The minor league season has entered its' final month, and with that I always like to start taking a look back at how my rankings went during the preseason. Next up is first base, a position that generally doesn't rank well among prospects because of its' position at the bottom of the defensive spectrum.
The (Brief) State of the Position
First base historically has been one of the stronger in terms of quantity and quality of fantasy production, with eleven first baseman currently ranked in Yahoo's top 40 and 25 within the top 150. It's a position where players with good bats and sketchy defensive skills end up, and as a result it tends to put a lot of pressure on prospects to hit very well to project for true fantasy value. Odds are that among current prospects, a majority of the ones that turn into starting-caliber fantasy first basemen, more than half could end up moving from their previous position right before hitting the majors (I'm looking at you, D.J. Peterson).
Putting together a top 15 list for first basemen who will be fantasy relevant is no easy task at any time, and it really seems like the position may be even weaker from that stand point than usual. We likely see Bell, Olson, Reed and Vogelbach in the majors at some point during 2016, but otherwise it's a lot of lower upside, further away prospects that may end up not being much at all.
Preseason Top 15 with Current Level
1. Josh Bell - Pirates (AAA)
The former second round pick has split his season between AA and AAA, hitting .302/.372/.426 with six home runs, seven steals, 50 walks and just 58 strikeouts in 110 games. Bell has a ton of raw power potential that he has not tapped into as well as hoped, which appears in part due to his batted ball profile (53% GB/27% FB/15% LD). He's likely headed back to AAA to start 2016, but it appears at worst he can be a solid provider of batting average until the power shows up more in game.
2. Matt Olson - Athletics (AA)
Olson remains a three-true outcomes hitter, who provides a bunch of power (13 HR, 29 2B), a bunch of strikeouts (121 in 402 AB), and a bunch of walks (89 in 503 PA). The A's don't really have a specific answer at first base for the future, but the profile reminds me a lot of another former A's 1B, Chris Carter.
3. Dan Vogelbach - Cubs (AA)
Vogelbach is hitting .284/.410/.431 at AA, although he is just now returning from a strained oblique muscle. The power potential is still pretty high for Vogelbach, although it comes with the potential that Vogelbach is a DH only down the line. It's not clear where he plays for the Cubs long term, but could still be a very nice trade chip for them and could debut in 2016. Oh, and there's this (GIF from the guys at Cespedes Family BBQ):
4. Ronald Guzman - Rangers (A+)
Guzman has split his season between Low and High-A, hitting .279/.315/.419 with 9 home runs. There are a lot of questions about whether he really will develop into the tools that the Rangers saw when they signed him back in 2011, and I will be very curious whether the Rangers add him to the 40-man roster this offseason (which they would need to do to keep him out of the Rule V draft.
5. A.J. Reed - Astros (AA)
A point of contention in the comments during our midseason prospect rankings, Reed has gone out and done what I wanted to see: hit at the AA level, and keep up the same level of performance. He's added 6 home runs and a .322 batting average in 32 games there, and my concerns about him being a product of the south half of the Cal League are gone. He's going to be a top 100 prospect in the offseason, although there are some questions about his defense at first base given that he did not really play there until turning pro. He definitely looks like he'll hit though, and should end up making that work for fantasy even with just UT eligibility.
6. Greg Bird - Yankees (MLB)
Bird started the year at AA, and has hit well enough as he's gone along to earn a callup this past week to the Majors. It's still not clear where they can find regular playing long-term, but it sounds like he's going to get time at 1B the rest of this year to primarily let them rest Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez. A trade would definitely help his value long-term, but he should be able to hold his own for fantasy at first base when he does end up with a starting job.
7. Christian Walker - Orioles (AAA)
Walker has been performing similarly to last year in his second go-around at AAA, hitting 14 home runs with a .260 batting average and .323 on-base percentage. He could be in line for a shot at the starting job at 1B next year for the Orioles if the team can't re-sign Chris Davis, but he's probably more of an AL-only play or deep mixed league option if that happens.
8. Dominic Smith - Mets (AA)
It's really hard to get a good idea of what Smith can really be going forward. He's an excellent defender at first base, and the performance this year has been solid with a high batting average and better power than before. However, if he's going to end up as a .290 hitting first baseman that doesn't crack 10 home runs consistently, I'm not really sure how he helps you in anything but the deepest leagues. He's a prospect that I will be very much looking forward to offseason reports on.
9. Casey Gillaspie - Rays (A+)
Gillaspie had just been promoted to High-A when a wrist injury slowed him down. He hit well at Low-A before then, posting a .530 slugging percentage before the promotion.
10. Bobby Bradley - Indians (A)
Bradley has shown excellent power (24 HR) in Low-A this year, but with it is coming strikeouts (128) in his 90 games played. He's lapping the field in the home run category there, with only Gillaspie (16) within 50% of him on the year. It will be interesting to see when he moves up to the next level, as the power is clearly there, but with enough questions about approach to cause some concern.
11. Rangel Ravelo - Athletics (AAA)
Ravelo missed the first two months of the season due to wrist surgery, and finally returned to AAA a week ago. He's could see some time in Oakland in September, and would seem a likely candidate for first base for 2016. He's probably going to be more of a high-average, decent power hitter than your usual slugging 1B prospect.
12. Matt Skole - Nationals (AAA)
Skole has hit for a little more power this season, but it doesn't appear very likely that we see the guy that hit 27 home runs back in 2012 again. He's been eligible to be protected from the Rule V draft previously, hasn't been, and seems unlikely to at this point.
13. Kyle Parker - Rockies (MLB)
Parker has been playing fairly consistently in left field for the Rockies the past couple weeks, but honestly he looks like a fourth outfielder/first baseman who can provide a little pop off the bench and a decent average.
14. Sam Travis - Red Sox (AA)
Travis was promoted to AA in late June, and has continued to hit for a high average with decent power and steals over his 47 games there. He gets good marks about his approach at the plate, and is considered to have decent power. The steals aren't likely to last, but he could be an interesting name for AL-only leagues if the Red Sox don't move one of their two most recent free-agent acquisitions to first base instead.
15. Rowdy Tellez - Blue Jays (A+)
Tellez has done well in his first full length season (he started in short-season ball last year), hitting .289 with 14 home runs between Low and High-A, including solid power production in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He's still just 20 years old, but could reach AA next year and remains a name to watch.
Potential Names for 2016's List
Cody Bellinger - Dodgers - The power numbers jump off the page (26 HR), but there are questions about whether he will be able to translate that power as he moves up the minors. It's not ideal seeing a 28% strikeout rate on a prospect at this level, but it also sounds like he has been actively pushing for more power at the cost of those strikeouts.
Josh Naylor - Marlins - The Marlins were ridiculed somewhat for taking Naylor with their #12 overall pick this year, and while it sounds like he can be a good hitter, he may fit into that Vogelbach mold where his best place on the field may be DH. The potential is there for a power hitting first baseman, but it's probably going to be 4-5 years before we see him in the bigs.
Max Kepler - Twins - Kepler has had a great year at AA, although he is currently about as blocked as a prospect can be in Minnesota. He's probably going to end up being a corner outfielder, but has also been playing first base a fair amount this year as well. At first, he's probably going to be a below-average power hitter, but with a very good batting average and OBP.
Jake Bauers - Rays - Acquired as a part of the Steven Souza trade, Bauers could end up being a very nice player and not just a throw-in on this trade. He's already reached AA as a 19 year old, and is hitting .291/.352/.425 with four home runs there in 46 games. With the injury to Casey Gillaspie, he may have leapfrogged him despite being three years younger.