KEEPERS: 2018 Dynasty Reload—1B

This is the second installment of our annual off-season series aimed at helping keeper league (KL) and dynasty owners address needs over the next 3-5 years. Each week we will examine a position, and note young players and prospects who 1) could be available in your league; and 2) we think have a good shot at earning double-digit R$ sometime between 2018 and 2020.

Stable, established contributors are more difficult than ever to acquire, be it by trade or off your league's free agent list. This is even more valid for rebuilders with little excess talent to barter, and particularly relevant with respect to position players in deeper leagues.

We'll attempt to identify the best and most MLB-ready of both marginal producers and legit prospects with upside, some with little to no MLB track record. And of course context matters—in terms of opportunity, risk, health, age, price and productivity timeline. Our above-the-cut filter uses the following criterion:

  • Player must be growth-age—27 years old—or younger as of April 1, 2018
  • Player must have earned less than $10 in a 5x5 format during 2017
  • Player must have 100+ AB above A+, AFL experience, or 5 years in professional foreign ball

Links to previous positions: C

 

Last year's column projected big upside from the likes of Josh Bell and Cody Bellinger, and they delivered immediately, earning $14 and $24 respectively. In fact half of our above-the-cut names delivered positive value, as did surprising Trey Mancini ($18), and Matt Olson ($7) below the cut. In short, the HR surge and the ever-expanding positional versatility made 2017 a good season for 1B qualifiers. If you didn't have that position covered on Opening Day, you still stood a good chance of recovering and finding at least a serviceable option or two in-season. 

Even with graduations of the likes of Bell, Bellinger and Joey Gallo, 2018 is shaping up to be similarly deep at 1B. That 65 MLBers already qualify here in 20/5 leagues—and another 50 names earned in-season consideration with five games at some point last year—speaks to the flexibility and backup owners can find at this position. Onward and upward.

We can analyze Jake Bauers (1B/OF, TAM) at 1B or in the OF, since he split most of his 2017 Triple-A time evenly between 1B and LF. But TAM has more questions here than in the outfield at this point in time, and Bauers looks like a decent bet to make his MLB debut sometime before August 2018—particularly given this versatility. Having just completed his first full Triple-A season as a 21-year-old, Bauers has been pushed aggressively up the ladder with meager HR totals (27 in 979 AB in 2017-18) that question his power upside. But a .276 career BA, rock-solid patience (151 BB in 2016-17) and efficient running game (20/3 SB/CS in 2017) are impressive for a talent still under development in the high minors. A step forward now wouldn't surprise.

After losing 2016 to a torn labrum, Greg Bird (1B, NYY) lost most of his 2017 1H due to ankle problems that eventually required surgery. Following his late August return, Bird posted an .891 OPS with 8 HR over 87 AB—including a 177 PX and FB% that tracked those of his impressive 2015 rookie debut. Health and BA are question marks, but Bird offers huge production potential in an outstanding lineup, particularly as a left-handed hitter into Yankee Stadium's short RF porch.

We might be rushing Bobby Bradley (1B, CLE) above our cut just a tad. But despite hitting just .251 over 467 AB this past year, the 21-year-old Bradley's  ct% improvement from 65% to 75% while jumping to Double-A shouldn't go unnoticed. Bradley's 23 HR and 11% bb% was his third consecutive 20-HR / double-digit bb% season, speaking to his upside as a big-time run producer at the MLB level. He'll like spend most of 2018 at Triple-A, but his plus-plus power and pitch selection should be worth the wait.

His power took a step back (12 HR in 470 AB) with the jump to Triple-A, but Ronald Guzman (1B, TEX) controlled the strike zone (9% bb%, 82% ct%) and hit .298, making this a successful transition for a 22-year-old. Guzman's upside and power ceiling remain in question, but his youth and size (6'5", 205 lbs) suggests that more growth is in his future. Barring an outstanding spring and injuries to other TEX regulars, he'll begin 2018 back in Triple-A again. But now finally on the 40-man roster, a good start could result in a quick call-up in the event of an injury to either Joey Gallo or Adrian Beltre. A better bet to reach our $10 target in 2019.

Like most other 2017 pre-season analysis, we downplayed Rhys Hoskins (1B, PHI) here for several reasons: Pre-2016 power track record, favorable AA-Reading home venue, handedness and Tommy Joseph's outstanding 2016 2H. At AAA-Lehigh Valley, Hoskins' 29 HR in 401 AB quickly proved that his Reading power surge was no fluke, and he managed to earn $8 in PHI fueled by 18 more HR in less than two months of MLB playing time. Hoskins' patience also looks legit, but a 70%-ish ct% suggests that BA is an issue and he's unlikely to duplicate that 32% hr/f. Hoskins will ultimately end up at 1B, but for 2018 he also qualifies in the OF, and should exceed our target R$ in his first full MLB season. Just don't set your expectations too high.

There was little resemblance between Tommy Joseph (1B, PHI) and his 2016 2H version for most of the season. Joseph's peripherals sagged almost across-the-board—including bb%, ct%, HctX, FB% and power metrics—and were volatile all season. Despite finishing with a .240 BA, Joseph managed to post hit 22 HR, and earn $8 fueled mostly by 495 AB. But a 109 PX (down from 144 in 2016) isn't optimistic, and Joseph's 1B-only profile doesn't help. At age 26, he's young enough to rebound, but may need another organization in which to do so. And we may be overestimating his upside here above the cut.

After struggling at Double-A in 2016, Ryan McMahon (1B/3B, COL) began 2017 back at AA-Hartford—but he soon graduated with flying colors. McMahon jumped his ct% from 65% in 2016 to 80% in 470 AB between AA and AAA last year, all while hitting .355, leading the minors in total hits, reaching the 20 HR mark for the first time, and extending his versatility to 2B. The athletic McMahon's decent patience (just under 10% career bb% over 2132 AB as a minor-leaguer), short stroke and above average power bat should play nicely in Coors Field—a venue that can obviously fuel an immediate impact even in a partial season.

Similar to Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson (1B, OAK) doesn't seem likely to maintain the torrid hr/f (41%) that he posted in 2017, when he mashed 24 HR and earned $7 in just 189 AB with OAK. But along with double-plus power and good patience, Olson has a clear PT path and plenty of rope with respect to the 1B job on a rebuilding club. And while sub-par contact will probably produce a BA that won't help, Olson looks like a good bet to notch enough HR and RBI to earn at least $10.

A career .302 minor-league hitter (83% ct%) and coming off a .330 BA at AAA-Las Vegas, Dominic Smith's (1B, NYM) struggles in his MLB debut—.198/.232 BA/xBA, 71% ct% in 167 AB—were a little surprising, even in a small sample. Likewise, Smith's 9 HR and 120 PX were equally perplexing from a prospect for whom 14 HR had been a career-high before this past season. The good news on both fronts is that his debut IS a small sample, and Smith's 25 combined Triple-A / MLB HR suggests that his power is finally ticking up. Smith's 106 HctX was fine for a newbie, and that 22% h% will rise from here. We'll be surprised if he doesn't become a double-digit R$ producer over the next season or two.

 

Missed our cut, but worth watching: 

Peter Alonso (1B, NYM): Work-in-progress is a base-clogger, his best position may be DH, and owns just 45 Double-A AB. But 22-year-old makes hard contact and owns both plus-plus power and LHPs—as well as a career 80% ct% and .903 OPS after 462 minor league AB. 

​​​​Jesus Aguilar (1B, MIL): Huge power gains (16 HR, 160/165 PX/xPX in 265 AB) fueled $8 value as a part-timer, and RHB wasn't helpless vR (.806 OPS). Contact woes will suppress BA, but 8% bb% isn't terrible. Marginal defense leaves limited ceiling for 27-year-old, but we might be selling him a tad short here. 

​​​​​​​Jose Marmolejos (1B, WAS): Continued to show plate skills (10% bb%, 80% ct%) and good defense at AA-Harrisburg. Average power (14 HR in 400 AB) and age (25 on Opening Day) appear to cap his upside, but handedness and no discernable platoon splits should at least get him an MLB look.

Josh Naylor (1B, SD): Conditioning and sub-par defense have soured many on former first-round pick and Futures Gamer. But 20-year-old upped his bb% in 2017, has already tasted Double-A, and owns RHP with all-fields hit tool. Despite just 23 HR in 1018 career AB, many observers still swear by his plus raw power.

A.J. Reed (1B, HOU): Recent Top 100 name led the minors with 34 HR, but also posted a career-high 146 Ks and a career-worst 69% ct% at AAA-Fresno. .189 BA vL (127 AB) adds to the questions, and he looks blocked in HOU by a stacked offense. Could be selling him short too soon, but 25-year-old has work to do.

​​​Edwin Rios (1B/3B, LAD): Sub-par glove doesn't help, and 7% bb% over 475 AB between AA/AAA in 2017 was a career best. But line-to-line plus power (24 HR) is indisputable—and 77% ct% (.302 career BA) is surprisingly decent for such a free-swinger. May need a new organization for any kind of MLB shot.

​​​​Pavin Smith (1B, ARI): 2017 1st-round pick didn't hit a HR in his first 195 professional AB, and obviously has Paul Goldschmidt in front of him. But collegiate experience and advanced plate approach (.318 BA, 27/24 BB/K in short-season ball) should fuel a relatively quick rise.

Matt Thaiss (1B, LAA): 22-year-old continued to show advanced plate skills and OBP skills at A+ and AA (77/109 BB/K, .375 OBP in 514 AB combined), but just 9 HR. Former catcher also needs to polish up his defense. 

Rowdy Tellez (TOR): 22-year-old struggled mightily in first Triple-A effort, hitting just .222 with 6 HR (down from from 23 at Double-A last year). But he was reportedly overhauling his swing for all-fields contact, and a 79% ct% suggests some success in this regard. Bat speed, power and handedness make him watchable. 

Sam Travis (1B, BOS): One-time Top 100 name has struggled since torn ACL aborted 2016 season, and can't generate even average power. But he makes good / hard line-to-line contact while controlling the strike zone (37/57 BB/K in 304 at AAA Pawtucket last year). At 24 years old, is still young enough.

Kennys Vargas (DH/1B, MIN): 11 HR, .253 BA in 241 AB with MIN wasn't awful, but peripherals remain volatile and growth looks stalled. Poor ct% keeps his BA sub-par and sporadic GB% spikes restrict his power to flashes. At 26, he's running out of time and opportunities.

Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH, SEA): 25-year-old remains on our radar due to handedness, plate patience and .922 OPS vR in 335 Triple-A AB—not because SEA looks eager to hand him an opportunity. Sub-par glove, average power (17 HR in 459 PCL AB) and new acquisition Ryon Healy are all obstacles.

Luke Voit (1B, STL): Late-bloomer surged at AAA-Memphis (.972 OPS, 13 HR, 29/53 BB/K in .269 AB) and wasn't overmatched (.246 BA, 4 HR, 121/142 PX/xPX, 121 HctX) in 114 part-time AB during MLB debut. Turns 27 soon and likely a bench bat, but many thought the same about Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham, too. STL always seem to develop these guys, so we keep watching.

Tyler White (1B/DH, HOU): Historically good pitch recognition, but traded contact for power, smacking a career-best 28 HR between AAA-Fresno (25) and HOU in 497 AB. Versatile defensively with no discernable platoon splits, but nothing-special defense, and age work against likely part-time RHB.  


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.