A little bit like the catcher position, the Cincinnati Reds appear to have their first baseman of the future locked up for quite a while. With all due respect to the other first basemen in the organization, the job is going to be Joey Votto’s for the foreseeable future unless he is on the disabled list and temporarily replaced. Votto is under contract at $25,000,000 per season through 2023. They also have a team option for 2024, with a $7,000,000 buyout. He also has a no-trade clause. So, yeah, lock the position up.

That puts the first basemen in the organization in a tough spot. If they want to be an every day player there are two options. The first is to learn another position, which usually isn’t much of an option or they would already be playing that position. The second is to just keep playing well and hope you produce enough that catch the eye of another organization who wants to trade for you.

The Louisville Bats are the closest step to the Major Leagues in the organization. Their first base position, however, was filled almost exclusively with non-first basemen. Of the ten players who saw action there for Louisville, only Eric Jagielo fits the “first baseman” mode. He only spent 30 games there for the Bats, though he did begin the year in Double-A Pensacola. Since returning from a knee injury, Jagielo simply hasn’t been the same hitter. In 2015 he hit .284/.347/.495 in Double-A over half of a season before suffering the injury. Since returning he’s hit .205/.311/.301 in 787 plate appearances.

Taking over in Pensacola for Jagielo when he was promoted at midseason was Gavin LaValley. He’s the top prospect at the position in the organization. He had a big first half with Daytona. LaValley hit 15 home runs in 61 games for the Tortugas, going towards a .288/.332/.538 line in the very pitcher friendly Florida State League. He struggled in the second half after the jump to Double-A. With Pensacola he hit just .251/.305/.352. He showed pretty big splits in the Southern League as far as home/road goes. His road OPS was 136 points higher, mostly all due to power gains outside of a tough home part in Pensacola. Power is his calling card, as it is for most first basemen. There’s still work to do, and he will have to make the needed adjustment to Double-A pitching in 2018.

Once Gavin LaValley was promoted, James Vasquez took over in Daytona at first base. He began the season in Dayton, hitting .236/.308/.391 with the Dragons with 15 walks and 23 strikeouts. With the Tortugas in the second half he performed better, hitting .274/.349/.403 with 26 walks and 35 strikeouts. Vasquez has a strong understanding of the strikezone, his biggest asset. He’s going to be 25 next season, though, so he will need to take another step forward in his performance.

Bruce Yari took over for James Vasquez in Dayton in May. In 88 games played with the Dragons, the 22-year-old hit .252/.334/.422. He showed off a good amount of power with 17 doubles and 13 home runs in that span, and he walked at a good rate. Yari did, however, strike out quite a bit. 26.2% of his plate appearances ended in a strikeout – something he will need to improve upon as he moves forward.

Over in Billings, Montana, for the second year in a row, it was Montrell Marshall who saw a majority of the action at first base for the Mustangs. For the now 21-year-old it was a big step forward in production. In 61 games played he hit .269/.329/.453 with 21 walks and 55 strikeouts. After hitting just two home runs in his first 413 career plate appearances, Marshall hit seven in 2017 in just 246 plate appearances. His raw power stacks up with almost anyone in the system and it started showing up in 2017. There’s still plenty of work to do at the plate, but he really cut down on his strikeouts and significantly upped his power last season.

Raul Juarez saw about half of the time at first base for the Arizona League Reds. The 19-year-old was in his first season in the United States and had some struggles at the plate. He hit .278, but he only had three extra-base hit, all doubles, in 35 games played. He split time with Justin Bellinger. The 22nd rounder from 2017 split time at first and designated hitter, where he posted a .282/.369/.444 line as a 21-year-old. He showed off good power and a good walk rate, but his strikeout rate was 27% and he will need to improve that rate moving forward.

Overview

Only one first baseman in the organization ranked inside the Cincinnati Reds Top 25 Prospects, Gavin LaValley. First base is a bat-first position, but there’s not a stand out bat among them right now. LaValley showed off the power in the first half, and had the best overall season among the group, but he also stumbled in a big way in the second half and will have to adjust. Behind him there are some interesting guys worth keeping an eye on, but are guys with plenty to prove before being in the conversation as a Top 25 caliber guy. The position may be weakest in the farm system.

Grade

There are a number of intriguing guys with a little bit of potential here, but there’s not a single Top 20 guy in the group. It’s tough to say it’s better than a D at this point.

Top Tools

Hit Tool | Gavin LaValley

Power | Gavin LaValley

Running | Much like the catchers – they are first basemen. Let’s just call them all a bit slow. Sorry guys.

I didn’t list the defensive side of things for first base. I definitely didn’t see everyone enough to judge their arm strength and defensive capabilities. Of course, generally speaking, it’s the bat that matters at first base and not the defense unless you play like a blind man with weak ankles.

17 Responses

  1. Kap

    hey doug, when do you think the reds seriously consider drafting a first baseman high in the draft to anticipate votto’s regression and departure? I would say last season in the 2nd or 3rd round, most likey best available high schooler

    • Simon Cowell

      Never. First base is not a position that requires development in the minors. It is the position that the least skilled defensive player goes and or the most fragile player. I suspect that Votto fits both of those shoes.

      Joey will be our first baseman for at least another 3 or 4 years.

      • Bill

        Joey Votto is a first basemen because he is fragile? He’s played almost exclusively at 1B since his second year in the Red’s organization. He played 50 games and logged 202 plate appearances playing C, 3B and a little outfield in his draft year season in the GCL.

        Across his 11-year major league career he’s only missed time on the DL in 3 seasons. He’s received MVP votes in all but 3 seasons (one was his first September call up season, one was when he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, and one due to injury).

      • Kap

        Votto was a 2nd round pick. Guys who are drafted highly out of high school or college are usually bat first players and 1st base is where they settle. As they say, if I guy can hit, you can find them a place to play. If there is one of these kinds of players in the draft next year or the year after in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, get em and in 5 or 6 years later, they can step in for Votto.

        There are a couple players in the majors right who were drafted highly as 1st basemen (Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso, Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger).

      • Reaganspad

        Didn’t Votto play 162 games last year?

        That is durable not fragile (thanks BTO)

    • Shamrock

      I would say that if the Reds were looking to draft Votto’s replacement then Brendan McKay last year would have been the guy.
      We passed on a pretty darn good 1B in McKay…….and I’m comfortable with it.

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t think you should go out of your way to draft that guy. If one happens to be the BPA, then go for it. But don’t draft someone with the idea that in six years they are taking over for Votto.

    • Doug Gray

      Yes.

      I didn’t get to see him play much, but what I did see when I was down there was that he was definitely athletic enough to handle the corner spots.

  2. James K

    Votto was drafted as a catcher (!), not as a first-baseman.

  3. MK

    Yari hits lefties as well as any left handed hitter I have seen at Dayton.

  4. HavaKlu

    I think you overlooked D.. J. Peterson who has played almost twice as many games at 1B as Jagielo and is a better all around hitter with more power. I would look for him at 1B in Louisville.

    • Bill

      Great point; he’s a former BA Top 100 prospect that has lost shine over the last couple of seasons, but should provide depth at Louisville this year.

  5. Piggly Wiggly

    The Comp. B pick in this year’s draft would be a good place to draft a stick first baseman from the high school ranks.