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2016 MLB Draft – High School First Basemen
Prep rankings are close to being finalized, but I’m trying to hang on to the last possible second to allow for any last minute pop-up guys ready to crash the party a place on the list. For now, a true follow list only of all the high school first base prospects that have caught my attention for one reason or another this draft cycle.
List is alphabetical, so obviously don’t infer anything from the rankings. It would be pretty cool if the rankings just so happened to be alphabetical, though. That would be some kind of coincidence.
Who am I missing? Did I mess up the spelling of a player’s name and/or botch his high school listing? And how stupid am I for daring to rank the J’s over the L’s? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or via email. The more the merrier even at this late stage.
DID YOU KNOW that drafting HS first basemen is stupid? Well, stupid is unduly harsh, so let’s say…problematic. Before we go any further, I should point out that I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion – I’m actively disagreeing with my own conclusion, so, yeah, great start to this piece – because I think every player should be judged individually and historical draft trends aren’t particularly predictive in nature, but, damn, high school first basemen have been a poor investment so far this millennium. Since I started this site in 2009, there have literally been ZERO positive value first basemen drafted and signed out of high school. Only two have made the big leagues: Christian Yelich and Jonathan Singleton. Now obviously the former name has been pretty darn valuable, but that’s a clear cheat. Despite being announced as a first baseman on draft day, everybody knew he was an outfielder. He’s gone on to play exactly zero innings at first so far as a professional. So the only other big league first baseman drafted and signed out of high school is Jonathan Singleton, a negative value player to date by both rWAR and fWAR. Ouch.
The best hopes to reverse that trend are (in whatever order you like) Josh Naylor, Bobby Bradley, Josh Ockimey, Dominic Smith, Cody Bellinger, Jake Bauers, Matt Olson, Dan Vogelbach, and, because I still believe, a Jonathan Singleton rebound. I’d also add Kolton Kendrick to the list, but he’s admittedly a long way off. All in all we have lots of nice prospects, but no one player that you can point to as a future long-term regular at first with a high degree of confidence. Smith is the most likely future regular in my view (best all-around game), Ockimey has been scorching to start 2016, and Vogelbach just needs a place to play because he can really fucking hit. Maybe one or more of these prospects redeems the position. We’ll have to wait and see.
Anyway, if we expand the hunt for high school first basemen all the way back to 2000 — same year I started high school myself, incidentally — the list adds some pretty impressive names. Of course, we’re talking quality over quantity here as there are still very few names considering we’re now covering sixteen drafts. Going from most recent to least, we add Eric Hosmer, Giancarlo Stanton (another cheat with no innings at 1B as a pro), Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Logan Morrison, Mike Carp, Kyle Blanks, Prince Fielder, James Loney, Travis Ishikawa, Casey Kotchman, and Adrian Gonzalez. Those are your positive value drafted and signed high school first basemen since 2000. If we’re being real, the list reads Hosmer, Freeman, Rizzo, Fielder, and Gonzalez. Five stars in sixteen drafts isn’t a great hit rate (obviously), but the magnitude of their stardom is pretty impressive. Maybe that can be our amended conclusion about drafting high school first basemen: odds are very much stacked against you historically, but if you find a winner then you’ve really found a winner. The grand total of positive value professional first basemen drafted and signed out of high school since 2000 is ten, though you can bump that to an even dozen if you want to include both Marlins outfielders. Taking the wide view on high school first basemen helps ease my mind somewhat about the utility of such prospects. I do wonder what’s changed (if anything: this could just be a function of needing more patience with the post-2009 group), but that’s a different post for a different day.
The original intent of this post was to actually talk about the high school first base prospects eligible for the 2016 MLB Draft. I suppose it’s time to actually do that. But before we do, here’s this…
2015: Josh Naylor (1), Corey Zangari (6), Kolton Kendrick (8), Seamus Curran (8), Curtis Terry (13)
2014: Bobby Bradley (3), Josh Ockimey (5), Dash Winningham (8), Justin Bellinger (11), Owen Taylor (27)
2013: Dominic Smith (1), Cody Bellinger (4), Jake Bauers (7), David Denson (15), Randolph Gassaway (16)
2012: Matt Olson (1s), Keon Barnum (1s), Justin Chigbogu (4), Nick Halamandaris (8), Kristian Brito (11)
2011: Dan Vogelbach (2), Kevin Cron (3), Trevor Gretzky (7), Bubba Jones (7), John Alexander (8)
2010: Christian Yelich (1), Travis Flores (11), Tyler Kuresa (11), Juan Rosado (11), Sean Dwyer (15)
2009: Jeff Malm (5), Jon Singleton (8), Geoffrey Baldwin (10), Corey Davis (15), David Washington (15)
Those are the first five high school first basemen (round in parentheses) drafted every year since the site started. I bring this up because I think 2016 has a good chance of having the most impressive top five out of all of those years. 2013 will be hard to beat – again, let’s assume we’re putting Yelich’s contributions from the 2010 group aside for now – and there are names in 2011, 2014, and 2015 that could do big things, but I really like what 2016 could be. Of course, any such high school position ranking low on the defensive totem pole needs to come with the caveat that players at certain spots on the diamond (1B, corner OF, sometimes 2B) are made and not born. Players from other positions eventually become first basemen. As long as we all know that going in, we’re good. There are a lot of reasons not to be excited about high school first base prospects, but that shouldn’t stop us from giving each individual player his own evaluation. It’s a little bit like how one can believe that man is evil while individual men can be good. Or something like that. Anyway, I like these guys. Let’s talk about them.
The first name on the original list was Christian Jones. It’s now just a few weeks away from the draft and I still like Jones as much as I did back then. The only glaring negative that I see with the young lefty from Washington right now is the fact he’s never eaten a hamburger. I can kind of see the hot dog thing – I love them, but get why one might want to avoid them – but the hamburger (cheeseburger, ideally) is one of mankind’s finest culinary achievements. Thankfully, Jones earns points back for his love of seafood…and his excellent athleticism, easy above-average raw power, and consistent ability to square balls up and rocket line drives to all fields. The only trepidation I have with Jones being on this list is the growing likelihood that he can move well enough to handle left field. Everything about his offensive and athletic profile points towards future big league regular.
With all that said, I think Jones would fall just behind a new addition to the first base ranks. Joe Rizzo, the man without a position, slides into the top spot here at first base. My strong hunch is that whatever team drafts him early will do so with the idea to play him at a more demanding defensive spot – could be third, could be second, could even be behind the plate – but eventually he’ll settle in as a professional first baseman. Offensively, I’ve gotten a Don Mattingly comp on him that I obviously find intriguing. The better comp, however, is one that takes a little getting used to. If I had to type up an anonymous scout quote to back it up, it might sound like this: “Well, I don’t like the body, but he can really swing it. Some guys just have a knack for hitting it hard every time, and Rizzo is one of ‘em. Pretty swing, above-average to plus power, and more athletic than he looks. Can probably fake it elsewhere on the diamond, but I’d stick him at first and just have him focus on piling up hits. Reminds me of a young John Kruk.” So there you have it. The anonymous scout that I made up has put a young John Kruk comp out there. Nice work, anonymous scout. I like it.
(It’s also worth pointing out that an actual scout – i.e., not one that is actually me in disguise – mentioned Bobby Bradley as a recent draft comp for Rizzo. I don’t hate it!)
Ulysses Cantu is Joe Rizzo’s mirror image. Almost everything written above about the lefthanded Rizzo applies to righty swinging Cantu. I’m even less bullish on Cantu sticking anywhere but first base as a professional, so the pressure will be on for him to hit early and often upon signing his first contract. I see a little less hit tool, similar power, and an arguably better (trying to sort this out in limited PA for HS hitters is damn near impossible) approach. I think all that adds up to an overall offensive edge for Rizzo, but it’s really close.
If we’re going to pair Rizzo and Cantu together, then why not do the same for Christian Jones and Walker Robbins? The two lefthanded bats have very similar offensive ceilings. In a fun twist, Robbins, a legitimate pitching prospect with a fastball that ranges from 87-92 MPH, takes the place of Joey Wentz in this updated top five. Wentz, as many know, is a lefthanded pitching prospect all the way, but that wasn’t always the case. There were some fools (e.g., me) who thought his pro future would come as a slugging first baseman. Maybe there are some out there that think of Robbins more as a pitcher – I haven’t talked to any, but I’ve learned not to make assumptions with low-90s lefties – but at this point I’m pretty comfortable with him as a single-digit round hitting prospect. That’s some nice prospect symmetry right there.
Anyway, much like Jones, Robbins can hit. His power is real, he’s an excellent athlete, and he’s right around average with most of his run times. Also like Jones, the only real question I have with Robbins being where he is on this list is whether or not a pro team will challenge him with some outfield work after signing. I’d be fine with that, obviously – he can run, he can throw, and it’s not my money – but it would be kind of a shame to not have him play first base at the next level. I haven’t personally seen all of the players listed below, but of the ones I have, he’s easily the most impressive defender at first. It’s not the same as being a plus defender at catcher, center, or short, but it’s not nothing.
I know some who prefer TJ Collett to Joe Rizzo. I can see it. I’ve recently become quite enamored with Collett’s offensive game. If you read the site regularly, you know how much I like Zack Collins of Miami. I get a lot of the same positive vibes when watching (and reading/hearing about) Collett. I don’t think a team would be crazy to use a late first round pick on him, but odds are very good that they won’t have to. Getting him at any point past the first hundred picks or so would be great value.
I think my tentative rankings here are a little less tentative than in other spots. The only major changes I can foresee would be based on shuffling guys in and out based on late developing defensive switch information. I’d go Rizzo, Jones, Collett, Cantu, Robbins, Andrew Daschbach, Bryant Packard, Dylan Carlson, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Spencer Brickhouse in the top ten. The first five I feel pretty good about. The next three after that are all really close. I almost put Carlson with the outfielders just to avoid making any kind of decision, tentative or not, on him now; he’s another player like Robbins who has gone the opposite of Wentz (lefthanded pitcher early in the process to first base/outfield prospect now). Then there’s a bit of a drop after the top eight. All in all, a pretty good group worth getting excited about…even in the face of overwhelming odds.
(By the way, further research directed me to this. I now take it all back with Jones and his views on hamburgers and hot dogs. For those unwilling to click a link to learn more about a teenager baseball player’s culinary quirks, the article notes that Jones has avoided both burgers and dogs due to his belief that there is “too much going on” between the buns. That’s amazing. I’m prepared to move him up fifty spots on my board for that alone.)
1B Andru Summerall (Lake Park HS, Florida)
1B Bernard Gilot (The First Academy, Florida)
1B Bryant Packard (DH Conley HS, North Carolina)
1B Cole Zabowski (Lawrenceville HS, Georgia)
1B Cuba Bess (Fruita Monument HS, Colorado)
1B Easton Bents (Grants Pass HS, Oregon)
1B Jaquez Williams (East Coweta HS, Georgia)
1B Lael Lockhart (Friendswood HS, Texas)
1B Spencer Brickhouse (Zebulon HS, North Carolina)
1B Zach Zientarski (Boca Raton Community HS, Florida)
1B/3B Andrew Daschbach (Sacred Heart Prep, California)
1B/3B Joe Rizzo (Oakton HS, Virginia)
1B/C TJ Collett (Terre Haute North Vigo HS, Indiana)
1B/LHP Dylan Carlson (Elk Grove HS, California)
1B/LHP Vinnie Pasquantino (James River HS, Virginia)
1B/LHP Walker Robbins (George County HS, Mississippi)
1B/OF Austin Galindo (University HS, Illinois)
1B/OF Chris Winkel (Amity Regional Senior HS, Connecticut)
1B/OF Christian Jones (Federal Way HS, Washington)
1B/RHP Ulysses Cantu (Boswell HS, Texas)