A little bit like the catcher position, the Cincinnati Reds appear to have their first baseman of the future locked up for quite a while. With all due respect to the other first basemen in the organization, the job is going to be Joey Votto’s for the foreseeable future unless he is on the disabled list and temporarily replaced. Votto is under contract at $25,000,000 per season through 2023. They also have a team option for 2024, with a $7,000,000 buyout. He also has a no-trade clause. So, yeah, lock the position up.
That puts the first basemen in the organization in a tough spot. If they want to be an every day player there are two options. The first is to learn another position, which usually isn’t much of an option or they would already be playing that position. The second is to just keep playing well and hope you produce enough that catch the eye of another organization who wants to trade for you.
The Louisville Bats are the closest step to the Major Leagues in the organization. Their first base position, however, was filled almost exclusively with non-first basemen. Of the ten players who saw action there for Louisville, only Eric Jagielo fits the “first baseman” mode. He only spent 30 games there for the Bats, though he did begin the year in Double-A Pensacola. Since returning from a knee injury, Jagielo simply hasn’t been the same hitter. In 2015 he hit .284/.347/.495 in Double-A over half of a season before suffering the injury. Since returning he’s hit .205/.311/.301 in 787 plate appearances.
Taking over in Pensacola for Jagielo when he was promoted at midseason was Gavin LaValley. He’s the top prospect at the position in the organization. He had a big first half with Daytona. LaValley hit 15 home runs in 61 games for the Tortugas, going towards a .288/.332/.538 line in the very pitcher friendly Florida State League. He struggled in the second half after the jump to Double-A. With Pensacola he hit just .251/.305/.352. He showed pretty big splits in the Southern League as far as home/road goes. His road OPS was 136 points higher, mostly all due to power gains outside of a tough home part in Pensacola. Power is his calling card, as it is for most first basemen. There’s still work to do, and he will have to make the needed adjustment to Double-A pitching in 2018.
Once Gavin LaValley was promoted, James Vasquez took over in Daytona at first base. He began the season in Dayton, hitting .236/.308/.391 with the Dragons with 15 walks and 23 strikeouts. With the Tortugas in the second half he performed better, hitting .274/.349/.403 with 26 walks and 35 strikeouts. Vasquez has a strong understanding of the strikezone, his biggest asset. He’s going to be 25 next season, though, so he will need to take another step forward in his performance.
Bruce Yari took over for James Vasquez in Dayton in May. In 88 games played with the Dragons, the 22-year-old hit .252/.334/.422. He showed off a good amount of power with 17 doubles and 13 home runs in that span, and he walked at a good rate. Yari did, however, strike out quite a bit. 26.2% of his plate appearances ended in a strikeout – something he will need to improve upon as he moves forward.
Over in Billings, Montana, for the second year in a row, it was Montrell Marshall who saw a majority of the action at first base for the Mustangs. For the now 21-year-old it was a big step forward in production. In 61 games played he hit .269/.329/.453 with 21 walks and 55 strikeouts. After hitting just two home runs in his first 413 career plate appearances, Marshall hit seven in 2017 in just 246 plate appearances. His raw power stacks up with almost anyone in the system and it started showing up in 2017. There’s still plenty of work to do at the plate, but he really cut down on his strikeouts and significantly upped his power last season.
Raul Juarez saw about half of the time at first base for the Arizona League Reds. The 19-year-old was in his first season in the United States and had some struggles at the plate. He hit .278, but he only had three extra-base hit, all doubles, in 35 games played. He split time with Justin Bellinger. The 22nd rounder from 2017 split time at first and designated hitter, where he posted a .282/.369/.444 line as a 21-year-old. He showed off good power and a good walk rate, but his strikeout rate was 27% and he will need to improve that rate moving forward.
Only one first baseman in the organization ranked inside the Cincinnati Reds Top 25 Prospects, Gavin LaValley. First base is a bat-first position, but there’s not a stand out bat among them right now. LaValley showed off the power in the first half, and had the best overall season among the group, but he also stumbled in a big way in the second half and will have to adjust. Behind him there are some interesting guys worth keeping an eye on, but are guys with plenty to prove before being in the conversation as a Top 25 caliber guy. The position may be weakest in the farm system.
There are a number of intriguing guys with a little bit of potential here, but there’s not a single Top 20 guy in the group. It’s tough to say it’s better than a D at this point.
Hit Tool | Gavin LaValley
Power | Gavin LaValley
Running | Much like the catchers – they are first basemen. Let’s just call them all a bit slow. Sorry guys.
I didn’t list the defensive side of things for first base. I definitely didn’t see everyone enough to judge their arm strength and defensive capabilities. Of course, generally speaking, it’s the bat that matters at first base and not the defense unless you play like a blind man with weak ankles.