First base is not a position of prospect power around the game, and the Yankees’ system reflects that. Although the Yankees have a rich history of first basemen, they haven’t had a bona fide prospect at the position since Greg Bird. A player coming through the minors as a first baseman has to hit his way to the big leagues, usually because of a lack of defensive versatility, and often his profile will feature power as the prominent tool. The Yankees don’t have an elite hitter currently in their system, but there are some interesting bats who have potential.
Who is the best prospect?
TJ Rumfield played his first season in the Yankees organization in 2022, after coming over in a roster-trimming trade with the Phillies. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Rumfield has the long and lean build of a first baseman who could provide a big target at the bag and develop into an impact left-handed bat on offense. A midseason injury interrupted his Yankee debut in Hudson Valley, but Rumfield still slashed .284/.381/.411 with four homers in 52 games. He then went out to the Arizona Fall League for a 17-game tear of .400/.477/.582, giving hope that 2023 could be a breakout for him in Somerset.
Rumfield makes good swing decisions and has plenty of raw power that is still waiting to show up consistently in games. If Rumfield, a 22-year-old, makes the leap that a number of promising hitters have made with the Yankees’ development team, including some mechanical tweaks to continue improving his quality of contact, he will see the path to the big leagues open in front of him.
Yankees 1st baseman TJ Rumfield doubles off the middle of the right field fence to start the Solar Sox offense in the 2nd inning. pic.twitter.com/D3rBdy2NWe— Prospects Worldwide (@ProspectsWorldW) November 8, 2022
Who will make it to the big leagues?
Rumfield is perhaps the most likely of the first base prospects to be a future big leaguer, but if Andres Chaparro, who started 14 games at first last year, can be counted among the group then he deserves mention as well. Chaparro has piqued the interest of Yankees prospect followers because he hits the ball so consistently hard. As a right-handed hitter and thrower, he would have to overwhelm with his offense to reach the big leagues as a regular first baseman, and so far that’s what he’s done in the minors. A slash line of .296/.370/.592 with 20 homers and a low strikeout percentage at Somerset in 2022 have many keeping their eyes on Chaparro as he potentially moves up to Triple-A this year.
Who could click in 2023?
Rumfield hasn’t really clicked yet, so he is the best candidate here as well. If his raw power becomes game power and he hits double-digit home runs in Double-A, he will put himself squarely on the radar. Time is on his side since he doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until December of 2024.
Who needs to have a good 2023?
Anthony Garcia might have 80-grade power and hits jaw-dropping home runs that rival anything you will see at the major league level. He put up an incredible 21.6 percent walk rate in 2022, and his .341 BABIP indicates how hard he hits the ball. He’s a 6-foot-5 switch-hitter who is athletic enough to play some outfield and contribute on the bases, including 21 steals last year.
All of that is the good news. The bad news is he struck out over 40 percent of the time last season, and that will slam the brakes on his career ascension. Garcia was a popular pick to break out last year and he appeared on many preseason prospect lists, but he didn’t put the ball in play enough to increase his stock. Without significantly cutting down on the whiffs in 2023, Garcia will have a difficult time being promoted through the system.
Who could move up the prospect list?
If Garcia makes a big improvement in his strikeout rate, he will jump back on the prospect lists. If Rumfield puts together a full healthy season and turns his raw power into home run production, his name will come up too. Jesus Rodriguez probably shouldn’t be mentioned here, but he just won’t stop hitting. This past season was the first in which Rodriguez played the majority of his games at first base, after the Yankees signed him as a catcher out of Venezuela in 2018.
Interestingly, the word was Rodriguez’s defense behind the plate could carry him up the ladder, but his bat has come to the forefront. In the complex league this past season, the right-handed hitter tore it up with a slash line of .348/.434/.576, and he struck out less than 10 percent of the time. Rodriguez is not a big guy at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and he will be very far away from the big leagues playing the 2023 season at 21 years old, but it will be interesting to see if the bat is real when he gets to Low-A.
Who could move to first base?
It is realistic that many players could eventually move to first base, especially bigger-bodied players who have promising bats and defensive limitations. Agustin Ramirez is still a catcher, but there is a chance that his bat is real and other more defensively proficient receivers may push him to first base in the next year or two.
Who deserves a mention?
Chad Bell started hitting the ball harder than he ever has in 2022, and he was promoted to Triple-A before the end of the year, but he was not able to cut into his high strikeout rate (36.4 percent) and he turns 26 next month. If the left-handed hitter can make another step in his development this year and produce in Scranton, Bell might start to have some Mike Ford-type of energy.
At 6-foot-4, Eric Wagaman has the look of a first baseman and has the requisite defensive chops to play there regularly. He had his best statistical season in 2022 and finished with a strong 171 wRC+ in a brief 17-game stint with Somerset to finish the year. The right-handed hitter will play most of the upcoming season at 25 years old and will likely be vying for playing time in Double-A once again.
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