I'll admit I had to cheat a little to find 10 first base prospects worth discussing here. It tends to be a position where prospects end up rather than start out -- and only at the final stage of development, perhaps even in the majors, when it's clear the bat is too good to be held back by the glove.
To move the needle as a first base prospect, you need to be able to hit -- and not just kind of well, which most can, but so well that you outclass the best hitters flunking out at every other position.
Truthfully, only two come close enough that they're essential Dynasty targets: Kyle Manzardo and Xavier Isaac. But wait, isn't Heston Kjerstad ahead of them both in these rankings? Yeah, that's where the cheating comes in.
- Top Prospects: ?|?1B?|?2B?|?3B?|?SS?|?OF?|?P
See, a few of the prospects who got called up late in 2023 ended up making the majority of their appearances at DH, which means they're only eligible at DH to begin 2024. I don't have separate prospect rankings for DH, but they're still prospects worth highlighting. The logical place to put them then, is first base given that it's the position with the lowest defensive threshold and the clearest need for additional prospects.
One of those prospects is Kjerstad, who has mostly played outfield in the minors. One is Alexander Canario, who has exclusively played outfield in the minors. One is Spencer Horwitz, who, yeah, is pretty much just a first baseman. But they're all first basemen today!
Note: This list is intended for a variety of Fantasy formats and thus weighs short-term role against long-term value. Not all of these players will contribute in 2023 — most, in fact, will not — but among prospects, they're the names Fantasy Baseballers most need to know.
1. Heston Kjerstad, Orioles
Age (on opening day): 25
Where he played in 2023: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .303 BA (479 AB), 21 HR, .904 OPS, 42 BB, 100 K
Major-league stats: .233 BA (30 AB), 2 HR, 1 2B, 2 BB, 10 K
After having his professional career sidetracked by a case of myocarditis, Kjerstad finally lived up to the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, not only delivering on his considerable power potential but also demonstrating better-than-expected bat control with a zone contact rate that was truly elite. He does make questionable swing decisions however, and will have to fight for a place in the Orioles lineup, whether in left field or at first base.
2. Kyle Manzardo, Guardians
Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .237 BA (351 AB), 17 HR, .802 OPS, 55 BB, 80 K
Manzardo's 2023 numbers were a far cry from the .327 batting average and 1.043 OPS he put together in 2022, but a look under the hood shows the base characteristics -- from the exceptional plate discipline to the optimal launch angle to the high hard-hit rate -- to be intact. After excelling in the Arizona Fall League, he has a realistic chance of winning a job this spring.
3. Xavier Isaac, Rays
Age (on opening day):?20
Where he played in 2023: Low-A, High-A
Minor-league stats:?.285 BA (361 AB), 19 HR, 12 SB, .916 OPS, 64 BB, 92 K
There may not be an organization that values versatility more than the Rays, so for them to sink a first-round pick (2022) in a true first baseman like Isaac speaks the world of his potential offensively. He seems fully bought in, shedding 30 pounds over the course of last year as his numbers steadily climbed. From May 1 on, he slashed .302/.399/.577, homering 19 times in just 82 games.
4. Nolan Schanuel, Angels
Age (on opening day):?22
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, Low-A, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats:?.365 BA (74 AB), 1 HR, 4 2B, .992 OPS, 21 BB, 10 K
Major-league stats: .275 BA (109 AB), 1 HR, 3 2B, .732, 20 BB, 19 K
The biggest hurdle for any prospect to clear is earning the right to play regularly in the big leagues, which Schanuel seems to have done, even getting to bat leadoff against righties. But for as valuable as his on-base skills are in real life, he'll need considerable power growth to matter in conventional Fantasy formats, making him difficult to place in these rankings. Where would Dave Magadan have ranked back in the day?
5. Matt Mervis, Cubs
Age (on opening day):?25
Where he played in 2023: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats:?.282 BA (362 AB), 22 HR, .932 OPS, 67 BB, 100 K
Major-league stats: .167 BA (90 AB), 3 HR, 2 2B, 8 BB, 32 K
Though he was one of the "it" prospects in spring training and continued to put up strong numbers in the minors, the Cubs seemed reluctant to let Mervis cook, giving him only a brief look in the middle of the season. The scouting reports seem to have soured on him, too, denoting his struggles against off-speed stuff, and since he'll be turning 26 in April, he doesn't have much of a window left.
6. Blaze Jordan, Red Sox
Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2023: High-A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .296 BA (476 AB), 18 HR, 32 2B, .832 OPS, 40 BB, 75 K
Once a YouTube sensation for how far he could hit the ball as a 13-year-old, Jordan has become a more rounded hitter in his 20s, still delivering high exit velocities but focusing more on reducing his strikeouts and hitting the ball the other way. Of course, the shift from third to first base, presuming it continues, will make his path more difficult, particularly as a right-handed hitter, but there's still a lot to like if he puts it all together.
Age (on opening day):?23
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, High-A, Double-A
Minor-league stats:?.288 BA (309 AB), 13 HR, 25 2B, .907 OPS, 47 BB, 76 K
Locklear is similar to Jordan in many ways, being a right-hander hitter who has shifted from third to first base while demonstrating huge raw power that he hasn't fully realized yet. Jordan's strides as a contact hitter the past two years have put him slightly ahead, particularly when you factor in the two year age difference.
8. Alexander Canario, Cubs
Age (on opening day):?23
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, High-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats:?.273 BA (205 AB), 9 HR, 2 SB, .844 OPS, 25 BB, 64 K
Major-league stats: .294 BA (17 AB), 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, 0 BB, 8 K
Canario's DH-only status for the start of 2024 gets him ranked here even though his natural position is outfield. (Listen, I have to fill out first base somehow.) Once billed as a power-speed threat, a fractured ankle last winter seemed to rob him of some speed, but he may still have a future as a one-dimensional slugger if his strikeouts don't bury him. The Cubs thought enough of him to give him a late-season look.
9. Spencer Horwitz, Blue Jays
Age (on opening day):?26
Where he played in 2023: Trple-A, majors
Minor-league stats:?.337 BA (392 AB), 10 HR, 30 2B, .945 OPS, 78 BB, 72 K
Major-league stats: .256 BA (39 AB), 1 HR, 2 2B, .726 OPS, 4 BB, 12 K
Horwitz's on-base prowess and penchant for line drives would give him a real chance at, say, second base, but most teams require more thump from their first baseman. What separates him from someone like Nolan Schanuel is that Horwitz is blocked by Vladimir Guerrero and has basically no hope of developing more power at age 26.
10. Troy Johnston, Marlins
Age (on opening day): 26
Where he played in 2023:?Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .307 BA (512 AB), 26 HR, 24 SB, .948 OPS, 62 BB, 108 K
Johnston is more of a statistical oddity than a prospect, but the production has crescendoed in a way that almost demands a major-league look at some point. Despite subpar exit velocities and bottom-of-the-scale speed, he was nearly a 25/25 guy, and the hit tool is well established at this point, being what's kept him in the Marlins system for so long.