Potential Breakout, Red Flag First Base Prospects Entering 2019
As part of our position rankings, BA staffers are selecting one breakout prospect and one player they are concerned about at each position. Here are the picks at first base.
Click here to see the top 20 first base prospects in baseball.
Breakout: Grant Lavigne, Rockies
Scouting high school hitters in New Hampshire is challenging, especially when you have to project whether they're going to hit at an elite level as a major league first baseman. So when Lavigne went out to the Pioneer League and raked as an 18-year-old (and ranked as the league's top prospect), it's a case where we're gaining much more valuable information on a player than we had going into the draft. The plate discipline, power and what now looks like fairly good pure hitting ability should translate at higher levels.
Red Flag: Evan White, Mariners
White is an athletic first baseman and one of the best defenders at that position in the minors. That has value, but at first base, I need a guy who can mash a lot more than someone who can save runs with plus defense. His power, both current and projected, doesn't match up with average or better everyday first basemen in the big leagues, which adds considerable risk to his profile.
Breakout: Grant Lavigne, Rockies
Lavigne had an excellent pro debut, as he showed an advanced batting eye to go with his impressive power potential. He will get to hit next year in a friendly home park in Asheville, N.C. Lavigne has all-fields power, and McCormick Field's short right field fence will prove very inviting.
Red Flag: Gavin Sheets, White Sox
Sheets needs to show much more power than he's displayed so far. He puts together solid at-bats and draws walks, but first basemen have to drive the ball. Sheets hits the ball on the ground a lot, and even when he lifts it, he rarely clears the fence.
Breakout: Tyler Nevin, Rockies
Injuries have kept Nevin on the shelf for a considerable portion of every season, which is concerning. At the same time, he's raked whenever he's been healthy. Nevin has the bat speed to catch up the upper-90s velocity, stays back on offspeed stuff, drives the ball hard to all fields and has an advanced feel for situational hitting not often seen in 21-year-olds. He crushed in the Arizona Fall League, further solidifying he can handle advanced pitching. While there is some concern about how much home run power he will eventually have, he squares up every ball and mashes it on a line all fields, and those balls should start going over the fence as he continues to add strength.
Red Flag: Pavin Smith, D-backs
There's no getting around how rough Smith's first season was. He rarely hit the ball hard—on the ground or otherwise—and didn't show the power needed for the position even in batting practice. His athleticism was also worse than advertised coming out of the draft, although he has some defensive skill at first base. There was little power to be found anywhere—see his .392 slugging percentage at hitter-friendly Visalia and .265 slugging percentage in the Arizona Fall League—and there's not enough feel to hit to project him as a hit-over-power type first baseman either, making it hard for evaluators to envision him playing any significant major league role.