Like the first article in this series, it seems like first base is also locked up for the long run. Joey Votto is locked up for the foreseeable future. The odds that anyone in the system winds up playing first for the Cincinnati Reds for any real amount of time is rather small with Joey Votto being in the organization.
Triple-A saw more than a handful of guys spend time at first base but Thomas Neal and Neftali Soto saw the most time at the position. Neal was coming off of surgery and got off to a slow start. He rebounded some as he hit .266/.334/.366 the rest of the way. Neftali Soto began the season with Reds and spent nearly two months there before heading back to Louisville. With the Bats Soto .302/.350/.406 in 303 plate appearances. He hit just two home runs on the year as he seemingly gave up on power to drastically cut down on his strikeouts. Soto also spent a lot of time at third base.
Travis Mattair spent most of his season playing first base for Pensacola. Probably the best defender in system at first base but his second year with the Blue Wahoos was almost identical to his first. His walk rate stayed the same and while his power was up a little bit he also saw his strikeout rate go up. He hit .238/.303/.386 with 27 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs. He showed good splits against left handed pitching, which when coupled with his defense at the corners could put him in line as a quality bench player.
Marquez Smith saw the majority of time at first base with Bakersfield. The 29-year-old put up the best season of anyone in the system as he hit .323/.438/.623 with 34 doubles, four triples and 30 home runs to go with 131 runs batted in. He split time in the second half of the season with Harold Riggins who came over from the Rockies at the start of July. He struggled to get things going after he came over, hitting just .232/.314/.384 in 35 games.
Dayton had a group of players all split time at first with five players all getting at least 18 games of action. Robert Ramirez saw the most time with 41 games played. Ramirez provided good power for Dayton as he hit .288/.335/.503 in 45 games, but his nine walks and 58 strikeouts will need improvement.
Rookie-level Billings had an intriguing group at first base with 201 second rounder Kevin Franklin splitting time with Argenis Aldazoro. Franklin made the move across the diamond from third base in 2014. The 19-year-old was still learning the position but was quite a bit better at first than he was at third. Offensively he had his struggles, hitting .211/.241/.325 with just seven walks and 65 strikeouts. The bat speed is still there, as is the power potential, but his pitch recognition must improve in order to get the bat going in the right direction.
Argenis Aldazoro was pretty much unknown coming into the year. The 21-year-old had never hit better than .248 in a season and had hit just over .200 in 208 plate appearances in Arizona over the previous two seasons. He took advantage of his playing time in 2014 though as he made a run at the league MVP as he hit .325/.356/.575 in 57 games. Aldazoro did have just 11 walks to go along with 39 strikeouts, a ratio that will need to be improved upon as he moves up, but his breakout season was something that the position needed from someone.
The position is a weak one in the system. There doesn’t seem to be a true starter among the group, though several do look to have a chance in platoon or utility player roles. The Reds lack of calling up Neftali Soto in September despite hitting over .300 with Louisville doesn’t look good for his future in the organization in my opinion and he was the best of the group from the full season guys in terms of future Major League ability. Mixing in a Donald Lutz with this group, though I will have him in the outfield section does give the group a nudge forward slightly, but there still doesn’t seem to be that big bat at the position that would place someone as a good bet to be a future starter even if the position were going to open up.
Top First Baseman Tools
These tools are based on future grades rather than current grades, which is one reason we see Neftali Soto on top of the power category despite hitting just two home runs. In his case there is 20+ HR power in his bat but it’s a matter of figuring out how to use it better against more advanced pitching. Argenis Aldazoro showed off some good speed for Billings as he went 9-10 in steals and turned in above-average times from home to first base. Defensively, as noted above, Travis Mattair stands out. He’s an above-average defender at third base, so making the move to first really lets his abilities stand out.