When most top prospects begin their professional career, they tend to start out at the most difficult position within their defensive range. For example, guys who’ll probably wind up at second base or third base down the line, might start their career as a shortstop (ditto borderline corner outfielders, who give center field a shot to start).
This approach gives scouts, coaches, and the front office time to evaluate a player’s defense at their most valuable potential position *and* it helps a player increase his value as an “asset,” to the organization – to put it bluntly. This is also why you rarely see guys coming up as first-base prospects. If your primary position is first base throughout the Minor Leagues, you need to have one hell of a bat to justify it. Otherwise, your value drops considerably.
Consider, for example, the Cubs 2018 Minor League Player of the Year, Jared Young. Young had a fantastic half-season at A-ball, slashing .313/.368/.525 (150 wRC+), before being promoted to High-A and hitting well there, too: .282/.341/.431 (118 wRC+). But because his primary position is first base, he wasn’t on BN’s Pre-season Top-20 Cubs prospect rankings, he wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’s top-30 Cubs prospect rankings and he just barely made it into the top-30 when Luke ranked prospects at the end of last year. And this was the Cubs Minor League PLAYER OF THE YEAR.
Such is the story for guys stuck in the corner
Now, to be fair, Young has played some second, some third, and some corner outfield in his career, but he appears to be primarily a first baseman, and, so far, that’s hurt him a bit in the eyes of evaluators. If you’re going to be a first baseman, your bat has to be really good, because your defensive value will be almost non-existent.
Fortunately … Young’s bat has been very good and it’s starting to get noticed outside of the Cubs system. At Baseball America, Kyle Glaser has identified 15 players being noticed by scouts this Spring who appear to be in store for a potential breakout season. And the Cubs own Jared Young is one of those players.
Scout’s Take: “He was the Cubs’ minor league hitter of the year last year, and they brought him into big league camp and he’s hit in the opportunities he’s had. It’s a pure bat-first prospect. I don’t have a lot of history with him, I’m just saying if you’re going in and watching the club you say, ‘OK, this guy is standing out a little bit on the field and now let’s find out some more about him.’ If you’re going really under the radar for a pop-up guy, he’s turned some heads in camp. Just the fact he was a 15th-rounder in 2017 and he’s already playing in some big league games, that speaks well of how he’s progressed so far.
The scout went onto say that because of his position, there’s obviously a “little more pressure on the bat,” but conceded that his bat is the one thing that’s stood out the most for him so far. For what it’s worth, Young is slashing .385/.429/.923 this Spring over nine games, with a double and two homers.
I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in excitement over a 23-year-old first base prospect who hasn’t reached Double-A yet and isn’t a top prospect according to most. But this is pretty clearly a story in motion. Young will likely have a chance to soar as high as Triple-A this season and if his bat can maintain the ceiling he’s created, he might be a reasonably useful player at the big league level. And if he can even kinda play another position adequately, with his bat, well, suddenly you’ve got yourself a player. Don’t hold your breath awaiting his arrival in Chicago, but be aware of his recent uptick in appreciation. I’m sure the Cubs are.