First base is generally slim pickings when it comes to prospects and that’s not limited to the Braves. Many guys who land at first base in the majors often start elsewhere (catcher, outfield). The Braves have had one legit first base prospect in the last ten years and fortunately, he worked out okay. This crop of first basemen might have one real prospect in the mix, but that’s all. Of all the different position rankings we’ll do, first base is the only one with just one perspective Top 50 prospect on it.
Here’s how we arrived at our list. – each of the three writers at Walk-Off Walk voted on their Top 5 prospects (plus one extra) and we took the composite rank. Ties are broken by the individual’s highest ranking among the voters. Positions are determined by which position a person played the most at (with a few exceptions).
Also receiving votes: Griffin Benson
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Tommy: Lugbauer would have crowded the catcher situation if he hadn’t spent so much time in Rome as a first baseman. Lugbauer’s selection back in June barely registered because he was an 11th rounder out of college who was expected to provide some organizational depth, but the results spoke for themselves. In 29 games in Danville, Lugbauer nearly ran away from the Appalachian League homerun title after smacking ten of them to go with a .243/.366/.573 slash. After a well-earned promotion to Rome, he still slashed .277/.338/.462 with three more homers. Going from ten to three homers in seven more plate appearances might sound like a big change, but it’s worth mentioning that he had one more extra-base hit. It’s simply much harder to get homeruns in the South Atlantic League (especially Rome) than it is in the APPY. All the while, he played 25 games at first base, 16 behind the plate, and 14 at third base. I don’t think his defense behind the plate will ever be better than average, but that’s plenty good enough to keep him in the discussion as a potential super-sub player moving forward especially if he remains spry enough to play third base. If his bat continues to progress, he could hit well enough to secure an everyday job in the bigs. Regardless, if he continues to impress at the plate, it’s going to be tough to keep Lugbauer from advancing in this system. I expect him to open 2018 in Florida and could potentially make it to the majors before the end of 2019 season.
Ryan: According to Baseball America’s latest piece: According to Baseball America’s latest piece on SLuGbauer, the Braves think he can stick at catcher, and that would be great! Hopefully, the Braves have a Brave lifer in Freddie Freeman which means all below will need to find a new position. Regardless, Lugbauer has a serious stick that comes with a K-rate around 25% and a BB-rate around 10%. As long as those numbers have staying power while advancing levels, I agree with Tommy that he could move quickly. Hopefully, for him and the Braves, it’ll be at catcher.
Stephen: So a theme that’s going to run through this section is the reminder that the offensive standard for 1B/DH types is so incredibly high. Lugbauer absolutely has the profile to meet that standard. A 141 wRC+ with a .330 ISO is outstanding work in your first year in pro ball. He wasn’t just swinging out of his shoes either. He added a 15% BB rate to go with that production so the approach was impressive as well. The caveat being he did all this as a 21 years old in Rookie ball so clearly, he needs a higher level of competition and he fares against guys closer to his level will tell a more convincing story.
Tommy: Carlos Franco might be the closest thing the Braves have to a guy who they could plug in at first base – if they absolutely had to plug a true first baseman in – but that doesn’t make him much of an option. He does have some late blooming aspects, hitting 36 of his 54 career homeruns over the last three years, but he’s just a few months away from turning 26 (and subsequently dropping from this prospect countdown). He wasn’t much of a prospect as a third baseman and playing more first base did little to change that.
Ryan: No hitter…especially a power hitter, breaks out in Pearl, MS in the most notorious pitcher-friendly park in the minors. But that’s what Carlos Franco did in 2017 with an OPS over .900 at AA. Granted he was 25, but it was a good sign for a player that had been in the organization for 9 years, repeated Rookie Ball 5 times, and had been deemed organizational depth well before he even got to A Ball. Unfortunately, he’s likely still org depth as his success didn’t transfer to AAA. He can hit it a ton on occasion and that’s about all I got. I’m not sure he’s even here in 2018.
Stephen: Franco has been in the system forever, debuting in 2009 as a 17-year-old. As he’s progressed and matured Franco has developed some much-needed power. Last year’s spike has some fluky aspects to it so I’m interested to see if he can repeat that performance.
3. Joey Meneses
Tommy: Back in 2014, Joey Meneses looked like an interesting prospect. He slashed .283/.354/.495 that season in 62 games and even hit for the cycle. But, as it so often is, there was a reason to pump the breaks. He was 22 years-old and repeating low-A, things that don’t really add up to a big prospect. He would need a year-and-half to find his footing at high-A and a similar story followed him this year. There’s some degree of offense here, but there’s just little potential for more.
Ryan: Joey just finished up his 7th year in the Braves system and it was another mediocre showing for Meneses. Being limited to an average defensive 1st baseman and a well below average anything else, a .760 OPS just isn’t going to do anything for his future. Like Franco, I’m not sure he’s in the system come 2018.
Stephen: Meneses looks to me more like an organizational guy than an actual prospect. 25 years old, still in AA and putting up .111 ISO as a 1B doesn’t do anything for me. He also hits the ball on the ground more than 50% of the time. Time for a big adjustment.
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4. Austin Bush
Tommy: The Braves did Bush few favors by throwing him to the wolves in the South Atlantic League after he was picked in June. After Lugbauer’s promotion, Bush tried his luck with Danville and was much more successful (.273/.368/.530). Having watched him, I compared him to Cody Johnson, another player I saw in the Braves system back in 2009. At that time, Johnson was in his fourth season after being the Braves’ top pick in the ’06 draft. He hit 32 homeruns, but when you compared him to the better prospects on that team – namely Freeman and Jason Heyward – you could tell that his success didn’t make him their peers. His long swing and questionable plate discipline would be a problem. Johnson made it to Triple-A finally in 2013 for 18 games. It would be the final games he’d play in affiliated ball. I’m not saying Bush has no hope, but he looks strikingly similar as a tall and bulky left-hand hitter with big power and a slow swing. Bush is going to hit homers, but I have my doubts that he’ll ever make enough contact to do much else with the bat.
Ryan: As a 21-year-old in Rookie Ball, Bush had a K-rate north of 30%. That’s not going to do much for a career. I’d probably write more, but what is the use. He swings hard and misses a lot, but also walks. I’ll have more to write next year should he maintain power numbers, walk numbers, and cut his K-rate down to 25%. Until then….
Stephen: This is pretty simple for me. I don’t care how much power you have, you strike out 30% of the time as 21 year old in Rookie ball, you aren’t a prospect.
Tommy: The Other Carlos could be a decent first base candidate – at least as far as organizational types go. He did belt 17 homeruns last year at Rome with a .243 ISO in just 84 games. He was off to a similar slugging pace this year before taking one off the cheek on May 11th. The previous day, he smacked three homeruns in a game and had six on the year. After missing 20 days, he hit just four homeruns over the final three months. One thing I do like with Castro is he has increased his line drive rate each of the last two years. Still, he puts the ball on the ground too much to be considered much of an offensive talent.
Ryan: I feel like this is a copy/paste job as CC (and the Music Factory) seems to be in the same mold as Franco and Meneses). He’s been in the org forever and puts up an OPS that’s between .750-.850. That’s not a difference maker at 1B in any system, much less one bursting with talent.
Stephen: So, first base is a little thin in the system (though I think Austin Riley might be a 1B). Castro is 23 years old and still in Rookie ball putting up meh numbers. I’ve honestly never written, talked, or even thought about him until right now.
Read previous 2017 top positional rankings…