2016 Impact Rookies: First Basemen

Last week we begin a series that looks at the potential top rookie producers at each position around the baseball diamond. This series should be valuable for anyone participating in a fantasy league that allows keepers. It will also help anyone playing in more traditional formats who may need to fill holes throughout the season or may be in need of a spark.

Last Week: Catchers

First Basemen

Top Targets:

Josh Bell, Pirates: When the Pirates cut ties with former first round pick Pedro Alvarez it created a pretty significant hole at first base. The club has a couple of veteran grunts (John Jaso, Michael Morse) kicking around to hold the fort but the club is no doubt hoping for Bell to force his way onto the team by the summertime. Bell has yet to fully tap into his raw power but, once he does, he has a shot at developing into a star first baseman for the Bucs.

Matt Olson, Athletics: Olson is in a similar situation as Josh Bell. He’ll likely open the year in the minors but his big league club is likely hoping to see him this summer and the sooner the better. The club does have the newly-acquired Yonder Alonso in tow but he’s been a disappointment so far in his big league career and his $2.6 million contract is hardly a stumbling block. Olson, 21, will likely open the ’16 season in Triple-A and has contact issues but he also takes a ton of walks and has slugged 77 home runs over the past three seasons.

A.J. Reed, Astros: Reed’s first full pro season was a massive success in 2015 from just about every angle but keep in mind he also played in a couple of leagues that tend to favor hitters over pitchers. Still, he’s an advanced bat with good power and an idea at the plate. The Astros have also cleared some of the chum blocking his path to the big leagues (sorry, Chris Carter). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Reed playing first base for the Astros by the end of May what with Jon Singleton (.171 career batting average, 36% K-rate) projected to be the club’s opening day starter at the position.

Keep an Eye On:

Max Kepler, Twins: Kepler is coming off of a very promising 2015 campaign and — when the off-season began — looked like he had a promising ’16 season to look forward to, as well. However, his dream of seeing significant playing time in The Show took a real hit when the club signed Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park. It’s possible that the rookie could see playing time in the outfield but the expected move of Miguel Sano to right field adds one more roadblock.

Trey Mancini, Orioles: The Orioles have a couple of intriguing first base prospects in Mancini (the less advanced of the two) and Christian Walker (the better known, more experienced) but both were blocked by the re-signing of Chris Davis. And while I like Walker, I prefer Mancini for his mix of hitting ability and power. Splitting his time in 2015 between High-A and Double-A, latter prospect hit 43 doubles to go along with 21 home runs — despite playing in leagues to favor pitchers. Keep an eye on this first base prospect in 2016 — Davis has blocked first base but the DH role is far from settled.

Richie Shaffer, Rays: Shaffer is originally a third baseman but first base has looked like his future position, mainly due to the presence of veteran Evan Longoria. However, with the young infielder on the cusp of settling in at the big league level, the Rays bulked up on players capable of playing 1B/DH and now have James Loney, Steven Pearce and Logan Morrison barring the door to regular playing time. That could push Shaffer — whose best offensive tool is his power — to the outfielder where he’s also seen some playing time (but is blocked by significant depth there, too). The added versatility will actually help the rookie’s fantasy value if he can find regular at-bats.

Sam Travis, Red Sox: Travis doesn’t have the prototypical power that most people covet from a first baseman but he’s done nothing but hit as a pro. Unfortunately, the Hanley Ramirez experience at first could block Travis’ path to the Majors, at least in 2016, as well as the presence of sophomore Travis Shaw, who is more advanced but not quite as talented. Travis might have a shot at regular playing time in 2017 if David Ortiz hangs up his spikes and allows Ramirez to move to the DH role. The rookie may only hit 10-15 home runs in the Majors but he has a chance to be a .280-.300 hitter.

Christian Walker, Orioles: As mentioned above, Walker has some competition for playing time in Baltimore from Trey Mancini but the former has a head start on the big league career. The return of Chris Davis definitely hurts Walker but the DH role is basically wide open and currently looks like a job-share situation. However, a strong start by one of the rookies (Walker or Mancini) might encourage the club to give up that approach. Originally more of a contact hitter when he entered pro ball, Walker has seen his power output increase over the past two seasons albeit at the expense of his strikeout rate, which has increased significantly.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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6 years ago

The DH role in Baltimore is basically settled. Trumbo will basically be a full time DH, Buck Showalter is not going to sacrifice outfield defense by placing Trumbo in right.

Im with Buseymember
6 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy

Remember that time Steve Pearce played 2B. Don’t assume Showalter won’t do anything.

6 years ago
Reply to  Im with Busey

While it was clearly a small sample size, Pearce graded out as a plus defender at 2nd base.