The unspoken message of last week’s look at the 2015 HS catching group was how uninspiring the collection of talent looks right now as a whole. As of today, it’s Chris Betts and a lot of question marks. I don’t doubt there will be plenty of players that break from the pack and create a far more interesting crop than it currently appear, but, for now, I’d put the group as whole well behind last year’s. Not to pick on this year’s top guy – seriously, I like Betts a lot and think he could be a great get for any team starting in the sandwich round – but I don’t yet see any catchers I’d feel comfortable popping in the first round. To go back to the direct comparison, I would not put Betts above any of the HS catchers at the top of last year’s list. He’s behind Alex Jackson, Jakson Reetz, Chase Vallot, and Evan Skoug. I think he’d probably fall fifth just ahead of Simeon Lucas, a player with similar strengths and weaknesses but less of the good stuff (you know, hitting) Betts has.
The counterpoint to all this is easy, of course. You could muster a very strong argument for Betts as high as three, though I don’t think you can put him above Jackson or Reetz with a straight face. Then again, if you wanted to take the outfielder Jackson out of the mix, then that would put him as potentially as high as two. So, maybe I’m being too pessimistic about the talent at the top of this year’s catcher group. Or too optimistic about last year’s. Or maybe comparing one year’s draft to the one before it doesn’t really provide any kind of worthwhile analysis since all drafts pretty much exist in their own universe. That’s probably it.
So who still wants to compare these first basemen to last year’s! This year’s first base class doesn’t have the slam dunk first round talent that last year’s did (Braxton Davidson), but there’s some serious power at the top. That has to be a welcome sight for a league currently entering what could be a prolonged power outage. Josh Naylor, Brandt Stallings, Devin Davis, Joe Davis, and Michael Hickman all have above-average or better raw power. Tyrone Perry and Chad Spanberger (among others) are no slouches in this area either. Another striking trend among these top first base prospects is size. Simply put, these young men are big. If you were the type to total and average out the combined height and weight of the fifteen players listed, you’d see that the average measurement comes out to a little taller than 6’2” and a little heftier than 215 pounds. Not small. Stallings, Davis, James Monaghan, and Seamus Curran stand out as being particularly impressive physical specimens.
If 60 (plus) power is a prerequisite for a regular big league first basemen, then we’re talking around 20+ (23-27 using Kiley McDaniel’s Objective Tool Grades, which is cool and well worth bookmarking). That’s about half of the league’s first basemen with enough close enough that the ratio could bump up to around two-thirds by the end of the season.
Average power (15-18 HRs) sets a bar that 20 of the 25 first basemen with enough PA to qualify have reached this year. The five holdouts: James Loney, Billy Butler, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Joe Mauer. Eyeballing the leaderboards indicates that you could use a .400+ SLG as a proxy if you’d rather stay away from counting stats. Every player with 14+ HR on the list has at least a SLG of .409 save Chris Davis and Ryan Howard. I like the simplicity of the above, but, let’s be real: using HR and SLG is no way to evaluate hitters in 2014, so we’ll go one step deeper.
There are 18 qualified first basemen who are at least average or better in terms of Off, which I like using because it is park adjusted and it includes base running. The former is obviously important and the latter, while maybe not particularly relevant to this exact discussion, is a decent proxy for speed, baseball IQ, and body type. Using this metric, four guys who qualified on our “power list” (the HR one) don’t make the cut: Garrett Jones, Mark Teixeira, Davis, and Howard. Two less powerful hitters do make it: Joe Mauer and James Loney (barely). Both of those hitters had wOBA’s around .320, so we can use that as a tentative offensive baseline for a league average first basemen. This makes me happier than using Off because it only breaks down what the player did with the bat in his hands, but bums me out because it doesn’t take park effects into consideration. From a scouting perspective it is incredibly weird and unrealistic to size up a player and think to yourself, “Yeah, that guy looks good for a consistent run of .320 or better wOBA’s.” Twenty or so homers, on the other hand, is a far simpler, far more engrained idea to visualize. That’s why it is sometimes helpful to work through the better metrics until you get to the basics. The fact that of the 19 qualified first basemen with wOBA’s over .320 have averaged 20.84 HR to date (9/10/14) ties it all together nicely. Average or better power in a first basemen is pretty much close to a must. Naylor, D. Davis, J. Davis, and Hickman are all there. Stallings, Perry, Spanberger, and any number of additional as yet unheralded (or heralded by others that I’m whiffing on) players should all be there as well. That’s a good start.
Now for a random paragraph that didn’t really fit anywhere else so I’m tacking it on here at the end. One of the nicest things about this group is that the player currently inhabiting the top spot just so happens to be a fascinating prospect to follow. I’m too bland a writer to be much of a narrative guy, but I find it hard to believe that Josh Naylor won’t become a Twitter darling come June. Canadian sluggers who have drawn comparisons to Dan Vogelbach (Perfect Game) and Prince Fielder (everybody) because of a wildly impressive natural gift for hitting, easy plus raw power, and an uncommon body type (not small) tend to get the imagination going. It is very possible – by the odds, almost a certainty – that another player will overtake Naylor at the top of this list by draft season’s end, but, as a player that breaks many of the molds we’ve grown accustomed to as baseball fans, Naylor will remain a favorite.
1B Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc SS, Ontario)
1B/OF Brandt Stallings (Kings Ridge Christian HS, Georgia)
1B Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California)
1B/C Joe Davis (Bowie HS, Texas)
1B/C Michael Hickman (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
1B Tyrone Perry (Avon Park HS, Florida)
1B Chad Spanberger (Granite City HS, Illinois)
1B James Monaghan (La Plata HS, Maryland)
1B Chris Gesell (St. Augustine, California)
1B Christian Steele (Lebanon HS, Ohio)
1B/3B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
1B Jason Heinrich (River Ridge HS, Florida)
1B Seamus Curran (Agawam HS, Massachusetts)
1B Jaxxon Fagg (Williams Field HS, Arizona)