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First base prospects for 2014

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Prospect Reports: Cs | 1Bs | 2Bs | 3Bs | SSs | OFs | Ps

For as deep as first base is in major-league talent, it's lacking in minor-league talent.

It's become a fallback position in most organizations. If a player has a chance to stick at any other position, he gets a chance to fail there first.

Of the 34 hitters selected in the first two rounds of the 2013 amateur draft, only one was a true first baseman. As you might expect, he's represented here in what promises to be a relatively lackluster first edition of the top Fantasy Baseball prospects for 2014.

No doubt, you'll find some intriguing names here, but even in dynasty leagues, most are kind of fringy.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2014. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Jose Dariel Abreu, 27, White Sox
Where played in 2013: Did not play -- in Cuba

As is often the case for Cuban defectors, what little we know about Jose Dariel Abreu comes in the form of vague scouting reports and watered-down statistics. But we at least know the White Sox liked him enough to give him the largest contract ever for an international player. On the one hand, it makes sense. He had a better track record in Cuba than either Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig, and look what they've done in the majors. But on the other hand, no scout is willing to call Abreu a sure thing, with some even questioning his bat speed. Of course, Cespedes and Puig had their skeptics as well. Just as a matter of principle, some people refuse to buy into the unknown. White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams isn't one of them, praising Abreu's low-effort swing and ability to drive the ball the other way. A power hitter who some think could hit for average as well, Abreu is pretty much a lock to take over for Paul Konerko at first base this year, but since nobody really knows how he'll perform, he figures to be one of the more interesting picks on Draft Day. The range is anywhere from an early-round Puig type to a fringy Dayan Viciedo type, making a middle-round pick in Mark Trumbo or Mark Teixeira territory about right.

2. Jonathan Singleton, 22, Astros
Where played in 2013: low Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .230 BA (304 at-bats), 11 HR, .351 OBP, 59 BB, 110 K

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Jonathan Singleton began 2013 neck-and-neck with George Springer in a loaded Astros farm system, with notoriously patient general manager Jeff Luhnow even saying he had a chance of reaching the majors by year's end. But a 50-game suspension for repeated marijuana use put him on the wrong track early, and when he finally returned in late May, he was too eager to make up for lost time, striking out in more than one-third of his at-bats. Granted, he had always struck out at a high rate, but never to the detriment of his batting average. All that swinging and missing also prevented him from tapping into his raw power, which scouts have described as "plus-plus." Singleton has always known how to take a walk and did so with regularity in 2013, giving reason to believe his other numbers will catch up with a fresh start in 2014. He's still enough of a prospect to deserve a flier in AL-only leagues. Given his elite pedigree and the dearth of talent at the major-league level, it's not so far-fetched that he could make the team out of spring training in a Julio Teheran-like, minor-league-numbers-be-darned sort of move, though the perennially rebuilding Astros have every reason to give him a chance to master Triple-A first.

3. Tommy Medica, 25, Padres
Where played in 2013: Rookie, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .296 BA (297 at-bats), 20 HR, .962 OPS, 29 BB, 74 Ks
Major-league stats: .290 (69 at-bats), 3 HR, .829 OPS, 10 BB, 23 K

Prior to 2013, Tommy Medica was seen as damaged goods -- a former catcher with a bad shoulder destined to idle away his days as a roster-filler in the minors. But then the Padres discovered something that reshaped his outlook completely: The guy could flat-out hit. He showed signs of it in 2012, batting .330 with 19 homers in 93 games at Class A Lake Elsinore, but he wouldn't have been the first player to put up unsustainable numbers in the hitter-friendly California League. Only when he followed them up with a .296 batting average and 40-homer pace at not-so-hitter-friendly Double-A San Antonio did the Padres take him seriously enough to give him a look as the fill-in for an injured Yonder Alonso in September. And the production only continued from there. Medica's emergence has been almost Allen Craig-like. At every stop, in every role, he has maintained the same level of production for so long now that he deserves the chance to keep it going. Beating out Alonso, who once had the look of a cornerstone player, seems like a long shot, but the possibility gives Medica sleeper appeal in all formats. He's already draftable in NL-only.

4. Daniel Vogelbach, 21, Cubs
Where played in 2013: low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .284 (483 at-bats), 19 HR, .824 OPS, 73 BB, 89 K

Realistically, Daniel Vogelbach is probably closer to Matt Stairs than Prince Fielder as short and stocky sluggers go. Either way, he's poised to become a significant contributor in Fantasy if given the opportunity. Why "if?" He's barely passable at first base, and in case you're unaware, the Cubs don't have use of the DH. Sure, a trade is always possible, but with more and more AL teams preferring to keep that spot flexibile, finding a match could be difficult. Plus, having spent most of 2013 in low Class A, Vogelbach is still three big steps away from the majors. Any letup between now and then -- in terms of production or physique -- could make him not worth the trouble. For now, scouts call him a polished hitter, pointing to his plate discipline and willingness to hit the ball the other way, so to ignore him in a long-term keeper league would be foolish. Just understand that, despite what the numbers tell you, he's not the most straightforward of prospects.

5. Dominic Smith, 18, Mets
Where played in 2013: Rookie
Minor-league stats: .301 BA (173 at-bats), 3 HR, .837 OPS, 26 BB, 37 K

Dominic Smith's Fantasy value takes a hit because he's so far from the majors, but among first base prospects, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft is the safest bet this side of Jonathan Singleton. No, he doesn't have Singleton's power, but he profiles as a better all-around hitter, batting .372 in August after needing a few weeks to adjust to his first season in professional ball. At 18, he already has some pop and only figures to get stronger as he matures, making a best-case scenario for him something in the neighborhood of Freddie Freeman. Of course, he has to prove himself in the minors first, but for all the fretting the Mets have done over Ike Davis' lack of development, Smith could make him obsolete by the time they're ready to compete. Obviously, he doesn't serve much purpose in single-season leagues, but he's the perfect pick for the long haul in dynasty formats.

6. Mike Olt, 25, Cubs
Where played in 2013: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .201 BA (373 at-bats), 15 HR, .303 OBP, 55 BB, 132 K

Though Mike Olt played exclusively third base in the minors last year, his eligibility at first base dates back to his brief stint with the Rangers in 2012. Of course, after the season he just had, the bigger question than where he'll play is if he'll play. Just a year ago, he seemed like a lock for an everyday role somewhere down the line, but then it's like he forgot how to hit. He blamed a vision problem -- specifically, an inability to produce tears in his right eye after getting hit in the head in the Dominican Winter League -- but even with treatment, he was only worse after coming over to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal, hitting a ghastly .168 in 131 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa. Granted, no one ever pegged Olt as a future batting title contender, but he has to hit at least .240 or so for his power and patience to amount to anything. Hopefully, the offseason will allow him to get to the bottom of the eye problem once and for all. With only Luis Valbuena in his way, he'll surely be in the mix for the third base job this spring and may not get another chance with Kris Bryant climbing the ladder behind him.

7. Ji-Man Choi, 22, Mariners
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .295 BA (424 at-bats), 18 HR, 85 RBI, .929 OPS, 63 BB, 68 K

Ji-Man Choi has done nothing but hit since signing with the Mariners in 2009, but chances are most prospect hounds haven't heard of him. He wasn't a highly scouted player in Korea and looked like he may not have a future in the majors when he missed all of 2011 because of back surgery, necessitating a move from catcher to first base. But while his 2012 return was less than definitive, his 2013 performance between three minor-league stops showed he still has something to offer at the deeper position. True, his best numbers came in the California League, but he hit nine homers in 198 at-bats at Double-A Jackson and two in 45 at-bats at Triple-A Tacoma. And though he still has some work to do judging by his precipitous drop in batting average at each level, he has only exceeded expectations for as hard as the Mariners have pushed him. His uncanny ability to put bat on ball should help him adjust quickly to the upper levels of the minors. If the Mariners finally get enough of Justin Smoak, Choi could step in at some point in 2014, making him a deep sleeper for AL-only formats.

8. Maxwell Muncy, 23, Athletics
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .273 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI, .857 OPS, 88 BB, 102 K

Few question Maxwell Muncy's ability to hit. He makes good, solid contact and walks as much as you'd expect for an Athletics prospect. But like Daric Barton before him, a lack of home run power may ultimately prevent him from becoming an impact player in Fantasy. Scouts questioned his power from the beginning, which is why he fell to the Athletics in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Yeah, he hit 25 homers between two minor-league stops last year, but 21 of them came in his 351 at-bats in the California League, which is widely regarded as the most hitter-friendly league in the minors. Somewhat comforting is the fact he was leading the league at the time of his promotion in July, but it's still the only one of three stops where he's had numbers befitting a first baseman. His four homers at Double-A Midland came in 172 at-bats. At age 23, Muncy should reveal sooner than later just what kind of player he'll be and may even have a shot at reaching the big leagues this year. He's too speculative for single-season AL-only leagues, but in long-term keeper formats, you could do worse.

9. Greg Bird, 21, Yankees
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .288 BA, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 84 R, .938 OPS, 107 BB, 132 K

Greg Bird is one of those walks-a-million-type prospects who anyone who's ever read Moneyball will insist is being overlooked by the masses. But a .400-plus on-base percentage in the lower levels of the minors isn't always a precursor to greatness, especially when accompanied by a high strikeout rate. Then again, the Yankees gave Bird a huge bonus when they selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, which shows how much they believe in his bat. If nothing else, he profiles as a plus power hitter. Just be careful not to make him into more than he is. Remember: Tyler Austin had a .405 on-base percentage at Class A Charleston (and with a much higher batting average than Bird) before stalling at Double-A last year. Because of his particular skill set, Bird will be a pet prospect (get it?) to many, but as an incomplete hitter still working his way up to Double-A, he has some potential pitfalls to overcome.

10. Kennys Vargas, 23, Twins
Where played in 2013: high Class A
Minor-league stats: .267 BA, 19 HR, 93 RBI, .813 OPS, 50 BB, 105 K

Kennys Vargas is a flawed prospect in many ways. He's a free swinger with poor pitch selection who has struggled to keep his weight in check, at times approaching 280 pounds. But what makes him intriguing to Fantasy owners are his power potential and proximity to the majors. His 19 homers in 457 at-bats last year don't quite do him justice. He had 11 in 154 at-bats for low Class A Beloit in 2012, most of them with distance to spare. Yes, the drop in batting average with the move to high Class A last year is a concern, but as long as he doesn't take another step back at Double-A, the Twins don't have much reason to delay him at age 23. And with Justin Morneau now out of the picture, they don't have much blocking him either. True, Joe Mauer figures to see more time at first base, particularly with the emergence of Josmil Pinto at catcher, but the Twins have yet to announce an outright position change for the former AL MVP. Vargas is something of a long shot to contribute in 2014, but in a deep enough AL-only league, you might want to keep an eye on him.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Reds' Johnny Cueto strikes out seven but gives up three runs
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:59 pm ET) Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto had a mixed bag of results in Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Diamondbacks. 

Cueto went five innings and gave up three earned runs on three hits. One of those hits was a three-run double given up to Yasmany Tomas in the top of the fourth. Other than that one half-inning, Cueto fared well, striking out seven batters and walking two. 

Cueto faced a total of 14 batters in the first, second, third and fifth innings. He went against seven in the fourth. 


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Padres pitcher James Shields allowed three hits and no walks in three scoreless innings while striking out two in his team's 8-2 win over the White Sox Wednesday.

Shields has alternated scoreless outings with mediocre appearances over his last four games but was able to end spring on a high note. He finishes the Cactus League season with a 2.79 ERA and 23:5 K:BB ratio in 19 1/3 innings. Shields will square off with the Dodgers Monday on Opening Day.


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(6:54 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija surrendered five earned runs on six hits in four innings while striking out three and walking none in his team's 8-2 loss to the Padres.

Samardzija has put up mediocre results this spring, posting an 8.44 ERA but also recording an 18:2 K:BB ratio in 21 1/3 innings. He's set to make his regular-season debut Monday against the Royals on Opening Day.


Yankees still considering Robert Refsnyder for Opening Day roster
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(6:51 pm ET) Yankees second baseman Robert Refsnyder is still being considered for an Opening Day roster spot after shortstop Brendan Ryan went down with a calf injury Wednesday, reports The Journal News.

"The young man, I think, has continually improved," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a name that I'm sure is going to fly around a lot today."

Refsnyder is hitting .333 with five RBI in 39 plate appearances this spring.

"Things can happen quick," Girardi said. "I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn't happen and you've got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we're going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops."


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:44 pm ET) Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura made his final start of the spring Wednesday, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and one walk in four innings while striking out three in his team's 4-4 tie with the Dodgers.

Ventura finishes the Cactus League season with a 4.50 ERA and 16:7 K:BB ratio in 18 innings. His next will come Monday against the White Sox on Opening Day.


Brewers shortstop Jean Segura working on hitting to opposite field
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:40 pm ET) Brewers shortstop Jean Segura has worked all spring on his swing at the plate. With Opening Day on the horizon, Segura is putting the finishing touches on his swing and working to hit the ball to the opposite field, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"That's my approach," Segura said. "I always hit the ball to the other side of the field. When you lose that, you want to get it back because not many players can do it in the big leagues. I'm just lucky to have the ability to do that, and I'm just trying to improve every day."

Manager Ron Roenickes is taking notice of Segura's adjustments. 

"The sound of that ball is different," he said. "You're like 'Whoa.' I'm watching as he hits and the load is different. The hands work better. He's doing a couple of things really nice."


Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw tosses three innings in spring finale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:40 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw gave up one unearned run on just one hit and two walks in three innings while striking out two in his final spring performance in Wednesday's 4-4 tie with the Royals.

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(6:29 pm ET) Cubs catcher Welington Castillo has made the team's initial 25-man roster and will open the season as the backup to Miguel Montero and David Ross, MLB.com reports.

"I told him, I think he's a major-league catcher, we think he's a major-league catcher," manager Joe Maddon said. "Obviously, it's going to be more difficult to be slotted in than he'd like to be right now. There's a lot of opportunity in the latter part of the game, whether it's pinch-running for somebody else or pinch-hitting, and beyond that getting him some starts. ... Of course, somebody will get injured -- it always happens -- so be ready. He's still young. He's the kind of guy I don't think we want to lose. That's a premium position to find. You don't shake a tree and find a good catcher. We have three good catchers here and that's really nice."

Castillo has hit .257/.333/.514 with two home runs in 35 at-bats this spring.


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"He has been OK," manager Ned Yost said. "He came in with a lot of competition. He's held his own."

Coleman has delivered a 3.55 ERA and 15:0 K:BB ratio in 12 2/3 innings. He's out of options and would need to pass through waivers in order to be sent to the minors.


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(6:20 pm ET) The Royals have yet to decide on the team's final 25-man roster and are deciding between carrying an extra position player or breaking camp with an eight-man bullpen, MLB.com reports.

Manager Ned Yost would prefer to carry another outfielder, with Paulo Orlando the most likely option to fill that role.

"Probably having the extra position player [helps me]," Yost said. "You're looking at pinch-running opportunities, defensive opportunities late in games. You're looking at whatever helps you get that one run you might need to win a game."

The team doesn't want to see pitcher Ryan Madson depart, but carrying him on the initial roster would almost certainly mean using an eight-man bullpen, as the Royals don't believe he's ready to assume full-time work.

"You would like to take him on your club," Yost said. "But I still feel like he needs to be protected. ... I've really liked what I've seen. But he hasn't pitched in three years. It's all a guess. Can he be that guy [again]? Yeah. But we haven't seen him in back-to-back games. How does he rebound? We don't know."

The Royals likely won't settle on a final roster until Sunday so they can appraise the moves other teams make over the next few days.


 
 
 
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