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Well, fantasy owners it is that time of the year again.  A quarter of the season is done, and sample size is no longer an excuse for players and performance.  Time to ask who is off to a good start, and who has fallen behind the pack?  Today the focus is on first base prospects that owners should keep an eye on for this year and next.

First base is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what can be expected regarding production at the majors.  The top ten fall into three main categories.  The first is the power hitters expected to hit 30 bombs but might not help all that much with batting average.  J.D. Davis highlights this category.  The second, the contact hitter.  These are prospects who might not match the power production of their compatriots but will have a bat that keeps them in the line-up. Sam Travis looks to be the archetype here. The third and final group, are the misfits.  There are players who sit at first base but might move to the outfield if they produce.  Ryan McMahon is the player to watch here.

Whatever the grouping, all of these players will fit on some team.  That being said, owners should keep eyes open to make sure that prospects added fit or make sense with other team contexts.  Like a real-life club adding more power to the top power team in the league does not matter as much as average and steals.  With that in mind, here are ten players all fantasy owners should know.

 

Top First Base Prospects Moving Forward

1. Ryan McMahon (COL, AAA)
2018 Stats: .233/.309/.397, 3 HR, 12 R, and 12 RBI
ETA: June 2018

Of all the prospects on this list, McMahon was expected to make an instant impact at the majors this season.  Breaking camp with the team out of spring training was a step in the right direction, but a .180 AVG in 28 games did not fit the narrative. McMahon is still the closest prospect in this group to making that impact and staying in the majors for a few reasons. First, driving the 2017 breakout was an exceptional drop in K rate from 2016 where he posted a 30.1% clip. 2017? Across AA and AAA that dropped to 17.95%. McMahon is precisely the type of hitter who can thrive at Coors with the patience and power to take advantage of the large outfield. Second, in 2017, almost a quarter of his hits were doubles, meaning that the stroke is there, even when the ball is not leaving the yard.  Doubles count and show good hitting mechanics in general.  With the MLB baseball meaning more power, expect that when he gets a starting job, McMahon will be a top fantasy target at the position.

2. Sam Travis (BOS, AAA)
2018 Stats: 24 games, .231/.297/.341, 2 HR, 7 R, and 10 RBI
ETA: Fall 2018

Travis offers an unusual package at first with a contact first profile that sacrifices some power but should keep a nice overall hitting floor in the profile. For example, the most homers Travis has hit at a single level was six last year at AAA for the Red Sox. The question remains if there is enough power to keep him at the position long term, but it looks like there are enough other good hitting traits to support his rise to Boston this year. Travis has posted higher than expected OBP when compared to his batting average in his pro career. 2017 saw an 80 point gain over his batting average resulting in a .351 OBP.  Also supporting the on-base skills has been a consistently close to 10% walk rate through the minors. Not only does Travis get on base with the bat, but also walks more than his peers at the position.  Even better, the average is not supported by a crazy BABIP which typically sits between .310 and .320. There should not need to be significant changes in the profile to keep up the production. When the Red Sox need a replacement at first for Mitch Moreland and Co., it seems that they might have the same bat ready to take over the spot in 2019.

3. Chris Shaw (SF, AAA)
2018 Stats: 36 games, .267/.318/.555, 10 HR, 24 R, 30 RBI
ETA: Fall 2018

The number two prospect in a shallow system Shaw was off to a hot start at AAA before a groin strain has kept him off the field for a little over a week. Still, the ten homers and 30 RBI through 24 games has been music to the Giant’s front office, and owners should expect to see Shaw before long. While primarily a first baseman, Shaw has shown an ability to play in the outfield as well, following the Brandon Belt model. Flexibility gives the Giants a few options when he does get the call to slot into the starting line-up. While a similar year so far to 2017 at the same level, Shaw does seem to have focused more on power than contact so far this season. Some changes to note though.  Shaw's K rate shot up close to 30% as did his HR/FB%. In general fly balls are up for Shaw this year.  If this keeps up, Shaw will shoot past his 2017 marks for counting stats, and owners will take the 20 point drop in batting average for these changes. The question remains will Shaw’s profile play in the offensive wet blanket that is San Francisco?  Owners should take that risk before they miss out.

4. Matt Thaiss (LAA, AAA)
2018 Stats: (AA) 40 games, .287/.352/..490, 6 HR, 24 R, and 25 RBI
ETA: 2019

With the trade of C.J Cron and impending breakdown of Albert Pujols the path seems clear for Thaiss to be the starting first baseman in Anaheim for years to come. The first-rounder out of Virginia has moved relatively quickly with two minor ranks each year since his draft in 2016. When Chris Shaw’s limitation was the K rate to supply the power, Thaiss is on the other end of the spectrum. So far he has never hit for double digits in HR but also has only struck out above 20% once in his short career. That being said, it is not uncommon for doubles power to turn into home run power in the majors, meaning that the floor might be a bit higher. Still, a ten homer first baseman is perhaps not the top fantasy value. Where Thaiss does offer this value is in all the little supporting pieces of his game from a few steals to a high walk rate. If Thaiss can be high OBP and run producer with a low K rate, he could be a better fantasy play that Sam Travis when all is said and done.

5. J.D. Davis (HOU, AAA)
2018 Stats: 33 games, .415/.473/.654, 4 HR, 27 R, and 36 RBI
ETA: Current

Power, power, and more power is the name of Davis’s game. Fangraphs rates his raw power at 70, and the supporting stats seem to back this up. Already in the majors, for the time being, owners should expect that 2019 is more his year to make a case for inclusion on the big league team. Davis is the next player to watch out for in the fly-ball revolution as the GB% have started to come down from their peak at 45.7% in the minors to 38.6% this year at AAA. If Davis can keep the power rate up in the majors, bank on 30 HR every year from the position. What also keeps Davis high on this list is the ability to play at both 1B and 3B, and the arm to hold down the hot corner. With Alex Bregman there, for the time being, it seems that Davis will have to push to 1B, but the flexibility gives the front office something to consider. Could the arm play in the outfield? Perhaps but the body and speed might limit that. Still, the power profile alone keeps him on the fantasy radar.

6. Peter Alonso (NYM, AA)
2018 Stats: 42 games, .345/.475/.634, 11 HR, 31 R, and 35 RBI
ETA: 2020

Alonso is the player on this list who has seen his stock improve the most since he was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. Never thought of as a non-prospect, the concern was if there were enough skills to complement the power numbers. And yet, since his first appearance in pro ball Alonso has raked. In only one level has he hit below .300, and with across the board has posted a career K rate under 20%.  Alonso looks like a much more polished profile than many expected. At AA he even showed some willingness to run with seven total steal attempts, and while only succeeded three times the idea is there for a player who can add some value on the bases. While Baseball America graded his speed at only a 30, owners will take whatever value they can find at the position. A final note on Alonso, the IFFB% is down to the lowest it has been in his short pro career, with another sign pointing to a hitter who is driving the ball and making contact when it counts. A career high BB% at 16.9% at AA means that with promotions Alonso is the prospect to watch for 2020.

7. Bobby Bradley (CLE, AA)
2018 stats: 40 games, .199/.302/.425, 7 HR, 16 R, and 22 RBI
ETA: 2020

Bradley turned heads in spring training this year with Cleveland demonstrating both power and patience at the plate. Sadly that has not transitioned into his game at AA so far this season. While the K and BB rates have stayed much the same from his 2017 season at the same level, the batting average has dropped 50 points to below the Mendoza line. Contact will always be the issue with Bradley, as, like many first base prospects, the power is there, but the contact might not be enough to keep his bat in the lineup long term. The SLG is still there showing that even without the high contact the power is always a given for Bradley, and the seven HR so far keep him on the 2017 pace. What is unusual about the approach is that Bradley has seen him FB% shoot from 35.8% in 2017 to 49% this season. On the flipside, the GB rate has dropped from 44.7% to 36.5%. In an era where more fly balls are the target, it seems that Bradley is either working through a change or needs to hit the ball on the ground to open up his power. Without a considerable increase in the production this year, owners should keep an eye on this metric moving forward.

8. Ryan O’Hearn (KC, AAA)
2018 Stats: 43 games, .265/.355/.422, 4 HR, 20 R, and 23 RBI
ETA: August/September 2018

While not even thought of as the top corner prospect in the Royal’s organization heading into this year, O’Hearn is making the case to be bumped up those lists. Repeating AAA has been good for the player with increases in batting average and walk rate showing that the adjustments are there. While the power numbers are a bit down, the context stats with run and RBIs are on a higher pace than 2017 which again is only good news for interested owners. Perhaps fueling this change in the statline, O’Hearn is hitting the ball to the opposite field almost five percent more often while not seeing a change in his Pull%. This means fewer balls up the middle which might sap some of the power but will add more doubles down the line with the potential to score more runners ahead in the order. While not a sexy profile, O’Hearn might have the highest floor of the bottom third of this list.

9. Jordan Patterson (COL, AAA)
2018 Stats: 42 games, .253/.371/.521, 11 HR, 30 R, and 30 RBI
ETA: 2018

The curious case of the Colorado corner prospect continues with Patterson. One would think that the Denver batting environment would fit well with a power hitter but so far no dice for this player. The good news? The power is way up this year, and Patterson is on pace for 35+ HR at AAA this year. With those kinds of numbers, the changing ball in the majors, and playing in Colorado, this might finally work out for the Patterson. Besides, the walk rate is up, with most of the rest of the line staying the same. This should be good news, and for a player repeating AAA for the third time, the changes are necessary not to stagnate. The HR/FB sits at 25.6% so far this season, up almost eight points from his career high last year. The unusual piece? His FB% is down nearly two points, so no significant swing change to factor into the profile. That is a good sign for the player as without much other shift the production is up.

10.Josh Naylor (SDP, AAA)
2018 Stats: 44 games, .339/.419/.554, 9 HR, 28 R, and 29 RBI
ETA: 2020

Perhaps better known to baseball fans for an incident in the clubhouse a few years back, Naylor has established himself as a legitimate prospect that at the very least Miami wished they still had in their system. Biggest standout for Naylor this year has been cutting the K rate in half all the way down to 11.1%. A surging batting average up from .250 to the current .339 clip seems to be the biggest beneficiary in the profile. Naylor played in 42 games at AA last season giving a nice comparison to show the changes. Seven more homers, ten runs, and 20 RBI in a similar sample size show how much different this year has been for the player. Naylor is also pulling the ball a ton more this year, with a close to ten point increase. Expect a promotion to AAA soon to see if the changes are real or tied to a repeat of the level. The talent has never been in question, but the maturity still leaves some questions. Owners should be willing to take the risk as if these changes are real Naylor will end up on top 100 lists moving forward.  Even at the bottom of this list, Naylor has a top-three ceiling at the position.

 

More 2018 MLB Prospects Analysis





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