Top 15 First Basemen Prospects

This isn’t a stellar class of First Baseman and that can partially be attributed to the fact that often some of Major League Baseball’s best first baseman play third base for much of their Minor League career. See Teixeira, Mark. This year’s crop of prospects is no exception as Pittsburg’s Pedro Alvarez and Toronto’s Brett Wallace will likely spend the majority of their MLB career at first base. For now however, I’ll be ranking those two among the third baseman until their clubs move them off of the position. It’s also important to note that Seattle’s Dustin Ackley will be ranked among the outfielders.

Junkie Glossary

BATS – THROWS – HEIGHT – WEIGHT – TEAM – D.O.B.

1. Justin Smoak – B-L – 6’4 220 – TEX – 12.5.86. Imagine that you are a future 1st round pick as well as the top prospect at your position and yet you weren’t even the best player on your high school team. That was Justin Smoak and that’s what he gets for going to school with a kid named Matt Weiters. Smoak didn’t sign when the A’s selected him in the 16th round of the 2005 draft, instead choosing to go to South Carolina. Three years later the Rangers would use the 11th overall selection on Smoak and he signed for $3.5MM. Smoak only hit 12 HR during the regular season last year then went on to hit 9 in just 14 games during the World Cup. A switch hitter with power, Smoak is a better hitter at this point against right handed pitching as he hit just .196 from the right side in 50 AA games compared to .379 from the left. The splits evened out a bit when he went to AAA going .231 from the right and .250 from the left. Smoak has nice loft to his swing and possesses great patience at the plate (15.9% BB Rate) and a great .925 BB/K ratio. He will likely begin the season back in AAA Oklahoma City where he finished 2009 but he should arrive in Texas after the All Star Break.

2. Logan Morrison – L-L – 6’2 215 – FLA – 8.25.87. It’s strange that a player coming off of a league MVP season (High A Florida State League) and misses significant time the following season with a broke thumb still improves his stock, but Morrison did just that. He saw his walk rate jump from 10.3% to 18.4% and his BB/K ratio went from a solid .71 to an amazing 1.37. Morrison is athletic enough to play LF and was used out there sparingly in 2009 but his home is 1B. To reach his ceiling as an All Star 1B, he’ll need to improve v. LHP as he hit just .233 against them last year.

3. Chris Carter – R-R – 6’4 210 – OAK – 12.18.86. Drafted by the White Sox out of a Las Vegas HS in 2005, Carter has already been traded twice. First to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin then again to the Athletics with Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez for Dan Haren. Carter rivals Florida OF Michael Stanton as having the most power of any current prospect in the Minor Leagues. He won the AA Texas League MVP posting a 1.011 OPS with 67 XBH. Strikeouts will always be a concern for Carter but he did cut down on his hideous 30.8 K% of 2008 to a less atrocious 24.3% in 2009. Carter’s swing reminds me a little of Glenallen Hill’s as he appears to commit too early, guess at a spot and swing hard. My apologies for the grainy Glenallen Hill clip, but there is not an abundance of footage of his swing on the interweb.

4. Yonder Alonso – L-R – 6’2 215 – CIN – 4.8.87. Originally drafted as a catcher by the Twins in the 16th round in 2005, Yonder decided instead to go to college where he, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Gutierrez, Dennis Raben, and Blake Tekotte led Miami to the College World Series in 2008. Yonder hit just .231 v. lefties in High A Sarasota, and just .242 v. them in AA Carolina while hitting over .315 v. righties at both levels. He broke his hamate bone in his right hand last year and that may hinder his 2010 power numbers. If I were Cincinnati, I’d start him where he finished 2009, in AA. Before the start of the 2011 season, Cincinnati will have to decide to either move Joey Votto to LF or trade either him or Alonzo.

5. Freddie Freeman – L-R – 6’5 220 – ATL – 9.12.89. A second round pick in the same 2007 draft the Braves selected Jason Heyward #14 overall, Freeman broke out in 2008 when he put up a .316/.378/.521 line in the South Atlantic League where he had 18 HR and 33 2B. He didn’t fair as well in 2009, totaling just 8 HR between High A and AA. His season was cut short by a left wrist injury that didn’t require surgery. If I’m Atlanta, I’d start Freeman back in AA Mississippi with the hopes that he can compete for the 1B job in Atlanta in 2011.

6. Lars Anderson – L-L – 6’4 215 – BOS – 9.25.87. Had this blog been operating a year ago at this time, Anderson might have ranked as my top 1B. He was coming off of a year where he dominated High A and AA showing the ability to hit for average, power and maintained his high OBP capabilities. 2009 was a disaster as his AVE dropped from .317 to .233 and his HR production dropped from 18 to 9. The only knock on Lars heading into this past season was that he could be too patient at the plate. This may have been the primary contributing factor to his awful 2009. His BB rate was still high at 12.3% and he pretty much maintained his K rate. Perhaps he just wasn’t aggressive enough with hittable pitches early in the count and was forced to hit pitchers pitches. If he can adjust his approach he could return to form, but it’s clear he’s not as close to being ready to contribute in Boston as we previously thought.

7. Eric Hosmer – L-L – 6’4 215 KC – 10.24.89. Hosmer was regarded as the most advanced HS bat in the 2008 draft and was selected by the Royals with the 3rd overall pick. He fell victim to the same slow start that his Royals orgmate Mike Moustakas suffered in the cold Midwest League. Hosmer’s struggles were more troubling to me however, as he seemed to have developed mysterious vision problems. Also, at the time of the draft Hosmer was thought to have been athletic enough to handle a move to a corner outfield position if necessary but he has proved to be a slower runner than previously thought. Hosmer will have to prove he can hit left handed pitching in 2010 to regain his elite prospect status. A glimmer of hope from last season was his above average 13.5 BB% in 280 Low A AB’s.

8. Ike Davis – L-L – 6’5 195 – NYM – 3.22.87. A teammate of fellow 2008 first rounder Brett Wallace at Arizona State, Davis went his entire professional debut season without a HR, hitting only 15 2B, and posting a pedestrian SLG of just .326. Something clicked with Davis in 2009 however as he smashed 20 HR, slugged .524 and posted a .905 OPS. Even with just a half season of AA under his belt, Davis might be the best first base option in the entire Mets organization. While Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis may start the season as the options at that position, Davis should finish it.

9. Brandon Allen – L-R – 6’2 235 – ARI – 2.12.86. The 2nd player on this list to come from the White Sox organization, Allen was traded to Arizona in 2009 in exchange for RHP Tony Pena. Upon his arrival in the Arizona system, Allen killed Pacific Coast League pitching, posting a .317 ISO and hitting 12 HR in just 145 ABs. He earned a promotion to the big club in Arizona and smacked another 4 HR in 104 ABs there. Allen has solid plate discipline and will post BB rates around the league average while he’ll K at more than the league average. If he can win a job out of spring training, he’d be a sleeper in the NL Rookie of the Year race.

10. Brandon Snyder – R-R – 6’2 210 – BAL – 11.23.86. Drafted as a catcher with the 13th overall pick in the 2005 draft, Snyder later moved to 1B while sprinkling in a few games at 3B each year since. I’ve only seen him play twice, but he showed pretty good lateral movement at 1B in those games. Snyder made some positive strides in 2009. After walking just 29 times in 116 games in 2008, he walked 51 times in 131 games this past season. I don’t see Snyder ever being a power hitting 1B but he’s a good enough hitter to have an MLB career serving as an occasional regular depending on who else is on the roster at the time.

11. Ryan Wheeler – L-R – 6’4 220 – ARI – 7.10.88. A 5th round selection out of Loyola Marymount in 2009, Wheeler posted an outstanding .461 OBP and .538 SLG in the short season Northwest League. He hit 20 2B in just 64 games there and walked 37 times to just 28 Ks (1.32 BB/K Ratio). He continued to mash in a small 8 game sample in the Low A Midwest League. His combination of hit tools paired with the offense slanted High A California League could result in gaudy numbers and subsequently vault Wheeler into elite prospect status.

12. David Cooper – L-L – 6’0 200 – TOR – 4.12.87. Cooper was the 3rd of 5 college first basemen selected in the 1st round of the 2008 draft (Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis and Allen Dykstra). He had a solid but unspectacular 1st full professional season. Spending the whole year in AA New Hampshire, he hit 32 2B but but managed just a .389 SLG. His decent 11.0% BB rate couldn’t completely off set his low AVE (.258) so he managed an OBP of .340. First basemen with an OPS of .729 are a dime a dozen and I don’t see him helping Toronto in 2010.

13. Anthony Rizzo – L-L – 6’3 220 – BOS – 8.8.89. Rizzo was a 2007 draftee yet he just played his first full season in 2009. His 2008 season was cut short after being diagnosed with Hodgkins’s Lymphoma, which is now in remission. With 50 BB’s and 99 K’s last year he doesn’t blow you away with is plate discipline. Not yet a HR hitter, when someone hits 37 2B as a 20 year old, the HRs are likely to follow. One more strong and healthy year for Rizzo and he should move ahead of Lars Anderson as the 1B of the future for Boston.

14. Gaby Sanchez – R-R – 6’1 235 – FLA – 9.2.83. Drafted as a catcher from the University of Miami in 2005, Sanchez is another Marlins 1B prospect with OBP skills. Sanchez walked nearly as much as he struck out (0.95 BB/K ratio) in 2009 and had an equally impressive 0.99 ratio in 2008. Sanchez played 41 games at 3B for AAA New Orleans last year but he made 12 errors in that short span. No matter how Florida will try to get both he and Morrison on the field at the same time, they are both first basemen by nature and the only way they’ll be in the field together is if they are playing against each other after one of them is traded. With Morrison a level behind him, I think Sanchez wins a big league job in spring training and has a successful rookie year.

15. Jeff Malm – L-L – 6’3 225 – TB – 10.31.90. The Rays selected Malm in the 5th round and signed him away from a strong USC commitment for $680,000 in 2009. Malm was a starter on 4 state championship teams for Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas and tied a High School career record for hits with 277. Malm hit 15 HR during his senior season and as a former pitcher, he’ll have a strong arm for a 1B. Ranking Malm 15th at his position is certainly ambitious on my part, but with his HS resume, he should be as prepared for professional baseball as any prep hitter could be.

Sleeper – Dennis Raben – L-L – 6’3 220 – 7.31.87. Raben was an integral part of the aforementioned stacked Hurricane team of 2008. He had a strong professional debut that same year, posting a .971 OPS, a 17.0% BB rate and a .79 BB/K ratio, although his 26.4% K rate is a concern. He missed all of 2009 with knee surgery. Raben was never a good defensive outfielder so the move to 1st will only help his prospect status. He’ll likely start in Low A, but if he starts hot, gets promoted and can spend significant time in the High A California League, I expect him to but up great numbers. There are a lot of ifs in that sentence, but I suppose that’s why he’s a sleeper.

Overrated – Ryan Strieby – R-R – 6’5 235 – 8.9.85. There is a lot to like about Strieby. The .991 OPS, the 15.7 BB Rate, and the .262 ISO are all impressive but I feel the 27.2 K% is a pretty big red flag. He also had an unusually high batting average on balls in play (“BABIP”) of .359 last season. An average BABIP is right around .290. BABIP encompasses several uncontrollable variables such as strength of the defense, and well….luck. An unusually high BABIP one year could mean a fall back to earth the next. I think Strieby will struggle in AAA Toledo in 2010.

Advertisements

Prospect Junkies In The News

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo posted a piece on my top 20 prospects today. Jonathan has been preparing for his upcoming Top 50 list by posting top prospect lists from a few prospectors and prognosticators around the web. We at Prospect Junkies are thrilled and thankful to be included.

Make sure you catch Jonathan Mayo reveal his Top 50 prospects on the MLB Network on Wednesday, January 27th at 8:00 P.M.

Top 15 Catcher Prospects

I can see three potential future stars and a handful of MLB regulars in this deep class of catching prospects. The wild card of this crop is the talented High School catching class of the 2009 draft and we’ll know more about them after their first taste of full season ball this year. However, it wouldn’t be much fun to release this list in September when their seasons are complete. More accurate maybe, but not as much fun. My rankings are based heavily on a player’s ceiling and the probability of him reaching that ceiling. To be honest, there is quite a bit of subjectivity in my rankings. I try to be objective in evaluating all players on a specific set of criteria but I’m guilty of subjectively selecting the criteria that I feel is most important in evaluating players.

Junkie Glossary

BATS -THROWS – HEIGHT – WEIGHT – D.O.B.

1. Carlos Santana – B-R – 5’11 190 – CLE – 4.8.86. Santana will turn 24 during the first week of the 2010 season where he’ll begin in AAA Columbus and likely finish in Cleveland. Acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for Casey Blake in 2008, Santana is now Cleveland’s #1 prospect for the 2nd year in a row. His outstanding BB rate (17.4%) and his BB/K ratio (1.08) are just two of the reasons why I feel he’s the top overall catching prospect in baseball. Last year’s Eastern League MVP is an advanced hitter who punishes pitches in the zone and has the ability to recognize and lay off poor offerings. He has a plus arm and should develop into an above average defensive catcher. Relatively new to catching after a 2006 move from third base, Santana still has to refine his receiving and his game calling abilities. A switch hitter who hits better from the right side (.329) he is still respectable (.270) from the left. Santana broke his hamate bone in his right hand in winter ball. He’s expected to be ready by opening day but his power could take a significant hit in the first half of the season.

2. Jesus Montero – R-R – 6’4 225 – NYY – 11.28.89. A seven figure bonus baby signed out of Venezuela in 2006, Montero handled both high A and AA as a 19 year old in 2009 while getting raves from scouts about his hit tools. Montero has pretty advanced hitting ability, and pretty weak defensive ability. He increased his BB rate lowered his K rate and saw his power numbers increase across the board in 2009. His best position is DH and I don’t see him developing into an even below average MLB receiver in his career. Like Royals slugger Billy Butler a few years ago, his bat will find him a position in the major league lineup and he’ll crush enough to stick around when he arrives. Montero has also drawn Miguel Cabrera comparisons.

3. Buster Posey – R-R – 6’1 205 – SF – 3.27.87. If my name were Gerald Demp Posey III, I’d use a nickname too. Gerald destroyed pitching and especially LHP (.440 ave.) in High A San Jose in 2009. Posey, who skipped AA to allow ultralight hitting catcher Jackson Williams to keep playing every day, held his own in AAA then became an observer down the stretch after being called up to San Francisco to light a fire under Bengie Molina. Gerald has franchise player potential, but the Mets failure to sign Molina means Posey won’t make the team out of spring training. That’s likely a good thing as he showed a lack of polish behind the plate in the AFL. Power was supposed to be a question mark as a pro but he managed a .531 SLG last year with 18 HR, 80 RBI and 31 2B. He also displayed a .213 Isolated Power (ISO = SLG-AVE) average during his stint in High A. To put that into prospective, Johnny Bench had a career .208 ISO. To put that prospective into prospective, Johnny Bench didn’t play his career in the hitter friendly California League.

4. Will Myers – R-R – 6’3 190 – KC – 12.10.90. Regarded as a 1st round talent in the 2009 draft out of a North Carolina H.S., Myers slipped to Kansas City in the 3rd round because of signability concerns. The Royals lured him away from his South Carolina commitment for $2MM. Myers gets high marks for his power and gave us a taste with 5 HR in his first 84 professional ABs. His arm is also a plus tool which will benefit him behind the dish but it will also allow him position flexibility if catching doesn’t work out. He played all over the field in HS so his receiving skills need some serious refinement at this point. Catchers develop slowly, especially when drafted out of HS so predicting a MLB debut date would be futile. He should get the same opening assignment that Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer received when they were drafted out of HS and go to Low A Burlington in the Midwest League. Let’s hope he starts faster than they did in the cold weather.

5. Derek Norris – R-R – 6’0 210 – WAS – 2.14.89. The reader is going to find that I love guys who can draw walks and Norris can do just that. He led the South Atlantic League in walks last season with 90 and has maintained a high BB rate (16.9 in 07, 21.7 in 08 and 17.1 in 09) throughout his professional career. He saw a jump in power last year as he went from 10 HR in 08 to 23 in 09. Similar to Santana, Posey and Myers he has a plus arm and he’s a poor receiver. He’s still a few years away from being ready but his bat is a good bet to make him an MLB regular.

6. Tyler Flowers – R-R – 6’4 220 – CWS – 1.24.86. The key piece that the White Sox received from Atlanta in the Javier Vazquez trade of 2008, Flowers posted an outstanding .302/.445/.548 in AA Birmingham last year while surprisingly being voted the top defensive catcher in the Southern League by the league’s managers. His performance earned him a promotion to AAA Charlotte and then to the South Side. Flowers arm, size and athleticism limit him defensively but he takes pride in catching and gets rave reviews for his game calling ability and developing a rapport with pitchers. His bat is advanced enough right now that he could help the Pale Hose and spell A.J. Pierzynski v. tough lefties and we know GM Kenny Williams will do what he feels is best for the team in 2010. The best decision for Flowers however, would be to start him at AAA where he can continue to refine his defense.

7. Tony Sanchez – R-R – 6’0 220 – PIT – 5.20.88. Rated as a fringe 1st rounder or supplemental round pick out of Boston College heading into the 2009 draft, the Pirates drafted Sanchez 4th overall and signed him for $2.5MM. It was a strategic move that paid double as the Bucs used the money they saved to sign several later round prospects away from their college commitments, and also Sanchez exceeded expectations. There is nothing about Sanchez that says he’ll be an MLB star, making his ceiling fairly low, however he’s a good bet to reach that ceiling. He’s pretty advanced behind the dish possessing a good arm and solid receiving skills. Sanchez showed good patience and power in Low A WV last year (.976 OPS). If he can continue to get on base, he’ll provide reinforcements to Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez on the 2011/2012 Pirates teams if they haven’t already been traded.

8. Jason Castro – L-R – 6’3 210 – HOU – 6.18.87. Another catcher that was considered a stretch when he was selected, this time with the 10th overall selection in the 2008 draft. He’s another catcher on this list that has proved critics wrong in his short pro career. I’ve only been able to see Castro play a few times and it’s only been on TV, however his approach looked pretty advanced when he helped Stanford advance to the CWS in 2008 and again during the 2009 Futures Game when he homered off of Toronto prospect Luis Perez. A left-handed hitter, he handles lefties and righties equally and his patient approach is a good indicator that he’ll hit at the next level although he’s not expected to hit for much power. Castro is a pretty advanced receiver and could be the everyday catcher in Houston by the 2nd half of 2010.

9. Christian Bethancourt – R-R – 6-2 175 – ATL – 9.2.91. When he was 16, Bethancourt signed for $600M out of Panama as the top catching prospect in the international signing class of 2008. A future Gold Glove candidate, Bethancourt has superior arm strength, athleticism and leadership skills. He’s naturally raw as a receiver but that’s to be expected at his age given that he has grown 2 inches and gained 15 lbs since signing. While still more free-swinging than I’d like, he does show more patience than most teenage international signees. He had a BB rate of 9.1% which was also the MLB average for all position players in 2009. He’ll have to keep his K’s in check but his numbers in that department are not yet alarming. His power numbers made a jump from ’08 to ’09 and he even stole 8 bases last year. He’ll get his first taste of full season ball for Rome in the Low A South Atlantic League.

10. Hank Conger – B-R – 6’0 205 – LAA – 1.29.88. A first round pick in 2006, Conger has been troubled with injuries ever since, catching only 91 games in his first three seasons. He stayed healthy in 2009, catching 87 games and punishing AA pitching. A switch hitter, he hits well from both sides of the plate. Hank showed impressive improvement in his plate discipline this year as his BB rate jumped from 4.5% to 10.7% and his BB/K ratio jumped from 0.25 to 0.81. It’s slightly troubling however that his power numbers declined as his patience improved. He slugged .517 in the hitter friendly California League in 2008 but only managed a .424 number last season in the AA Texas League and his ISO dropped from .214 to .129. Despite his un-athletic frame and injury history, Conger receives well and has a strong arm however his footwork is sloppy and that leads to poor throws. I’ve been a Conger doubter in the past and I surely didn’t expect his rebound last season, so I honestly don’t know what to expect. Ranking him 10th in a talented group of catchers means I’m starting to come around.

11. Max Stassi – R-R – 5’10 205 – OAK – 3.15.91. Rated as the best pure HS hitter of the 2009 draft by Baseball America, Stassi’s price tag and commitment to UCLA caused him to slip in the draft but Oakland selected and signed him for a 4th round record of $1.5MM. He projects to hit for power and average while using the whole field. He impressed scouts with pitch recognition in his brief appearance in short season Vancouver last season. He was limited with a shoulder issue in HS so he spent much of his senior season as a DH. The A’s feel that he’ll be able to stay behind the plate as a pro and that he’ll be an above average defensive catcher. He’ll make his full season debut at low A Kane County of the Midwest League where the cold weather could slow his start.

12. Travis D’Arnaud – R-R – 6’2 195 – TOR – 2.10.89. Ontario bound as part of the Roy Hallady trade, D’Arnaud moves in front of J.P. Arencibia as the Blue Jays catcher of the future. Travis’ brother Chase is an infielder in the Pirates system. Travis had a pedestrian .418 SLG last season but he managed 13 HR and led the Sally league with 38 2Bs. D’Arnaud needs quite a bit of refinement behind the plate but the tools are there. His arm rates as above average.

13. Jonathan Lucoy – R-R – 6’1 205 – MIL – 6.13.86. Lucoy is one of my favorite underrated prospects. He draws walks (15.7%) and makes pretty consistent contact while possessing a strong arm and throwing out a lot of runners (41% at AA Huntsville in 2009). Lucoy maintained an impressive 1.18 BB/K ratio last season but he also saw a significant drop in power this past season going from 20 HR in 2008 to just 9 last season and his SLG dropped from .490 to .418. He’ll move to AAA Nashville this season and should debut in Milwaukee at some point after the break.

14. Wilin Rosario – R-R – 5’11 195 – COL – 2.23.89. Just as I love guys who have the ability to draw walks, I tend to be down on guys that can’t. Rosario drew just 10 walks in 213 plate appearances last season. He has a quick bat and is a good fastball hitter but he won’t offer much power. Rosario ranks as my top defensive catcher on this list possessing solid footwork and a plus arm. That arm is also accurate as evidenced by the 46% of base runners he threw out in 2008 and the 47% in 2009.

15. Austin Romine – R-R – 6’2 210 – NYY – 11.22.88. A 2nd round selection from California HS in 2007, Romine, not Montero, is the Yankees catcher of the future. He has a cannon for an arm and likes to use it. He’s not yet a good receiver as he reportedly has trouble handling velocity. He showed solid power with a .441 SLG, 13 HR and 28 2B in High A Tampa last season but he’ll have to improve his poor walk rate (6.2%) if he wants that power to continue.

Sleeper – Josh Phegley – R-R – CHW – 5’10 215. Phegley was 2nd in the nation in batting (behind Buster Posey) as a sophomore at Indiana, and had a productive junior season as well. Selected by the White Sox 38th overall in June, Phegley showed power in low A belting 9HR in 196 AB but he did struggle defensively committing 7 errors and 11 passed balls in just 47 games. He does possess a strong arm but poor footwork can sometimes cause his throws to sail.

Overrated – Wilson Ramos – R-R – 6’0 220 – MIN – 8.10.87. More HR (7) than BB (6) in 2009. How can that happen? Ramos edges out J.P. Arencibia as my most overrated catching prospect. He’s a good hitter with plus power but his lack of plate discipline will be exploited in Rochester. With some guy named Joe Mauer locking down the catcher position in Minnesota, Ramos will likely spend all season in AAA.