Digging for Diamonds: Lower Minors First Base Prospects
First base prospects are often tricky propositions in dynasty leagues. Some owners won’t bother investing in first base prospects because of the sheer volume of them that fail to hit enough to hold down a regular job in the big leagues- if they do even reach the majors. Justin Smoak, Yonder Alonso, and Eric Hosmer are recent examples of highly touted first base prospects that have alternated between being maddeningly inconsistent and just maddening over the course of their big league careers. Many owners also are hesitant to invest because of a perception that there is a seemingly endless supply of players that start out at other positions and then end up getting moved down the defensive spectrum and gain first base eligibility.
A closer look at the Top 10 First Baseman on our Top 50 positional list from the beginning of the season shows that there are only three hitters (Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Albert Pujols) that played other positions at the major league level prior to making the move to first. The other seven were by definition at one point, first base prospects. Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman played a combined six games at positions other than first in their minor league careers, so let’s take a look at three first base prospects that could mash enough to hold down a regular job at the big league level one day:
Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays (Current Level: High-A/Florida State League)
Bauers was an oft-overlooked part of Tampa Bay’s return for Wil Myers this offseason. The former 2013 seventh round pick by the Padres didn’t turn 18 until four months after being drafted, and has been one of the youngest players at each level of his professional career. Bauers didn’t show much power in his full-season debut in 2014 with Fort Wayne of the Midwest League, hitting eight home runs in 112 games, where his .296/.376/.414 line was good for a 128 wRC+. The Rays assigned Bauers to Charlotte of the Florida State League to begin the 2015 season, where he has thrived in the unfriendly hitting environment, walking (25) almost as much as he’s struck out (32) in his first 212 plate appearances of the year. At first glance, Bauers’ 2015 line of .276/.363/.443 with five home runs in 50 games doesn’t knock your socks off, but the totals equate to a 146 wRC+, which leads all first basemen – despite being the youngest regular first baseman in the league. Bauers’ ISO of .168 is good for sixth overall in the FSL and if he continues to hit for power, he could establish himself as one of the better first base prospects in the game.
Casey Gillaspie, Tampa Bay Rays (Current Level: Low-A/Midwest League)
The switch-hitting Gillaspie was plucked by the Rays with the twentieth overall pick in last June’s draft from Wichita State, after his monster junior season where he posted a .389/.520/.682 line with 15 home runs and walked twice as much as he struck out in the Missouri Valley Conference. What’s not to like? Well, scouts question Gillaspie’s ability to hit for enough power as a professional, particularly once he reaches the higher levels of the minors. Gillaspie hit seven home runs in 71 games after being drafted last season in the New-York Penn League and currently leads the Midwest League in home runs with 12 in 52 games (with a .847 OPS) in the 2015 season. That sounds great on the surface, but he is currently in the midst of his age-22 season, meaning he’s actually older than the average player in the MWL. So why not just move up Gillaspie a level and give him a new challenge? When Andrew Friedman drafted Gillaspie in June, the plan probably was to have him in the Florida State League by now, but new GM Matthew Silverman traded for the player profiled above (Jake Bauers) in the winter and he’s currently manning the position in High-A. They Rays might not feel that a 19-year old Bauers is ready for Double-A, so unless they feel Gillaspie is ready to skip a level, the best option might be to let him play the field in the Midwest League for the time being and continue to mash.
A.J. Reed, Houston Astros (Current League: High-A/California League)
The Astros took ‘The Babe Ruth of the SEC’ with the first pick in the second round of last year’s draft, and he’s done nothing but send balls into orbit since being drafted. Reed hit 12 bombs in 64 games across two levels after being drafted in 2014, and his numbers certainly weren’t going to suffer when he was assigned to the hitter’s haven that is the California League to start the 2015 season. Reed has hit 15 home runs over the first 56 games of the season, putting together a .303/.408/.583 mark – good for a 167 wRC+, second in the league behind 27-year old Alex Burg, who I hope has his name pronounced like this every time that it’s said. Many scouts feel that Reed’s bat speed will not be good enough to hit at the higher levels of the minors. Reed could be a great value play in deeper leagues, provided you are able to acquire him cheaply now and then flip him for a profit as he continues to compile video game numbers in the Cal League.
J.J. Jansons is a contributor to The Dynasty Guru. Be one of the first to follow him (literally) on Twitter, where you can request future topics to be covered here at TDG. Follow @jansons_jj