This week on State of the Farm, we’ll be taking a look at some of the more notable first base prospects throughout the system. How close is Vogelbach to being a MLB contributor? Is there anything left in the cupboard once you look past Vogelbach and Peterson? Are there any breakout candidates lurking? I did my best to answer all of these questions this week.
Going purely by numbers, this group of first basemen enjoyed a marvelous 2016, with multiple guys putting up some of the best numbers of their careers. From a scouting perspective, the group is rather thin outside of the two big names (Daniel Vogelbach, D.J. Peterson). The good news is that, of those two players, one already had a cup of coffee this year and the other is starting to gingerly tap on Safeco’s door.
Not only is Dan Vogelbach the best first base prospect in the system, he is also the only one of the bunch that I expect to have a legitimate shot at winning the first base job right out of camp next season.
Vogelbach made his MLB debut this year, going 1 for 10 with five strikeouts before having his playing time completely dissipate due to the Mariners’ late playoff push. His at-bats weren’t pretty, but putting a significant amount of stock into thirteen total at-bats against a level of pitching he had never seen before feels foolish; there’s still plenty to love about what he brings to the plate.
Despite his massive size, he isn’t a “go deep or strike out trying” archetype. Across six seasons and 2,329 plate appearances in the minor leagues, Vogelbach has posted a .391 OBP that isn’t the slightest bit AVG or BABIP-driven. He’s exhibited a strong feel for the strike zone and the ability to string together positive plate appearances on a consistent basis all throughout his career. And while he still exhibits impressive power at times, he’s willing to sacrifice some pop in order to use the entirety of the field. Vogelbach has also flashed the ability to hit lefties semi-decently, or, enough so that you wouldn’t have to plug the roster up with a first base platoon should he prove himself ready and able.
Is it wise to head into 2017 with Vogelbach penciled in as the starting first baseman? Absolutely not, but of all the first base prospects, he is the most ready by a decent margin, and I expect he’ll get the longest look in March.
On the Horizon
D.J. Peterson put himself back on the map with a big 2016 that saw him put up a 155 wRC+ over his final ~200 at-bats in Jackson before receiving a bump up to Triple-A Tacoma, where he cooled off considerably (97 wRC+ in 192 plate appearances). Plans to teach him how to play the outfield were in place before an injury ended his 2016.
Peterson is a decent athlete and drew some strong reviews for his work with the glove in Jackson, but at this point it’s impossible to predict how he’d perform as an outfielder. If he manages to be decent out there and can prove himself at the plate against Triple-A competition, he could find himself in Seattle sooner rather than later in 2017. Significant mechanical changes at the plate in 2016 seem to have him back on track from an offensive standpoint, now it all just comes down to how they’ll best utilize him and how good his bat really is. We’re going to learn a lot about Peterson in 2017, but in terms of how far he is from potentially being a contributor in Seattle, the answer is ‘not very’.
Way Off in the Distance
After Peterson and Vogelbach, things start getting a little fuzzy.
Kyle Petty put up one of the best seasons in the entire organization at High-A Bakersfield, but he looked totally overmatched in every way during his brief stint with Double-A Jackson. He would ultimately receive a demotion back to Bakersfield, where he went right back to raking. Weirder things have happened, but those with high hopes for the 25-year-old Petty should probably purchase stock elsewhere.
Dalton Kelly put together a lovely year in Class-A Clinton, slashing .293/.384/.416, but his bat still doesn’t project well in the longterm and he’ll need to keep his offensive numbers pretty all the way through Double-A before he starts receiving any sort of significant attention. The glove is good and the athleticism is fun for a first basemen, but yes, the bat still has a lot of proving to do.
Kristian Brito enjoyed a big year with the Everett AquaSox (.483 SLG, 134 wRC+), but similar to Kelly, he’ll need to keep it up for a long time before any amount of attention begins heading his way. 2016 represented his second stint with Everett after a subpar outing in 2014. This, combined with his miserable 2015 with the Clinton LumberKings (421 PA, 69 wRC+), have him far off the prospect radar.
Ryan Uhl, last year’s 7th-round selection, missed most of 2016 with an injury, but returned just in time to help the AZL Mariners in their championship run. The performance wasn’t pretty (74 wRC+, .318 SLG), but it was just nice to see the 6’6, 230-pound slugger back on the field. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s handled in 2017.