1. 1B Travis Harrison (Tustin HS, California)
I feel almost the same affinity for Harrison as I did for Nick Castellanos last year. Almost. Castellanos was and is the superior prospect for a handful of reasons, but it is pretty amazing to see the difference in pre-draft ranking between the two relatively similar prospects. Castellanos was my third favorite hitter from the 2010 class, and ranked sixth overall on my last big board before the draft. Harrison, despite the similarities to Castellanos from a scouting perspective, won’t begin to approach such a lofty ranking. That’s not a knock against Harrison’s upside, but rather yet another data point indicating the ridiculous depth of this year’s draft.
Writing about first base prospects is tough because, really, it is all about asking one simple question for each prospect: can he hit enough to play first base in the big leagues? There are occasional issues that need to be sorted out (body type, athleticism, chance of playing somewhere other than first, maybe some consideration for defense at first), but the bat is clearly the most important issue that needs to be addressed. Harrison’s bat looks like it’ll play at first. There are a handful of prospects ranked below that have a case of having more present power than Harrison (most notably Dan Vogelbach), but, for my money, Harrison’s power is the most pro-ready in his class. Harrison has the raw physical strength to hit the ball a long way, a free and easy swing that incorporates his lower half beautifully, and an approach at the plate that enables him to confidently hack away at pitches he likes while letting junk fly right by. If Harrison has convinced a team that he is more than just a first baseman defensively – I’d love to see him get a shot at third, but don’t think his drafting team will agree with me – he’d find himself in a much better position to go off the board in the first. The more likely outcome has him sliding a bit on draft day, and, much like Castellanos in 2010, Harrison could be a major steal if he slips past round one.
2. 1B Jacob Anderson (Chino HS, California)
Anderson has the weird distinction of being a middle of the pack high school outfield prospect – not sure where I’d rank him offhand, but certainly not in the top five – with a prospect stock that is superficially inflated by his ability to play first base. Would you rather be the eighth or ninth ranked prep outfielder or the number two first baseman? It doesn’t actually make a difference, but I know I’d walk around with a little extra in my step if I was ranked second in something rather than ninth, even if I knew my competition wasn’t as great in the former category. There is a point buried deep within my largely incoherent rambling here, I promise. Anderson is the rare player on this list who is more than capable of playing another position. So why include him with the first basemen? It becomes a question of personal preference: would you rather have an average to slightly below average left field defender or a potential plus glove at first? I’m not sure there is a right answer – though I’m sure the boys at Fangraphs or College Splits could probably figure it out in no time – so it really does come down to personal choice. Because I think Anderson’s bat is so good – plus bat speed, explosive yet efficient hip rotation, great weight transfer and balance, and a slight upper cut that really works with his whole body swing – that he’ll have enough bat to carry him at first.
3. 1B Dan Vogelbach (Bishop Verot HS, Florida)
The popular comparison for Dan Vogelbach these days seems to be Prince Fielder. Now I’m as big a fan as comps as you’ll find and I think I get the basic idea behind this particular one – both guys showed plus to plus-plus power and minus to minus-minus (I just made that up…clever, right?) body types as prep stars – but the only way I could get behind comparing Vogelbach to Fielder would be if we specified that it is a “very poor man’s Fielder” comp. Maybe my hesitation to use Fielder as a comp for anybody has to do with using him as a point of reference for what I thought Bryce Harper can and will do as a pro. As a jumping off point for conversation, however, the Fielder comp is very interesting. Vogelbach does have tremendous raw power. He also has a distressingly large body that does not fit what most teams look for in a high school draft pick. Some (but not all) concerns about his body have been put to rest by a combination of his major weight loss in the past year (he’s no longer pushing three bills, so that’s a plus) and his outstanding makeup that has some teams believing he’ll do anything it takes (i.e. continue to work on reshaping his body) to succeed in pro ball. It is easy to envision Vogelbach as a 1B/DH capable of hitting 30 homers if everything goes to plan, but the risk factor here is high.
4. 1B Dante Bichette (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida)
I’ve gone back and forth on Bichette for over a year now. The first thing I noticed when watching him hit is how his inside-out swing looks a lot like his father’s. This is a positive when he’s going well, as it is a really good looking swing that helps him generate plus bat speed and well above-average raw power. It is a negative when he is going poorly because, as much as I like the swing for an experience professional, it may have a little too much length and too many moving parts to allow him to pull it off consistently. I can’t help but wonder what his first pro hitting instructor’s advice will be. I should also note that I’ve slowly come around to the idea that Bichette might be able to stick at third base professionally because of his much improved athleticism and surprising nimbleness.
5. 1B Kevin Cron (Mountain Pointe HS, Arizona)
Cron has made headlines this spring, first as the younger brother of the amazing CJ Cron and then as a pretty damn good draft power hitting draft prospect himself. He’ll likely be picked too high to honor his commitment to TCU, but, man, I’d love to see him take a crack at the college game – the direct statistical comparison you could then make to his brother would be fascinating, I think. Cron the younger caught some in high school, but, like his bro, probably doesn’t have the requisite athleticism to catch at the next level. I’ve heard some quiet buzz about an attempted move to third, but I think that is probably from people who would hate to see his plus arm go to waste at first. Even working under the likely assumption he’s a first baseman in pro ball, Cron is a top five round prospect due to his highly advanced hit tool and gigantic raw power.
6. 1B Rookie Davis (Dixon HS, North Carolina)
My biggest concern with ranking Rookie Davis this high is based on the nagging thought some team will pop him as a pitcher instead of a hitter. Currently equipped with two above-average future pitches (good low-90s fastball and an emerging mid-70s curve), Davis’ future could be on the mound. Like most two-way prospects, I think he’d be best served by giving hitting a go from the start. If that’s the case, then his plus raw power, classic slugger’s frame (6-5, 220), and strong track record hitting with wood could help him get drafted in the first few rounds and give him a chance to become pro baseball’s first ever Rookie.
7. 1B Wallace Gonzalez (Bishop Amat HS, California)
We’re issuing a major upside alert with Wallace Gonzalez, a rare first base prospect that can lay claim to legit five-tool upside. Those tools run the gamut from “wow” (plus raw power and a bazooka – not literally, that would be a “WOW!” tool – attached to his shoulder) to “hmm, didn’t expect that” (watching a 6-5, 220 pound man with 45 speed is cognitive dissonance personified). With great upside often comes great rawness, however. Gonzalez is better known as a football star with intriguing upside as a tight end capable of developing into a dangerous downfield threat. His commitment to the gridiron makes his signability just murky enough that some teams could shy away on draft day. Years of football experience also means less time honing his baseball skills, so the onus will be on his drafting team to really coach him up. At this point in the rankings, a boom or bust prospect like Gonzalez makes a lot of sense.
8. 1B Ryan Krill (Portage Central HS, Michigan)
Krill is another prospect I was slow to come around on, but I’m buying into his mix of strong defensive tools, super athleticism, and big upside with the bat. Like Jacob Anderson before him, he’s got the wheels and instincts to play some outfield as a pro. There is enough to like about Krill that you can dream on him being a league average hitter and above-average glove at first down the line if everything works out. That may not sound all that sexy, and there is plenty of risk involved with assuming “everything works out,” but you have to remember how much you have to hit if you want to play first base in the bigs. As much as I like Krill now, I’ll be the first to admit that each and every one of these mid-round high school first basemen will all have to make major strides in pro ball (i.e. have “everything work out”) to begin to reach their upper level projections. Life is tough when you don’t have a fallback plan, I guess.
9. 1B Elliot Richoux (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
Richoux is a mature hitter with plus raw power and a swing that will need a heavy dose of good coaching to help him optimize his physical strength. He has the benefit and the disadvantage of being heavily scouted over the years. In Richoux’s case, it isn’t the only area guys who know him, but also many front office higher-ups who have travelled to see The Woodlands HS team play over the past few seasons.
10. 1B Rouric Bridgewater (Diamond Ranch HS, California):
Bridgewater’s ranking is probably a little bit unfair because, as a hitter, he’s as gifted as any of the four players listed right above him. The guy can hit any pitch, works a mature whole field approach, and goes into each at bat with a plan in place. The reason he is ranked behind those four prospects has to do with his power upside. Bridgewater’s raw power is considered closer to above-average or good than the good to plus range of Davis, Gonzalez, Krill, and Richoux. I know power isn’t everything, but if there was any position where it is key, it’s obviously first base.
11. 1B Skyler Ewing (Arlington HS, Texas)
Listed as a catcher in most spots, and there is a chance he’ll stick there, but I think his plus raw power will have more of a chance to shine once he loses the tools of ignorance.
12. 1B Michael Gunn (Christian Brothers HS, Arkansas)
Gunn is one of the many intriguing two-way prospects on this list. He’s further ahead as a defender at first than he is at the plate, but a team could buy in to the idea that time away from pitching will help accelerate his development as a hitter.
13. 1B Trevor Gretzky (Oaks Christian HS, California)
I feel like this ranking might catch some heat because so many have completely written off Gretzky as a prospect propped up solely due to his famous father. I think there is something there with the bat, and his athleticism, second only to Wallace Gonzalez’s in this group, will really help in the transition to pro ball. The backlash he’s received in some scouting circles makes me think he’d be a better ballplayer to some if only his name was Trevor Smith.
14. 1B JD Davis (Elk Grove HS, California)
Yet another two-way player likely heading off to college. Davis sports a well-rounded skill set, but no plus tool that will get a scout hot and bothered.
15. 1B Kyle Martin (Wade Hampton HS, South Carolina)
Martin could be worth a flier later on as a power guy with some upside. Like many near the back end of this list, he seems like a safe bet to head off to college to spend a few years getting smart.