2018 First Base Prospects (Fantasy Baseball)
The intro for catching prospects highlighted the many responsibilities catchers have and the difficulties that creates. First base has its own issues. It’s the lowest spot on the defensive spectrum, and organizations often try to avoid moving a player to first base until a player’s defensive limitations force them there. Yes, some players are drafted strictly as a first baseman, but there’s a ton of pressure on a first base prospect’s bat.
The lack of value placed on first base defense also frequently results in players at the position ranking lower on overall top prospect lists than their peers at other positions. With that in mind, it’s a little easier for a prospect at first base to slip through the cracks and take gamers off guard when they rake in The Show. Below, there are four prospects who have varying chances of reaching the majors this year and making an impact in re-draft leagues.
Bobby Bradley (CLE)
Bradley’s the least exciting prospect included, and he also has the toughest path to playing time in 2018. The Indians have Edwin Encarnacion entrenched at designated hitter, and they agreed to a two-year deal with Yonder Alonso.
If you were a skeptic of Alonso’s age-30 breakout last year, the path to playing time on the parent club might not seem as cluttered. However, it’s also possible Lonnie Chisenhall could be used at first base instead of in the outfield in the event Alonso turns back into a pumpkin (to be clear, I think Alonso will be an above-average hitter at first base this year).
Getting back to Bradley, a full year at Triple-A could be in the cards after spending all of 2016 in High-A and then all of last year in Double-A. The left-handed hitting first baseman sacrificed some walks and power to make huge strides in his strikeout rate last season.
In 2016, he ripped 29 homers with a 13.1% BB%, .231 ISO, and 29.7% K% in 572 plate appearances at the High-A level, per FanGraphs. Last year, his homers dipped to 23, walk rate dropped to 10.3% BB%, and ISO slipped to .214 in 532 plate appearances, but his strikeout rate dropped nearly seven points to 22.9%, and his batting average rose from .235 to .251 while moving up levels.
All of the reputable scouting reports I’ve read laud Bradley’s power as at least plus, but they all also pan his hit tool and voice concerns about the swing and miss in his game resulting in a below average hit tool and low batting averages. Progressive Field’s left-handed batter park factors will enhance Bradley’s calling-card power, although power is more plentiful than ever thanks to the totally-not-juiced baseballs used in MLB. Bradley’s not a player who needs to be drafted, but he could be a useful streamer or slightly more in larger leagues if he reaches the bigs over the summer.
Chris Shaw (SF)
Whether I should include Shaw with the first basemen is debatable. He played 94 games in the outfield and 18 games at first base last year, per FanGraphs. However, he’s being played out of position in the outfield due to the presence of Brandon Belt (who did play 16 games in the outfield last year and has played 70 games in the outfield in his career in the majors, for whatever that may be worth).
Shaw hadn’t played in the outfield as a pro before last year, and he totaled 131 games played at first base before 2017. This is all a winded way of saying I’m not taking too many liberties including Shaw among the first basemen.
Like Bradley, Shaw’s power is his calling-card tool. He belted 24 homers with a .232 ISO in 514 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. Shaw’s hit tool gets slightly better reviews and has a better chance of playing to an average grade, though, he lacks much patience with only a 7.4% BB% last year in the upper minors.
His 25.7% K% in 2017 is a little higher than ideal, but his .292 average last year was good. Furthermore, his 23.4% K% in 1,275 plate appearances in his pro career that begin in the summer of his draft year, 2015, is more palatable. He’s less likely to be a batting average liability than Bradley, and after already totaling 360 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year, he’s closer to ready than Cleveland’s prospect.
Unfortunately, Shaw’s greatest fantasy asset will be hampered by his home ballpark’s park factors. Shaw doesn’t need to be drafted and is unlikely to make waves in standard leagues, but if he reaches the bigs early in the year — something that’s within the realm of possibility if not likely — he could help gamers in larger mixed leagues and NL-only formats.
Ryan McMahon (COL)
McMahon has thoroughly conquered the minors. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, he slashed .355/.403/.583 with a 7.9% BB%, 17.7% K%, .228 ISO, 20 homers, and even 11 stolen bases in 519 plate appearances.
Yes, he hit in some extremely hitter-friendly home parks and leagues, but those are jaw-dropping number nonetheless. Also, he’ll continue to hit with extremely hitter-friendly home park factors at Coors Field.
McMahon is blocked at third base by Nolan Arenado, but he’s added to his fielding versatility by playing first base and second base last season. His versatility coupled with his dominance of the upper minors aids his case for opening the year on the Rockies in at least a utility role. However, it doesn’t require much squinting to see him starting at first base.
The club signed Ian Desmond last year as a free agent with the expectation of playing him at first base. Desmond broke his hand in the spring, though, and he played just 27 games at first base. Desmond received the bulk of his playing time in the outfield (67 games played), but he struggled mightily with his bat wherever he played on the diamond sporting only a 69 wRC+ and .305 wOBA.
Mark Reynolds‘ surprisingly good season and David Dahl’s injuries that prevented him from playing in any games for the Rockies last year contributed to Desmond playing so much in the outfield. It’s possible Desmond starts at first base assuming Dahl stays healthy, but it’s not out of the question a healthy Dahl ends up pushing Gerardo Parra into a fourth-outfielder gig with Dahl and Desmond flanking Charlie Blackmon in the outfield. In other words, there should be competition in the spring for starting gigs, and McMahon should be in the mix.
McMahon has above-average power, but his hit tool isn’t universally graded out as the plus that his sky-high batting average might suggest. MLB Pipeline grades it out as average, at least, and strikeout-machine Reynolds posted a .274 average in 1,034 plate appearances from 2016-2017 as a member of the Rockies. McMahon’s home ballpark should help his batting average exceed his hit tool grade.
McMahon, like seemingly any hitter who calls Coors Field home, has the upside to be a useful fantasy option in all league types and sizes. Keep tabs on him in the spring, but even if he projects to open the year as a reserve, it’s not crazy to draft him in the late rounds of leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers and stash him on the bench. If he projects to start, expect him to be a helium man and shoot up draft boards as a sleeper who no one is actually sleeping on.
Ronald Guzman (TEX)
Guzman was hyped quite a bit when he signed as an international free agent for $3.45 million with the Rangers in 2011. His bonus was second only to Nomar Mazara in that international free-agent class, per Baseball America. The tall (six-foot-five) first baseman reached Triple-A in 2016 at the age of 21, and he spent all of last year in Triple-A as a 22-year-old.
In 527 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, he hit .298/.372/.434 with 12 homers, an 8.9% BB%, 16.1% K%, and 112 wRC+. They’re not eye-popping numbers, but they’re rock solid for a player of his age with more physical development on the horizon.
Guzman has a plus hit tool, according to multiple reputable outlets, and it’s ahead of his power tool. However, the youngster still has filling out to do and a chance at plus power as well with average power as a likely fallback if he comes up just short of reaching his power ceiling. The park factors in Texas are a plus for his fantasy outlook, too.
Guzman lacks defensive versatility, but guys ahead of him on the depth chart at first base, Joey Gallo, and designated hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, offer some. Gallo played more games at third base than first base last year due to Adrian Beltre being healthy enough to play in only 94 games, and Gallo also played some outfield. Choo played 77 games in the outfield in 2017.
Fellow prospect Willie Calhoun is penciled in as the starting left fielder on the Rangers depth chart on their official team website, and he played 77 games at second base in the minors last year, according to FanGraphs. If Beltre, Gallo, Choo, Calhoun, second baseman Rougned Odor, or right fielder Nomar Mazara missed time due to injury in 2018, the Rangers could shuffle things up in a way that opens up steady playing time at first base or designated hitter for Guzman.
It wouldn’t hurt Guzman to receive more at-bats at the Triple-A level and work on tapping into more of his power, but I fully expect him to see some playing time for the Rangers this year. How much playing time he’ll receive is probably dependent on the health of the guys ahead of him, and perhaps the performance of Calhoun if everyone stays mostly healthy.
Guzman doesn’t need to be drafted in re-draft leagues, and I don’t expect him to dominate right out of the gate. I like Guzman’s long-term outlook better than his short-term outlook in fantasy leagues, but if things click this year, he could be a viable corner infield or utility option in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers.
C | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | P