This offseason has been particularly slow compared to those of the past. Why is this? It could be for a number of reasons, but I firmly believe teams have gotten smarter and no longer wanted to be locked into long-term deals with players on the wrong side of 30. Not every athlete has been as durable as Tom Brady and posted phenomenal numbers all the way through his 30’s. The game of baseball has changed over the years. The truth is, it’s a young man’s game, and we’ve seen numerous impacts from rookies to players in their first, or second, full year in the big leagues. In 2015, we saw a young arm in Noah Syndergaard help a Mets team make their push for the World Series in just his first season. Kris Bryant, in his second season, won the National League MVP while helping his team clinch their first World Series in 108 years. Last season, Corey Seager, in just his second full season, and rookie Cody Bellinger helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win their first NL pennant since 1988. It’s easy to see how young players are making major impacts.
This is my fourth season writing for Major League Fantasy Sports, and I’d have to say these are my favorite articles. I enjoy doing research, watching video and getting a head start on the potential players that can make an impact in the next few seasons, if not the upcoming. Like last season, I will be focusing my attention on first base, second base, shortstop, and third base. Hopefully, you took note of certain players from last season’s articles and a few players were not only added, but helped make an impact (e.g. Josh Bell & Cody Bellinger) during your 2017 season. Once again, the list of players featured, in the next few weeks, will target those who still possess rookie eligibility (i.e. no more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched and less than 45 days on the active MLB roster). With the first week of my minor league breakdown, I bring you “That’s Amore!” Minor League Maestros: First Basemen 2018.
Ryan McMahon – Colorado Rockies
Minors: .355/.403/.583/20 HR/88 RBI
MLB: .158/.333/.211/0 HR/1 RBI (19 at-bats)
After a dismal 2016 season, he fell short of my 2017 list. He would’ve easily made my top-15 list. Forward to 2018 and McMahon jumps back, and takes the cake after a phenomenal 2017 season. For McMahon, 2017 was all about adjustment. The prior season, McMahon accumulated 161 strikeouts in 466 at-bats while posting the worst numbers of his minor league career. He started 2017 at Double-A Hartford and made major strides in correcting his swing. He was then promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque where he continued to hit. He was able to lower his strikeouts to only 92 in 466 at-bats. Given his ability to play around the infield, McMahon becomes an interesting choice for Colorado. His versatility will easily bring more at-bats and there’s no reason why he couldn’t play an outfield spot from time-to-time. The natural loft in his swing will play well in Denver and there’s no question he should hit 25+ home runs per season. He doesn’t walk often, nor does he carry a lot of speed, but fantasy owners looking for pop from the first base position could find the next gem to bring solid power numbers while playing in Coors Field. Bellinger set the bar for rookie first basemen, but temper expectations. I could see McMahon putting up similar numbers to Josh Bell.
Bobby Bradley – Cleveland Indians
Minors: .251/.331/.465/23 HR/89 RBI
Most experts have Bradley ranked in the top-5, but I was big on him last season listing him third after the likes of Josh Bell and Cody Bellinger. That being said, after having a repeat season with 20+ HR and 85+ RBI, I have Bradley bumped up one spot. Left-handed hitting power is something teams are eager to acquire and Bradley fits the bill. He was able to cut his strikeouts down from 170 to 122 and made improvements in Double-A ball. As I’ve stated numerous times on radio shows, Double-A and Arizona Fall League are the most competitive in the minor leagues. This improvement spoke volumes throughout the Cleveland organization. Of course, with most power hitters, strikeouts will always be a concern, but his ability to hit to all parts of the field make him valuable. Look for Bradley to begin the season in Triple-A while working on his ability to work the ball to left field at a better clip rather than relying on pulling the ball. He’ll get his taste of Major League-ready pitching, and has a few months to show he’s ready. It’s only a matter of time before Bradley is in Cleveland and the potential is there for 25+ home runs per season.
Brendan McKay – Tampa Bay Rays
Minors: .232./.349/.376/4 HR/22 RBI
Drafted fourth overall, in last season’s draft, McKay lived up to his potential as the best two-way first basemen in the draft. Not only was he a star position player for Louisville, but he was successful on the mound as he went 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA and a Louisville-record 146 strikeouts. While on the mound McKay sported a 92-95 MPH fastball with an above-average cutter and curve. McKay polished swing, and ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field, gives him the ability to be a perennial .300 hitter with the likes of 20+ home runs per season. 2018 will be his first full-time stint in the minor leagues and if all goes well we could see McKay with the Rays as early as 2019. There’s no reason to believe a September call-up isn’t out of the realm for 2018.
Ronald Guzman – Texas Rangers
Minors: .298/.372/.434/12 HR/62 RBI
Guzman bumps up a few spots from 2017 after posting another season of 10+ home runs and 60+ runs batted in. His advanced bat allows him to put great back-spin on the ball and hit for a high average. While he cemented at first base, and the power may not be as grand as his fellow prospects, Guzman continually hits and doesn’t strike out a lot (85 strikeouts in 470 at-bats). The Rangers have power at DH and 1B with the likes of Joey Gallo and first-year Major Leaguer Willie Calhoun. If Gallo struggles, or the DH spot isn’t producing ideal numbers, Guzman should get the call immediately if the Rangers want to stay in contention in the AL West. I do not believe Guzman will get the crack out of Spring Training, but I assure you he will be one of the first minor league call-ups within the first few months of the 2018 season. Again, the power numbers may not be what you’re expecting, but if you’re needing a boost from a high-average hitter, with the ability to drive in runs, Guzman should be on your radar.
Lewin Diaz – Minnesota Twins
Minors: .292/.329/.444/12 HR/68 RBI
Diaz struggled in 2014 and 2015, his first two seasons of minor league baseball, after being signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He started to come around in 2016 and this led to even bigger 2017. At 6’3″ 180 lbs, Diaz carries great mass and this helps with his power numbers. He’s made adjustments in making repetitive contact and he’s managed his strikeouts while only accumulating 80 in 466 at-bats. Diaz is a below-average runner and this will only keep him at first base with the potential to DH. At 21, he still has a few years left to blossom in the minor leagues, but his raw power makes him intriguing. Minnesota is rebuilding while still being able to compete and are looking to develop numerous players in their minor league system. It’s only a matter of time before the next era begins at first base and Diaz could provide an instant impact once he gets his call.
Matt Thaiss – Los Angeles Angels
Minors: .274/.375/.395/9 HR/73 RBI
The former University of Virginia catcher continues to blossom in the minor leagues with his ability to see a lot of pitches and draw bases on balls. His main focus is contact and he’s proved his ability to make constant contact. With Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron holding down the DH, and first base, spots there is time for Thaiss to make the necessary defensive adjustments in the minor leagues. I’d look for Thaiss to start in Double-A while working on his defense and learning to hit for more power. Of course, the power will come and Thaiss has consistent contact down pat. A call to Triple-A should come within the first few months and if the Angels suffer any sort of injury, Thaiss could get the call at some point during the 2018 season. If you’re looking for a first baseman who won’t strike out a lot, hit for a solid average and have a high OBP, then Thaiss could be the perfect addition to your fantasy roster.
Rowdy Tellez – Toronto Blue Jays
Minors: .222/.295/.333/6 HR/56 RBI
Last season was a down year for Tellez after his first full season at AAA-Buffalo. The power numbers decreased after hitting 14 and 23 home runs in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Still, it was his first stint facing Major League-ready pitching and I’m expecting Tellez to turn it around in 2018. The lefty possesses a quick, compact and explosive swing that supplies power. His frame sees him sticking at first base, but that won’t be an issue. After the huge 2018 of Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales holding down the designated hitter slot, Tellez will have time to rebound after an undesirable 2017 season. Turning 23 in March, Tellez is still young, and assuming he starts of hot in Triple-A, we should see him arrive at some point during the 2018 season. The only factor hindering Tellez is versatility or lack there of. We won’t see him in the outfield and, as I said, Smoak and Morales have first base and DH covered. With many other players, if someone is struggling or an injury occurs, Tellez’s call could come sooner rather than mid-summer.
Pavin Smith – Arizona Diamondbacks
Minors: .318/.401/.415/0 HR/27 RBI
Drafted seventh overall in the 2017 draft, Smith was one of the top prospects coming out of the University of Virginia. The Gold Spikes award winner started off fast in rookie ball hitting everything in sight. Smith drives the ball to all part of the field and doesn’t strike out a lot –accumulating more walks (27) than strikeouts (24). While Smith didn’t have a home run during rookie ball — he concentrates more on contact than power. I promise you, the power will come as he gets his licks at minor league pitching at a full-time basis. With incumbent starter Paul Goldschmidt holding a team option in 2019, Smith should be ready by the 2020 season if Goldschmidt were to sign elsewhere. Given Smith only had a small sample of rookie ball, look for him to work his way up through the minor league levels in the next few seasons.
Nick Pratto – Kansas City Royals
Minors: .247/.330/..414/4 HR/34 RBI
The former Little League World Series and U-18 US World Cup star joined Eric Hosmer as the only first basemen to be selected in the first round by the Kansas City Royals. Pratto brings more hit than power at his early age and is already drawing comparisons to Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto. He’s extremely mature for his age and possesses tremendous bat speed. He brings more athleticism than your average first baseman and possesses a stronger throwing arm than most as many scouts project him to be a future Gold Glove winner. At 19, we’ve only seen the beginning of Pratto’s minor league careers and we are still years away before he’s considered a call-up. With Eric Hosmer on the free agent market, Pratto could be the first baseman the Royals desperately need if they’re searching for Band-Aids during the seasons Pratto is blossoming in the minors. With early comparisons to Joey Votto, it’s easy to see why Nick Pratto is already on the radars of every first base prospect ranking.
Peter Alonso – New York Mets
Minors: .289/.359/.524/18 HR/63 RBI
The power-hitting first baseman has made necessary adjustments to shorten his swing, and it was evident during a successful 2017 season that saw him jump from Single-A to Double-A ball. He’s managed to keep his strikeout rate down and managed to finish second in the Mets organization in home runs and slugging percentage. With Dominic Smith looking like the first prospect to get at-bats with the Mets, Alonso could potentially takeover at the big league level if he winds up producing better numbers than Smith. Last season, I compared Smith to a James Loney-type player. The ability to hit is there, but the power just hasn’t arrived. Of course, power comes later with many hitters, but it leaves the Mets with a good problem to have when both Smith and Alonso are ready for the big leagues. With the Mets adding Adrian Gonzalez to give them a “quick fix” at first base, I’d expect Smith to get the call early into the 2018 season with Alonso not too far behind. Keep in mind, the 35 year-old Gonzalez was brought in on a one-year deal. With age quickly catching up with him, it could be a one-and-done scenario with Smith and Alonso taking over within the next season.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday February 15th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #98 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kevin Bzdek. Kevin is a writer with Major League Fantasy Sports and part of the editing staff. Kevin’s articles publish every Friday morning at 7am.
The link above is to listen on our blogtalk radio website. You can listen to the show directly on the homepage of majorleaguefantasysports.com without the annoying popups and obnoxious ads that are on the blogtalk website. It will be playing automatically during the show time.