FIRST BASEMEN/DESIGNATED HITTERS: 10 (14)
AZL: Gabriel Garcia (1B/3B), Nicol Valderrey
Helena: Ronnie Gideon
Wisconsin: Yerison Pena (3B/RF/LF), Juan Ortiz (DH/1B/OF)
Carolina: Tyrone Perry, David Denson (DH/1B/OF)
Biloxi: Dustin DeMuth (1B/3B)
Colorado Springs: Art Charles, Garrett Cooper (1B/OF)
Others to Note: Jacob Gatewood (Low-A, 3B/1B), Mitch Ghelfi (High-A, C/1B), Nick Ramirez (Double-A, Now Pitcher), Cody Decker (Double-A/Triple-A, converting to Catcher)
TOP FIVE NAMES:
1) Garrett Cooper (Triple-A): Probably the most-ready prospect behind the first base options already at the major league level, the 2013 6th round selection is known for consistency. Making continuous climbs every single season, the only barrier he has yet to break is making the Brewers’ active roster. He isn’t much of a home-run threat (9 home runs in 2016), but he has an ability to hit for gap power (27 doubles). What was most surprising this past season came in Triple-A Colorado, as his BABIP fell under his career-low of .325 (in his rookie season). Though it was a roughly-normal .291, this indicates that perhaps his .276/.331/.433 line in 139 plate appearances was lower than what he’s capable of. Of course the ballpark in Colorado Springs could help his initial numbers, but it’s difficult to look away from his perfectly acceptable career 19.35% K-rate and 7.8% walk-rate (1416 PA). He isn’t the typical offensive bat you’d expect from a first basemen, but he certainly isn’t a bad-bet to earn time if anyone went down with an injury this season. Defensively, he’s a solid first basemen with size (6’6″, 230 lbs). Cooper is definitely an interesting depth piece for the Crew, and he could even manage to find some time in the majors if his contact rates continue.
2) Art Charles (Triple-A): Selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the 26 year-old first baseman played in an independent league after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies going into last season. If you like power, you might like what Charles brings to the table. The left-handed prospect has loads of it within his 6’6″, 220-pound frame – though he’s a classic example of power-plus-strikeouts (career 28.9% K-rate). He also managed to have a minimum 107 wRC+ every season until 2015 (90). Once he was released, he played semi-professional ball in New Jersey, smacking a .352/.451/.699 line with 29 HR (60 extra bases) with only 66 strikeouts in 436 plate appearances. Though the numbers are incredibly skewed due to the level of play, having a large bat such as Charles’ playing in Triple-A Colorado Springs is an extremely interesting experiment. Milwaukee may also prove to be an end-goal for him if he is able to control the K-rates, where he could hit a few home runs. Do not peg him as a for-sure bet, but Charles could definitely make some noise as an interesting and risky upper-minor league depth piece.
3) Dustin DeMuth (Double-A): The 25 year-old was selected in the fifth round in 2014, finishing his college degree before entering professional baseball. He entered the system with scouts having high hopes surrounding his polished bat and power potential, but only one facet of his game has shone itself thus far. He finished 2016 on a strong note, earning a call-up in late July and hitting .289/.353/.389 in 439 plate appearances between High-A Brevard County and Double-A Biloxi. The raw home run power hasn’t completely shown up, but the 25 year-old still manufactures extra-base hits (35 total in 136 hits) with the typical power-hitting swing-and-miss rates (25.2%). He’s good size for a corner infielder (6’3″, 215 lbs) and has a strong arm, but played almost exclusively at first despite being drafted as a third basemen. He’s been able to hit his way into the upper-minors, but he’ll need to make another round of adjustments or two to reach the ‘fringe major-leaguer’ projection scouts labelled him as.
4) Ronnie Gideon (Rookie League Helena): A selection in the 23rd round of last year’s draft, Gideon got off to an incredibly-hot start. At Rookie League Helena, the 6’2″ right-handed slugger smacked 37 extra-base hits in just 245 plate appearances (17 HR). Though he was just about a half-year older than his competition (21), Gideon displayed the raw power his scouting reports suggested. But of course, his offensive demeanor also means a higher percentage of strikeouts (28.2%) – as it also paired with a lower 6.1% walk-rate. Aside from the power, he’s been noted to be fairly solid in terms of his defense despite the larger stature at the corner spots – perhaps being more nimble than expected. Even though the bigger draft names overshadowed him, Gideon is definitely a guy to watch at the lower levels of the farm system for 2017. If he can continue to produce beyond the Rookie League levels, expect him to start showing up on prospect lists.
5) Gabriel Garcia (Rookie League Arizona): Another solid 2016 performer, the Crew’s 14th round selection in 2016 didn’t skip a beat in his first taste of pro ball. Mostly a catcher, the organization has started to utilize him more as a corner infielder. His 6’3″, 185-pound frame is described as “strong and powerful” in the box, and the numbers would side with that (.300/.393/.431 line in 150 PA, 18 of the 39 hits for extra bases). He has some potential with his bat – probably why they appear to be playing him more in the field than behind the plate. All of this comes within an athletic 19 year-old prospect, so he has plenty of time to grow in the minors before we get to see his full-potential.
David Denson (High-A): Selected in the 15th round of the 2013 draft, Denson has slowly climbed the lower ranks in the past three seasons. Reaching High-A Brevard County last season as a DH/1B/LF, 6’3″ 254 lbs. prospect hit for a combined for a .212/.308/.335 line in 454 plate appearances. His initial numbers don’t look very impressive – being further dragged down by his 81 PA’s in High-A – but he managed to produce at least an 11% walk-rate when he graduated to pair with his power. He’ll strike out a lot (career 28.1% K-rate in 1269 PA) and doesn’t have much in the way of defensive abilities, but there’s still plenty of time for the left-handed swinging 21 year-old to make progress.
Juan Ortiz (Low-A): A 2012 international signee, the Dominican DH/1B/OF had a solid season in Rookie League Arizona in 2015, and finally reached Low-A in the second half of 2016. He entered the organization at age 17, where his left-handed swing was considered “smooth” and “easy”, thus allowing him to get solid contact on the ball. He proved that early in 2016, going 17-for-52 (.362) in his first 12 games before getting promoted. Low-A ball wasn’t as kind to him, but it was his first taste. The swing is more geared towards contact, but he has some power potential to him. His defense is considered average-at-best, and his arm is sufficient for the outfield. Similar to Denson, he has plenty of time to grow into something more, but he isn’t a major prospect by any means.
Tyrone Perry (High-A): It was surprising to see someone so new to the game come up while researching these guys. Perry actually started playing baseball in 2013. He was instead more experienced playing football in high school – probably due to his immense size and strength. It’s pretty obvious to tell where the 6’2″ 240-260 lbs left-handed hitter excels: offensive power. Drafted in the 14th round in 2015, Perry was known for his 70-grade raw power in batting practice, though his swing prior to the draft was more pull-and-lift focused. He displayed some of that power with the Arizona Rookie League in 2015, hitting 10 of his 30 hits for extra bases in just 130 plate appearances with a very respectable 20.8% K-rate. His defense may be hindered due to his large stature, but he’s still a pretty good athlete in the field. He was limited to just 18 plate appearances in 2016 however, so 2017 will be the first time we get to see some full season statistics from the 21-year old.
Yerison Pena (Low-A): It’s unclear what the Detroit Tigers were doing with Pena as he was in their system, as he produced a .298/.424/.431 line in 721 plate appearances in three years of Dominican Summer league ball. He never reached any higher than that in their system, and the Brewers signed him the winter of 2014. At 23 years of age, he ended up playing state-side in Rookie-League Helena, though the numbers weren’t nearly as impressive in those 20 games (.209/.303/.239 in 77 PA). It’s unclear what he could be, but the switch-hitting 25 year-old has a ways to go to reach any thought of becoming a major league depth piece.
Nicol Valderrey (Rookie League Arizona): Still just 19 years of age, the 6’2″, 180-pound 1B/DH has been packing on muscle and experience since his signing in 2013. The work began to pay off in 2015, as he had an impressive showing in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .300/.360/.365 in 289 PA. He made it to Arizona in 2016, but only had 68 plate appearances and played 120 innings in the field. Surely he’ll continue to work, though it’s anybody’s guess as to what type of player he could be with his young and growing frame.
NOTE: Photo courtesy of Brian McCleod of MiLB.com