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Power. Nothing else defines the first base 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.

Currently, first base is one of the weakest positions in the minors. Most of the credit for this goes to the promotion of Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Josh Bell, and Dominic Smith, while others have simply regressed.

Below are three prospects that are rising above the anonymity, as well as three prospects struggling to maintain recognition in the fluid market of first base prospects.

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Stock Rising

Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies

If your position at the major league level is manned by a 26-year-old five-time gold glove winner, three-time silver slugger recipient, and three-time MVP candidate, you might want to prepare for a new position. Ryan McMahon has been preparing for a positional move for two years now. While change affects everyone differently, quite negatively for many, McMahon has welcomed the challenge and met it head on.

McMahon had a lot of work to do in 2016 and at the end of the season it was not pretty. He was promoted to Double-A and began to increase his positional flexibility playing at both first base and his normal position of third base. McMahon’s season was a letdown; however, you could almost give him a mulligan as the team had to play its entire season on the road.

McMahon rectified his development in 2017 by hitting 20 home runs and 88 runs batted in with 11 stolen bases across Double-A and Triple-A. He split time at first, second, and third base. For the first time in his minor league career, he had a strikeout percentage less than 23.5; he struck out 18% last year compared to 30% in 2016. McMahon has an opportunity to win the first base job out of spring training. You should take a flier on a power bat playing half his games at Coors Field.

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

Yordan Alvarez started 2017 in Low-A and halfway through the season he was promoted to High-A. The one thing Alvarez continuously did was hit well. Across the two levels, he had a slash line of .304/.379/.481 with 32 extra base hits, including 12 home runs. Alvarez’ walk rate (12%) and strikeout rate (21.1%) are very respectable as well. He had eight stolen bases but it is unlikely he will be very productive in this category.

Alvarez is a hitter that will use all fields. During his time at Low-A he mainly hit the ball up the center (42.5%); however, at High-A he hit towards the corners, even a 36.3% to the opposite field. The Astros have an abundance of talent at the major league level. Therefore, they are giving Alvarez repetitions at both first base and left field to give him versatility. If he stays at first, he has the projectable power to go with his hit tool to be a highly sought-after prospect.

Nick Pratto, Kansas City Royals

Nick Pratto was drafted 14th overall in the 2017 Amateur Draft. At face value, one would presume Pratto’s season was that of just another high school first base prospect trying to adjust to his new situation. In the Arizona League, he hit .247 and only .167 isolated power to go with a 25.2% strikeout rate.

The underlying stats tell a different tale. Pratto had a .342 wOBA, supported by 15 doubles and three triples while his 10.4% base on balls show he has patience and a quality plate approach. Pratto’s four home runs and 43.6% fly-ball rate is a good indicator of promise to reach his power potential. He also added 10 stolen bases to his season but that should be attributed more to his baseball acumen than to his actual speed. Being so young, Pratto’s career could take any number of paths. At the moment, he is developing in the right direction. Barring a sudden accelerated development, Pratto is three years away from a promotion to the big league roster. Despite this, he is definitely one to stash in a dynasty league.

 

Stock Falling

Dan Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners

Dan Vogelbach is still a prospect and will likely start the season back at Triple-A, not primarily for developmental reason but for a lack of a position on the major league roster. Newly acquired Ryon Healy will occupy first base while Nelson Cruz will hold down the designated hitter role. Vogelbach’s inability to handle the field instigated the Mariners’ need to acquire a first baseman. Vogelbach is primarily a power hitter with an ability to draw walks, which is beneficial in on-base percentage leagues.

Thus far, Vogelbach has hit quite well in the minor leagues. At Triple-A last season, he hit 17 home runs with a .290 average and a 14% walk rate. It has not translated in the big leagues; in 44 major league plate appearances, Vogelbach has a .175 average with zero HRs. At only 25 years old, he still has time to figure things out. However, without opportunities, he will lack the experience necessary to develop. There is currently no reason to hold onto Vogelbach in any league. With the recent development of a Ryon Healy injury, it is possible Vogelbach could get time at first base. If you have a spot available for risk investments, you could use it on Vogelbach, but he's otherwise not worth drafting outside of dynasty.

Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays

There were big expectations for Rowdy Tellez after a 2016 season hitting 23 home runs. To start the 2017 season, Tellez was characterized as a very good power bat that was destined to take over the Blue Jays’ first base job. However, Tellez hit only six home runs with a .222 average and .628 on-base plus slugging at Triple-A. It is quite surprising as quite a few other stats were pretty good. He had a .284 weighted on-base average, base on balls percent of 9.4, and a normal strikeout rate of 18.8%. Also, he hit the ball to the opposite field (40.7%) a lot more than he did in 2016 (29.6%).

There is one very important piece of information that could have affected Tellez’ season. He was going through a very serious family issue that could affect anyone enough to cause his or her work to struggle. Hopefully the struggle Tellez went through in Triple-A will provide a spark for him to develop into a better hitter. Maybe we will look back and say we should have given him a pass for his 2017 performance. Whether it was on-field or off-field concerns that brought about the difficult season, Tellez is currently not in favor. He will likely be a forgotten guy to most managers. Keep an eye on Tellez so you can grab him if he looks to have resolved his issues.

Sam Travis, Boston Red Sox

Another year passes and Sam Travis was yet again unsuccessful in demonstrating the requisite skill expected of a first baseman, power. Thus far, he has been unable to hit double-digit home runs in a season. In 2017, Travis matched his minor league career high with six home runs. One reason is because he continued to increase his ground-ball percentage last year, 51.4% at Triple-A and 50.9% in the big leagues. Until he adjusts his swing, he will not be able to be able to increase his HR totals.

As a general hitter, Travis did well at Triple-A. He hit for .270 average with a very good strikeout (16.7%) and walk rate (10.8%). In 83 plate appearances at the major leagues though, Travis strikeout rate skyrocketed to 27.7%. He finished with a .263 average even with a .377 batting average on balls in play and, more importantly, with zero HRs. While Travis’ 2016 season was halted abruptly due to an ACL tear, he has not shown an ability to hit for power before or after the surgery. As a first base prospect, he does not need to be owned, as you can find power elsewhere.

 

More 2018 MLB Prospects Analysis





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