If you’ve ever had to go through a rebuilding phase with a dynasty league roster, you may have run against the difficulty of finding a minor league first baseman who projects as a bigtime MLB force. A couple of years ago, I discussed the extreme paucity of first base prospects here, and I feel that many of the points I raised in that piece still largely hold water. First base prospects are held to such a high standard of offense and are constantly competing with not only other first base prospects, but also defensively-challenged third base and corner outfield prospects, for the few open MLB spots at the position. Most of the first base prospects that do ascend to considerable MLB playing time–let alone success–at the spot are the players who are pegged as bigtime prospects from the moment they sign a professional contract–witness Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez…even guys traditionally at the lesser end of the quality spectrum like Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, and James Loney.
If you’re in a dynasty league with any depth, chances are that most of the “obvious” first base prospects have been swept up (if you’re looking for a first baseman of the future and the big prospects aren’t swept up, stop reading this article and grab Jonathan Singleton). Who might you be able to turn to that’s a bit lower-profile (and thus available) but still could end up as a solid producer at the first base position? Today, I’m going to look at five players who might fill that void.
Max Muncy, Athletics (High-A)–Muncy is the only one of the five players on the list who I haven’t seen personally, but his numbers alone–a .298/.415/.530 triple-slash, 20 homers, and a 57/59 K/BB ratio–generate quite the intrigue on their own. Sure, they come in the high-offense California League, but no amount of thin air and funky wind patterns can force a batter to walk more often than he strikes out–it’s rare to see somebody with burgeoning pop manage to have both an excellent walk rate and a low strikeout rate. Further, while the CAL is a hitter-friendly league, Muncy’s home park isn’t one of the more ridiculous ones, and it’s worth noting that he’s in High-A in just his first full year of pro ball (he was a fifth-round pick last year out of Baylor), making his polished performance stand out even more.
Muncy could contribute a good batting average at the position, and could really be an asset in leagues that count walks or OBP. His power projection is tough to pin down–he was a a doubles hitter last year in a pitcher-friendly environment and is a huge home run hitter this year in a hitter-friendly environment, so it’s not easy to differentiate Muncy’s power growth from his environmental change–but if he keeps hitting homers in Double-A, he’ll start to look like a stunningly complete offensive prospect. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where Muncy keeps hitting in Double-A down the stretch this year, has a good 2014, and replaces Brandon Moss in 2015.
Stetson Allie, Pirates (High-A)–Allie is probably the best-known name on this list, but not necessarily as a hitter. He was drafted 52nd overall in 2011 (and only fell that low largely for signability reasons) as a pitcher with a triple-digit fastball, but 26 2/3 innings and 37 walks later, he was moved to first (he also spent nine disastrous games at third last year in Rookie ball).
Allie didn’t hit much as an old-for-the-Gulf Coast League 21-year-old last year in his first try at professional hitting (.214/.314/.340), but it was a different story the second the 2013 season got underway, as he blasted through the Low-A South Atlantic League with a .324/.414/.607 line and 17 homers in 66 games. I was lucky enough to witness two of those 17 homers–in one game, in fact–and was luckier still to get them both on video to share with you.
They’re both pretty impressive shots–CMC-Northeast Stadium’s fences are not easy to clear, and I can’t recall any other opposite-field homers from righthanders in my sixteen games at the park this season, making the first blast (off intriguing pitching sleeper Euclides Leyer, no less), particularly impressive. Allie has bigtime strength and can hit the ball out to all fields.
The question is how much that power will play. Allie struck out 27.7% of the time with West Virginia and has already gone down nineteen times in thirteen games (34.5%) since his promotion to the High-A Florida State League (a notably difficult league for hitters). His swing has some length to it, though there are two big positives that somewhat mitigate the strikeouts: first, he has shown an aptitude for drawing walks (12.6% in Low-A, 14.5% in High-A), and second, he can be expected to be rawer than most 22-year-olds due to his late transition to hitting. Allie could hit 30+ homers in the big leagues someday if he can continue to mature as a hitter and take good at-bats; on an unrelated note, he would also usurp Mike Trout’s throne for MLB’s thickest neck (I mean, seriously) if he makes it up. Seeing as the Pirates currently have Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones at the position, there’s not a whole lot blocking Allie if he can keep crushing the ball. A final, intriguing note: A scout once suggested to me that Allie would make for an interesting catcher, given his obvious arm strength. His power bat at that position would be a massive fantasy commodity.
Andy Wilkins, White Sox (Triple-A)–Wilkins doesn’t have the eye-popping numbers of Muncy or Allie, but he has pretty solid ones of his own–he hit .286/.388/.477 in Double-A before a promotion last week–and the advantage of being the only upper-minors-tested player on this list. The 24-year-old was repeating Double-A in putting up the above statline (he hit .239/.335/.425 there last season), but he’s always had an intriguing package of 20+ homer power and good strike zone control (career 283/191 K/BB).
Wilkins gets excellent leverage out of a relatively short, simple swing, which is how he manages to hit for power without selling out for it. Here’s a long homer of his I witnessed in May:
Wilkins also provides a solid presence defensively around the bag, which doesn’t mean much in the world of fantasy baseball, except for the fact that it will give Robin Ventura one less excuse to keep Wilkins out of the lineup.
Paul Konerko has sputtered to a very poor season this year, and could be reaching the end of the line. If Wilkins can put together a hot month in Triple-A, don’t be surprised if he makes his Chicago debut later in the year. He likely will never be an elite player, but he could provide league-average production at the first base spot and work well as a stopgap or complementary/situational fantasy asset.
Ronald Guzman, Rangers (Low-A)–Guzman’s name has already appeared on prospect lists, but the 18-year-old is so far from the majors that he still is somewhat under-the-radar. Then again, anyone hitting .326/.357/.467 in full-season ball at 18 is only going to be under the radar for a short while, so don’t be surprised if Guzman gets a lot of buzz during offseason rating time. On a star-studded but extremely raw Hickory team that collectively has struck out 28.3% (!!!!) of the time, Guzman’s eminently reasonable 16.3% rate comes as a nice contrast. And he really can hit, with a short, simple swing that produces easy power out of his hulking 6’5″ frame. Here’s video of his first full-season blast from last month, where the plus power is clearly on display:
Guzman has only drawn four walks so far in 25 games, which isn’t good, but it’s a minor concern given his contact ability and youth; he walked at a more solid 8.1% clip last year in Rookie ball and missed the first two months of the year with a knee injury, so it stands to reason that he’s still adjusting. More problematic is his speed and defense–even at his young age and with a lot of room left to fill out, Guzman is an extremely awkward runner and defender who will need to hit a lot to justify a spot in a big league lineup. Clearly, though, he’s a very advanced hitter for his age, and there is more offense to come. The Rangers are another team that doesn’t currently have a bigtime MLB first baseman, though Guzman is so far off that it’s tough to say what Texas will have done to fill that hole between now and his MLB readiness.
Jayce Boyd, Mets (High-A)–Boyd comes in at a decided fifth on this list (not that it’s in any sort of ranked order; there’s just a marked dropoff between the above four players and the next “tier” of first base sleepers), mostly due to his lower power numbers–he’s slugged .515 this year, but that’s the product of a .366 average more than raw power (he has seven home runs). New York’s sixth-round pick in 2012 out of Florida State, Boyd walked almost as much as he struck out last year in short-season ball (30/25 K/BB) and has brought that ratio to dead-even this year (35/35) between Low-A and High-A.
Boyd is a fairly big guy with some strength, but he focuses more on taking good at-bats and hitting the ball up the middle and in the gaps than trying to pull the ball out of the ballpark. It’s possible that he could develop more power as he develops–as they say “good hitters develop power, but power hitters don’t learn how to hit.” He certainly hasn’t been fazed since his promotion to the Florida State League, going 18-for-46 with three doubles, a triple, two homers, and just three strikeouts. Boyd will need to show that he has more than just 10-15 homer power to get a long look in the majors, but with the Mets’ first base situation unsettled and the team a few years away from going into a big-spending phase, there don’t seem to be any clear roadblocks to his ascension to the MLB spot unless Ike Davis finally lives up to his promise or performance prospect Allan Dykstra (who I nearly decided to discuss in this space) gets a shot. Watch for a power spike, because if one comes, Boyd’s already-clear pure hitting ability and good approach would make him a very useful first baseman if he can start clearing fences regularly.
Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.