In the realm of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft, first base is hardly the sexiest position.
The guys who make scouts drool the most are the guys who have either eye-popping fastball velocity or all five tools. The latter typically isn't associated with first basemen, and there's also the reality that great first basemen don't necessarily have to be found. They can be made easily enough, as any guy who's all bat and no glove can be stashed at first base without much fuss.
These sorts of prospects are probably more plentiful than, you know, actual first base prospects.
But actual prospects are certainly out there to be found, and there are a few names with whom you should familiarize yourself as we inch closer to the 2013 MLB Draft (June 6-8).
Behold the following five names.
5. Brian Ragira, Stanford
Brian Ragira could have gone pro back in 2010, as he was drafted in the 30th round by the Texas Rangers. Obviously, he chose not to sign.
That decision should pay off this year, as Ragira's career at Stanford—while not astounding—has served to establish him as a solid first base prospect with a solid bat. He hit .329 in 2011 and 2012, and is once again in that neck of the woods this year at .327.
Baseball America (subscription required) recently noted that some scouts actually like Ragira's bat more than they like teammate Austin Wilson's, who ranks 27th on MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo's Top 100. High praise, indeed.
There's just one question when it comes to Ragira's bat: Will there ever be enough power in it?
First base is a power position, after all, and it's not exactly easy to take a guy who is cut out for first base and move him to another position where his bat would play better. This is a reality that casts a slight cloud over Ragira's future, as the general implication of BA's scouting report is that he may never develop enough power to cut it in the majors.
There is hope for Ragira, however. His .497 slugging percentage at Stanford this year represents an improvement, and Mayo wrote in his write-up about Ragira that he actually has "serious" raw power that just doesn't show up in games.
That sounds about right, seeing as how we're talking about a Stanford hitter. They do things a little differently there, and it's worth noting that similar concerns were voiced (notably by ESPN's Keith Law in an Insider piece) regarding third base prospect Stephen Piscotty last year.
Piscotty, now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, is putting those concerns to bed in 2013. Per FanGraphs, he has a respectable .219 ISO and seven homers in 37 games with High-A Palm Beach.
Ragira isn't going to go high in the draft due to the doubts about his power, but he could follow in Piscotty's footsteps and bust out the power once he gets away from Stanford.
If he does, he could emerge as one of the 2013 draft's pleasant surprises down the road.
4. Ryon Healy, Oregon
There was a time not too long ago when Ryon Healy was a No. 1 prospect.
That is, relative to all other prospects in the California Collegiate League back in 2010. Of all the youngsters he observed, John Manuel of Baseball America had Healy pegged as the best. He was even good enough at the time to invite comparisons to Scott Rolen and Evan Longoria.
Those comps don't apply now. Healy was a third baseman, but has gone on to primarily play first base at Oregon. The folks at Baseball America (subscription) think there's at least a chance Healy could be given a shot to play third at the pros, but it sounds like first base is going to be his permanent home.
From here, we'll go right to the power question: Does Healy have enough of it to be a legit major league first baseman?
Somebody asked Keith Law that on Twitter, and he gave a straight answer: "No."
So yeah, there's doubt in at least one corner out there.
But other corners? Not so much.
The guys at BA have Healy down as a hitter who will eventually have "above-average" power, and Nick J. Faleris of Baseball Prospectus more or less thinks the same thing. He has the kind of strength and natural loft in his swing to produce some "over-the-fence pop" once he gets to the pros.
It bodes well for Healy that said pop showed up in 2013 like it hadn't in his first two seasons at Oregon. After slugging .516 in 2011 and .419 in 2012, Healy's slugging percentage jumped up to .556 this year. He's hit 10 homers, two more than he did in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Healy does have the look of a decent power hitter. If you watch him take BP in the above video, you'll see that he uses quite the leg kick as a timing device, but that he doesn't have much trouble staying back with it. I'll also be darned if his swing itself doesn't have a bit of Mark Trumbo in it.
If you want to talk about power, though, you need to take a look at this next guy.
3. Rowdy Tellez, Elk Grove HS in Elk Grove, CA
When you think of power-hitting first basemen who swing from the left side of the plate, you tend to think of guys like Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and, to a somewhat lesser extent, San Diego-era Adrian Gonzalez.
That's the kind of fraternity Rowdy Tellez could join somewhere down the line.
Baseball America (subscription) has Tellez down as the best left-handed power bat in this year's draft class, and their reasoning doesn't require much of an explanation. Just listen to the sound of the ball coming off his bat in the video on your right.
That's some raw power right there, and it's easy power, too. Tellez makes that sound without a ton of effort.
So...what's the catch?
You may have already noticed one. The folks at BA say that Tellez has worked hard to "tighten up" his 6'5" frame, but he obviously wasn't blessed with the body of a supreme athlete.
A bigger catch is that Tellez's batting practice power can stay stuck in batting practice. BA says scouts actually like Tellez's feel for hitting, but Faleris warned in his write-up that Tellez can be beaten on the inner half of the plate with good velocity.
And that, obviously, is an issue, seeing as how Tellez is going to come across plenty of pitchers who can buzz him inside once he makes his transition into the pros. The power is there, but he'll have to work to polish himself as a hitter.
Not that that's going to scare teams away, mind you. Tellez has some real power, and there will be a team willing to take a chance on it high in the draft and go from there.
2. D.J. Peterson, New Mexico
Here's where we foray into the rarefied air, as the final two guys on this humble little countdown should be going in the first round come draft day.
As an offensive player, D.J. Peterson is arguably the top corner infielder in this year's draft class. Mayo noted in his scouting report that some scouts have seen him as the best pure hitter not just among collegiate prospects, but all prospects.
A right-handed swinger, Peterson pretty much has it all: strength, bat speed, smarts, you name it. Faleris applauds him for always coming to the plate with a game plan, and for his ability to adjust from at-bat to at-bat.
The power would appear to be there, but there's a catch. The Lobos play home games at Isotopes Park, which sits at an elevation higher than that of Coors Field. If ever there was a park for a college hitter to establish himself as a power merchant, well, there you go.
But this doesn't appear to be a deal-breaker. Baseball America (subscription) says scouts feel that Peterson's power is legit, and Faleris is of the mind that he has the potential for plus power.
Given all this, why is Peterson not No. 1 on this countdown?
Because he's not a true first baseman. In fact, I only bothered to include Peterson here because the consensus is that he has little chance of sticking at third base once he gets to the pros, as he doesn't have the mobility to handle the hot corner.
Assuming he does get stashed at first base on a full-time basis, Peterson will have some craft-mastering to do. Even so, his bat is going to allow him to move quickly, if it turns out to be everything it's supposed to be.
1. Dominic Smith, Serra HS in Gardena, CA
We've looked at some fine prospects, but we haven't looked at a guy who has the goods to be a great offensive and defensive first baseman in the bigs.
There's no doubting Smith's pure hitting ability. The experts love it, and it doesn't have a whole lot of trouble showing through on videos like the one on your right. Smith has a nice, easy swing, and the consensus is that the power is going to be there. Baseball America (subscription) says he just needs to hit the weight room.
Smith already has some decent pop. If you skip to about the 2:45 mark in the video, you can see Smith showing off his power in a home run derby. The bat speed and the insane power aren't the same, but his swing and follow-through are slightly reminiscent of Josh Hamilton.
Elsewhere, Smith's glove must not be overlooked. Faleris wrote that he's "among the best in recent memory when it comes to picking and footwork," and Keith Law (Insider) has Smith marked down simply as an "excellent defender."
As thing stand now, Smith has the look of a .300 hitter with Gold Glove capabilities at first base. If the power comes, he's going to be a whole lot more than that.
If a team is hellbent on acquiring a long-term answer at first base, Smith is the way to go.
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