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Prospect Positional: 1B

by Matthew Foreman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

This week’s Prospect Positional will cover first basemen; a position that contains a few high-ceiling players, a few prospects who are extra bats in the high minors and some players in the midst of mid-season breakouts.  There are a number of prospects in other positions that could be first basemen, including Miguel Sano, D.J. Peterson and Kyle Parker.

 

Note: All statistics are current through Sunday, July 13.

 

Updated top-12

 

Updated May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 2 3 Dan Vogelbach Cubs Daytona (High-A)
2 4 9 Christian Walker Orioles Norfolk (AAA)
3 6 4 Dominic Smith Mets Savannah (Low-A)
4 8 8 Matthew Olson A's Stockton (High-A)
5 5 5 Ronald Guzman Rangers Hickory (Low-A)
6 3 7 Greg Bird Yankees Tampa (High-A)
7 7 6 Max Muncy A's Midland (AA)
8 11 N/R Jesus Aguilar Indians Columbus (AAA)
9 10 N/R Rowdy Tellez Blue Jays Bluefield (Rookie)
10 Bubble N/R Samir Duenez Royals Idaho Falls (Rookie)
11 N/R N/R Travis Shaw Red Sox Pawtucket (AAA)
12 12 12 Stetson Allie Pirates Altoona (AA)

 

Graduates

 

May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team
1 2 Jonathan Singleton Astros

 

Jonathan Singleton has shown what was expected so far in the major leagues, a low batting average, a patient approach, good power and too many strikeouts.  His .188/.283/.368 line with six home runs over his first 37 games is worse than expected, and the 22-year old slugger should improve his batting average, which will make his other attributes more palatable.

 

Superb performance

 

Updated May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
2 4 9 Christian Walker Orioles Norfolk (AAA)
3 6 4 Dominic Smith Mets Savannah (Low-A)
4 8 8 Matt Olson A's Stockton (High-A)

 

The emergence of Steve Pearce and incredible season from Nelson Cruz have helped to keep Christian Walker in the minor leagues, despite his solid .300/.368/.518 line for Double-A Bowie that included 15 doubles, two triples and 20 home runs.  Walker is having a career high in many good areas such as home runs, walk rate (9.3%), isolated power (.218) and wOBA (.392), but he also has a career high in strikeout rate (20.3%) and errors (9), which could keep him in the minor leagues for the rest of the season.  Walker was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk after the game on Monday.

 

Dominic Smith has been on fire since hitting .212/.261/.247 in April, putting up a solid .324/.382/.395 line since the beginning of May.  Despite his recent successes, he will always be dogged by the profile of a short (yes, a six-foot first baseman is short) first base prospect that won’t hit for power.  This season, all 20 of his extra base hits have been doubles, and he has an isolated power of .062, which is low, particularly for a first base prospect.  Smith did not turn 19 until June and Savannah is notoriously tough on left-handed power, so he has time to develop and may not show power until he plays for High-A St. Lucie.

 

Matt Olson is leading the California League in home runs (25) and walks (81) despite being the 10th youngest player to start the season in the California League.  His overall season line of .239/.391/.516 with 18 doubles, 25 home runs, 81 walks and 92 strikeouts tells his story pretty well.  He is a patient hitter who has a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss in his game.  He is blocked by Max Muncy at Double-A Midland, but he will likely spend the rest of the season at Stockton and make his Double-A debut in 2015.

 

Holding serve

 

Updated May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 2 3 Dan Vogelbach Cubs Daytona (High-A)
6 3 7 Greg Bird Yankees Tampa (High-A)
7 7 6 Max Muncy A's Midland (AA)
8 11 N/R Jesus Aguilar Indians Columbus (AAA)
11 N/R N/R Travis Shaw Red Sox Pawtucket (AAA)
12 12 12 Stetson Allie Pirates Altoona (AA)

 

Dan Vogelbach has hit .271/.363/.420 with 21 doubles, one triple and eight home runs for High-A Daytona.  After a slow start to the season, he hit .319/.429/.553 in June, but has hit a speed bump in July, hitting just .211/.333/.263 over his first 11 games.  Vogelbach is another “short” first base prospect, and is a poor defensive first baseman.  Anthony Rizzo has first base in Chicago on lockdown for the foreseeable future, so Vogelbach’s future may be as a trade chip or a platoon/backup option.  He has the ceiling of a top 10 first baseman, so it is appearing likely that he could be used to fill a hole.

 

Greg Bird has a solid .270/.356/.409 season line, but it has been carried by his ability to hit right-handed pitching, putting up a .311/.406/.490 line.  He has struggled against lefties, putting up a brutal .172/.229/.219 line.  Bird has above-average power, but after hitting three home runs in his first 15 games, he has only hit one home run over the last 43 games.

 

After mashing 21 home runs in 429 plate appearances with High-A Stockton in the California League, Max Muncy has struggled to hit for power with Double-A Midland, hitting just seven home runs over 524 plate appearances in 2013 and 2014.  In 2014, he has hit .265/.379/.392, which is solid but not spectacular, though he has 52 walks and 54 strikeouts in 323 plate appearances, both of which are quite good.  Muncy may not have more than a cup of coffee in Oakland if he does not find his power stroke, but he could carve out a role as a backup first baseman if he keep working counts and getting on base at a high clip.

 

24-year old slugging first base prospect Jesus Aguilar is looking at the possibility that he may be getting the dreaded “AAAA slugger” label, which means he is a good enough hitter to dominate Triple-A but not well enough to stick in the major leagues.  Aguilar has a .284/.381/.475 line with 18 doubles and 12 home runs in 328 plate appearances with Triple-A Columbus.  He will be given more opportunities to hit in Cleveland, but don’t be surprised if he is kept on a short leash.

 

Travis Shaw is the son of former MLB closer Jeff Shaw, who was once traded for Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes.  The younger Shaw is a slugging first base prospect who has been flying under the radar in the loaded Red Sox organization.  He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, and hit .305/.406/.548 over 47 games with Double-A Portland before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he has hit .268/.315/.447 over 46 games.  Shaw lacks star upside, but he could see time at Fenway if the Red Sox deal Mike Napoli or he comes up for a cup of coffee in September.

 

In April and May, Stetson Allie hit .207/.324/.431 with nine doubles, ten home runs and 58 strikeouts in 204 plate appearances.  Since then, Allie has hit .287/.376/.471 with four doubles, four home runs and 31 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances.  Allie missed a little more than a week after sustaining a concussion during a fracas that was the result of a beanball war.  No one will question Allie’s power, but his sudden ability to hit for a high average could propel him to the major leagues as a slugging first baseman, though he made his first professional appearance in the outfield on Sunday.

 

Struggling

 

Updated May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
5 5 5 Ronald Guzman Rangers Hickory (Low-A)
9 10 N/R Rowdy Tellez Blue Jays Bluefield (Rookie)
10 Bubble N/R Samir Duenez Royals Idaho Falls (Rookie)

 

Ronald Guzman has gone backward in his second season with Low-A Hickory, hitting .221/.302/.347 after hitting .272/.325/.387 with Hickory in 2013.  His strikeouts have increased from 14.1% of plate appearances to 23.1%, while his wOBA has decreased from .330 to .303.  On the positive side, his walk rate has increased from 5.8% to 9.6%, and his isolated power has increased from .116 to .126.  At some point, Guzman is going to need to show more offensive production, but as a result of his obvious physical tools and signing bonus he will be given copious opportunities.

 

Rowdy Tellez has struggled during his time with rookie-level Bluefield, hitting just .176/.281/.230 over 89 plate appearances.  He has the potential to hit 25-plus home runs, but there are substantial question surrounding his ability to recognize breaking pitches, which could substantially hamper his development and production.

 

Samir Duenez was hitting .232/.268/.324 for Low-A Lexington as a 17-year old when he was demoted to rookie-level Idaho Falls, where he has continued to struggle, hitting .217/.308/.348.  Duenez was signed by the Royals for $425,000, and has shown a smooth left-handed swing that has the potential to hit 20-plus home runs and a .300 average in the future.

 

On the Bubble (listed alphabetically)

 

Updated May 26 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
Bubble Bubble N/R Max Kepler Twins Fort Myers (High-A)
Bubble 9 11 Hunter Morris Brewers Nashville (AAA)
Bubble Bubble N/R Daniel Palka Diamondbacks South Bend (Low-A)
Bubble Bubble N/R Richie Shaffer Rays Montgomery (AA)

 

Once you get past Max Kepler’s backstory, it is easy to notice that he has not hit particularly well over the past two years.  For the season he is hitting .229/.308/.342 with nine doubles, four triples and three home runs while striking out in 17.9% of his plate appearances.  At some point, Kepler is going to have to start hitting or he risks never making it out of A-ball.

 

On June 29, Hunter Morris suffered a suffered a non-displaced fracture to the ulna, which will keep him out of action through the third week of August, if not the rest of the season.  Prior to his injury, Morris was hitting .274/.316/.444 in his second season with Triple-A Nashville.  Morris has been stuck behind the platoon split formed by righty Mark Reynolds (.205/.304/.391) and lefty Lyle Overbay (.244/.325/.360).  The left-handed hitting Morris could have supplanted Overbay, but his season may be over due to the injury.

 

Daniel Palka has struggled while playing in the Low-A Midwest League, hitting just .256/.333/.487 with 18 doubles, four triples, 18 home runs and 103 strikeouts in 396 plate appearances.  Palka has immense pull-side power, but struggles with swing-and-miss.  He is unlikely to see time in Arizona anytime soon, especially with Paul Goldschmidt firmly ensconced at first base.  He has the power to hit 20-plus home runs, but is unlikely to ever hit above .250.

 

Richie Shaffer has hit .205/.294/.399 with 81 strikeouts over 313 plate appearances for Double-A Montgomery this season.  On one hand, he has experienced increases in his walk rate (6.7% in 2013 to 10.2% in 2014) and isolated power (.145 to .194).  On the other hand, his strikeout rate has increased (20.4% to 25.9%) while he has experienced a decrease in wOBA (.323 to .318).  Shaffer will need to decrease his swing-and-miss substantially to have a chance to reach the major leagues, let alone Triple-A.

Matthew Foreman
Matthew Foreman is a baseball prospect writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter.