Another thrilling minor league season is in the books. Let’s take a look back at some prospects who elevated themselves to the cusp of their major league debut.
First up, first base. These aren’t necessarily the best first base prospects, but those that could be close to getting some big league swings in 2019.
I am leaving Brendan McKay off this list. This is because I believe his quickest path to the bigs is on the mound, and should he leave position playing behind, he could contend for the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Also, Bobby Bradley is not on this list. I was once enamored by his power, I still am, but after a much-improved strikeout rate in 2017 (his biggest nemesis), he reverted back to over 26% with a decrease in the walks as well in 2018. He’ll likely make his big league debut, but a full year of seasoning in Triple-A also isn’t out of the question.
So, who’s on first? (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
Peter Alonso, New York Mets
Mets fans weren’t happy that they were deprived of some September Alonso time. Alonso and his camp weren’t happy either, and rightfully so. The 23-year-old righty broke out in 2018, showing both his power and hit-tool are for real.
(video from MetsZone YouTube page)
Alonso split the season evenly between Double and Triple-A posting a .975 OPS. He slashed .285/.395/.579 with 31 doubles and 36 home runs. Sure 21 of those home runs came in the PCL, but there is no reason to doubt that Alonso’s once-raw power is now for real. He also showed much improvement in pitch recognition and patience, walking 76 times. Dominic Smith flopped after his big breakout in Triple-A, but it doesn’t mean the Mets are giving up on the 23-year-old lefty. The two should present a compelling battle in spring training.
Evan White, Seattle Mariners
(video from Baseball Census YouTube page)
White made a brief midseason stop in Tacoma, but spent the majority of 2018 in Modesto. He capitalized on the hitter’s paradise that is the California League posting an .824 OPS behind a .300/.371/.453 slash line.
The 22-year-old right-handed hitter (that throws lefty) is very athletic. He doesn’t have the over-the-fence power ideal of the position, but he makes hard contact into the gaps. While it may seem like he’s far away, he is a proven and accomplished bat (he hit .376 and .373 in his final two seasons at Kentucky) and could very well see a quick rise. He may not be the everyday starter, but should see some licks in 2019.
Nathanial Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
If you saw Lowe’s 2018 breakout coming, then congratulations. You are a prospect wizard.
(video from Jason Woodell’s YouTube page)
Lowe has always been a good prospect, but in 2018 he leapt from High-A to Triple-A with relative ease. Sure he slowed down a bit once in Durham, but he still looked like a solid hitter. Combined between all three levels, Lowe posted a .985 OPS behind a .330/.416/.568 slash line belting 32 doubles and 27 home runs. Furthermore, he only struck out 90 times while drawing 68 walks. His
The 23-year-old lefty isn’t quick, but he can play first base without causing anxiety. He handled both left and right-handed pitching similarly contact-wise, but his power is much more present against righties. He could ease his way in with a platoon role before capturing the position outright.
Brent Rooker, Minnesota Twins
(video from Baseball Census YouTube page)
Rooker was an accomplished bat at Mississippi State, his power exciting for everyone that watched. That seemed to translate pretty well in 2018. He bombed 22 home runs and 32 doubles in his Double-A debut.
The 23-year-old righty is versatile, showing the athleticism and bat profile to play a corner outfield position. If Joe Mauer decides to hang it up, his quickest path to Minnesota may be as a full-time first baseman. But if Rooker’s bat continues to progress and he plays left and first reasonably well, it could help him find the bench in the bigs even more quickly.
Matt Thaiss, Los Angeles Angels
Thaiss doesn’t have the power profile for a first baseman, although he eclipsed his previous career-high with 10 home runs in just 85 games in the homer-happy PCL. He led the Angels minor leaguers with 77 walks in 2017, but that rate fell dramatically in 2018. Still, Thaiss was always known for working pitchers and getting on base, so perhaps this year was an aberration.
(video from Minor League Baseball YouTube page)
The 23-year-old lefty put up a .280/.335/.467 slash line between Double and Triple-A. The walks were reduced to 44, but he still only struck out 103 times which was a slight improvement from the year before. For Thaiss, the question isn’t so much as whether he is ready or not, but what other options the Angels have at the position. He may be afforded a quick opportunity as early as opening day just due to a lack of MLB-ready depth at first.