The Cincinnati Reds haven’t had a real need at first base in over a decade. Joey Votto has been the guy in Cincinnati for a long time, but while the end isn’t here yet, it’s getting close. The 2023 season is the last one that is guaranteed for Votto with the Reds, though they do hold a team option to bring him back in 2024 or they have to pay him a large final year buy out. No matter how you slice it, Cincinnati will soon be looking for a new first base option.
In the post-trade deadline Reds Top 25 Prospect list there was only one player that played mostly first base that made the list and that was Alex McGarry. But McGarry isn’t the only Top 25 guy who played at least some first base this season. Two players acquired at the trade deadline saw action at first during the season, too. Spencer Steer played 11 games at the position late in the year – including nine starts in Cincinnati at first. Since being drafted in 2021, Christian Encarnacion-Strand has played 31 games at first base, including 12 with Chattanooga after the trade deadline.
Among that group, Spencer Steer has the most defensive versatility. Cincinnati played him at shortstop a handful of times in Louisville, and he’s spent plenty of his time in the minor leagues between third base and second base, while also getting a start in right field when he was in the Twins organization. Christian Encarnacion-Strand has only played third base and first base in his career as a professional. Alex McGarry has spent 87% of his time in the minor leagues at first base (in games he played in the field). The other time has been spent in left and right field.
The good news here is that there are options that not only have shown they can hit in Double-A or Triple-A and can play first base, but they all have also shown that they can play other spots on the field, too.
Alex McGarry had a real breakout season in 2022. Much of that breakout came in the form of big time power as he hit 27 home runs and slugged .543 in his time between High-A Dayton, Double-A Chattanooga, and Triple-A Louisville (only 8 games here). McGarry also stole 15 bases in 19 tries. In all, he hit .264/.316/.543 on the year, finishing second in the farm system with an .860 OPS (among full-season, qualified hitters). The power is real. But there are some concerns about his low walk rate (6.2%) combined with his high strikeout rate (30.3%) and just how that will play out against more advanced pitching if one or both of the rates don’t improve.
Spencer Steer played in Double-A Wichita for 35 games before being promoted to Triple-A St. Paul when he was in the Twins organization. After the trade deadline he was sent to join Triple-A Louisville. Steer crushed the ball in Double-A, slugging .591. But his power did drop off at both Triple-A stops, though it was still solid as he slugged .479. Between his three minor league stops in 2022 he hit .274/.364/.515 with 23 home runs, 30 doubles, 51 walks, and 89 strikeouts. Steer also saw action in the big leagues late in the season with Cincinnati. He played in 28 games and hit .211/.306/.326 with 11 walks and 26 strikeouts. Small sample size, but his walk and strikeout rates were fine, but he simply didn’t hit for any power and his BABIP was lower than one would expect.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand had the best offensive season of the three. He began his season in Cedar Rapids, the Twins High-A affiliate, before being moved up to Double-A Wichita in the second half. Once he was traded the Reds sent him to join Double-A Chattanooga. Between his three stops he hit .304/.368/.587 with 31 doubles, 32 home runs, and 114 runs batted in. During his professional career he’s struggled defensively at third base, but he really turned a corner this year in mid-June and almost overnight his errors stopped.
Beyond those three guys, and only one of them actually played a lot of first base, there’s really only one other guy who played first base in the minors in 2022 that showed something worth talking about.
Ruben Ibarra missed much of the second half of the season, playing his final game on July 23rd after a wild throw took him into the baseline and the runner collided with his arm and Ibarra suffered a thumb injury. He began the year in Daytona and struggled over the first three weeks of the season. But in the 48 games that followed he hit .284/.378/.548 in his time spent with the Tortugas and after a promotion with High-A Dayton. He’s got big time power potential, and unlike the others we talked of above, Ibarra’s limited to first base.
Cincinnati has several options at first base in the minor leagues who are good or better prospects at this point. Not all of them are “first base only” prospects, either, which gives the team plenty of flexibility and also time if they need it.
This is probably the only position where I’m going to give some leeway on “guys don’t really play this position, but could”. Due to that, we’re including guys like Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand here even though they haven’t played a ton at the spot and it may not be the most ideal position for them down the line since they can play at a spot with more defensive value.
We’re going to give this position a B+. Spencer Steer is a top 100 prospect. Christian Encarnacion-Strand might be when the offseason lists are all released. Then you’ve got Alex McGarry who crushed 27 home runs this year, and Ruben Ibarra who showed good peripherals and then strong stats after the first few weeks of his 2022 season, too. There’s both depth and upside at the position, and much of that has already performed very well in Double-A.
First Basemen Stats