Draft Scouting Reports: First Basemen
Ackley, Poythress lead a thin crop
Dustin Ackley is the best pure hitter in this draft, but ultimately he'll probably wind up in the outfield. Beyond the steady Rich Poythress, this is a pretty uninspiring group.
1. Dustin Ackley, North Carolina
, B-T: L-R
Ackley played at a 1-A high school against modest competition, and while area scouts knew about him they couldn't pull the trigger three years ago. Their loss was North Carolina's gain, as Ackley is in the midst of his third consecutive .400 season. The 2007 BA Freshman of the Year, Ackley has the best pure swing and pure bat in the '09 draft class, and maybe the best this decade. He's also a 70 runner (on the 20-80 scale) underway and should be a top-of-the-order, base-stealing threat in pro ball. Ackley has a disciplined approach and makes hitting look easy thanks to his advanced athleticism. He's balanced at the plate and has amazing hand-eye coordination, getting the barrel of the bat to the hitting zone quickly and leaving it there as long as possible. After hitting 17 home runs in his first two seasons, he was tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 16, and scouts grade his raw power as average, if not a tick above. His lone below-average tool is his arm, which he injured as a prep senior while pitching. He has played primarily first base at North Carolina and had Tommy John surgery at the end of the summer of 2008. He made two starts in the outfield in mid-May, and most scouts project him as a future center fielder and potential plus defender. He's a solid-average defender at first base if he winds up there. Scouts struggle to come up with comparisons because he's such a unique player. If he becomes a batting champion and premium leadoff man as a pro, he'll become a player others are compared to.
2. Rich Poythress, Georgia
, B-T: R-R.
After helping Georgia to the College World Series last season, Poythress has had an impressive follow-up season, hitting consistently as the anchor of Georgia's lineup. He recovered from a torn ACL in the fall of his freshman year to make 38 starts and hit .282. He's hit close to .390 the last two seasons with 36 home runs. Poythress does it more with strength, a polished approach and leverage in his swing rather than pure bat speed. He's more of a hitter rather than a slugger, lacking the raw power that Bulldogs shortstop Gordon Beckham showed. He ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in batting, slugging, on-base percentage and home runs while having a stellar junior season. His swing is geared to use the middle of the field, and he could hit for more power if he learns to pull for power better. Some scouts wonder if he'll hit for power against better velocity and consider him a solid hitter but more of a second-division player rather than a difference-maker. Poythress gave third base a whirl last summer in the Cape Cod League and in the fall but fits better defensively at first base, where his soft hands are an asset.
3. Jeff Malm, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas, B-T: L-L
The first thing out of everyone's mouth when talking about Malm is some variation of: "That guy can hit." Few high school players in the draft have a better track record of performance than Malm, who does it from the left side. Everywhere he goes, he hits, whether it's as the youngest player on the USA Baseball junior national team—where he saw more time at first base than Eric Hosmer—or as the only underclassman at the 2007 Cape Cod High School Classic. Playing for one of the nation's top high school teams, Malm was leading the state of Nevada with 15 home runs heading into the playoffs. The question is whether he will be able to hit for the same power with a wood bat. At a soft-bodied 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he's limited to first base and will need to produce power. He has a good arm—sitting at 87-89 mph as a pitcher—but can't play the outfield. As a lifelong Southern California fan with a long personal relationship with head coach Chad Kreuter, Malm's commitment to the Trojans is strong.
4. Ryan Wheeler, Loyola Marymount, B-T: L-R
Wheeler was a high school basketball teammate of North Carolina forward Deon Thompson. During his prep baseball career, Wheeler did little to impress scouts, but in the summer after his graduation in 2006 he began working with a local part-time scout who doubles as a travel ball coach. The sudden change in his hitting ability was striking. Wheeler blasted several long shots out of old Torrance Park in a home run derby during a summer showcase, and he has been hitting ever since. Now 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he batted .285 with five home runs in the Cape Cod League last summer and was batting .324/.429/.576 with nine home runs this spring. Wheeler has dabbled as a third baseman, but his long-term home should be at first, where he projects as an average defender. Scouts are most intrigued by his hitting ability, as he displays promising power as well as patience and an intelligent approach. Wheeler also gets high marks for his plate coverage, as well as his knack for driving the ball to the opposite field.
5. Ben Paulsen, Clemson, B-T: L-R
Paulsen's father Tom Riginos is Clemson's assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, and Paulsen has made him proud by being the Tigers' best hitter this season. He's more of a hitter in the Mark Grace mold, with a smooth lefthanded swing. He uses the whole field and ranked second in the ACC (behind only Dustin Ackley) in hits. Paulsen's ultimate value is tied to his power; he's just an average defender and is limited to first base. His lack of patience at the plate works against him in terms of getting to his power, as at times he doesn't work himself into power hitter's counts. Teams that focus on his strong Cape Cod League performance (.290/.335/.497, eight home runs) could pop Paulsen as high as the third round. Skeptics will recall Michael Johnson, a Clemson first baseman drafted 54th overall in 2002 whose slider bat speed made him a 4-A player.
6. Jonathan Singleton, Milliken HS, Long Beach, B-T: L-L
Singleton first came to the attention of scouts and college recruiters in the summer of 2007, when he was 15 and with a wood bat, he blasted a 400-foot home run out of Inland Empire's ballpark. His frame and natural hitting ability have impressed scouts, though his results have lagged behind. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Singleton has an impressive build, and his large, strong hands indicate natural power potential. He has a sweet, fluid swing, and his bat speed produces an audible "whoosh" as he swings at a pitch. He has struggled to connect with quality pitching at showcase events, and an early-season slump this spring drove down his stock. His backswing can get wrapped and unnecessarily long, leading to problems making solid contact. As the season has progressed, though, Singleton has warmed up. He impressed a group of 30 scouts in an Easter tournament game by ripping several base hits. He has excellent defensive skills, and should be an above-average defender at first base. Singleton is just 17, so a club that thinks it can draw out his terrific natural hitting ability can be patient in developing him. He could also shoot up draft boards in three years if he opts for Long Beach State instead of pro ball.
7. Dustin Dickerson, Baylor, B-T: L-L
8. K.C. Hobson, Stockdale HS, Bakersfield, Calif., B-T: L-L
9. Dillon Baird, Arizona, B-T: L-L
10. Jared Clark, Cal State Fullerton, B-T: R-R