Digging for Diamonds: Low Minors First Base Ballers (2014 Mid-Season Edition)
If you’ve been reading this site for a while you know that I’ve got a bit of a fetish for first base prospects. They almost never get national prospect love on account of their defensive limitations, and that in turn leads to an ever-present opportunity for dynasty league owners to pounce on undervalued assets. Back in October I wrote about some low-minors first base prospects that had my eye heading into this season, and now that we’re closing in on the end of the season here are a few next wave guys who’ve caught my eye in the low minors. Obviously all the standard caveats about stats in the low minors apply here, and unless you’re in a very, very deep league none of these guys are likely to be candidates to draft just yet this off-season. But all of them should be squarely on your radar heading into next season, as they represent some of the most intriguing performances from minor league first basemen in 2014.
Patrick Leonard, TAM (High-A)
A fifth-round pick out of high school in 2011, Leonard has started to tap into what was previously thought to be average-at-best raw power in the swamps of Florida. His .839 OPS and 197 total bases both rank second in the league, and he’s managed to saw four percent off his whiff rate while correspondingly adding a point and a half to his walk rate at a higher level this year. Scouts still question whether his bat speed will be able to handle better velocity as he moves up the ladder, but he’s shown enough in a pitching-heavy league this year that he should be on watch lists entering next spring.
Felix Munoz, MIA (A)
Munoz may be the most difficult player to evaluate on this list, as his home park in Greensboro is arguably the best park in the minor leagues for left-handed power. But before we go and dismiss his 16 homer, .181 ISO breakout as a product of his environment it should be noted that he’s actually posted an OPS 85 points higher on the road this year. Things really started to click for Munoz last year in his second look at Low-A pitching, as he went from a guy who struck out eight times for every walk to a guy who whiffed exactly as much as he struck out. His wRC+ doubled last season, and he’s maintained a similar level of performance (135 wRC+) this season against more advanced pitching thanks in part to a very strong command of the strike zone. He’s a filled out 6’2” 200, and at 22 there isn’t much physical projection remaining here. He’s also a bit old for his league, and given the profile and pressure on his bat time is not on his side. But the recent offensive improvements are real and noteworthy, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the aggressive Marlins’ player development staff took a shot on moving him up to AA quickly next season if he shows well out of the gate in High-A. He’ll be a fun dark horse to track next season.
Rowdy Tellez, TOR (Rk)
One of the best prep bats in California, Tellez was considered a second or third round talent entering the 2013 draft, but what was thought to be an iron-clad commitment to USC led to him tumbling all the way to the 30th round, where the Blue Jays opened up their spare vault to score a major coup in buying him out of his commitment. Tellez is a big boy with big time raw power, but at 6’4” and a wink-wink 220 list with long limbs he’d shown some vulnerability to hard stuff early in his career. Reports from the Appy League suggest he’s made significant strides in closing up those holes, however, and while he hasn’t yet begun bringing the full force of his 65/70 raw power into games yet he’s shown an intriguing ability to make adjustments in the right direction. Next season should bring a full-season assignment for Tellez, and we should learn a lot more about him in that environment. In the deepest kind of league with over 150 minor leaguers he’ll be someone to consider as an end-game flyer in minor league drafts this off-season.
Bobby Bradley, CLE (Rk)
A young high school graduate and LSU commit heading into the draft, Bradley was lured to Cleveland with an over-slot bonus in the third round this summer, and he has subsequently laid waste to the short-season Arizona League as one of its youngest members. His 1.120 (not a typo) OPS over 160 plate appearances is a hundred and twenty points clear of the second-best offensive effort in the league, and is currently good for a 164 OPS+. His bat speed ranked as some of the best in the high school class this year, and reports indicate an advanced feel for barreling the ball and using the whole field. He’s obviously eons away like most of these guys, but you can’t ask for much more in a debut than what Bradley has produced thus far. Similar to Tellez he might sneak into the draft conversation this winter if your league drafts to ~200 minor leagues.