We’re exactly two weeks away from the 2023 MLB Draft as we continue our position-by-position preview of players the Braves could take in the first couple of rounds. Today, we take a look at first base, a position while secured at the big league level, is relatively sparse when it comes to the rest of the system.
For Atlanta, this is a position where they’re unlikely to reach and take someone with an early selection, but that’s not to say there couldn’t be some value found in the later rounds. The fact of the matter is, the Braves have the position locked up for the foreseeable future with Matt Olson under contract through the 2030 season. However, down on the farm, things are a bit thin with the organization lacking a true top prospect at first base. Guys like David McCabe and Justin Janas have spent time at the position, but given their age and level, they aren’t to be considered top prospects at this point.
All-in-all, I wouldn’t expect Atlanta to take a first baseman early as the system as a whole is low in just about every position. Still, that’s not to say one of the names below couldn’t intrigue front office officials enough to take a shot on them so without further ado, let’s dive in.
Bryce Eldridge, James Madison HS (VA.) — Just to paint a picture of how volatile the first base group is this year, the top player at the position is being looked at on the mound, just as much as he is at the plate. There’s a lot to like in Eldridge, as I will admit he’s my favorite prospect in the draft when it comes to reasonable guys the Braves could take in their range at 24. Eldridge possesses incredible size for a high school prospect at 6’7, 223 pounds and has good pop from the left side of the plate. He has also increased his feel for the bat in his senior year of high school. Defensively, he’s solid around the bag, but given the fact he possesses a plus arm — which attributes to his 96-MPH fastball off the mound — there’s a good chance whichever team takes him in the draft would want to see what he can do in the outfield before limiting his arm to first base.
Nolan Schanuel, Florida Atlantic — Schanuel is the top college first baseman on the board in this draft. The left-handed hitting Owl posted an OPS of 1.081 in his first two seasons with FAU. Additionally, the 6’3, 195-pound first baseman was a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist and was named the Conference USA Player of the Year in 2023 after posting an .868 slugging percentage with 19 homers in 59 games. Another thing to like about Schanuel is the fact that he shows elite plate discipline, drawing more free passes than strikeouts — 71 walks compared to 14 strikeouts — in his junior season. Schanuel spent a little time in the outfield for FAU, but projects more as a first baseman given his size and average to below-average running marks.
Ralphy Velazquez, Huntington Beach HS (CA.) — The top prep player in the class from California could be a first baseman… or a catcher… or a third baseman. That’s how versatile Ralphy Velazquez is. Most scouts tend to think long-term, the 6’3, 215-pound Velazquez is destined for first base given a lack of range behind the plate, despite possessing a plus arm. Despite the defensive concerns, the bat is so legit that Velazquez has the potential to sneak into the first round. Swinging it from the left side of the dish, Velazquez possesses good pop to his pull side, however in his senior year he showed the ability to spray to all fields.
The Best of the Rest
Garrett Forrester, Oregon State — After Velazquez, there’s a big drop off in terms of talent at the first base position. That’s not to say there aren’t some intriguing names, however. One of those names is Garrett Forrester. A right-handed hitter, Forrester swatted 10 homers and drove in 52 runs for the Beavers last season en route to a selection to the All-Pac-12 First Team. A bit undersized at 6’1, 208-pounds, Forrester has shown some good power to all fields and shows good plate discipline.
Brock Vradenburg, Michigan State — Speaking of bats oozing with potential that could be a steal later on in the draft, Vradenburg is one of those at the top of the list. Standing at a towering 6’7, the left-handed hitting Spartan shows a better feel for contact as opposed to power at the moment, despite his massive frame. Given his physical tools, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for whichever team drafts him to make some tweaks to tap into that power potential.
Caden Grice, Clemson — A two-way player, there’s debates over whether Grice’s future is on the mound or at the plate. Sporting a 6’6, 250-pound frame, Grice potentially has the best raw power in the draft. The only downside is, his swing is long at times, leading him to get out in front of breaking pitches. Most teams will take the chance with the bat, but there’s the possibility for him to transition to the mound if he’s not able to tone his swing down.
Tre’ Morgan, LSU — Probably the most well-known first baseman in the draft this year to casual fans due to his exuberant personality and team success with the Tigers, Morgan may be the best defensive first baseman in the draft. He possesses great athleticism and has well above-average speed for a typical first baseman. That being said, the bat is what will hurt him the most when it comes to where teams place him on their draft boards. This season, Morgan posted the lowest average of his collegiate career thus far while only swatting nine homers, a subpar amount when it comes to the position. Due to his athleticism, it’s possible a team takes Morgan earlier than anticipated with the idea of converting him to the outfield. But for now, Morgan is a first baseman with above average glove and speed and below average pop.