Jupiter, FL - PURE HITTERS AND POWER
It’s well-known that teams want mashers at first base, especially if they’re going to open their wallets. For better or worse, athleticism and defense have taken a back-seat.
The Top-5 Prospects on our High School First Basemen list is loaded with raw power. All are strongly built, large-framed sluggers with Dan Vogelbach (5’11”, 288 lbs) presenting the extreme.
Vogelbach is one of the draft’s most unique and controversial players among scouts. He’s the most advanced hitter of the group, capable of hitting both fastballs and pro-level curveballs with authority to all fields. Comparisons to Prince Fielder are inevitable.
Because of Vogelbach’s body concerns and his lack of defensive tools, we put him lower, at #5, behind four other powerful hitters who have better peripherals.
There is no surefire #1, but Cam Gallagher got our nod for the combination of his bat, his physical projection (6’3”, 219 lbs), and his impressive one-spot athleticism. We still believe he’ll be drafted high as a catcher and has a chance to stay there. But Gallagher is as capable as anyone on the list of successfully going the Paul Konerko route from catcher to first base slugger.
Travis Harrison (#2) is a righthanded hitter like Gallagher known for his “loud” line-drives. At 6’1”, 215 lbs, Harrison is on the mature side but can still carry more strength. Like Gallagher, Harrison has a plus arm, but he’s more likely drafted as a third baseman or outfielder. In the long run, first base is a good possibility.
Dante Bichette (#3) plays shortstop and third base for Orangewood Christian HS in central Florida. Many of us believe his future is in the outfield, where his 6’1”, 207 lb body looks the part. But the main feature is Bichette’s right bat and his powerful buggy-whip swing that will find him a place on the field somewhere.
At #4, we have a primary outfielder from southern California named Wallace Gonzalez. Gonzalez is nearly an average runner with a plus arm, but his mere size (6’5”, 240 lbs) may lead him to first base down the road. Gonzalez is also one of the nation’s top wide receiver/tight end recruits and will likely sign a Pac-10 scholarship to play both baseball and football.
Behind Vogelbach, we have Daniel Camarena at #6 who’s out of a different mold altogether from the Top-5. Camarena has a quick and fluid lefthanded swing that projects for power, but is not quite at the level of the five in front of him. Camarena is the best athlete, likely to be drafted as an outfielder or maybe even as a lefthanded pitcher.
The Top-6 represent the most likely first-three round picks and it’s possible that only Vogelbach is listed as a first baseman entering pro ball. Beyond them are a number of promising hitters who have upside but aren’t quite as polished. Most of them are also projected conversions who are playing another position in high school.
So why did we take such an approach, including so many non-first basemen among our first basemen rankings?
Our reasoning was based on those who went before them.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY
It is hard even to say whether 2011 is a good or bad year for prep first baseman.
Not many of them get drafted, anyway.
In fact, no high school first baseman was drafted in the first ten rounds last year.* And over the last eight drafts, Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer (3rd overall pick in 2008) is the only prep first sacker to be selected in the true first round.
What’s atypical is what happened between the years of 2000 and 2002. Four high school first basemen were drafted in the true first rounds and all four of them have become major league starters at the position: Adrian Gonzalez (first overall pick in 2000), Casey Kotchman (2001), Prince Fielder (2002), and James Loney (2002).
We decided early on to evaluate players at multiple positions to reflect what we feel are the true national rankings at each one. Not every player is a slam dunk to stick at one spot for his entire career. No where is this strategy more employed than at first base.
Just looking at our Top-8, #5 Dan Vogelbach is the only player among them likely to play first base for his high school team this spring. The others are outfielders, catchers, and even shortstops whom we believe could eventually move to the first sack if they are fortunate enough to rise through the ranks of pro ball.
(*The Florida Marlins announced their 2010 1st-round pick (Christian Yelich) as a first baseman but he played outfield in the Gulf Coast League upon signing.)
MLB: HIGH SCHOOL CATCHERS AND COLLEGE THIRD BASEMEN DOMINATE 1B
Simply put, many of the best big league first basemen are conversions from other positions.
Instead of just picking 30 starters, I’ve investigated the backgrounds of the 34 with the most 2010 at-bats to maintain consideration of several significant first sackers who were affected by injuries (Justin Morneau, Kendry Morales, Kevin Youkilis) and trades (Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee).
Among the 34, there are 14 who were drafted and signed out of high school. Five of them actually played first base in high school, including the aforementioned 2000-2002 first-round picks and Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones.
So that means that eight of the 13 moved to first base from other positions after they signed. The most common former position is catcher. Amazingly, there are six including sluggers Justin Morneau, Paul Konerko, and Joey Votto, who were signed as catchers and began their pro careers squatting in front of the backstop.
Two were high school outfielders (Derrek Lee and Adam Dunn), one was a third baseman (Billy Butler), and one more was actually a prep shortstop (Mike Cuddyer, an OF/1B who took up Morneau’s at-bats for Minnesota after July).
Of interest, the conversion percentage is lower among the 16 big league first basemen signed out of a four-year college. Half of them (8) were college first basemen while almost as many (7) played third base. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are the headliners of that group. One more, Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton, was actually a shortstop at North Carolina-Asheville who began his pro career at second base.
The two players who signed out of junior college are split in half between the corners: Albert Pujols played third while Adam LaRoche, who throws lefthanded, was already a first sacker.
The two international free agents are also split. Miguel Cabrera was actually a shortstop in Venezuela while Kendry Morales was pretty much a first baseman from day one signing out of Cuba.
So of the 34 starting first basemen, 19 were converted from other positions with high school catchers (6) and college third basemen (7) the most represented demographic.