Following last week's look prospect report on a player at the catcher position, we're taking a look at one of the few viable first base prospects actually playing the position currently: Matt Adams. More than anything Adams represents what appears to be a dying breed within the minors. A first base prospect who actually plays...first base. You'll have noticed that on our prospect list there are several players that are currently playing elsewhere on the diamond, and several more that frankly aren't worth your time looking up. It's true that almost every position features someone who didn't play there originally, but first base is at the far end of the of the spectrum. After all, if you're limited to first base in the minors, there is pretty much nowhere to go, and thus the bat has to no only be the carrying tool but it has to carry an immense amount of weight. Even poor defenders at other positions have the fall back of moving to first base down the line, or more hopefully, improving their play at their current positions. First baseman don't have the luxury of a fall back position, and even with a good glove, their bat has to be truly special to push them to the forefront of a prospect conversation. Adams bat is special. His glove is solid. And yet, he's considered an interesting, but by no means premium prospect due to the limitations of his position and the expectations of production placed on the men who play it.
Drafted in the 23rd round out of Slippery Rock (Pa.), where he was a catcher, Adams shed the tools of ignorance and has hit his way up the chain to the point that he is on the cusp of the major leagues. Adams tore through the minors since being drafted, never hitting below .300, never posting an OBP below .350 and never slugging below .523. His career slash line in the minors is .318/.365/.565. His most recent stops have been his most dominant, at least power wise - as he's cranked 32 home runs at Double-A Springfield in 2011 and added another 18 (in only 258 at-bats) in 2012 while at Triple-A Memphis. Adams did receive a big league trial during the 2012 season as the Cardinals suffered a deluge of injuries. While it would be hard to describe his major league stint as anything but a struggle, Adams was far from an abject failure. He did have difficulty with the quality of the pitches as his K% jumped from 21% at Triple-A to 26% in the major leagues, though his walk rate held steady at a 5.5% clip. Unfortunately that walk rate is simultaneously unimpressive and a decline from his 2011 rate of just under 8%. His previous walk rates give me hope that after an adjustment period, Adams would be able to produce similar rates at the major league level. Adams has shown an ability to make a good amount of contact despite being a power hitter, often recording K%s under 20.
A pure hitter, Adams power is derived less from his swing than his substantial size. He has above average power, as evidenced by his home run output in recent years, but his swing is geared towards contact. He doesn't always look pretty when he swings, but the contact is solid and he should hit for both average and power at the major league level. Adams makes use of the whole field, spraying line drives when he isn't depositing them over fences. Adams is the exact type of prospect that fantasy owners should be interested in - he is dinged for a bad body and lack of movement on defense, but he owns plus-plus raw power and a plus hit tool to boot. He's a potential buy low guy right now as Allen Craig is getting a lot of publicity as the regular at first base for the Cardinals. Given that situation, Adams is a man without a home defensively, as he doesn't have the athleticism to play anywhere else. Adams could be a valuable trade trip should the Cardinals decide to make a play for someone, but he is also valuable insurance for an injury prone Allen Craig, who could also see time in the outfield in place of an injury prone Carlos Beltran. On defense Adams shows soft hands, but the lack of agility and mobility you might expect from someone of his build.
While he isn't going to remind the denizens of St. Louis of the guy who left a year ago, Adams should be an above-average player at the position even if he never manages to crack 30 home runs in a year. If Allen Craig can remain healthy, Adams could be relegated to an after thought or trade fodder. That being the case I might make a play to buy low, because if he gets a full slate of playing time he should be able to produce a good average, solid to above power and all the counting stats that go with it. He likely won't be a fantasy superstar, but if you can fill in your roster holes on the cheap, it allows to go after superstars in other positions.