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With a general decrease in the quality of first base prospects, this list has few sure things. Abreu’s ability to make consistent contact makes him a big question mark, while Singleton has to show he has the focus to be the first baseman for the Astros’ resurgence. Many of the players on this list are long-term bets, most prominently Smith and Guzman, but this list would be bolstered if Gary Sanchez and Maikel Franco became full time first basemen.
|1||Jose Abreu||White Sox|
1. Jose Dariel Abreu, White Sox (defected from Cuba in 2013)
Abreu may be the biggest beneficiary of Yasiel Puig’s 2013 season, as is shown by the 6-year, $68 million contract signed with the White Sox in December. The 26-year old Abreu has long been one of the best hitters in the Cuban National Series, though he had an “off” year in 2012-2013, hitting .344/.479/.604 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI in 83 games. In the 2013 WBC, Abreu hit .360 with three home runs in nine games for Cuba. While there are questions as to whether he will be able to produce against pitchers with the best fastballs, Abreu has elite power and could immediately become a 30-home run threat. His fantasy comparable is Pedro Alvarez, right down to a projected .240 average and 30+ home runs.
2. Jonathan Singleton, Astros (Finished 2013 in AAA, unclear if he will begin 2014 there or in the Majors)
After being suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season due to a second positive test for marijuana, Singleton returned out of shape and struggled during his introduction to AAA, putting up a .220/.340/.347 line. Long viewed as a middle of the order threat that would hit for a decent average, good power and work counts, Singleton’s stock has dropped precipitously due to his suspension and poor performance in 2013. He projects as a .280/.360/.450 hitter with 20 home runs, which will be a solid 1B, worthy of being owned in every fantasy league. A fantasy comparable would be Allen Craig with a slightly lower batting average.
3. Dan Vogelbach, Cubs (Finished 2013 in High-A, will likely return there for 2014)
Listed at 6 feet and 250 pounds, Vogelbach has spent much of his time as a professional crushing opposing pitching (career .297/.386/.515 line) and working hard to keep his weight in check. Vogelbach weighed close to 300 pounds when he was drafted, which severely limited his range at first base, hurting his draft stock. While he will never be svelte, his smooth, powerful lefty swing has kept up the comparisons to another first baseman with a similar body – Prince Fielder. While he does not possess the power of Fielder, Vogelbach’s future projection of a .300/.370/.480 hitter with 25-30 home runs firmly plants him in the upper echelon of first base prospects. His fantasy comparable would be Freddie Freeman.
4. Dominic Smith, Mets (Finished 2013 in Rookie, will likely move to full-season A in 2014, but could be held back and sent to short-season-A in Brooklyn)
The Mets’ first round pick (#11 overall) in 2013, Smith is known for his smooth swing and power potential. He was generally considered the top high school hitter in the draft. Also an above-average first baseman, he projects to hit for both high average and good power in the major leagues. Smith projects as the most talented first base prospect in the minor leagues, and only his lack of experience is keeping him from being #1 on this list. A future projection of .290/.370/.450 with 20 home runs and a couple of stolen bases, Smith’s fantasy comparable is Eric Hosmer with a little less power.
5. Ronald Guzman, Rangers (Finished 2013 in A, will likely open 2014 in High-A)
When Guzman was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.5 million in 2011, many saw Guzman as a future LF/1B who would hit for high average and good power. In the two seasons since, Guzman has hit for good average but has yet to show the projected power, though it should develop as he fills out his 6’5”, 200 pound frame. However, Guzman has been one of the youngest players in each league, and his ability to hold his own against more experienced competition speaks of his current ability and potential. He projects as a .300/.350/.450 hitter with 15 home runs, though he could develop substantially more power due to his size. His fantasy comparable is Freddie Freeman with less power.
6. Max Muncy, A’s (Finished 2013 in AA, will likely return there for 2014)
Muncy’s prospect status exploded in 2013, as he mashed 21 home runs in 93 games for the High-A Stockton Ports. While Stockton is notoriously hitter-friendly, Muncy is projected to hit for decent average and above-average power, which translates to a .270/.350/.440 line with 20-25 home runs. His fantasy comparable is Mike Napoli with a little less power.
7. Gregory Bird, Yankees (Finished 2013 in A, will likely open 2014 in High-A)
The most likely candidate to replace Mark Teixeira after 2016, Bird possesses above-average power, an advanced hitting approach, and average contact ability. With his power from the left side and the short porch in Yankee Stadium, Bird could hit 25+ home runs per year, making him a top-10 first baseman. However, he struck out 132 times in 2013, making some wonder whether his contact ability will ever be sufficient to allow his power to show. He projects as a .280/.350/.470 hitter with 25 home runs each year. Fantasy comparable is Ryan Klesko.
8. Matthew Olson, A’s (Finished 2013 in A, likely to open 2014 in High-A)
A prospect blocked by Max Muncy who has a similar skill-set, Olson struggled in the second half of 2013, hitting just .208 to drag down his season line to .225/.326/.435. Olson hit 23 home runs and 32 doubles, though he struck out 148 times. Olson’s future is tied to his bat, and he needs to limit his strikeouts to have a chance at reaching the majors. If he makes it, Olson projects as a .230/.300/.400 hitter who would help with power, but could hurt batting average too much to be useful. His fantasy comparable is John Buck, who has a career .234/.301/.400 line.
9. Christian Walker, Orioles (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to return for 2014)
A bat-first prospect who isn’t projected for much power, Walker has a tough profile and may never have more value than Chris Davis’ back-up 1B who also picks up at-bats as the DH. He could see time in majors in 2014 if he continues to hit in the minors and Baltimore does not sign a better DH than Nolan Reimold. Walker projects to hit .280/.345/.380, so is unlikely to ever become a top-15 first baseman for fantasy purposes. Fantasy comparable is James Loney.
10. C.J. Cron, Angels (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to open 2014 in AAA)
Cron has easy plus power with above-average contact ability, but rarely walks and often expands the strike zone, significantly limiting his potential. He is nearly major-league ready, but the Angels already have established 1B (Pujols), DH (Ibanez) and have three players who will play at 2B/3B (Freese, Kendrick, Green), leaving Cron without a role in the majors. Likely to become a .280/.320/.415-type player who serves as a backup 1B/DH for both the Angels and fantasy teams. Fantasy comparable is Daniel Murphy.