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This week we move on to first base in this ongoing series that will take us another six weeks to complete. First base is locked up for quite a long time for the Cincinnati Reds with Joey Votto, but injuries happen and at some point moving forward there is going to be a need for someone to step in at get some playing time at the position.
At the top of the food chain there were two guys who saw plenty of time at first base. Kyle Waldrop split some time in the outfield and at first base on the season, but I’m including him here because there will be a lot of outfielders to talk about when that time comes as well. The 23-year-old struggled in a big way at the plate after taking home hitter of the year in 2014. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A he hit .235/.267/.338 on the season, walking just 4% of the time he went to the plate and striking out 24.4% of the time. He’s got plenty of power to tap into, but his aggressive approach didn’t work against more advanced pitchers who were able to take advantage of his aggression and it kept his power from playing up.
Adam Duvall spent plenty of time at first base in 2015, but not nearly as much with the Reds as he had spent with the Giants before he was traded for. He also spent time at third base and in the corner outfield spots throughout the season. Duvall hit .281/.325/.547 in the PCL with the Giants before the trade, but he struggled when he arrived in Louisville. He hit just .189/.260/.358, though a lot of that was due to a .206 batting average on balls in play. He jumped to Cincinnati on August 31st and hit .219/.306/.484. Like Waldrop, he’s got an aggressive approach, but the power is there. Whether he can adjust to the rest of things is going to be the bigger question.
In Daytona Chad Wallach spent time split between first and catcher, but saw more time at first base. You can read about him with the catchers if you’d like more information on him.
Down in Dayton time was split at first base between Avain Rachal and Paul Kronenfeld. Rachal spent a majority of his time at first, starting 10 games at second base. He hit .239/.332/.332 for the Dragons. The 21-year-old has more home run pop than he showed to tap into in the future. Paul Kronenfeld missed a lot of the season with an injury, but when he was healthy he joined the Dragons and started 37 games at first, spending another 36 as the designated hitter. He hit .249/.320/.404 on the season. He’s a bit older, so he will need to move quickly if he’s going to make it.
Rookie ball saw three interesting guys split between the two levels. 2013 2nd round pick KJ Franklin spent a majority of his time at first base in 2015 and watched his offense rebound quite well after a struggle in 2014. The 20-year-old hit .267/.330/.442 on the season. He walked 12 times in 189 plate appearances and had 44 strikeouts, but big improvements from where he was at in 2014 with the Mustangs. The hitting tools are still there for him to tap into in the future and he started to show some of that by changing some of his hitting mechanics.
Franklin shared some time at first base with 22-year-old Cuban Reydel Medina. He split time at first and in right field during the 2015 season for the Mustangs. Medina improved offensively across the board after a rough introduction to professional baseball in 2014. He nearly quadrupled his walk rate and he cut down on his strikeout rate all while hitting for more power than he had the previous season at a lower level. There’s still a lot of work to do for Medina, but he’s got some power potential to dream on if he can continue to make improvements as he moves up the ladder.
There were several pitchers in the organization who took home league pitcher of the year honors, but only one player took home a league MVP Award. James Vasquez hit .359/.415/.669 for the Arizona League Reds as he grabbed MVP honors of the Arizona League. At 22-years-old he certainly was old for the league, but he crushed the league from the start of the season until the end of it. As a late round, unheralded draft pick in 2015, there should be some caution with the numbers be put up as a college player at the complex level, but I’ve heard some good things about his bat from inside the organization.
The position doesn’t really have a premiere prospect at it right now, but there are several guys with some potential at the position in the farm. Fortunately the Reds don’t need anyone to fill the spot for a while, so these guys generally have time to try and improve as they move up the ladder. Kyle Waldrop, Adam Duvall, KJ Franklin and Reydel Medina all have the raw power to play at the position if the rest of their games develop. Duvall is on the older side already, so he’s probably close to being maxed out on what he is, but the other three could continue to grow. Vasquez could be a bit of a wild card, but for now he’s simply the guy at the bottom who is going to have to fight his way up through the ranks.
Top First Basemen Tools
Just a note that these are the raw grades, not necessarily the current grades on the player tools.
I would normally include fielding here, but at first base it’s simply not too important unless someone is just a terrible fielder. When looking at the hitting tools, the things were close. Hitting could have gone a few ways, but I went with Franklin because of his ability to use the entire field. While the tool isn’t developed yet, I believe that the parts are there for him to be a solid hitter for average in the future. Power was another category where it could have gone a few ways. As noted above, Waldrop, Duvall, Franklin and Medina all have real power. Waldrop got the nod in the end, though he’s still got to figure out how to use it better. Right now his pitch selection simply isn’t allowing any of his hitting tools to play. When he runs into a ball though, he can really run into it. With that said, any of the four guys can be said to have above-average power potential. Speed is where it wasn’t too close. Medina stands out among this group, easily having the best speed.