At first, take your pick
Originally Published: June 4, 2008By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com
For years, Major League Baseball teams have had a fascination with first basemen who can rake, and a corresponding reluctance to select them early in the draft.Nothing captivates scouting directors more than a polished hitter with tape-measure capability. But red flags have an extended shelf life in the scouting world, and old adages tend to linger for a reason. Talent evaluators agree that hitting is the most challenging skill to assess, and the risks are magnified at first base. Make the right call, and you might wind up with a cornerstone-type player like Todd Helton to anchor your lineup for years to come. Choose the wrong bat, and you could be stuck with an immobile, defensively challenged drag on your franchise's ambitions. Let's pause to reflect on the 1982 draft, which featured Steve Stanicek, Franklin Stubbs, Jeff Ledbetter and Sam Horn among the top 26 selections. That's four first base-DH types who amassed a total of 855 major league hits -- 602 of them by Stubbs. "The bat is the hardest thing to scout," said Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals assistant general manager. "But at least if you make a mistake on a shortstop and he can't hit, he could become a really good defensive shortstop or a utility player on your club. If you miss on the bat at first base, you've got nothing." If there's a theme to the 2008 MLB draft, it's the surplus of high quality, left-handed hitting first basemen available. How stacked is this group? Some talent evaluators compare it to the 2005 third base crop, which featured Alex Gordon, Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman. ESPN.com's Keith Law predicts that six first basemen could go in the first round, and Baseball America projects seven first basemen among the top 36 picks. "I've never seen anything like it -- this many good, college, left-handed hitting first basemen out there," Rizzo said. "It's really remarkable. Some years, you have to go out and grab that big power college bat. This year, there are enough of them to go around." The list includes:
The old adage is, 'If you draft a third baseman, someday he'll become a first baseman. If you draft a left fielder, someday he'll become a first baseman.' But today's game is a lot different. There are a lot more good two-way players at first base.
--Mike Rizzo, Nationals assistant general manager