Rays positional Minor League depth: First Base

After covering the catching depth it’s time to turn our attention to another position where Rays have made a lot of changes this offseason. Gone are Nate Lowe and Jake Guenther, and in are many new players on this list (3). The top of this list should not be dismissed, as it is significantly impactful if called upon in 2021. Rays are fully loaded with many 1B that could have a positive impact immediately.

You’ll note that a few of these players will show up on other position lists. We’re doing this to provide a glimpse into the complete depth chart with as wide a breadth of coverage as possible.

UPPER LEVELS DEPTH (AA and AAA)

Dalton Kelly 26 yrs old, LHB

One of two non-40 man roster 1B we saw in Spring training this year, Kelly managed 8 hits (2 HR) in 34 PA (.267) and also worked 3 walks, allowing for a .353 OPB. Should it surprise that he faired well? Not at all.

Kelly managed a line of .281/.394/.405 with 13.7 BB% & 23.5 SO% across AA & AAA in 2019. While the .140 ISO in AAA won’t knock anyone’s socks off, his 10.4% SwStrk% & 12.5% FB/HR% should be seen as encouraging. There’s a lot to like here, and having Kelly as an option to call on if injuries strike is a great thing to have.

Tristan Gray 25 yrs old, LHB

Quite possibly THE most impressive NRI the Rays brought in this year, Gray placed himself solidly on the map of initial call ups (or great trade chip) in 2021. In Spring, he managed 9 hits (.290, 3 HR) in 31 PA and also worked 2 walks (.353 OBP). But it’s not just the bat that’s worked out well, it’s also his defensive abilities all over the field.

The 2019 season was the first that saw Gray work most at 1B, but he still got a healthy amount of work at 2B/SS/3B. With the profile of a potential super utility player that can develop into more over time, Gray’s put himself in a great position to be called on often in 2021. He worked hard to improve his patience at the plate in 2019, and his bat is ready to be tested at the MLB level.

Jim Haley 26 yrs old, RHB

Haley was one of many prospects to join the LIDOM winter league in hopes of getting solid playing time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out great for Haley who hit just .139/.225/.194 in 40 PA. Splitting time between A+ and AA in 2019, Haley managed the stats noted above overall and played 1B/2B/3B/LF/RF in the process.

He has an above-average power & speed profile for someone that’s played a lot of 1B. Work still needs to be done, but there’s no doubt that he could be of interest to a team that’s looking for a mature bat they can dream on for a season in AAA. His versatility is a great asset, and that he was willing to play in LIDOM in the midst of a pandemic shows he’s willing to work hard to get to The Show.

Kevin Padlo 24 yrs old, RHB

Rays fans should be very excited about what Kevin Padlo has to offer. We still don’t know if or when he’s going to get a shot in MLB, but between his power bat, solid D, and above-average speed, there’s a lot to get excited about.

Although it could feel to some that he’s been in the system forever, Padlo’s only 24 yrs old and has plenty of time to build on his progress. The hit tool is what he has to work on most in hopes of making more consistent contact overall, but 2019 (stats above) showed how far he’s come. I expect big things out of Padlo when he arrives, and he’d likely be an excellent UT/DH option.

Kaleo Johnson 24 yrs old, RHB

Johnson built on a very encouraging 2018 season (162 wRC+ at Rk level and 120 wRC+ at A- level) when he started the 2019 season in A ball and put up a solid 125 wRC+, so the Rays promoted him to A+. That’s where things tightened up for him, as he struggled to get much consistent production out of his bat from that point onwards.

With the size & strength needed to play the INF corners, and a quick bat, it wouldn’t surprise to see Johnson get back on track in 2021. To put himself back on the map in such a strong system, however, he’s going to have to put in serious work defensively to try to maintain that 1B/3B versatility or become a stellar defensive 1B.

Dillon Paulson 23 yrs old, LHB

When you deal a talent like Jose Alvarado, the returns have to be outstanding. The Rays targeted Paulson as a return for good reason. If you’re looking for the player that could make his way to Tampa most quickly after those already on 40-man roster, Paulson would be that player. He still needs to be tested at the AA level or higher, but results thus far are promising enough to anticipate successful results.

What I’d look at most when it comes to Paulson is the 153 wRC+ he put up at the A+ level which included a .416 wOBA. His .923 OPS there was well above teammates Jeter Downs (.862) and Niko Hulsizer (.832). From August onwards (all A+), he improved to a 1.104 OPS, .280 ISO, and 202 wRC+. Looking for a name that will skyrocket up prospects lists in 2021? This is one to look for.

Connor Hollis 26 yrs old, RHB

If makeup was a statistic, Hollis would be elite. Beloved by teammates, he has done a great job making as much of an impact as possible in his time as a prospect at Rk & A levels. Those who analyse the stats may point age for the level as an issue, but when you consider that Hollis was signed as an undrafted free agent (he was with the University of Houston Cougars prior) it paints a different picture. Much like Mike Brosseau, he’s getting a shot to prove himself, and he’s done an outstanding job thus far.

Defensively, Hollis has played 1B/2B/3B and showed well at each. His speed is above-average, making it a possibility that he’d be able to man corner OF spots in the future if asked. Looking up at those on this list, you can imagine how important that might becomes as he looks to get all the playing time he can get at the AA and/or AAA levels in 2021. With an advanced approach at the plate, it would make sense for him to kick off 2021 in AA & provide Morgan Ensberg with a versatile option.

*Insert infomercial that states: “But wait, there’s more!!!”

Rays have surprising amount of depth at 1B, and a few more could run away with the job in near future. Here we go!

LOWER LEVELS DEPTH (A+ and BELOW)

Evan Edwards 23 yrs old, LHB

Quite possibly the best defensive 1B in Rays system, Edwards also has a lot of potential at the plate. He’s shown enough patience & OBP abilities so far to make you dream on being productive overall. The big question many have is whether or not the power will be significant & frequent enough to push him ahead of other talents? Unlike some other talents on this list, it seems that for Edwards it’s 1B only without added versatility (unless he changes that going forward).

Likely to begin 2021 at the A+ level, he’s going to be someone you want to keep a really close eye on going forward. As promotions and trades open room up at upper levels, there’s a chance for a mid-season promotion to AA & potential for a significant leap in rankings if the power potential does come to fruition.

Heriberto Hernandez 21 yrs old, RHB

There’s an argument to be made that Heriberto should be solidly ranked on Top 100 prospect lists by mid-season in 2021. The bat speed might be 2nd best in system after Wander Franco, the patience at the plate is evident, and the approach at the plate is well beyond his age. Oh, and he has both plus power to go with a plus hit tool, something that normally indicates moving quickly through system & being likely to make an impact once he gets to The Show.

Luckily for others on this list, Hernandez should have enough speed and good enough arm to play LF and will likely continue to develop his skills behind the plate. The bat looks great enough to fit is as a primary DH as well, should other options fall through. Honestly could begin in AA if it were just about the bat, but chances are Rays want to build up his defensive abilities at lower levels first.

Freddvil Chevez 21 yrs old, RHB

Chevez got his first taste of action on U.S. soil in 2019 (26 of his 63 GP, others in DSL) and could earn a role on ’21 GCL team. His performance in DSL improved substantially year over year (from .612 OPS to .878 OPS) but he was slightly older than the average player there, making it tough to assess how that’ll translate going forward. Might have gotten too aggressive at the plate in GCL (just 2 BB in 102 PA) but also didn’t SO too much (19 SO).

Carlos Vargas 22 yrs old, RHB

Vargas was acquired along with Ryan Yarbrough & Mallex Smith for Drew Smyly, giving you a sense for how long he’s been in the organization. He was placed on restricted list in August 2019 while with Hudson Valley, and was placed on restricted list again this February with no clear reason provided. Hopefully things get worked out and he’s able to get back to playing asap. So far, he’s had a real hard time at the plate and hasn’t built on what was a really intriguing package of tools when he was dealt for.

Jacson McGowan 23 yrs old, RHB

When you look at his big hits in College, you anticipate prodigious power in pro ball, but unfortunately that hasn’t translated yet for McGowan. Maybe he’ll be a late bloomer like Nate Lowe was. There’s patience at the plate and decent overall production to work with and build on.

Seaver Whalen 26 yrs old, RHB

Seaver split time between 1B and 3B so far and showed to be a significant pull hitter in 2019. The age for the level is an issue in his case, and with all the talent noted above it may be hard for him to get significant playing time in 2021. On the positive side of things, he did manage a .724 OPS vs LHP and could earn a role vs LHP to begin 2021 & build on that through the season.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

The turnover rate was significant at 1B in the Rays system, but I don’t think they’ve ever had this much talent at that position at one time. Ever. There’s potential for significant impact bats and defensive impacts, as well as breadth of talent that provides hopes for someone to come through and earn a full time (or near) role in both the near and long term. You have to be satisfied with the talents Rays have accumulated at 1B overall.

Published by @Mat_Germain_

I grew up in Montreal, cheering on the Expos through two decades before they left town. In terms of writing, began with a blog - like so many others - and eventually got some experience at FanSided (Jays Journal, RaysColoredGlasses) and SB Nation (DRaysBay). Currently co-hosting "In The Tank" Podcasts with Aiden Pearson and covering a many Rays subjects as possible!

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