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College First Basemen Revisited – 2011 MLB Draft

Not every draft is like 2008. Not every draft is like 2008. Not every draft is like 2008. That’s my mantra as I check and recheck the list of 2011 draft-eligible college first basemen. Are you sure this is everybody? There are no Justin Smoak’s, Yonder Alonso’s, or, heck, even Ike Davis’s hiding anywhere? Sure, David Cooper and Allan Dykstra went bust, but there were both highly thought of at the time. This may be over the top negative (it’s what I do best, after all), but I’m not positive there is a slam dunk top five round college first baseman this year, let alone five players capable of cracking the first like in 2008. Incidentally, when looking back over that draft I’m always amazed at the stones, for lack of a better term, Kansas City showed by taking Eric Hosmer third. I know he was an outstanding high school hitter, but taking a prep first baseman before accomplished college talents like Brian Matusz (4th), Buster Posey (5th), and Justin Smoak (11th) took some serious intestinal fortitude. Posey is a stud and both Matusz and Smoak have shown enough promise that we can expect big things going forward, but Hosmer has a chance to be one of the elite middle of the lineup hitters in all of baseball in very short order. The book is far from closed on any of these players, and I’ll acknowledge that Posey would be a tremendous addition to the emerging Royals core, but, man, I have to give credit where credit is due on that pick. Loads of high picks year after year will often lead to good things, but in any sport, especially baseball, you still need to identify the right guy. Hosmer might not have been the only right guy in 2008, but he certainly looks like one of them.

Oh, right. 2011 college first basemen. Here is the original list. I don’t see a clear big league starter in the bunch, though I’m admittedly all aboard the Preston Tucker bandwagon. If any guy winds up starting for a big league team, it’ll be him. The rest look like potential four-corners utility guys (1B/3B/corner OF), pinch hitters, or platoon options. No shame in any of those outcomes, of course, so long as nobody out there is banking on getting a close to the big leagues power hitting college first baseman this year.

1. Florida JR 1B Preston Tucker (.361/.424/.627 – 15 BB/18 K)

I wrote a bit about Tucker in the past, so I won’t get into too much detail now. Here are the money quotes from last time, if you’re too cool to click the link:

To be an above-average first baseman in the bigs, you either need to have a special bat, outrageously good defense, or a well above-average mixture of the two. To that end, I’m not sure Tucker, or any other college first baseman in this class, is a prospect that will wind up receiving a first round grade, from me personally or any of the thirty big league scouting departments…

…Late first round seems like his draft ceiling. Fifth round, like fellow SEC 1B Andy Wilkins in 2010, could be his floor, barring injury.

2. Southern California JR 1B Ricky Oropesa (.384/.459/.582 – 21 BB/30 K)

There’s still too much swing and miss in his approach than I’d like, but the fact Oropesa fits the classic slugging first baseman mold better than Tucker could help him become the first college 1B off the board. Scouts want the best players, obviously, but they do have their biases. I think said bias could help Oropesa this June.

3. St. Mary’s JR 1B Troy Channing (.292/.366/.454 – 11 BB/34 K)

I know for a fact one team preferred Channing to Tucker heading into the season, though I can’t imagine that is still the case after his down showing so far this year.

4. Fresno State SR 1B Jordan Ribera (.206/.293/.382 – 13 BB/30 K)

Take a minute and process Ribera’s 2011 numbers. That’s one complete and utter collapse. I can’t believe that it is entirely the new bats to blame, like some have insinuated. Unlike Channing, Ribera doesn’t have the option of returning to school in 2012, so he can’t do much more than to hold out hope some team saw him at his best in 2010.

5. Washington State JR 1B Taylor Ard (.301/.374/.431 – 12 BB/15 K)

All of the numbers are park/league adjusted, but sometimes even more context is needed. Ard isn’t your typical college junior. As a former junior college star, Ard’s acquitted himself well enough in his first year of major college ball that I think a team that liked him heading into the season would still be on board now. His upside rivals that of any first baseman in the class.

6. East Tennessee State SR 1B Paul Hoilman (.275/.441/.580 – 38 BB/46 K)

How could you not possibly love this year’s draft Three True Outcome hero? Over half (54% to be precise) of his at bats end in a homer, walk, or strikeout. Cool.

7. Cal State Fullerton JR 1B Nick Ramirez (.280/.401/.440 – 24 BB/23 K)

I’m really, really fond of Nick Ramirez the college baseball player (his pitching stats: 12.1 IP – 1.51 FIP – 13.86 K/9 – 3.65 BB/9) and think he’s a viable option either at first or on the mound professionally. He has a reputation as a guess hitter, but I’ve heard his approach has gotten much better in 2011. As a pitcher, his upper-70s changeup is a legit out pitch, though it is kind of a shame that it isn’t even the best cambio in his family…

8. UCLA JR 1B Dean Espy (.299/.354/.381 – 10 BB/23 K)

Probably time to start thinking about the 2012 Draft with numbers like that…

9. Vanderbilt SR 1B Aaron Westlake (.377/.505/.596 – 32 BB/33 K) – I can live with ranking a player highly only to see him flame out. I realize the risk that comes with sometimes being too optimistic. I hate it when a player I like but am too chicken to rank appropriately plays great. Pretty sure all of that makes me a bad person – being indifferent if a player struggles, but annoyed when a player succeeds rates seems pretty selfish. If it helps, I always feel guilty about it. Westlake is one such source of annoyance. The Vanderbilt senior ranked as high as second on my original, off the top of my head list, but wound up ninth after I shuffled up some other names that I felt had more upside. Dumb move. All Westlake does is hit.

10. North Carolina State JR 1B Harold Riggins (.302/.442/.442 – 29 BB/46 K)

Another personal favorite coming into the year who hasn’t delivered quite what was expected in the power department. Positional versatility could help him make it as one of those four-corners utility guys we talked about earlier.

11. Mississippi SR 1B Matt Snyder (.273/.396/.445 – 21 BB/32 K)

Haven’t seen him myself, but have heard less than nice things about his defense. When scouts wonder if you have what it takes to stick at first, you’d better be able to hit a ton. Snyder is a nice college thumper, but nothing about his scouting profile or college numbers scream big league hitter to me.

12. Northwestern JR 1B Paul Snieder (.352/.450/.544 – 22 BB/24 K)

Snieder is reportedly a tough sign, but I like him as an org guy for a lot of the same reasons I like Western Kentucky C Matt Rice.

13. Cal State Fullerton SO 1B Carlos Lopez (.329/.400/.447 – 11 BB/7 K)

Only 85 at bats, so we’re dealing with a limited sample but I remain intrigued at Lopez’s skill set and performance to date.

14. Oklahoma JR 1B Cameron Seitzer (.331/.429/.476 – 20 BB/20 K)

I was lower on him than most, and remain cautiously optimistic at best, but I’d remiss if I didn’t point out a lot of positive chatter about Seitzer’s more mature frame and subsequent transformation from guy with big raw power to guy with loads of in-game power, despite what the relatively modest slugging numbers may indicate. He’ll probably go higher than a few names listed above him here, but, hey, it’s my list, right?

15. Southern Illinois JR 1B Chris Serritella

Serritella has missed time due to wrist injury and has a whopping 0 ABs this year. Have to imagine the injury will keep him at Southern Illinois for another season or two.

2011 MLB Draft – College 1B Commentary

For reference’s sake, the complete list of top 2011 college first basemen. Now some quick thoughts on a few selected players. I’m happy to add extra thoughts on any other player by request.

I think it is more likely they are no future everyday big league first basemen out of this class than there is more than one. That’s not to say we won’t see a future big league star emerge out of this class, but the odds seemed stacked against it. Obviously the players with the best chance are the ones ranked one and two on the list because, well, otherwise they wouldn’t be ranked one and two on the list. Top ranked Tucker has been covered already; number two Oropesa’s strengths (power, defense, arm, chance he could start his career at third) far outweigh his weaknesses (swing can get too long, possibility of potential contact issues down the line).

Channing’s plus power is enticing, but the Brett Wallace body comp scares the heck out of me. Ribera has similarly intriguing power, maybe more appealing if you value present power over raw upside, but the fact there is less projection to his game can be a double edged sword. I guess it should also be mentioned that, despite some internet hotshot like me being a big fan, Ribera went undrafted in 2010. A fact like that begs the simple question: what are the people paid to do this for a living seeing (or not seeing?) that I’m missing?

The only player near the top of the ranking without major college experience could position himself atop the whole list by June. Taylor Ard’s funky swing has some scouts questioning how he’ll transition to big time college ball, but I think it’ll play, especially when it comes to his power upside. His strong track record with wood, underrated athleticism, and aforementioned plus-plus raw power should make up for whatever contact deficiencies he might have to overcome. I’m as excited to see how he adjusts to the Pac-10 as I am any newcomer to the college game and the statistical breakdown between him and Oropesa will be telling.

By sheer coincidence, we have back-to-back-to-back potential-laden, yet disappointing first basemen, all in different draft-eligibility years. First, the sophomore Jamie Bruno. Bruno has all of the tools teams like for in a well-rounded first baseman, but never got on track while at Tulane. He is draft-eligible this year as he sits out while he transfers to LSU. The junior is Georgia 1B Chase Davidson. Davidson was made famous by a Jim Thome comp from his high school days, but, tell me if you’ve heard this before, hasn’t gotten it together at the college level. When locked in, Davidson looks like a potential big league regular, but, as the numbers bear out, he is locked out (opposite of locked in?) far more often. To tap into his big power, he’ll need to find a way to shrink the far too big holes in his swing. Lastly, we have senior 1B Troy Scott from Washington. Whenever you think I might know what I’m talking about, just remember that I thought Scott had a chance to sneak into the first round last year. He is a rebound candidate this year if he can get back to his patient, power hitting ways.

I feel bad leaving anybody out, so here’s a quick ranking of the power upside of each player on the list. Players are ranked in terms of power upside. I realize the two category setup is extremely simplistic, but it’s just a starting point…

Plus: Tucker, Oropesa, Channing, Ribera, Ard, Hoilman, Ramirez, Riggins, Westlake, Seitzer, Leyland, Scott, Davidson, Griffin, Hicks, Diamaduros, Kaupang

Above-Average: Espy, Snyder, Snieder, Serritella, Stadler, Bruno, Skipper, Hook, Haar, Elgie, B. Green, D. Green

Quick Scouting Profile – Florida 1B Preston Tucker

How high can (and, in a more philosophical universe, should) a “bad body” first baseman with unconventional swing mechanics rise up draft boards? The case for Florida JR 1B Preston Tucker’s bat is strong; as a hitter, he is as close to big league ready as any player in the 2011 MLB Draft with plus present power and impeccable plate discipline. He’s also been praised for his crazy high baseball IQ (“crazy high” = technical scouting terminology) and tremendous strength in his forearms, wrists, and hands. Of course, no scouting report on Tucker can be written without mentioning that body. Tucker won’t help whatever team drafts him “sell any jeans,” but he could help them win some ballgames, bad body and all.

In fairness to Tucker, his “bad body” is more about a height deficiency (generous listed at 6-0) than a weight surplus, so the typical concerns that follow less than ideally fit prospects aren’t warranted. In any case, I don’t care much about the “bad body,” especially when weighed against the practical plusses that come with his awesome wrist and hand strength. The unconventional swing mechanics also don’t bother me. If it works, and if it is projected to work going forward, stick with it. Plus power and plate discipline are an easy recipe for a high prospect ranking on this site, but I keep coming back to my general aversion to first base prospects. To be an above-average first baseman in the bigs, you either need to have a special bat, outrageously good defense, or a well above-average mixture of the two. To that end, I’m not sure Tucker, or any other college first baseman in this class, is a prospect that will wind up receiving a first round grade, from me personally or any of the thirty big league scouting departments. He does have a chance to be a big league contributor, with the ceiling of an upper echelon second division (lots of qualifiers, I know) starting first baseman.

Then again, I could be wrong in this assessment. Wouldn’t be the first time, right? There is some precedent for a player of Tucker’s skill set and body type going in the first round. In 2008, both Brett Wallace and David Cooper rode the wave of undeniably great college production and plus lefthanded power to become first rounders despite less than ideal body types. Late first round seems like his draft ceiling. Fifth round, like fellow SEC 1B Andy Wilkins in 2010, could be his floor, barring injury.