Last year, first base prospect Pete Alonso took home National League Rookie of the Year honors. This year, the position lacks much in the way of exciting prospects. Having said that, all five featured players have experience in Triple-A, and the first two players highlighted below have time in “The Show.” After agreeing to a contract extension with his parent club last fall, one forthcoming prospect has an increased likelihood of breaking camp with his big-league team since there’s no incentive for them manipulating his service time. Unfortunately, the top option might be subjected to the penny pinching of service-time manipulation, though.
5 – Bobby Bradley (CLE)
Bradley fits the profile of a traditional slugging first baseman. He hit .264/.344/.567 with 33 homers, a 10.2 BB%, and 33.8 K% in 453 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year. The lefty slugger made his debut for the Tribe and was overmatched in his 49 plate appearances. He did reach the seats once, but he also struck out a whopping 40.8% of the time, per FanGraphs.
If the Indians are willing to primarily use Franmil Reyes in the outfield as opposed to planning to use him frequently at designated hitter, that would enhance Bradley’s chances for either making the team or getting back to the bigs quickly despite his defensive limitations. MLB Pipeline notes in their scouting report that Bradley’s limited to first base or designated hitter. Carlos Santana sits atop the depth chart at first base, while Jake Bauers is listed as the designated hitter. Bauers tallied just a 78 wRC+ in 423 plate appearances, and he has only an 87 wRC+ in 811 plate appearances in his young major-league career.
Continued struggles from Bauers could open the door for Bradley, or Bradley could simply force the team’s hand by mashing in the spring. Although, he’s a one-trick pony who is more of an AL-only or deep-league streamer target for dingers than a standard mixed-league option even if he serves as the club’s designated hitter.
4 – Edwin Rios (LAD)
Rios has a more muddied path to playing time on a deep Dodgers squad with no lack of corner options and no designated hitter for the majority of their games since they’re a National League team. Having said that, Rios does offer more positional versatility than the aforementioned Bradley and actually thrived in his limited time in the majors last year.
Rios has playing experience at first base, third base, and in left field. That certainly helps his odds of seeing more time for the Dodgers this year, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion with a host of talented players at each of his playable positions. As for expanding upon Rios thriving in his limited look last year, in 56 plate appearances, he smashed four homers with a .277/.393/.617 slash, 16.1 BB%, and 37.5 K%.
The walk rate is out of line with his track record, but the punchouts aren’t with a 32.3 K% in 341 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2018 and 32.3 K% in 444 plate appearances repeating that level last year on his resume. He’s avoided being a batting average liability in spite of running high strikeout rates as a result of running a high BABIP. He has an unsustainable .433 BABIP fueled .304 average in 2018, but his average dropped to .270 with a .349 BABIP in Triple-A in 2019.
The latter BABIP might not be a total aberration. He hits the ball really hard. Rios sported a 57.7 hard-hit% for the Dodgers, and his average FB/LD exit velocity of 101.7 mph was the highest of all players with a minimum of 25 batted ball events, according to Baseball Savant. Rios’ fantasy outlook is essentially the same as Bradley’s. He’s merely a deep-league power streamer and NL-only option if/when he projects to play for the parent club.
3 – Brent Rooker (MIN)
Maybe Rooker shouldn’t be included in this piece. He didn’t play first base last year, but he basically split his playing time 50/50 between first base and the outfield in 2018. Additionally, Rooker is listed as a first baseman in FanGraphs’ Top 43 Prospects: Minnesota Twins piece, and MLB Pipeline lists him as both an outfielder and first baseman while saying, “he’s below-average in both spots,” when describing his fielding. Like the previous two first basemen on this list, Rooker projects to hit for power and be below average in average.
In 274 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, he ripped 14 homers and hit .281/.398/.535 with a 12.8 BB% and 34.7 K%. He needed an unsustainable .417 BABIP to get to his .281 average, but his excellent walk rate could make Rooker a helper in leagues that use OBP instead of or in addition to average. Furthermore, FanGraphs gives him a grade of 40 run on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and MLB Pipeline grades the tool even more favorably at 50. He stole six bases in seven attempts in 130 games at the Double-A level in 2018, and he swiped two bases in two attempts in 65 games in Triple-A last year. It would be unwise to count on him to do much in the stolen base category, but even pitching in a few this year would help his cause in edging out the slow-footed slugging first base duo of Bradley and Rios who rank below him on this list.
Rooker’s bat doesn’t appear to need any more work in the minors. He’s not yet on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude him from winning a job by Opening Day. Nelson Cruz is locked in as the team’s designated hitter, and Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler have the corner outfield spots on lock, but versatile fielder Marwin Gonzalez is listed as their starter at first base on the team’s depth chart. Gonzalez is capable of manning first base and played 21 games (19 starts) there last year, but he also saw time at second base (two games), third base (40 games), shortstop (one game), and in the outfield (18 games in left field and 44 in right field). Gonzalez totaled an underwhelming 93 wRC+ last year, which is light for first base, and sticking him there would remove some of his value that comes from being able to play multiple positions.
Rooker’s spring is worth monitoring. He could make himself draftable in AL-only leagues or 16-team mixers or larger if he’s making a push for breaking camp with the team. Even if he opens the year in the minors, I’m optimistic he’ll see a healthy dose of time on the Twins this year.
2 – Evan White (SEA)
White and the Mariners agreed on a long-term deal in late November. The linked piece says White never played above Double-A, but that’s inaccurate. He actually played four games in Triple-A in 2018, but he spent the entire 2019 in Double-A. In 400 plate appearances last year, he hit .293/.350/.488 with 18 homers, two stolen bases, a 7.3 BB%, 23.0 K%, and 132 wRC+.
White has a very different profile than the trio of first basemen highlighted before him. MLB Pipeline gives him a 50 on his power tool, leaving his thump behind the plus-power hitters already discussed. However, they also give him a 55 on his hit and 60 run. Jeffery Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus grades his hit tool as a plus, too.
The right-handed hitting first base prospect is listed as the starter at first base on the M’s depth chart. Steamer projects him to receive 526 plate appearances and hit .253/.310/.424 with 19 homers, 58 runs, 63 RBIs, and three stolen bases, as you can see on his FanGraphs page. Those numbers play in AL-only and deeper mixed-league formats. He’s the 34th first basemen off the board with an ADP of approximately 486 in Fantrax leagues.
1 – Ryan Mountcastle (BAL)
Mountcastle narrowly edges out White for top honors on this list. He’s almost a full year younger than White, yet, he spent all of last year a level higher than him in Triple-A. In 553 plate appearances in 2019, Mountcastle hit .312/.344/.527 with 25 homers, a 4.3 BB%, 23.5 K%, two stolen bases, and a 117 wRC+. The season followed up a productive full year in Double-A. Mountcastle’s bat has long been his calling card, but he’s moved around the diamond before settling in at first base last year.
Mountcastle matches White’s hit tool grade at MLB Pipeline with a 55, but he slightly bests White’s 50-grade power with a 55 grade on his power. He lags behind in run with a 45 compared to White’s above-average 60 run, but the latter hasn’t used his speed to rack up stolen bases, and it might prove to be merely more helpful in real life than fantasy. To Mountcastle’s credit, he’s swiped exactly two bases in each of the last two years, so perhaps he can nab a couple in the bigs, too. Regardless, he shouldn’t be counted on to move the needle there. His plus grades in hit and power could quickly lend themselves to helping fantasy teams, though.
Steamer projects him to hit .270/.304/.465. The caveat, he’s only projected for 70 plate appearances, but that’s strange and doesn’t make much sense. There’s a high probability the stingy O’s will delay starting the service time clock on Mountcastle, but whatever reason they give for opening him in the minors should magically be fixed immediately following whatever the projected date ends up being for the team getting an extra year of his services. Chris Davis is listed as the starter at first base on their depth chart, but his pitiful 58 wRC+ in 2019 was actually an improvement over his 44 wRC+ in 2018. He’s toast, and Mountcastle is a good bet to see the majority of time at first base for the Orioles this year.
He’s the 30th first baseman off the board with an ADP of approximately 419 in Fantrax leagues. Mountcastle’s being underrated, and a top-25 finish at first base is an attainable outcome for him this year. He has enough upside to warrant nabbing late in standard drafts or for a buck or two in auctions in 14-team mixers. Mountcastle could play himself into 12-team mixer relevance this season.