The rankings for first basemen are broken into three parts: the top 10 prospects in order, the next 10 prospects in alphabetical order and a list of those who could provide some value in 2015. As always, these rankings are done from a scouting perspective but with fantasy baseball in mind, generally focusing on standard 5x5 league categories, though other statistics (e.g., OBP) are considered.
The Top 10:
1. D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners (Double-A Jackson, Southern League)
Peterson showcased his bat and power last year in his first full season, hitting 31 home runs and 31 doubles while batting .297/.360/.552 in 123 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. The 23-year-old was viewed as the most advanced college hitter—arguably the top overall hitter—in the 2013 draft class thanks to his excellent bat-to-ball skills, patient approach and good pitch recognition. While he’s currently splitting time between both corner-infield positions, Peterson’s lack of range, quickness and athleticism makes him destined to end up first base.
Fantasy Upside: .270/.340/.485, 25 HR
2. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates (Double-A Altoona, Eastern League)
Josh Bell continued his ascent toward the major leagues in 2014, as the 22-year-old hit both for average and consistent gap power. Bell has hit roughly three times as many doubles as home runs as a professional, and it’s only a matter of time until some of those two-baggers start clearing fences. A corner outfielder for his entire professional career, Bell moved to first base during last year's Arizona Fall League and has continued on at the position full time this season at Altoona. The position change gives him a clearer path to the major leagues, but it also means he’ll need to develop more power to fit the typical first-baseman profile.
Fantasy Upside: .280+ AVG, 15-18 HR
3. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland, Texas League)
Matt Olson ranked second in the Low-A Midwest League in 2013 (his full-season debut) with 23 home runs. Last season, the 21-year-old slugger ranked third in all of the minors with 37 home runs, and he also paced the High-A California League with 111 runs scored, 278 total bases and 117 walks. Olson projects as an average hitting talent, as he already displays good feel for hitting with good patience and a willingness to work deep counts, but his 6’4”, 236-pound frame and long arms leave holes in his swing and lead to a lot of strikeouts. Olson’s approach and massive power should give him an opportunity to make an impact at the highest level, possibly even earlier than expected.
Fantasy Upside: .250 AVG, .350 OBP, 30+ HR
4. Greg Bird, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton, Eastern League)
Greg Bird, 22, finished the 2014 season with a eye-opening performance at Double-A Trenton (27 G, .937 OPS, 7 HR), and then proceeded to take home MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where he batted .313 with six home runs and 21 RBI. There will always be tremendous pressure on Bird’s bat due to his limited defensive profile, but a strong showing between the Double- and Triple-A levels could get him to the major leagues by the end of the 2015 season.
Fantasy Upside: .260+ AVG, .350+ OBP, 20 HR
5. Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs (Double-A Tennessee, Southern League)
Vogelbach had a strong showing at the plate last season in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League, as the 22-year-old masher posted a .787 OPS to go along with 45 extra-base hits (16 home runs) in 132 games. As a 6’0”, 250-pound prospect at first base, Vogelbach’s profile is and will always be about the bat. The left-handed hitter possesses plus-plus raw power and a feel for utilizing it in games, but his huge plate coverage and willingness to use the whole field can make him vulnerable to inner-half velocity. It’s difficult to say where Vogelbach fits in the Cubs’ long-term plans, but it’s increasingly clear that he’s going to be a big leaguer in some capacity.
Fantasy Upside: .270+ AVG, 22-25 HR
6. A.J. Reed, Houston Astros (High-A Lancaster, California League)
A.J. Reed, the No. 42 overall pick in last year’s draft, led all college hitters with 23 HR in 2014, and then added 12 more during his 68-game professional debut between Short Season Tri-City and Low-A Quad Cities. The 21-year-old has some length to his swing that could lead to problems against quality secondary pitches, but he’s done nothing but hit over the years and already shows consistent in-game power early in his pro career.
Fantasy Upside: .260+ AVG, 20+ HR
7. Dominic Smith, New York Mets (High-A St. Lucie, Florida State League)
When the Mets drafted Smith with the 11th pick of the 2013 draft, the primary concern was that Smith might never hit for enough power to fit the standard first-base only profile. The fact he hit just one dinger in 126 games last year only amplified concerns, though the 19-year-old did exhibit good gap power with 26 doubles. Smith playing in the Florida State League makes it difficult to envision him realizing his power potential any time soon, and it might be several years until it begins to show in games.
Fantasy Upside: .280+ AVG, 10-15 HR
8. Christian Walker, Baltimore Orioles (Triple-A Norfolk, International League)
Christian Walker took a huge step forward last season at the plate, hitting for both average and power between the Double- and Triple-A levels before joining the Orioles as a September call-up. Specifically, the 24-year-old finally learned to tap into his raw power en route to a career-high 27 home runs, an enormous improvement compared to the 11 long balls he hit in 2013. Walker has hit for average and posted high on-base rates throughout his amateur and professional careers, but it’s yet to be seen whether the power he showed last season was for real.
Fantasy Upside: .270+ AVG, 18-20 HR
9. Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians (Low-A Lake County, Midwest League)
The Indians selected Bobby Bradley in the third round (No. 97 overall) last year for his bat and power potential from the left side. That was exactly what the 18-year-old showcased in his professional debut, as he won the rookie-level Arizona League Triple Crown with a .361 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBI in 39 games. Meanwhile, his 1.078 OPS was the highest among all 2014 draftees.
Bradley has a smooth, left-handed stroke and plus bat speed that yields loud contact to all fields. He's more of a pure hitter than simply a one-dimensional slugger, though there's obviously plenty of juice in his bat.
Fantasy Upside: .280+ AVG, 18-20 HR
10. Casey Gillaspie, Tampa Bay Rays (Low-A Bowling Green, Midwest League)
Selected by the Rays with the No. 20 overall pick in 2014, Casey Gillaspie—the younger brother of White Sox 3B Conor Gillaspie—is a physically strong switch-hitter who features more power from the left side of the plate, with a swing that’s longer and more leveraged compared to his relatively compact stroke as a righty. The 22-year-old also knows how to work counts and, for the most part, does a good job keeping his weight back in order to barrel secondary pitches.
Fantasy Upside: .260+ AVG, 15-18 HR
The Next 10 (Alphabetical Order):
Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays (High-A Charlotte, Florida State League)
A seventh-round pick in the 2013 Draft, Bauers hit .296/.376/.414 with 29 extra-base hits (eight home runs) last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Fort Wayne. The Rays acquired the 19-year-old from San Diego during the offseason, and he fits nicely in their farm system with his promising bat and present on-base skills. And don’t worry about the power; the fact that he has such an advanced feel for hitting as a teenager suggests he’ll clear plenty of fences at maturity.
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga, California League)
Cody Bellinger, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, made strides at the plate last season in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, posting a .328/.368/.503 batting line in 212 plate appearances. The 19-year-old’s performance convinced the Dodgers that he was ready to be challenged, and so the organization assigned him to High-A Rancho Cucamonga for his full-season debut, bypassing the Low-A level entirely. A left-handed hitter, Bellinger has a good feel for the zone considering his age, while his 6’4”, 180-pound frame suggests big-time power could be on the way.
Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers (Low-A Hickory, South Atlantic League)
Ronald Guzman struggled mightily in his return to Low-A Hickory in 2014, hitting just .218/.283/.330 with six home runs and a 21.7% strikeout rate in 492 plate appearances. The 20-year-old has a mature approach and should hit for a respectable average once fully developed, and there’s plenty of raw power to his 6’5”, 205-pound frame. Guzman is now in his third consecutive season at Hickory and has more than 750 plate appearances in the South Atlantic League, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he were receive a first-half promotion to the Carolina League.
Ryon Healy, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland, Texas League)
A third-round draft pick in 2013 from the University of Oregon, Ryon Healy made a splash in his 2014 full-season debut by batting .285/.318/.428 with 16 home runs and 28 doubles at High-A Stockton. After spending last season in the hitter-friendly California League, Healy, 23, could have a shaky 2015 campaign at the Double-A level, where pitchers will be more adept at exploiting the 6’5”, 225-pound right-handed hitter’s swing. The A’s moved him to the hot corner last season on a near-full-time basis, though his size is best suited for a long-term career at first base.
Patrick Kivlehan, Seattle Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma, Pacific Coast League)
Kivlehan was a safety for four years at Rutgers and only played baseball as a senior prior to his selection in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. The 25-year-old has done nothing but hit since signing, highlighted by his .300/.374/.485 batting line and 41 extra-base hits (11 home runs) in 431 plate appearances last season at Double-A Jackson. Kivlehan consistently gets the barrel on the ball and makes loud contact to all fields, while his improved feel for turning on the ball last season helped him tap into his above-average raw power. Kivlehan spent most of his professional career at third base until last season, when he began seeing playing time at multiple positions, including first base and all three outfield spots.
Amaurys Minier, Minnesota Twins (TBD)
Signed by the Twins for seven figures during the 2012-13 international signing period, Amaurys Minier was one of the more impressive hitters in the Gulf Coast League last summer, though it was his second tour of the level. Still, the 19-year-old switch-hitter paced the league in home runs (eight), tied for second in extra-base hits (21) and ranked third in slugging (.520). Minier is many years away from reaching the major leagues, but his upside at the plate makes him a name to follow closely in 2015.
Daniel Palka, Arizona Diamondbacks (High-A Visalia, California League)
Daniel Palka showcased his above-average power last year in his full-season debut, as the 2013 third-round pick combined for 22 home runs, 23 doubles and five triples in 118 games between Low-A South Bend and High-A Visalia. The left-handed hitter’s pull-oriented approach makes him a legitimate home-run threat, but it also leads to too much swing-and-miss and takes away from his ability to hit for average.
Rangel Ravelo, Oakland Athletics (Triple-A Nashville - Disabled list)
Acquired as part of the package for Jeff Samardzija, Rangel Ravelo quietly enjoyed a strong 2014 season at Double-A Birmingham, batting .309/.386/.473 with 52 extra-base hits (11 home runs) in 133 games. The 23-year-old was a candidate for a bench spot on the A’s Opening Day roster, but a partially torn wrist tendon and subsequent surgery sidelined him until mid-May.
Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays (Low-A Lansing, Midwest League)
Rowdy Tellez overcame a slow start last season to bat .305/.375/.438 with 18 extra-base hits in 65 games, the final 12 of which came at Low-A Lansing. An impressive finish considering he began the season hitting .103/.191/.121 through his first 17 games. The 20-year-old masher, who checks in at 6’4”, 245 pounds, is back at Lansing this season, but he could finish the season at High-A Dunedin if all goes as planned.
Sam Travis, Boston Red Sox (High-A Salem, Carolina League)
The Red Sox made Sam Travis its second-round pick last year, targeting the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year for his natural hitting ability and useable power. The 21-year-old made an immediate impact in his professional debut, batting .316/.351/.467 with 25 extra-base hits (seven home runs) in 67 games between the Short Season and Low-A levels.
2015 Fantasy Value (Alphabetical Order):
Cheslor Cuthbert, Kansas City Royals
Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox
Kyle Parker, Colorado Rockies
Jesus Aguilar, Cleveland Indians
Xavier Scruggs, St. Louis Cardinals
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