There Is No Such Thing As A First Base Prospect
A play on the old saying about pitching prospects.
Invariably, when discussing first base prospects, it’s always brought up that “the offensive bar is set very high at first base.” Indeed it is–MLB as a whole hit .255/.321/.399 in 2011, but first basemen hit .271/.345/.452, good for a 121 OPS+. Just to be an average hitter at first, a player has to be 21% above-average (at least, in terms of OPS) for the league as a whole. That’s pretty daunting.
That point has been rehashed again and again, and if you’re reading this site, you’re probably familiar with it, so I don’t need to spend much more time explaining it. Instead, I want to approach the challenges of first base prospectdom from another angle.In a sense, DH and 1B can often become sort of a “parking ground” for players that have proven they can hit well. Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira probably had the athleticism to play third or the outfield much longer than they did, but their teams found other guys to play those positions and moved them to first, knowing they could crush the ball even by 1B standards, play great defense there, and lower their injury risk by playing an easier position. Of course, that sort of move inflates the standards of offense at the position even more for first base prospects.
A pretty lengthy article on the tough row to hoe 1b prospects have. They have no other place on the diamond to play, so those that hit well that need a place to play are often targeted towards 1st.
The photo in the article is of Alonso, who he lists at 97th on his top 100, and is only the 3rd 1b prospect on the list. He's a guy that if he could have just managed LF for his first 5 years of MLB service would have been much more valuable. That much is obvious, but the effect this has on the whole picture of the prospect world is that 2-3 1st base prospects per "class" (which he doesn't really clarify what that means, it's not a per year designation though) will be above the already high bar for offense in the MLB at that position. Makes us fortunate to have Votto. And less likely that we'll strike so much gold again with Soto or Lutz or whoever.