KEEPERS: 2020 Building Blocks—1B

Evan White (1B, SEA)

We continue our annual off-season series focused on helping keeper league and dynasty owners identify useful targets that may be available in the current off-season. Each week we examine a different position, looking for players (“pieces”) that have potential to be solid parts in the construction of a winning fantasy franchise. We group them under three general designations:

CORNERSTONES – Premium quality franchise difference-makers, essential to the foundation of a true dynasty juggernaut. These pieces are top priority acquisitions, either by draft or trade.

BUILDING BLOCKS – High quality players with potential to be solid elements of a winning core. Desirable pieces that should be targeted as part of the ongoing championship franchise building process.

SUPPORT PIECES – More interchangeable lower grade parts that may provide help in a specific category or offer a lower ceiling than more desirable foundation pieces.

Players are listed with 2020 season age and major league organization, along with a designation if left-handed hitter (*) or switch-hitter (#).

We will attempt to identify top building targets within the following criteria:

  • ​Will play majority of 2020 season at 25 years old or younger (25 as of July 1, 2020)
  • Earned less than $10 in standard 5x5 roto in 2019
  • Reasonably projected to be MLB-ready at some point during 2020 season (may extend time horizon for Cornerstones)

Please see the Organization Reports in our Scouting section for more detailed, team-by-team analysis on prospects discussed here. Also, from time to time there may be slight differences between evaluations offered in this series and in our Organization Reports. Use that as your reminder that evaluations can differ. For each individual roster decision, you must factor in your specific team needs and goals.

Previous articles in this series:  C

This week we continue our tour around the diamond at first base.

 

CORNERSTONES

Alex Kirilloff* (22, MIN) – Considered a top prospect heading into last season, Kirilloff suffered a wrist injury that delayed his start by a month and possibly derailed his entire year. He labored to a .268/.359/.402 line over the first month before taking almost three more weeks off in hopes that a cortisone shot and some rest might help him get back on track. Though he managed only nine home runs, Kirilloff did play in 94 games at Double-A and will probably be promoted to the next level to begin the 2020 campaign. While Kirilloff had played outfield exclusively as a pro prior to 2019, the Twins began an apparent transition to first base last season, where he played in high school. The move may provide an avenue for a quick promotion to the big club if Kirilloff gets off to a good start. If, indeed, the wrist injury caused only a blip in his rise, this may be your chance to get him at a discount.

Andrew Vaughn (22, CHW) – The number three overall selection in the 2019 amateur draft, Vaughn has the pedigree to advance quickly. He displayed a great hit tool with tremendous plate discipline during his time at Cal, where he won the Golden Spikes award as the best player in college baseball as a sophomore in 2018. (He was a finalist as a junior in 2019). After signing with the White Sox, Vaughn played only three games in Rookie ball before being promoted to A-ball and then finishing his first pro season in high-A, so he appears to be on the fast track. That’s the good. Of concern is Vaughn’s “compact” stature at 5-foot-11, which is rare for such a highly regarded prospect who will be limited to 1B/DH. He is only the second right-handed hitting first baseman to be taken in the top five picks of the draft. The other? Dave McCarty, who also went third overall to the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 draft and proceeded to wallop a grand total of 36 home runs over parts of 11 major league seasons while bouncing around between nine organizations. Vaughn hit only six home runs over 55 games during his first pro exposure, but fatigue may have played a factor, as he finished with a .222/.311/.352 line over the final two weeks. 2020 will be a big year for the youngster. A strong start will boost his already high prospect stock while any early-season power/slug struggle could be a red flag. Dynasty league competitors would be well-served to monitor his progress, accordingly. With the Sox recently signing 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year deal, that would seem to indicate they consider Vaughn to be on track for an early 2021 big league arrival, should everything go according to plan.

Triston Casas* (20, BOS) – The Red Sox first round pick in 2018, Casas possesses mammoth power with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He also has a patient approach, drawing a good number of walks, but accompanied by a plethora of strikeouts. At 6-4, 240 with long limbs, his size may be one of the things that limit his hit tool, but with the patient, all-fields approach, it would reason that he should be capable of developing into a respectable hitter. He was much better versus righthanded pitching than lefties in his first full pro season, so that will be an issue to monitor. Casas was drafted as a third baseman, but transitioned across the infield to first last year. Just a year out of high school, he has plenty of development time ahead of him, but is most certainly a name to get on dynasty watch lists now.

 

BUILDING BLOCKS

Evan White (24, SEA) – Big news about White’s future occurred in late November, as he received a guaranteed long-term big league deal. This, of course, means no lame excuses about him needing "more time in the minors to work on (some inane 'skill')" until he magically masters it the day after the big club gains another year of control, arbitration, etc. It essentially sends the signal that the Mariners first base job is his to lose this spring. An excellent hitter with developing power, White also carries a slick glove, which helps his cause to get his name on the lineup card. Now as a firm part of the Seattle rebuilding operation, he should be a prime target for dynasty competitors.

Nate Lowe* (24, TAM) – As fantasy analysts and competitors, we can’t dictate how a player is used. We can only assess his ability and keep tabs on his opportunity. That can leave making the call on players like Lowe an exercise in futility. He continued to show a solid power-patience combo in the minors last year, and even held his own during three separate stints in the majors. However, Tampa Bay treated him more like a spare part than a player they see as a significant piece to the puzzle. Only compounding the conundrum, the Rays recently signed lefthanded hitting Yoshi Tsutsugo from Japan, which leaves Lowe apparently behind both Tsutsugo and fellow lefty swinger Ji-Man Choi in the 1B-DH mix. While Lowe has displayed solid production against  same-side pitching, the platoon-oriented Rays are unlikely to let that impact how he is utilized, which means he could be in for another frustrating year of limited opportunity and possibly even more triple-A time, depending on team need and health. Though he remains a Building Block-caliber talent, dynasty league competitors will need to maintain patience and be aware of the hurdles he continues to face in the Tampa Bay organization.

Lewin Diaz* (24, MIA) – A prime acquisition by the tanking Marlins last year, Diaz is positioned as Miami’s first baseman “of the future”—a future that could come as early as this summer. Though an aggressive approach limits his walks, Diaz can hit the ball to all fields and do it with power. His development has been somewhat slow since signing as a 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic, but it is important to keep in mind that he would just now be graduating college if he were from the states. With 64 games of double-A already under his belt, he might actually be considered quite advanced, relatively speaking. Also of note is that the Marlins reportedly identified him as the only hitter in double-A in 2019 who posted a 45%+ hard-hit rate with a strikeout rate under 17%. Unlike Lowe above, Diaz appears to be squarely in the plans for the Marlins, with opportunity potentially imminent.

Ryan Mountcastle (23, BAL) – While some otherwise pedestrian players have value on a tanking team like the Orioles, Mountcastle is actually the opposite of that. He, unfortunately, has too much talent and is too ready to help the big league club for Baltimore to promote him as the organization blatantly focuses on accumulation of future potential rather than competing at the big league level. Mountcastle was posting a .312/.344/.527 line at triple-A last summer while the parent club was only concerned about positioning themselves for another top draft slot (aka fielding an inferior product in order to not win too many games). And so it goes in today’s backward environment of “analytic enlightenment.” After playing mainly shortstop in 2017 and third base exclusively in 2018, Mountcastle transitioned to first base in 2019, plus a couple dozen games in left field. The bat is ready and the big league club needs offense, so now it’s just a question of the integrity of the organization. (The same organization, of course, that just dumped their starting shortstop for an A-ball pitcher, so there's your clue.) Mountcastle will assuredly be held down for the first few weeks (to gain an additional year of “control”) and it would not be surprising for the organization to find a way to keep him down until mid-season (to gain an additional year before arbitration). Mountcastle is definitely a worthwhile dynasty asset, but one that may entail further frustrating patience.

 

SUPPORT PIECES

Michael Chavis (24, BOS) – A sudden slew of early season injuries created an earlier-than-expected opportunity at the big league level. Chavis, a versatile infielder with some thump in his bat, took advantage, posting a respectable .254/.322/.444 line before a mid-August shoulder sprain followed by a strained oblique while rehabbing forced a premature end to his season. Playing virtually every day before the injuries, Chavis split time equally between first and second base. With newly acquired Jose Peraza penciled in at second, Chavis appears set for the starting role at first base. His aggressive approach may not lead to a helpful BA (xBA only .220), and he is not an asset on the bases, but his everyday role provides a path to help in counting stats with adequate power.

Pavin Smith* (24, ARI) – The first round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2017, Smith rebounded from a somewhat disappointing 2018 campaign in the California League by posting a .291/.370/.466 line at double-A. With excellent control of the strike zone accompanied by a sterling all-fields approach, Smith’s hit tool is his calling card. The question has been if he will develop enough power to be an asset at first base. It is interesting to note that Arizona gave him work in both right and left field in 2019, so that development will be something to monitor going forward. 2020 will be a big test, as Smith will need to show that he can take advantage of hitting the MRB (Manfred Rabbit Ball) at triple-A. If he does, his big league debut could be sooner than expected.

Rowdy Tellez* (25, TOR) – With solid power and potentially playing in a good hitter’s park, Tellez offers some appeal. However, the aggressive approach he has shown in the big leagues has limited his production. After an up-and-down rookie season, Tellez is in the mix at both 1B and DH but will likely need to show a bit of the patience he has displayed in the minors in order to gain regular work.

Dominic Smith* (25, NYM) – After two failed opportunities, Smith finally provided some nice production in sporadic playing time in 2019, seeing action at both first base and left field. The breakout season of rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, however, leaves Smith as little more than an afterthought with the Mets. Out of options, Smith should find himself in the big leagues somewhere, but his solid hit/moderate power profile leaves him as a very marginal dynasty target unless he somehow finds consistent playing time.

Seth Beer* (23, HOU) – Acquired by Arizona at the trade deadline as part of the haul for Zack Greinke, Beer’s all-bat/no-glove profile would seem to be something of a misfit for the National League, unless the D-Backs are banking on the DH soon infecting the senior circuit, as well. Though he struggled over the final month with his new organization, Beer rebounded to post a .315/.375/.452 line in the Arizona Fall League. With no place to play on the big club right now, he will likely start the year in  Triple-A, but if he successfully mashes the MRB, Beer could be a possible candidate for promotion. It would stand to reason that the Diamondbacks are inclined to look past any defensive deficiencies if he hits enough.

Matt Thaiss* (25, LAA) – Spending the second half of the season in the big leagues for the first time, Thaiss received only sporadic playing time, more at third base than first. His production was even more limited, as he posted a meager .211/.293/.422 line. Thaiss enters 2020 buried on the depth chart behind prize acquisition Anthony Rendon at third and Albert Pujols’ behemoth of a contract at first. With fellow lefty Shohei Ohtani slated for most of the DH work, Thaiss may be punching a frequent rider ticket on the Triple-A shuttle.

Roberto Ramos* (25, COL) – Though not a name that comes up regularly in prospect discussions, Ramos quietly clubbed 30 home runs while posting a fine .309/.400/.580 line at Triple-A Albuquerque. He failed to follow that up with much in the AFL or the Mexican Pacific Winter League, so he is probably no more than a name to monitor at this point. The power is legit, however, and he's in the right organization to inflate offensive potential, so if he does get it going again this year and an opportunity arises with the big club, Ramos could potentially be at the least a worthwhile short-term rental.

Bobby Bradley* (24, CLE) – A maddening inability to make contact continues to undermine any potential usefulness. His first opportunity in the big leagues came to a close after only 15 games accompanied by a .178/.245/.356 line and 20 strikeouts in 49 trips to the plate. No longer a reasonable candidate for dynasty construction.

 

DON'T FORGET ABOUT...

Rhys Hoskins (26, PHI) – Considered a rising slugger this time last year, Hoskins disappointingly seemed to take a step backward in virtually every aspect in 2019. However, he had posted a respectable .243/.381/.488 line with 24 home runs in 119 games before he was hit by a pitch in the hand on August 15. Though X-rays were negative and he only missed one game before returning to the lineup, Hoskins was held to a meager .178/.315/.356 line over the final month and a half. The power/patience combo remains intact and if the HBP, indeed, led to the late slump, Hoskins could represent a solid buy-low opportunity.


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