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2014 MLB Draft College First Base Follow List (and Ranking)

College first basemen are some of the most difficult players to rank this early in the draft process because, of any amateur position, first base is the spot I utilize data almost as much as scouting reports. There are many things to look for in young batters when it comes to projecting the hit and power tool; for starters, you’re looking for swing mechanics (balance, rotation, gather, load, fluidity, repeatability, etc.), vision (tracking pitches), bat to ball contact (cliché or not, there is a unique sound you’re hoping to hear), bat speed, and, one of my biggest things for power, how well the hitter’s upper and lower body work together. Seeing and hearing about these things is vitally important, but, more so than any other tools (and to paraphrase national treasure Rasheed Wallace), bat don’t lie. If you can hit, your production will reflect it.

There’s obvious risk in selecting a two tool (or 1.5 if you think less of his pure hit tool than I) player with a high pick, but if you’re going to do so then it’s alright if it’s a) the power and hit tool we’re talking about, and b) a first baseman. That’s the argument in favor of one of my favorite 2014 hitters, Casey Gillaspie. The argument against is similarly succinct: he won’t do the same damage with wood, his bat speed is more good than great, and, my favorite, the “I know it may not matter as much as an up-the-middle spot, but defense at first base still matters, dummy!” line. Perfectly reasonable points, all. I currently have a hard time seeing him dipping below where last year’s first college first baseman went (late third round), but we’ll see.

It could be a byproduct of a faulty memory, but this year’s class seems to have a higher number of “name” prospects that haven’t lived up to their college billing just yet. Kevin Cron is the poster boy for said group, but you can also slot in Ryan Krill, Zach Ratcliff, Rouric Bridgewater, and AJ Murray. On production alone, these guys shouldn’t be anywhere close to the top of the rankings, but tools are tools and upside is upside, you know? It’ll be fun to track each of these guys this spring; hopefully one or more bust out and become the players many thought they could be.

I think the signature rankings here are probably the aggressive placement of Austin Byler, Jake Madsen, Zander Wiel, and Tyler Mautner. Slow start notwithstanding, Byler’s power is legit and his approach to hitting, while not reflected just yet in terms of BB/K ratios (36 BB/79 K coming into the season), is well-suited for professional ball. Madsen’s early season struggles mirror Byler’s, but I know some in the game who think he can be a high-average, plus glove at first base at the next level. Wiel, a powerfully built 6-3, 215 pounder, impressed in limited 2013 at bats and has picked up where he left off so far in 2014. Mautner has been one of the best hitters in college ball to date (just hitting .500/.605/.917 in 8 games), but I’m more interested in hearing about how he’s looked defensively. The bat is one I believe in without question, but if he can hang in outfield corner as some have speculated then his stock will shoot up. Reports on his body and athleticism will be big.

It’s impossible for me to not comment on one of this draft’s most interesting prospects, Bo Thompson. I’ll throw down five imaginary internet dollars that he’s an Astro (if signable) by mid-summer. The 5-10, 255 pound round mound of [clever rhyming word that denotes plate discipline] walked twice as often as he struck out last season all while putting up a .325/.493/.613 schedule/park adjusted line.

AJ Reed feels right where he is, but any spot on a prospect ranking does a disservice to what kind of college player he is. He’s a legit two-way prospect with big league tools both at first and on the mound. I’ve gone back and forth on his eventual home since his first day at Kentucky, but his crazy hot start to 2014 as a hitter has me leaning that way.

You may have noticed that the top name on the list hasn’t been written about in this space yet. I’ve always been at a loss as to what to say about the best prospects in each year’s draft class. There are only so many ways to say “he’s good” without sounding like a fool. I’ll give it a shot anyway. Kyle Schwarber is a really gifted hitter who, solely in terms of amateur prospect stock, reminds me a good deal of CJ Cron. Cron was another college catcher expected to move to first base professionally. The popular comp for Cron in his draft year is the same as one I’ve heard mentioned for Schwarber as well: Paul Konerko. The slightly less popular comp for Schwarber but one that I see gaining steam as we get closer to June: left-handed hitting Mike Napoli (think Aaron Fitt has been using that one). I held the minority view that Cron could be a passable catcher in the pros with work, so it should be no shock I feel the same way about Schwarber. That said, if my job depended on it, I’d probably want Schwarber to move out from behind the dish as soon as possible in order to get his bat to the big leagues in a hurry. That’s where the Konerko and Napoli comps really work. It also makes me wonder how legitimate the whole “moving off of catcher to hurry along the bat” argument is; true, common sense seems to be a point in its favor, but I’d love to see a real study done on the matter. No idea how you’d even begin to figure something like that out, as there are so many variables at play and no clear way to find a control group without opening up alternate universes or something. Pouring one out for Jeff Clement tonight.

The meanest thing I’ve heard a scout say about Schwarber is that he reminded him far too much of Rich Poythress for his liking. Beyond that, there’s been nothing but praise about the bat. Kiley McDaniel has compared him to both Travis Hafner and DJ Peterson. Perfect Game has mentioned the name Matt Nokes. One unique name that I heard – and my favorite player when I was ten years old and way too into playing World Series Baseball for Game Gear – is former Oriole Chris Hoiles. Any of those outcomes would be more than fair value for where he’s expected to go (mid-first ceiling) in the draft. So, yeah, four hundred plus words later we’ve reached our conclusion: he’s good.

37 first basemen from four-year colleges were selected last June beginning with Daniel Palka at 3-88 and ending with Cody Yount at 37-1113. Here is almost three times that amount for your consideration…

  1. Indiana JR 1B/C Kyle Schwarber
  2. Wichita State JR 1B Casey Gillaspie
  3. Indiana JR 1B/OF Sam Travis
  4. Cal State Fullerton JR 1B/RHP JD Davis
  5. Kentucky JR 1B/LHP AJ Reed
  6. TCU JR 1B Kevin Cron
  7. Nevada JR 1B/3B Austin Byler
  8. Ohio JR 1B Jake Madsen
  9. Mississippi State JR 1B Wes Rea
  10. Vanderbilt rSO 1B Zander Wiel
  11. Rice JR 1B/C Skyler Ewing
  12. Buffalo rSO 1B/3B Tyler Mautner
  13. Michigan State JR 1B Ryan Krill
  14. Ohio State SO 1B/OF Zach Ratcliff
  15. Grand Canyon JR 1B/OF Rouric Bridgewater
  16. Duke rJR 1B Chris Marconcini
  17. Georgia Tech JR 1B/C AJ Murray
  18. Central Florida JR 1B/OF James Vasquez
  19. UC Irvine JR 1B Connor Spencer
  20. The Citadel JR 1B Bo Thompson
  21. Hawaii SR 1B Marc Flores
  22. UC Santa Barbara rJR 1B Tyler Kuresa
  23. Texas A&M JR 1B/C Cole Lankford
  24. Wake Forest rSR 1B/LHP Matt Conway
  25. James Madison SR 1B Conner Brown
  26. Portland rJR 1B/OF Turner Gill
  27. New Mexico JR 1B/OF Ryan Padilla
  28. East Tennessee State SR 1B/LHP Clint Freeman
  29. Long Beach State SR 1B/OF Ino Patron
  30. Washington JR 1B Trevor Mitsui
  31. Towson JR 1B/3B Brendan Butler
  32. Florida State JR 1B John Nogowski
  33. Louisiana State JR 1B/C Tyler Moore
  34. Mercer SR 1B Nick Backlund
  35. Louisiana-Lafayette SR 1B/3B Chase Compton
  36. Presbyterian SR 1B/C Brad Zebedis
  37. Kansas State rJR 1B/LHP Shane Conlon
  38. Nevada JR 1B/LHP Kewby Meyer
  39. Texas A&M SO 1B/RHP Hunter Melton
  40. Oklahoma State SR 1B/RHP Tanner Krietemeier
  41. Louisville SR 1B/OF Jeff Gardner
  42. Western Carolina SR 1B/C Adam Martin
  43. Seton Hall JR 1B/OF Sal Annunziata
  44. Central Michigan rJR 1B Cody Leichman
  45. South Carolina JR 1B Kyle Martin
  46. Tennessee SR 1B/OF Scott Price
  47. Clemson SR 1B/OF Jon McGibbon
  48. Lipscomb JR 1B/RHP Griffin Moore
  49. Tulane JR 1B/3B Tyler Wilson
  50. San Jose State SR 1B Matt Carroll
  51. Northeastern JR 1B Rob Fonseca
  52. UNC Wilmington JR 1B Corey Dick
  53. St. Mary’s JR 1B/LHP Collin Ferguson
  54. Northern Colorado SR 1B/LHP Nick Miller
  55. Texas State SR 1B Austin O’Neal
  56. Samford SR 1B/OF Caleb Bryson
  57. Appalachian State rSO 1B/OF Alex Leach
  58. San Francisco SR 1B/C Zachary Turner
  59. Eastern Michigan SR 1B Lee Longo
  60. West Virginia SR 1B Ryan McBroom
  61. Houston rSR 1B Casey Grayson
  62. Minnesota rSR 1B/OF Dan Olinger
  63. Sacramento State JR 1B/OF Rhys Hoskins
  64. North Dakota JR 1B/RHP Jeff Campbell
  65. Western Carolina JR 1B/LHP Jacob Hoyle
  66. Texas A&M JR 1B/OF GR Hinsley
  67. Alabama SR 1B Austen Smith
  68. Texas State JR 1B/OF Colby Targun
  69. Prairie View A&M SR 1B Dominiq Harris
  70. California rSR 1B Devon Rodriguez
  71. UCLA JR 1B/3B Chris Keck
  72. Tennessee Tech SR 1B Zach Stephens
  73. Southeast Missouri State SR 1B Matt Tellor
  74. Maine SR 1B/3B Alex Calbick
  75. McNeese State SR 1B/3B Taylor Drake
  76. Liberty JR 1B/3B Alex Close
  77. Arkansas-Pine Bluff JR 1B/LHP Andre Davis
  78. Canisius JR 1B/3B Connor Panas
  79. New Jersey Tech SR 1B Tom Bouck
  80. Stony Brook SR 1B/LHP Kevin Courtney
  81. Canisius SR 1B Jimmy Luppens
  82. Mississippi JR 1B/C Sikes Orvis
  83. North Florida SR 1B/C Ryan Roberson
  84. South Carolina rSR 1B Brison Celek
  85. Washington JR 1B Branden Berry
  86. Wisconsin-Milwaukee SR 1B/OF Ryan Solberg
  87. Xavier rJR 1B/OF Brian Bruening
  88. Sam Houston State JR 1B Ryan O’Hearn
  89. Morehead State JR 1B Kane Sweeney
  90. North Carolina Greensboro JR 1B Aaron Wright
  91. Georgia State SR 1B Nic Wilson
  92. Dartmouth SR 1B Dustin Selzer
  93. McNeese State SR 1B Chayse Marion
  94. Norfolk State SR 1B Zach Markel
  95. Samford SR 1B/LHP Patrick McGavin
  96. North Dakota State SR 1B/C Kyle Kleinendorst
  97. Nicholls State rSR 1B/3B Tyler Duplantis
  98. Navy SR 1B Kash Manzelli
  99. Wofford rSR 1B Seth Neely
  100. Cornell SR 1B Ryan Plantier
  101. Yale SR 1B Jacob Hunter
  102. Arkansas rJR 1B Eric Fisher
  103. Lehigh SR 1B Tyler Brong

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