Posted by: bhyman | May 31, 2008

Position breakdown: First basemen

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This post is the second in a series where we’ll breakdown the top available talent by position and describe consensus first-rounders and sleepers alike. Today, we’ll discuss first basemen.  First base is one of the most offensively-demanding positions.  Players who occupy the middle of the diamond (catchers, shortstops, second basemen and centerfielders) are required to have superior speed and fielding ability.  Hitting is less important for those positions.  First basemen, however, must be able to slug 20 home runs annually in the major leagues.  Defense and speed are optional.  The Rays, Pirates, Astros, Rangers, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Cubs, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies and Yankees could all be looking for first basemen on Thursday.  They’re in luck because there is a glut of first basemen (especially college first basemen) in this year’s draft.  In my mock draft, I’ve got five first basemen going in the first round.  Here are the five best:

Top 50 overall

  1. Justin Smoak, Jr., South Carolina
  2. Eric Hosmer, HS Sr., American Heritage HS (Florida)
  3. Allan Dykstra, Jr., Wake Forest
  4. David Cooper, Jr., California-Berkeley
  5. Yonder Alonso, Jr., Miami

Justin Smoak, Jr., South Carolina

Smoak is the most complete first baseman in the draft.  A switch-hitter, Smoak has started every game since his freshman year, when he earned Freshman All-American honors.  Smoak and Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham have by the far the best career numbers of any draft-eligible prospect.  Smoak capped off his college career by hitting .388/.512/.754 with 21 homers while playing at a pitcher’s park and facing tough SEC competition.  At first base, he has soft hands and good instincts.  Scouts believe that he can win several Gold Glove awards for his defense.  Smoak is a premier prospect and could be drafted as high as #4 overall to the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Hosmer, HS Sr., American Heritage HS (Florida)

Hosmer is one of the top prospects in the draft thanks to his legendary power and strong arm.  A left-handed swinger, Hosmer has light-tower power to all fields.  Some scouts worry about his pitch recognition, but he has as much power as any high schooler in the draft.  Hosmer will need to work on his defense, but he could become an above-average defender in time.  He’s been known to hit 95 mph when he pitches as American Heritage’s closer and he’s got enough athleticism to become solid around the first base bag.  Hosmer is committed to Arizona State and has hired Scott Boras to represent him in contract negotiations.  Hosmer has enough talent to be drafted in the first ten picks, but he could fall to the end of the first round if teams believe he will drive a hard bargain.

Allan Dykstra, Jr., Wake Forest

Dykstra has been a force in the ACC since his freshman year.  In 2006, he was named ACC Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All-American.  He put together his best season to date in ’08, hitting .323/.519/.645 with 16 homers.  He’s the best hitter on a weak Demon Deacons squad, so he often gets pitched around.  Even still, Dykstra has been patient all year and when he does get a pitch to hit, he shows off arguably the best power of any college first baseman in the draft.  Dykstra has a strong arm, but will be limited to first base as a pro.  He could be drafted as early as the middle of the first round and should be gone no later than the end of the supplemental round.

David Cooper, Jr., California-Berkeley

Cooper transferred from Cal State Fullerton to Cal after his freshman season.  Since arriving at Berkeley, he has done nothing but hit.  Cooper hit 19 home runs at spacious Evans Diamond.  He put up big numbers in ’08, hitting .361/.452/.690.  Cooper has great eye-hand coordination and can hit homers to all fields.  He also has a patient approach.  Cooper must hit in the big leagues because he has far less non-hitting value than any of the other elite first basemen in this draft.  He is a well-below-average runner and he projects as only an average defensive first baseman at best.  Like Dykstra, Cooper could be selected as early as the middle of the first round or as late as the supplemental round.

Yonder Alonso, Jr., Miami

Alonso is a good example of the disagreement I have with the scouting establishment.  Some scouts believe Alonso deserves a top 10 overall pick.  I believe he should be drafted towards the middle or end of the first round.  What no one argues with is Alonso’s production.  Alonso has had two stellar seasons.  In ’08, he hit .381/.547/.796 with 21 home runs.  He has great discipline and an advanced approach at the plate.  Defensively, Alonso could be a plus defender at first base, although he is only an adequate runner.  I think Alonso is slightly over-valued.  His home stadium is a hitter’s haven and Miami played a weak non-conference schedule.  The Canes played only one non-conference weekend series against a team that is in the NCAA Regionals (Florida).  Either way, Alonso will probably be the second college first-baseman, after Smoak, to be drafted.

The series continues tomorrow with middle infielders.

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