Most hyped 1B prospects of the past 20 years

April 2nd, 2020

Last week, our beat reporters began ranking the five best players in each franchise’s history at each position, starting with a look at catchers. Here at MLB Pipeline, we complemented their coverage by identifying each organization’s top catching prospect dating back to 2001, the beginning of the era.

With catchers out of the way, the focus now shifts to first basemen, and just as we did last week with backstops, our MLB Pipeline crew has put together a list of the top first-base prospects for all 30 teams.

Though only two players double as both their club's top first-base prospect of the last two decades and best first baseman of all time -- Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Ryan Howard (Phillies) -- there are several rising prospects on the list who could one day garner that type of recognition.

American League East

Blue Jays: Brett Wallace
After ranking as MLB Pipeline’s No. 42 prospect with the Cardinals prior to the 2009 season, Wallace, whom St. Louis had drafted with the No. 13 pick the previous year, was dealt to the A’s in July ’09 in the Matt Holliday deal. He was on the move again after the season, this time going to the Blue Jays in a one-for-one swap for Michael Taylor, and opened the 2010 campaign as the 16th-best prospect in the sport. But Toronto dealt Wallace to the Astros at that year’s Trade Deadline, and, ultimately, he compiled a .238/.316/.389 line and -0.2 WAR over parts of six Major League seasons.

Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle
Taken with the 36th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Mountcastle began his career at shortstop, moved to third and has settled in at first base with some left field mixed in. The one thing he’s always been able to do is hit and he’s coming off a .312/.344/.527 line in Triple-A in 2019, a big reason why he’s currently our No. 94 overall prospect and was added to the O’s 40-man roster this past offseason.

Rays: Brendan McKay
McKay won the prestigious John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award in each of his three seasons at Louisville and was viewed by scouts as a potential top-five overall pick as both a pitcher and a hitter ahead of the 2017 Draft, when the Rays selected him fourth overall. He has been a fixture on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list in the three years since then, checking at No. 15 going into 2020. While the Rays have relegated him from first-base to DH duties so as to capitalize on his potential on the mound, the 24-year-old still managed to go deep in one of his 11 big league plate appearances last year during the regular season after slashing .328/.430/.536 with 28 homers during his Louisville tenure.

Red Sox: Lars Anderson
Anderson led California high school players with 15 homers in 2006 but scared teams off with a seven-figure price tag, dropping to the 18th round but signing with the Red Sox for $825,000. He tore up the Minors and reached Double-A at age 20 in his first two pro seasons, emerging as the best prospect in Boston's system and the consensus best first-base prospect in baseball. But then he started tinkering with his swing when he slumped in 2009 and never was the same offensive force again. He totaled just 48 at-bats in the big leagues.

Yankees: Nick Johnson
A third-round pick out of a California high school in 1996, Johnson started drawing Don Mattingly comparisons after batting .345/.525/.548 in Double-A and leading the Minors in on-base percentage as a 20-year-old in 1999. He missed the entire 2000 season after a puzzling wrist injury sustained on a checked swing in Spring Training and ranked with Carlos Peña as the game's top first-base prospect in the first couple of years of the era. While he played parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, he continued to have trouble staying healthy and topped 120 games just four times.

American League Central

Indians: Travis Hafner
The Rangers selected Hafner in the 31st round in 1996 and signed him for $75,000 the following spring as a draft-and-follow after he led Cowley County (Kan.) CC to the Junior College World Series title. He quickly established his slugging bona fides and became one of baseball's power prospects, but he was blocked by Mark Teixeira in Texas. The Rangers regrettably traded him to the Indians for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese, and Hafner led the American League in OPS+ in two of his first three seasons as an everyday player.

Royals: Eric Hosmer
The decision to take Hosmer with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 Draft was crucial toward the rebuild that helped the Royals secure back-to-back World Series berths in 2014-15, the second of which resulted in the organization’s second-ever title. Before that, however, Hosmer twice ranked among MLB Pipeline’s top prospects, peaking at No. 8 in 2011. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that year, was an All-Star in 2016 and won four Gold Glove Awards in seven seasons in Kansas City before signing an eight-year, $144 million contract with San Diego in February 2019.

Tigers: Eric Munson
Drafted by Detroit with the No. 3 pick in the 1999 Draft out of USC, Munson cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 list at No. 23 the following year and made his big league debut that July at age 22. After appearing in only 38 games across his first three seasons in the Majors, Munson posted a .744 OPS with 37 homers and 99 RBIs over 208 games from 2003-04. He failed to build upon that success in subsequent years, though, generating -1.5 WAR for three different teams over his final 115 games.

Twins: Justin Morneau
The 2004 season was the first time ranked prospects and Morneau came in at No. 27 on that Top 50 list. Initially a catcher who moved quickly to first, he went on to win the AL MVP Award in 2006 and made four straight All-Star teams with the Twins from 2007-10. He had one last hurrah with a batting title with the Rockies in 2014 and retired with a career WAR of 27.

White Sox: Andrew Vaughn
Undrafted and unheralded as a recruit from a Northern California high school in 2016, Vaughn became one of the best hitters in recent college history during his three years at California. He won the Golden Spikes Award as a sophomore in 2018, batted .374/.495/.688 with 50 homers in 160 games and went No. 3 overall in the 2019 Draft.

American League West

Angels: Casey Kotchman
Coming up through the Angels’ system, Kotchman was thought to be one of the best pure hitting prospects in the game, and ranked as high as No. 5 overall on the 2005 Top 50 list on While he did spend parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues with the Angels, Braves, Red Sox, Mariners, Rays, Indians and Marlins, his bat never completely clicked (.260/.326/.385). He did, however, set a record for consecutive errorless chances for a first baseman that still stands, fielding 2,379 straight attempts cleanly.

Astros: Jonathan Singleton
An eighth-round pick by the Phillies as a California high schooler in 2009, Singleton went to Houston as part of a Hunter Pence trade in July 2011. He rated as baseball's best first-base prospect in 2013 and 2014 and became the first Minor Leaguer to sign a long-term big league contract before reaching the Majors, inking a five-year deal that guaranteed him at least $10 million in June 2014 right before making his debut. He posted just a .621 OPS in 114 games over two seasons with the Astros, who released him in 2018 while he was in the midst of a 100-game drug suspension following a third positive test for marijuana use.

Athletics: Carlos Peña
The A’s have had some solid first-base prospects over the years, including Daric Barton and Matt Olson, but Peña was considered a top 10 caliber prospect back in 2002. He had been traded by the Rangers to the A’s prior to the 2002 season and then was part of a huge three-team trade that sent him to the Tigers in July. His best years came with the Rays and he finished his career with 286 home runs.

Mariners: Evan White
White has yet to record a big league at-bat, but the Mariners thought enough of him to give him a six-year, $24 million contract before he’d played a game above Double-A. The best defensive prospect at first by a wide margin, our current No. 56 overall prospect has a .296/.361/.471 line in the Minors.

Rangers: Mark Teixeira
Texas has had several formidable first-base prospects in the last two decades, including Adrian Gonzalez, Travis Hafner, Carlos Peña and Justin Smoak. The best was Teixeira, who signed a $9.5 million big league contract with a club-record $4.5 million bonus as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2001 Draft. His presence prompted the trades of Gonzalez, Hafner and Peña and he homered 153 times in 4 1/2 seasons with the Rangers before they sent him to the Braves in a 2007 deal that paid off with pennants in 2010 and 2011. He made three All-Star teams and won three Silver Sluggers and five Gold Gloves in a 14-year career.

National League East

Braves: Freddie Freeman
One of the few instances where the top prospect and top big leaguer at the position are the same person, Freeman ranked as high as No. 17 (2011) on our rankings. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to teammate Craig Kimbrel that year and is a four-time All-Star who has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times and has compiled a 35.7 WAR to date.

Marlins: Jason Stokes
Though the Marlins made Adrian Gonzalez the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 Draft, they went for another high school first baseman in the second round in Stokes, who set a Texas prep record with 23 homers and signed for $2,027,000 -- more than 18 first-rounders received. Stokes surpassed him as a prospect when he led the Class A Midwest League with 27 homers in 2002, leading in part to Miami including Gonzalez in a trade for Ugueth Urbina in July 2013. But Stokes had repeated problems with his left wrist and other injuries, topping out in Triple-A with 96 games over three seasons.

Mets: Dom Smith
As a California prep, Smith drew raves from scouts for his hitting ability, power potential and slick glove as a first baseman. Those qualities earned him a first-round selection (No. 11 overall) by the Mets in 2013, and after a somewhat slow start to his Minor League career, he became a two-time MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospect (2016-17), peaking at No. 51 in ‘16, before reaching the Majors as a 22-year-old in 2017. And while 2019 NL Rookie of the Year and Home Run King Pete Alonso also ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 51 prospect in 2019, he wasn’t as highly touted of a prospect as Smith during their respective Minor League careers.

Nationals: Chris Marrero
Taken by Washington with the No. 15 pick in the 2006 Draft, Marrero landed on Baseball America’s Top 100 list (No. 27) prior to the 2008 season, after he had posted an .822 OPS with 23 homers and 88 RBIs in 125 games during his first full-season campaign. Marrero went on to have a long and productive Minor League career, slashing .276/.342/.445 over parts of 12 seasons with five organizations, though only because he struggled to stick in the Majors, producing a .493 OPS with one home runs in 54 games spanning parts of three seasons. He spent the 2017-19 seasons playing for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan’s Pacific and Western Leagues.

Phillies: Ryan Howard
Another top prospect (No. 30 in 2005) who ended up being the best big leaguer at the position in the big leagues, Howard hit 46 homers in the Minors in 2004, setting the stage for him winning NL ROY honors the next year after hitting 22 out in just 88 games. He took home MVP honors the next year (58 HR, 149 RBIs) and finished his career with 382 homers and nearly 1,200 RBIs, all with the Phillies.

National League Central

Brewers: Prince Fielder
The son of Cecil Fielder, who hit 319 big league homers, Prince, the No. 7 pick in the 2002 Draft, ranked in the Top 15 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list in three straight years (2004-06), with the No. 10 spot serving as his high-water mark in 2005. He made his big league debut that year, hit 28 homers as a rookie in ’06 and became the youngest player in MLB history to go deep 50 times in 2007. He batted .282/.390/.540 during seven seasons with Milwaukee and was a key member of the Brewers’ playoff squads in 2008 and ’11. Overall, Fielder hit 319 homers and garnered All-Star honors in six of 12 Major League seasons before unofficially retiring in August 2016 at age 32 after requiring a cervical disk fusion in his neck for a second time.

Cardinals: Matt Adams
While Albert Pujols is, without question, the best first baseman in Cardinals history, he never was viewed as a first-base prospect during his quick rise through the Minors. Adams, a 23rd-round pick in 2009 out of Slippery Rock University, came with little fanfare as an amateur but jumped onto the prospect radar in 2011, batting .300/.357/.566 with 32 homers and 101 RBIs as a 22-year-old in Double-A. He opened the 2012 season as the Cardinals’ No. 9 prospect and moved up one spot in 2013, when he hit 17 homers and posted a .839 OPS as a rookie. The 31-year-old has totaled 116 homers across eight big league seasons and has had three campaigns with at least 20 home runs -- the most recent coming in 2019 as member of the World Series champion Washington Nationals.

Cubs: Hee-Seop Choi
The first Korean position player to sign with a big league organization, Choi received a $1.2 million bonus from Chicago in 1999. More highly regarded as a Cubs first-base prospect than Anthony Rizzo, he perennially ranked among baseball's best prospects at his position annually from 2000-03. But his uppercut stroke made it difficult for him to catch up to quality inside fastballs, a flaw that limited him to 40 homers and 363 games in the Majors.

Pirates: Josh Bell
The Pirates stunned baseball when they drafted, then signed Bell by giving him $5 million in the second round of the 2011 Draft. He began his career in the outfield, but moved to first base full-time in 2015. He finished third in ROY voting when he hit 26 homers in 2017 and then after a down year in 2018, hit 37 homers and drove in 116 runs in his 2019 All-Star campaign.

Reds: Yonder Alonso
This was a tough call between Alonso and lifelong Reds 1B Joey Votto, as both were highly ranked prospects on Top 100 lists. Alonso gets the nod as being a bit more hyped as a prospect given that he was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2008 Draft. He’s on this list twice (also with the Padres), and he got Rookie of the Year votes with San Diego in 2012, though his best seasons came with the A’s/Mariners in 2017 and Indians in 2018.

National League West

D-backs: Conor Jackson
The No. 19 overall pick in the 2003 Draft, Jackson was part of deeply talented core of D-backs position players in the mid-2000s and was ranked as the 20th-best prospect in baseball by in 2006, his second straight year on the list. A promising start to his big league career in which Jackson averaged .292/.371/.451, 14 home runs and 71 RBIs during his first full three seasons (2006-08) was derailed by a bout of valley fever in 2009 that limited him to just 30 games, and he struggled to replicate that level of production while battling a myriad of injuries over the next four years before announcing his retirement in April 2013.

Dodgers: Cody Bellinger
The reigning National League MVP wasn't a can't-miss prospect early in his career, lasting four rounds in the 2013 Draft and batting .268 with four homers in Rookie ball in his first two pro seasons. Then he added some loft to his swing, got more aggressive and took off, earning the highest ranking among first basemen on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list in the last nine years at No. 13 in 2017. That year, he arrived in Los Angeles earlier than expected and set a NL rookie record with 39 homers.

Giants: Brandon Belt
Drafted as a left-handed pitcher in the 11th round by the Red Sox out of a Texas high school in 2006, Belt opted to attend San Jacinto (Texas) JC and had more success as a hitter, prompting him to become a full-time first baseman after transferring to Texas as a sophomore. Though he homered just 14 times in two years with the Longhorns, the Giants correctly forecast untapped power potential that they thought they could unlock by opening up his stance to free his hands and hips. Signed for $200,000 as a fifth-rounder, he hit .352/.455/.620 in his one full Minor League season, launching a career that has included two World Series rings and an All-Star selection.

Padres: Yonder Alonso
Selected by Cincinnati with the No. 7 pick in the 2008 Draft, Alonso peaked at No. 30 during his four-year run on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50/100 lists (2009-12). Three of those appearances came as a member of the Reds, who packaged him with Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger to San Diego for Mat Latos in December 2010. He was baseball’s No. 39 prospect entering the 2012 season and finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that year, ultimately batting .271/.339/.386 over four years with the Padres. He was an AL All-Star during a career-best season in 2017, posting an .866 OPS with 28 homers with the A’s and Mariners.

Rockies: Ryan McMahon
McMahon was a third baseman when he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 Draft and he’s played more second in the big leagues as the Rockies are big believers in positional flexibility to get bats into their lineup. But he played a lot of first base in the Minors, including playing there mostly in the Minors 2018 (when he began the year as our No. 41 prospect) before establishing himself as a big leaguer with 24 homers in 2019.