Karaman may be the president and vice president of the Dan Vogelbach Fan Club, but I’m at least a charter member. Vogelbach is a first baseman only in name and should see the vast majority of his time at DH in the Majors, but the dude can hit. He has at every level of the Minors, including in a near-full-season in Triple-A in 2016. Vogelbach could easily hit .275 with 20-plus homers if he gets 450 PA a year. The only problem is he’ll need to hit at least that well in order to justify said playing time on a first-division team. Basically, Vogey is at the whims of his team more so than many fantasy prospects. But if he plays, he should be good. He’s not entirely dissimilar from (wait for it) C.J. Cron.
Rowdy Tellez, Blue Jays
Tellez isn’t a future fantasy star, but I do think he can be a meaningful fantasy contributor as soon as 2018. The power may be more above average than special, but that’ll play in Toronto, and he looks poised to be surrounded by a good supporting cast for the next few years, too. There’s some swing-and-miss here, but Tellez could hit for a solid average while muscling out 20-plus homers in his prime. That’d make him a fine CI or UT option in 16-team leagues. Almost like a C.J. Cron type.
Trey Mancini, Orioles
Mancini has power, should have a spot on the Orioles roster and is ready to produce right now. What he’s likely to produce is underwhelming, because it’s largely going to come in the form of power against left-handers, but the O’s have created viable fantasy players from less. He won’t play enough to be of much use in 12-team leagues, but if you’re in the 14-16-team range he should probably be owned, and if you’re down around 18-to-20 teams he might be a genuine asset if you can make daily changes. If I had to compare Mancini to a current MLBer, I’d say he’s a slightly worse C.J. Cron.
Dom Smith, Mets
Here’s what I wrote about Smith in the Mets top-10: “Smith is going to be a major leaguer, and he figures to hit for an okay batting average. That affords him a modicum of fantasy value, but that’s pretty much it. Smith doesn’t have the power we look for in a fantasy first baseman, nor the speed or super high average to offset the lack of dingers. Instead, he profiles more as a guy who’ll hit .280 with 15-or-so homers and some RBI. That’s fine, but it’s basically what C.J. Cron did this year and he was only the 26th-best fantasy first basemen, per ESPN’s Player Rater.”
Sam Travis, Red Sox
Travis is another player with an atypical profile for a first basemen, but one who should be valuable in deeper leagues. I don’t think plus power is coming, but I do think Travis could hit .280 with solid R and RBI totals, and there’s the potential for 15-homer power down the pipeline. As is the case with a few other names on this list, playing time might be an issue if he’s on a first-division team, but I believe in the hit tool. Think of C.J. Cron but without as much pow … okay, I can’t do it anymore.
Jake Bauers, Rays
Like Travis, but with more flexibility (he might get some time in the OF) and a worse supporting cast. Flip a coin as to whom you prefer and hope it doesn’t land on C.J. Cron.
Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
You have to love Hoskins’ power output, but you have to hate the reports pertaining to his competency with offspeed pitches. The upside here might be a little greater than with some other players on this list, but I’m not as confident he’ll actually hit enough to be of use. Definitely keep an eye on him though; his production and proximity make him a borderline top-150 guy.
Casey Gillaspie, Rays
Gillaspie’s Triple-A numbers are more impressive than several other prospects “ranked” above him here. But when you get this deep into the nitty gritty, it comes down to personal evaluations, and I don't think Gillaspie will hit enough or for enough power to be an every day player at the next level. You could slot him in right with Smith and not get a huge complaint from me, but I say nah. Nah.
Names for 2018 and Beyond
Bobby Bradley, Indians
With the possible exception of Bellinger, no current first base prospect offers as much upside as Bradley. He’s not a great bet to reach that ceiling thanks to a Joey Gallo-esque strikeout rate and a Dan Vogelbach-esque defensive profile (ok, that’s a bit harsh, but it’s not good), but damn can this man hit for power. His 29 homers, 23 doubles, and .231 ISO as a 20-year-old in High-A should tell you that. Maybe we’re just looking at Chris Carter here, but if the approach improves just a little bit, we might be looking at Peak Mike Napoli (read: top-10 1B) instead.
Ronald Guzman, Rangers
You could put Guzman in the 2017 section if you want to—he’ll probably start next year at Triple-A—but he’s raw enough and the Rangers have enough options that I doubt he sees much MLB playing time soon. Guzman resurrected his prospect career in 2016, finally showing the tools and offensive skills that made him a major international FA. There are still big-time swing-and-miss issues and Guzman needs to grow into more power, but I like the hit tool, and I think he could be yet another .270 hitter with 15-20 homers in time. That being said, no one develops these guys quite like Texas, and the numbers I just threw out could be underselling his upside.
Matt Thaiss, Angels
No seriously, he’s probably just C.J. Cron. It’s a bummer the Angels didn’t decide to see if he could fake it at catcher. As such, he’s probably only a top-125 guy despite his shiny draft pedigree.
Josh Naylor, Padres
Let’s wait and see if Naylor can more than triple his homerun-to-stabbing-incident ratio in High-A before we get too excited. Yes, he’s a big, big boy who can hit the ball a long way, but he’s also got a poor approach, a questionable hit tool and is in a really bad system for his future value. He’s not a top-125 name right now, even if he was a relatively good get for the Padres.
Josh Ockimey, Red Sox
The power is nice, but I need to see a better approach and more uniformly favorable reports from a pop-up prospect before I go all-in. He should be owned if your league rosters 200-plus prospects, but that’s about it at this point.
Chris Shaw, Giants
Shaw raked in High-A and struggled in Double-A last season. That’s not unusual for a guy leaving the Cal League, but seeing as Shaw is already 23, it would’ve been nice to see him take well to the more advanced challenge. He didn’t do enough to really hurt his stock in Richmond, but for now he’s just another low-upside, moderate-probability guy in the mid minors. That often turns into a sad tale in dynasty, but if you told me we’ll value him next year like we value Mancini now it wouldn't shock me.
We Hardly Knew Ye (Fantasy Value)
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