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Are high school first basemen a good draft bet?

The Tampa Bay Rays nabbed a High School first baseman with their first pick. How has that worked out for other teams recently?

Milwaukee Brewers v San Diego Padres Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays made one of the more surprising moves of the draft on the first day of selections: they picked first baseman Xavier Isaac with the 29th overall pick of the draft.

Why is a high school first baseman an unlikely first round choice? Very often in youth or high school baseball the best athletes are put on the mound or at shortstop; they may get moved to a different position later on. Someone who has been relegated to first base in high school is probably not likely to be a versatile or particularly elite fielder. The Rays tend to shy away from offense-first players during the draft, aiming more toward pitchers or athletic, toolsy infielders. However, there have been a couple of players recently whom the Rays have chosen despite their lack of other tools such as Kyle Manzardo (63rd overall, 2021), Casey Gillaspie (20th overall, 2014), and Richie Shaffer (25th overall, 2012). That said, Isaac is the first high schooler of that group, which places him in a category all his own.

Isaac, a gargantuan sized first baseman, graduated from East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, North Carolina. Isaac’s selection makes him the only high school first baseman selected during this draft and one of just 14 such players drafted since the start of the 2000 season.

Of players on that list, 10 eventually reached the big leagues and four of them have accumulated above 20 bWAR over their careers.

The 1st Round High School First Baseman Taken Since 2000

  • 2022 (29th) - Xavier Isaac - Rays
    Current Rays selection
  • 2018 (42nd) - Grant Lavigne - Rockies
    Hasn’t surpassed Double-A | Peaked at 4th overall in Rockies system in 2020
  • 2017 (14th) - Nick Pratto - Royals
    Made MLB debut in 2022 with the Royals | BA’s 43rd overall prospect in 2022
  • 2015 (12th) - Josh Naylor - Marlins
    4-year veteran (currently with the Guardians) | BA’s 99th overall prospect in 2019
  • 2013 (11th) - Dominic Smith - Mets
    6-year veteran (currently with the Mets) | 3 time BA Top 100 prospect
  • 2012 (47th) - Matt Olson - Athletics
    7-year veteran (currently with the Braves) | Slugging .510 since 2017 | 2 Gold Gloves
  • 2012 (48th) - Keon Barnum - White Sox
    Never passed Double-A | 2019 Independent Ball Player of the Year
  • 2010 (23rd) - Christian Yelich - Marlins
    Yes, he was drafted as a first baseman | 2018 NL MVP | 2x Batting Champion
  • 2008 (3rd) - Erik Hosmer - Royals
    12-year veteran (Currently with the Padres) | 4 Gold Gloves
  • 2005 (39th) - Henry ‘Hank’ Sanchez - Twins
    Never played above Single-A | Passed away due to cancer in 2017 at age of 30
  • 2002 (7th) - Prince Fielder - Brewers
    3 Silver Sluggers | Averaged 35 HR per year from 2006-2013
  • 2002 (19th) - James Loney - Dodgers
    Four time BA top 100 prospect | Career .284/.336/.410 hitter over 11 seasons
  • 2001 (13th) - Casey Kotchman - Angels
    Ranked 6th best prospect by BA (2005) | 2.3 fWAR with Tampa Bay in 2011
  • 2000 (1st) - Adrian Gonzalez - Marlins
    15-year veteran | 4 Gold Gloves | 2 Silver Sluggers | 36.3 career fWAR

Xavier Isaac’s calling card is his power. The Rays must believe his bat is special to have made him their top overall selection in the draft. It is said he has an all fields approach, and can absolutely wallop a baseball. Time will only tell if he is able to transition those skills to a the professional level, but history suggests that talented high school first basemen have faired pretty well in the past.