2015 Prospect Watch: Top 10 first basemen
Bucs' Bell leads list, followed by A's Olson, Yanks' Bird
MLBPipeline.com's 2015 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Friday, Jan. 30, on MLB.com, with the Top 50 revealed during a one-hour show on MLB Network at 9 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com takes a look at baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.
As has become an annual occurrence, the list of top first basemen lacks a bit in the elite prospect department. But there is good news: There are two players on this list on this year's Top 100: Josh Bell of the Pirates and Matt Olson of the A's. That doubles the total from the 2014 preseason list.
Two players graduated off of last year's list, while there are four repeats. Three of the newcomers come courtesy of the 2014 Draft.
1. Josh Bell, Pirates
Bell is the only one on this Top 10 who has never played an official regular-season game at first base. An outfielder for his first few years of pro ball, Bell started playing first base at instructs and the Arizona Fall League last autumn. That should free his outstanding switch-hitting bat from the logjam of young outfielders in Pittsburgh.
2. Matt Olson, A's
With Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo in the Minor Leagues, Olson's power is easily overshadowed. But his 37 homers in 2014 were good for third in the Minors behind that tandem. He's hit 60 homers over the past two years while driving in 190. He also led all Minor Leaguers with 117 walks a year ago, showing he's developing into more than an all-or-nothing hitter.
3. Greg Bird, Yankees
Speaking of patient hitters at the position, Bird led the Minors in walks in 2013 and has a career .407 on-base percentage heading into the 2015 season. While back issues have hampered him in the past, he's shown more than enough power for the position, including during an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League in 2014.
4. Dominic Smith, Mets
Smith was thought to be the best pure hitter from the high school group in the 2013 Draft class. He's still more potential than production, though the Mets feel he held his own as a teenager in the South Atlantic League in 2014. His left-handed swing and advanced approach at the plate should allow him to hit for average and power in the future.
5. A.J. Reed, Astros
A terrific two-way player in college who served as the University of Kentucky's ace and won the 2014 Golden Spikes Award as a result of his dual efforts, Reed's pitching career ended after the Astros took him in the second round of last June's Draft. It seems like a good decision after Reed posted a .289/.375/.522 line while reaching full-season ball in his pro debut.
6. Casey Gillaspie, Rays
Another top college bat from the 2014 Draft class, the Rays took Gillaspie out of Wichita State with the 20th overall pick, 17 picks earlier than his older brother Conor, now the third baseman for the White Sox. Gillaspie is a switch-hitter with power from both sides and an advanced approach at the plate, giving him the chance to hit for average and pop as he progresses.
7. Christian Walker, Orioles
Walker has quickly made it to big league-ready status following a college career that included consecutive national championships and just two-plus years in the Minors. While his first full season was solid, he really broke out in year two, leading the organization in home runs and RBIs. Steve Pearce and Chris Davis currently stand in his way.
8. Dan Vogelbach, Cubs
The Cubs went way over slot to sign Vogelbach in the second round of the 2011 Draft for his offensive potential. For the most part, he's played the part well, showing the ability to hit for average, get on base and flash some power. The bat is going to have to play because, even though Vogelbach has worked tirelessly on his conditioning, he's a well below-average runner and defender.
9. Bobby Bradley, Indians
The last entrant from the 2014 Draft class, Bradley hails from the Mississippi high school ranks. His left-handed swing provides plenty of power, but he has the chance to be more than just a one-dimensional slugger. He could move up this list if he can follow up his Rookie-level Arizona League triple crown performance during his first full season.
10. Jesus Aguilar, Indians
It may seem like Aguilar has been around forever, but while he did make his United States debut in 2010, he's still just 24 years old. Left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft in the past, he's shown he has the ability to be a real run producer the last two seasons. He doesn't have anything left to prove in the Minors, but a spot in Cleveland doesn't appear to be open.
A pair of recently traded first basemen could hit their way onto the Top 10 at some point in 2015. Rangel Ravelo was sent by the White Sox to the A's in the Jeff Samardzija trade in December. The 2010 draftee has always hit for an average, with a career .301 mark, but he started adding a little bit more extra-base pop of late. Initially a third baseman, he moved over to first in 2013.
Jake Bauers is now behind Gillaspie on the Rays' first baseman depth chart, coming from the Padres in the big three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. In his first full season, Bauers acquitted himself well in the full season Midwest League as an 18-year-old. He makes consistent contact and there should be more power to come, which is important considering that he's a below-average runner limited to first base only.