This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Top First Base Prospects
Here is an analysis of the Top 12 First Base Prospects in baseball, as shown on the most recent RotoWire Top 100. This list doesn't include players who are currently listed at other positions but who might end up as first basemen someday (Matt LaPorta, Tyler Flowers, Max Ramirez, etc).
Lars Anderson, Boston Red Sox
Drafted in the 18th round from a California high school in 2006, Anderson was considered a late first or second round talent who fell due to signability concerns. Ranked sixth overall on our RotoWire Top 100 list.
STRENGTHS: Size (6-5, 195), plate discipline, improving power, should hit for a high batting average, good work ethic and confidence, career .304/.404/.480 hitter including .316/.436/.526 in 41 games of Double-A at age 20.
WEAKNESSES: He draws walks, but his strikeout rate is rather high. Lacks speed. His defense isn't bad but he won't win gold gloves.
OUTLOOK: Will begin 2009 in Triple-A. He has no obvious place in Boston, but should be ready for major league action within a year, which will eventually force a trade of some kind.
Justin Smoak, Texas Rangers
Drafted in the first round last year, from the University of South Carolina, Smoak ranked 12th on our current RotoWire Top 100 list, but could push past Anderson once he gets more pro exposure in.
STRENGTHS: Size (6-3, 200) and strength, switch-hitter, excellent power from both sides of the plate, strong strike zone judgment, Gold Glove potential at first base.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks speed. Needs to prove himself against pro pitching. Though there are no real doubts that he will succeed, the shape of his success will take is still a bit unclear.
OUTLOOK: The Rangers have no need to rush him, but Smoak is so good that, like Anderson in Boston, a trade will eventually be forced.
Logan Morrison, Florida Marlins
Drafted in the 22nd round in 2005 from Maple Woods Community College, Morrison had a fine year (24 homers) in the Sally League in 2007, then broke out with a .332/.402/.494 season in the Florida State League in '08, earning a spot at 33 on our current Top 100 list.
STRENGTHS: Good plate discipline, low strikeout rate, excellent contact ability for a strong hitter with power to all fields. Strong throwing arm, improved defense, may run well enough to play left field in the short run.
WEAKNESSES: Hit just 13 homers last year in the FSL, though 38 doubles points to more power to come. Some wonder if he's just a 15-homer guy at the major league level, albeit with a high batting average and OBP.
OUTLOOK: Morrison begins 2009 in Double-A and is Florida's first baseman of the future, perhaps as soon as this September if he really thrives.
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Drafted in the second round in 2007 out of high school in California, Freeman hit an impressive .316/.378/.521 at the tender age of 18, earning a spot at 34 on our RotoWire Top 100.
STRENGTHS: Size (6-5, 210), youth, low strikeout rate for a big guy with power, very good defense at first base.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of speed; some scouts project him as more of a 15-20 homer guy rather than a 25+ guy, plate discipline can be spotty.
OUTLOOK: Freeman deserves more attention than he's received, and give his age (just 19 entering 2009) he has plenty of development time left on the clock. He won't be rushed, giving him additional time to refine the strike zone.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
The third overall pick in the 2008 draft, Florida high school first baseman Hosmer got into just three pro games, but scouts consider him a very advanced hitter for his age who should move quickly. He ranked 35th on our RotoWire list.
STRENGTHS: Size (6-5, 215), huge power potential, polished for his age, reportedly has good plate discipline though we haven't seen the numbers yet in pro ball with just three games of data. Strong arm and might be able to play outfield in the short run.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of speed, need to see how he adapts to pro pitching.
OUTLOOK: Hosmer has as much raw talent as Smoak and could push way ahead on this list once he gets some pro games under his belt. The Royals won't have to rush him, so it will be interesting to see how quick they are to promote him if he dominates out the gate.
Yonder Alonso, Cincinnati Reds
Drafted in the first round from the University of Miami last June, Alonso ranks at 46th on our most recent list. He dominated college pitching and most scouts expect this to carry forward into the pros, though there are a few weak points.
STRENGTHS: Exceptional strike zone judgment, ability to dominate right-handed pitching for both power and average, adequate defense at first base.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of speed precludes use in the outfield. Has struggled against left-handers and will have to solve that to avoid being slotted into a platoon role.
OUTLOOK: Alonso shouldn't need much time in the minors; the main question is how he learns to handle southpaws. He's blocked positionally by Joey Votto, but Votto may run well enough to move to left field and clear space for Alonso in 2010.
Angel Villalona, San Francisco Giants
Villalona played last year in the Sally League at age 17, hitting 17 homers and .263/.312/.435 overall. He's still very raw, ranked 53rd on our RotoWire list as a result, but his ceiling is immense.
STRENGTHS: Huge pure power, size, age relative to league.
WEAKNESSES: Horrible plate discipline, mediocre defense, lack of speed, might get too fat.
OUTLOOK: Villalona is so young it's hard to know exactly how he will develop. His strike zone judgment is dreadful right now, but even average improvement could get him to an Andres Gallaraga-type career.
David Cooper, Toronto Blue Jays
Rated at 59 on our RotoWire list, Cooper was drafted in the first round from the University of California last year and hit .333/.399/.502 in his pro debut at three levels, no surprise since he had one of the most polished bats in the draft.
STRENGTHS: Excellent strike zone judgment, and overall polished professional approach. Should hit for a high average and OBP with at least average power.
WEAKNESSES: Very mediocre with the glove. Slow and not particularly athletic. Some scouts doubt he'll hit more than 15-18 homers a year at the major league level.
OUTLOOK: Cooper doesn't have a lot to learn about hitting, but will have to show that his glovework won't confine him to the DH role. At worst he should be a Lyle Overbay type and has the potential to be a lot better.
Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres
Rated at 63 on our RotoWire list, Blanks continues to impress as a run producer, hitting .301/ with 24 homers and 100 RBI in the Cal League in '07 and .325 with 20 homers and 107 RBI in the Texas League in '08. His main problem is positional blockage in San Diego.
STRENGTHS: Good athleticism despite his huge size (6-6, 280). Surprisingly compact swing that produces power to all fields. Low strikeout rate for a power hitter.
WEAKNESSES: Still struggles with his swing at times, plate discipline still needs a bit of work. Can he run well enough to play the outfield? Has to work hard at staying in shape.
OUTLOOK: Blanks should be ready by September, but it remains to be see how the Padres can get him into the lineup barring a trade.
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Drafted in the supplemental round from the University of Virginia in 2007, Doolittle ranks at number 77 on our list after an '08 season that showed much more power than expected, but still leaves unanswered questions.
STRENGTHS: Doolittle's defense at first base is excellent. Scouts saw him as a Mark Grace type entering '08, but he showed more power than expected with 40 doubles and 22 homers at two levels.
WEAKNESSES: The power boost came at the expense of plate discipline and strikeouts, previously considered a strength for him. It's uncertain now what kind of balance he will find between the two approaches.
OUTLOOK: Doolittle could be ready by 2010, but his performance in Double-A is critical for his future. Does he run well enough to handle some outfield? What balance will he find between contact and power?
Chris Carter, Oakland Athletics
Traded from Chicago to Arizona and then to Oakland in 2007, Carter justified the interest of the Athletics by slamming 39 homers in the California League. He ranks 86th on our current RotoWire list.
STRENGTHS: Power. Power. Power. Carter also draws a lot of walks, and has shown the ability to make adjustments as he moves up.
WEAKNESSES: Defense. He's been pretty awful everywhere, and looks like a born DH. His strikeout rate is very high and could put pressure on his batting average against better pitching.
OUTLOOK: Carter could hit something like a right-handed Ryan Howard if it all comes together for him. He needs a year of exposure in the high minors, and could rank much higher at this time next year if he adjusts well.
Gaby Sanchez, Florida Marlins
A fourth round pick in 2005 from the University of Miami, Sanchez ranks 88th on our list and is expected to hold down the first base job in Florida until Logan Morrison is ready.
STRENGTHS: Sanchez does a lot of things well: he's a good fielder, throws well, hits plenty of doubles, controls the strike zone, and can even swipe a base on occasion despite mediocre speed. He seldom strikes out and works the count very well.
WEAKNESSES: Sanchez doesn't have the power you normally expect in a first baseman, though he isn't punchless. He's old for a prospect at 25, and is maxed out physically.
OUTLOOK: Sanchez should get a clean shot at playing time this year, but his future will depend as much on what happens with Morrison as what he does himself. He may end up as a platoon player eventually.
Kila Ka'aihue, Kansas City Royals
A 15th round pick back in 2002 out of high school in Hawaii, Ka'aihue struggled with injuries and inconsistency until his breakout 2008 season. He ranks 95 on our list after he hit 38 homers with a 104:67 BB:K ratio in 401 at-bats in Double-A and Triple-A last year.
STRENGTHS: Power and strike zone judgment. Better conditioning and greater self-confidence were also keys behind his '08 success.
WEAKNESSES: Ka'aihue has struggled with injuries at times, can get too passive at the plate, and lacks speed and quickness.
OUTLOOK: Currently blocked in Kansas City, Ka'aihue will likely go to Triple-A Omaha and await an opportunity. At age 24 he still has time to prove that his '08 wasn't just a fluke.
For full reports on all these first basemen and over 1,000 others, pre-order the 2009 Baseball Prospect Book, available only at Johnsickels.net. Now Shipping!
Article first appeared 3/13/09