First base is one of the thinnest prospect lists, but there are a number of prospects currently playing other positions who are likely to end up at first base due to defensive deficiencies and organizational need, such as D.J. Peterson, Maikel Franco and Josh Bell (all would top this list). Nevertheless, first base has a number of prospects with elite power and a few who could provide value in 2015.
The rankings are broken into three parts: the top 10 prospects in ranked order, the next five prospects in alphabetical order and some prospects who could provide some fantasy value in 2015 but are not among the top 15. As always, these rankings are done with fantasy baseball in mind, generally focusing on a standard 5x5 league, but other statistics (e.g., OBP) are considered.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Christian Walker, Baltimore Orioles
Highest Level: Baltimore (American League)
2014 Statistics: .301/.367/.516 with 20 HR (95 games, AA Bowie); .259/.335/.428 with 6 HR (44 games, AAA Norfolk); .167/.211/.389 with 1 HR (6 games, Baltimore)
Currently slotted to split 1B/DH duties with Chris Davis in 2015, Christian Walker had a monstrous 2014 that took him from a low-level prospect returning to a level in which he hit .242/.319/.323 in 17 games in the year before to the major leagues. Walker answered questions about his power potential, slugging 27 total home runs and putting up a .201 isolated power in 2014. He lacks the top-end power to be an elite first baseman, but has the talent to hit .280 with 15-20 home runs in his peak.
2. Matt Olson, Oakland A's
Highest Level: High-A Stockton (California League)
2014 Statistics: .262/.404/.543 with 37 HR (138 games, High-A Stockton)
The California League is a boon to power hitters, but Olson’s 31 doubles and 37 home runs are a product of near-elite power. Olson has a patient approach that can seem overly passive, but he has the talent to be a low-average, high-OBP masher who hits 25+ home runs on an annual basis. He appeared in nine games as an outfielder in 2014, a product of trying to get Ryon Healy’s bat in the lineup and seeing if Olson can handle the position on occasion.
3. Dominic Smith, New York Mets
Highest Level: Low-A Savannah (South Atlantic League)
2014 Statistics: .271/.344/.338 with 1 HR (126 games, Low-A Savannah)
When the Mets drafted Smith with the 11th pick of the 2013 draft, the primary concern was that Smith may never hit for enough power to fit a first-base only profile. Smith had just one HR in 2014, further amplifying concerns. However, Smith hit 26 doubles and one triple, turning 19 midway through the season in a home park, Grayson Stadium, which is notoriously brutal on left-handed hitters. Smith should open 2014 in High-A St. Lucie, another pitcher-friendly environment, so he may not see his power fully realized until he reaches AA Binghamton.
4. Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs
Highest Level: High-A Daytona (Florida State League)
2014 Statistics: .268/.357/.429 with 16 HR (132 games, High-A Daytona)
In a list where the top (Walker) and third (Smith) prospects are also 6 feet tall, Vogelbach’s size poses the biggest problem. While Walker is a good defensive first baseman and Smith has the potential to be a gold glove winner, Vogelbach’s defense is well below average, putting more pressure on the development of his bat. He keeps putting up fine offensive seasons, but with Anthony Rizzo firmly entrenched at first base and no DH in the NL, Vogelbach’s best chance is to be part of a trade. He has the potential to hit .300 with 20 home runs, but he needs to finally have a breakout season to reestablish his value.
5. Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers
Highest Level: Low-A Hickory (South Atlantic League)
2014 Statistics: .218/.283/.330 with 6 HR (118 games, Low-A Hickory)
Guzman struggled mightily in his return to Hickory in 2014, hitting just .205/.272/.319 after a hot April. His talent is unquestioned, but he never seemed to get comfortable in 2014. He has a mature approach and the potential to hit .300 with 15 HR at his peak. He was involved in a car accident in the Dominican Republic where his car hit a motorcycle, killing the rider. While he has not been arrested, he is barred from leaving the country until the investigation is completed.
6. Greg Bird, New York Yankees
Highest Level: AA Trenton (Eastern League)
2014 Statistics: .277/.375/.442 with 7 HR (75 games, High-A Tampa); .253/.379/.558 with 7 HR (27 games, AA Trenton)
Bird’s power seemed to ebb and flow in 2014, peaking in August, when Bird hit eight doubles and seven home runs for AA Trenton. He deals with recurring back spasms and is a below-average athlete, but possesses a good approach and above-average power from the left side. He has the potential to hit .280 with 20 home runs at his peak, but his high strikeout rate could prove problematic.
7. Max Muncy, Oakland A's
Highest Level: AA Midland (Texas League)
2014 Statistics: .264/.385/.379 with 7 HR (122 games, AA Midland)
Muncy’s breakout 2013, which included 21 HR in 93 games with High-A Stockton appears to have been a mirage, caused by the offense-friendly ballparks in the California League, as Muncy came back to earth with 23 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in 2014. With Matt Olson blasting 37 HR in High-A, Muncy spent 22 games at third base. Muncy has a patient approach long associated with A’s prospects, and he projects as a .270 hitter with lots of walks and 10-15 HR at his peak.
8. Jesus Aguilar, Cleveland Indians
Highest Level: Cleveland (American League)
2014 Statistics: .304/.395/.511 with 19 HR (118 games, AAA Columbus); .121/.211/.121 with 0 HR (19 games, Cleveland)
It is hard to reconcile Aguilar’s monster line in AAA with his struggles in Cleveland, other than hoping that his struggles were as a result of the talent jump to the major leagues. Aguilar is a clunky fielder whose natural position is DH, which likely keeps him in the minor leagues unless there is an injury to 1B/DH platoon Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana. He could also be a trade target, as he has the potential to hit .280 with 15-20 HR at his peak, which could make him attractive to a team that needs right-handed power.
9. Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays
Highest Level: Low-A Lansing (Midwest League)
2014 Statistics: .293/.358/.424 with 4 HR (53 games, Rookie Level Bluefield); .357/.449/.500 with 2 HR (12 games, Low-A Lansing)
Tellez, whose given name is Ryan, had a brutal start to 2014, hitting .103/.191/.121 through his first 17 games. He caught fire, hitting .376/.433/.556 the rest of the time in the Appalachian League before being promoted, where he continued his torrid hitting in the Midwest League as a 19-year old. Tellez is likely to return to Low-A Lansing in 2015, and could end the season with High-A Dunedin. He has the talent to hit .280 with 25 HR at his peak, profiling as a bat-first left-handed slugger.
10. Samir Duenez, Kansas City Royals
Highest Level: Low-A Lexington (South Atlantic League)
2014 Statistics: .304/.347/.393 with 1 HR (39 games, Rookie Level Idaho Falls); .232/.268/.324 with 0 HR (41 games, Low-A Lexington)
Duenez was struggling at Low-A Lexington when he was demoted to the Rookie Level Pioneer League shortly before his 18th birthday. He hit much better in a more age-appropriate environment, and is likely to return to the South Atlantic League in 2015. It is important to note that despite his poor overall line, he had a solid 12.8% K/PA rate in Low-A, displaying his elite bat speed and plate control. He has the potential to turn into a .300 hitter with 20 HR at his peak.
Next Five (Alphabetical Order):
Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians (2014 draft, 3rd round, 23rd pick). Bradley won the Rookie level Arizona League triple crown, hitting .361/.426/.652 with 13 doubles, 8 HR and 50 RBI in 39 games. He has above-average bat speed and a good understanding of the strike zone, and has the potential to hit .280 with 15-20 HR at his peak.
Casey Gillaspie, Tampa Bay Rays (2014 draft, 1st round, 20th pick). Gillaspie is the younger brother of White Sox third baseman, Conor, but he is substantially larger, as he is officially listed at 6’4” 240 pounds. A switch-hitter, Gillaspie has above-average power from both sides and has the potential to hit .280 with 20 HR at his peak.
Daniel Palka, Arizona Diamondbacks (.248/.332/.466 with 22 HR in 118 games with Low-A South Bend). Palka’s pull-friendly approach helped lead him to high home run totals, but they will likely decrease his ability to fully utilize his above-average power and will lower his batting average. Palka projects as a .260 hitter with 20 HR, but he will need to decrease his strikeout totals.
A.J. Reed, Houston Astros (2014 draft, 2nd round, 1st pick). Originally drafted by the Mets in 2011 (as a pitcher), Reed mashed 23 HR in college while putting up a 2.09 ERA over 112 IP as a Junior for Kentucky. Reed has 20+ HR potential, but may struggle to hit .275, and could fall back as a lefty reliever.
Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox (.305/.406/.548 with 11 HR in 47 games for AA Portland; .262/.321/.431 with 10 HR in 81 games for AAA Pawtucket). Son of former closer Jeff Shaw. Despite lighting up the high minor leagues in 2014, Shaw will likely spend 2015 in AAA, stuck behind David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Allen Craig. Potential to hit .270 with 15-20 HR at his peak.
2015 Fantasy Value (Alphabetical Order):
Stetson Allie, Pittsburgh Pirates. Former pitching prospect who struggled to throw strikes, Allie has tremendous power. Could see time at PNC Park at first base if Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart continue to struggle.
Rangel Ravelo, Oakland A’s. Acquired as part of the package for Jeff Samardzija, Ravelo is no longer stuck behind Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche, and could see time in majors if the Ike Davis/Mark Canha platoon fails to produce.
Richie Shaffer, Tampa Bay Rays. Still plays third base, but the combination of below-average glove work and Evan Longoria could move him to first base. A slow start from James Loney and a dearth of good first base talent in the minors could make Shaffer an attractive option.