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Three Up, Three Down for Prospects - First Basemen

Power. Nothing else defines the position more than pure, raw power. If you have it, you better display it in abundance, or there will be concerns. If you are smaller in stature, there will be concerns. If your talent is just hit tool, there will be concerns. If your defense is lacking, there will be concerns. It is tough for a fantasy manager to have faith in a first base only prospect, as there are concerns.

Much of the minor league prospecting venture is based on finding value. The value can be used for various reasons at various times. Some fantasy managers prospect to provide depth for their team while others try to look for the next elite player. The most significant and often overlooked value is selling for profit.  The biggest thing you can do for your dynasty team is to find prospects that you can trade when the entire dynasty community is interested in them. This is, of course, dependant on individual roster needs. Generally, prospects will have their highest value right before they are set to debut in the majors. After that, it is all downhill. So, we will help you identify prospects that are trending up and down, so you know how best to maximize the values.

Below are three prospects that are trending with increased value as well as three minor leaguers struggling to maintain recognition in the fluid market of first base prospects.

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Stock Rising

Peter Alonso, New York Mets

Few prospects have shot up the rankings more than Peter Alonso and justifiably so. Alonso has demonstrated not only the power necessary to be a first baseman, but he also possesses the plate discipline to ensure other categories aren’t sacrificed. Alonso was a second-round pick in the 2016 draft and in his first full season (2017), he hammered 18 homers with 63 RBI and a .289 batting average across High- and Double-A. For an encore, Alonso tore up Double- and Triple-A to the tune of 36 bombs, 112 RBI, and a .285 AVG in 2018. Also beneficial is a double-digit walk rate which attempts to offset the strikeout rate (26%) in Triple-A, which was eight points higher than his previous minor league career high.

With power and a solid average, Alonso is an excellent choice to one day become one of the top first basemen. Alonso is also perfectly positioned to take over the Mets’ first base job currently projected to be manned by a couple of players on the wrong side of 30 years old. If your dynasty league roster already has a solid first baseman, maximize the hype-driven value of Alonso to package for an increasingly valuable player at another position.

Brent Rooker, Minnesota Twins

Brent Rooker is a right-handed power bat, drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2017 draft. His performance during 2017 in the Rookie and High-A levels (combined 18HR, 281AVG) demanded a promotion to start the 2018 season. As expected, Rooker was promoted to Double-A to begin 2018, where he saw the first challenges of his professional career.

He continued to demonstrate his power with 22 homers, but it came at the expense of his batting average (.254). A drop in BABIP from .341 in 2017 to .316 was the likely cause of the reduction in AVG. He also hit 32 doubles and stole six bases, but that is not a reliable part of his game.

Although Double-A offered new difficulties for Rooker, he did make improvements in some underlying stats. While the strikeout rate (26.4%) is a bit concerning, it is an improvement from his 2017 performance (29%). Additionally, while he does have his fair share of strikeouts, Rooker compensates for it with a decent amount of walks (9.9%). The Twins did make moves this offseason to add a first baseman, but they believe in Rooker’s bat so much that they gave him experience in the outfield as well at Double-A. I don’t think that the current first baseman for the Twins will be much of a roadblock for him. Assuming Rooker will maintain his walk rate and continue to improve his strikeout rate, he can be a valuable asset, even with a BABIP that might put his batting average near .250. Booker could ultimately be a three-true-outcomes player, but even still, his value will continue to climb higher. He is not at his peak of value yet.

Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox

Triston Casas was the 26th overall pick in the 2018 draft, selected out of high school where he played first base. Initially, the Red Sox tried him out at third base, but it is likely he will ultimately get moved to first.

Similar to a Red Sox prospect you will read about below, the 6'4" Casas has legitimate power. As of late, any time you hear of a prospect with real power, you expect he will have poor plate discipline. Casas stands apart in this sense as he is reported to have a very good approach at the plate.

The question that remains is whether he will hit well enough to maximize that power. We got no answer in 2018 as he was only able to get five plate appearances ( 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a walk) before he tore a ligament in his right thumb and had season-ending surgery. One thing to watch in 2019 is to see if he shortens his swing enough to limit any holes in his swing that usually come with a tall hitter.

Despite a shortened season, fantasy managers are already in on Casas and the potential impact he will have at the position. He is a few years away from the majors so a current investment should be minimal. A successful season in 2019 will launch his value. Do not go crazy by drafting him with the first couple of picks in your minor league draft. However, Casas should be in your view as a viable choice with plenty of upside at a very inexpensive cost. This is a perfect example of starting the buy-low and sell-high strategy.


Stock Falling

Pavin Smith, Arizona Diamondbacks

Pavin Smith was the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. He was known to be a pure hitter with the hopes of one day developing power that the position traditionally needs. Thus far, those hopes have yet to bud into any sort of fruition. Immediately upon being drafted, Smith started his professional career demonstrating elite plate discipline with a higher walk rate (12%) than his strikeout rate (11%). This led to a .318 batting average, possibly buoyed also by a high BABIP (.363). However, he didn’t hit a single homer in 223 plate appearances and his slugging percentage finished at .415.

To start 2018, Smith was moved to High-A in the California League, which is known to be very hitter-friendly. Smith was able to take advantage to some extent but not likely as much as was expected. He finished with 11 bombs, 54 RBI, and a .255 AVG in his first full season of professional ball. While the batting average dropped, primarily to a .275 BABIP, the plate discipline remained strong with nearly as many walks (11%) as strikeouts (13%).

The primary concern continues to be whether he will develop the power at a power-hungry position. Thus far, he’s hitting the ball into the ground (49%) nearly half the time he steps to the plate. If he can figure it out, he is in a prime position to benefit as the Diamondbacks have traded stud Paul Goldschmidt, announcing they are going younger. Unfortunately, Smith has yet to demonstrate the potential to produce a fraction of Goldy’s skill level. If someone in your league still has interest, sell Pavin on the prospects of being next in line in Arizona.

Josh Ockimey, Boston Red Sox

Josh Ockimey’s value is falling for two reasons; one is his current projection, and the other is the fact that he plays in the Boston Red Sox organization. Ockimey has taken the long road to the majors, which was once considered the regular path. He started his professional baseball career in 2014 as a fifth-round draft pick. During the past five years, he has progressed through the levels based on his power. No one can question that skill. He exhibited that again in 2018 with 20 homers across Double-A and Triple-A. The biggest concern is whether he can take advantage of the power during games. He had a .245 batting average, with a .316 BABIP. This is a considerable drop from the .365 BABIP-driven average of .274 in 2017. Also, Ockimey’s strikeout rate (35%) is so terrible that not even his walks (10%) can bail him out.

Usually, prospects would dream to be a part of an offensive powerhouse like the Red Sox. However, it comes with its own struggles; there isn’t always enough room at the top. Luckily, the Red Sox have a long-term need at first base, but Ockimey has yet to prove that he has earned the position outright. Currently, he carries very little trade value.

Matt Thaiss, Los Angeles Angels

Matt Thaiss has already spent three years in the minors but has yet to demonstrate consistent power. He has always always been known as a contact hitter with very good plate discipline resulting in a high average. The homers hadn’t materialized in any fashion until 2018. With a previous high of nine homers (2017), Thaiss set a new career-high with 16 bombs across two levels in 2018 (Double-A and Triple-A). To that, he added a combined 34 doubles, eight stolen bases, and a .280 batting average. That would appear like a good season, and for Thaiss, it is. However, it isn’t convincing enough to persuade fantasy owners to maintain any allegiance.

While Thaiss’ plate discipline has improved in some sense, it isn’t entirely positive. His strikeout rate across 400 at-bats at Triple-A was an impressive 17%; however, his walk rate (7%) also dropped 10 percent from 2017. A recent small increase in homers is not enough to justify complete confidence that he can take over the job for the Angels. If there were a reason to keep Thaiss on the roster, it would be that he is close to the majors. Those in deep leagues can wait through 2019 to see if Thaiss suddenly displays an upsurge in power. It isn’t advised as there are plenty of other power bats in the minors. If things go in his favor, there will still be time to get back in on Thaiss.

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