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Top MLB Prospects: First base sleepers for the 2018 fantasy baseball season

Sporting News — (Frank Neville)

Big league first basemen are often players who didn’t have the defensive chops to stick at another position or who are in the later stages of their careers and no longer have the athleticism to play anywhere else. As a result, there aren’t many top MLB prospects who break into the majors as first basemen, which is why fantasy baseball owners usually look elsewhere for sleepers at the position on draft day.

Instead, many future first baseman make their big league debuts as third basemen (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman, Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Carpenter, Chris Davis, Joey Gallo) and a handful of others are former catchers (Joe Mauer, Calros Santana). In other words, high-quality first base prospects are scarce, and this year is no exception.

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Top MLB Prospects 2018: First base

The Rockies’ Ryan McMahon is making a bid to be the club’s opening day first baseman after seeing time at first, second, and third in a late-season call-up last year. McMahon has always had plus raw power, but improved plate discipline was the key to a breakout 2017 season in which he posted a .355/.403/.583 line with 20 home runs in 119 minor league games. McMahon’s struggles against lefthanded pitching could mean that he loses some at bats to Ian Desmond, but he has the tools to be the regular guy. If McMahon can maintain his plate discipline, he could hit for moderate average and produce 20-plus home runs over a full season in Colorado. Long-term, he profiles as a league-average first baseman whose position versatility provides extra value.

Kansas City's  Hunter Dozier , Tampa's Jake Bauers , and Miami's  Garrett Cooper are three rookies who could earn semi-regular playing time with strong spring performances.

Dozier was the preseason favorite to succeed Eric Hosmer in Kansas City, but the signing of Lucas Duda has pushed Dozier down the depth chart. However, Dozier’s position versatility (he can play first, third, and the outfield) should enable him to win a roster spot. Dozier has plus raw power, but his poor plate discipline and longish swing inhibit his ability to make consistent contact. If he can develop more patience he could hit .260 with 20-plus home runs.

Bauers is now behind C.J. Cron on the Rays depth chart and Cooper won’t unseat Justin Bour in Miami, but he can also play outfield and could carve out a part-time role against lefthanded pitching. Cooper has average tools, but his solid bat speed, balanced swing, and good pitch recognition mean that he could hit .270 with 15-pus home runs. Bauers’ swing is less consistent, but he has the bat speed and plate discipline to hit .260 with 15-plus home runs and a high OBP.

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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Dynasty league 1Bs

The Angels’ Matt Thaiss is an under-the-radar first base prospect who could quietly win a big league job sometime early this season. Los Angeles currently has Luis Valbuena and his .228 career average penciled in as the starting first baseman. The club will also need to play Albert Pujols at first on the days that Shohei Ohtani is in the lineup at DH. Thaiss doesn’t have the power of a traditional corner infielder, but his compact stroke and excellent pitch recognition allow him to make solid contact and draw plenty of walks. He’s still working on his defense and will almost certainly open the season in the minors, but he has the polish to be a productive big leaguer who will hit for average and post a high OBP.

The Rangers’ Ronald Guzman and the Indians’ Bobby Bradley are two first base prospects who are close to the majors but will probably open the season in Triple-A.

The tall, lanky Guzman has plus raw power and exhibits good plate discipline. He hasn’t yet shown much in-game power because he dials back his swing and focuses on contact. However, with more experience he could eventually be an Eric Hosmer-type hitter with 20-plus homer pop. He’s blocked by Joey Gallo, but he’s close to big league ready and the Rangers’ aging lineup will certainly need reinforcements at some point this season.

Bradley also has plus power, but his swing has holes and he’ll need to develop a shorter, more consistent swing path to succeed against major league pitching. On the other hand, he’s only 21 and still has plenty of time to develop