Prep Baseball Report

2024 MLB Draft: Cross Checking the Top College First Basemen

David Seifert
Director of College Scouting


How good is this year’s crop of college first base prospects? It’s not historic, but it is darn good.

However, history tells us – does it really matter?

Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic) was the only college first baseman selected in the first round last summer. He reached the Major Leagues after only 22 games of minor league seasoning.

In 2022 and 2021 there was not a single college first baseman selected in the first round. Aaron Sabato (North Carolina) was the lone one-bagger selected in the first round of 2020. Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) did go No. 1 overall that same draft, but he was selected as a third baseman even though most pegged him as a fixture across the infield once a professional. And don’t look for college first baseman in the first round of 2018 or 2016, because there weren’t any.

Fast forward to the present and the 2024 college draft class which has two slam dunk first-rounders. Both are top ten overall talents – Jac Caglianone (Florida) and Nick Kurtz (Wake Forest). From there, likely 50 picks will pass until the versatile Jared Thomas (Texas) and revived slugger Blake Burke (Tennessee) will likely hear their names called.

The last time there were two college first baseman selected in the first round was 2019 when Andrew Vaughn (Cal) was selected third overall by the White Sox and Michael Toglia (UCLA) was selected 23rd by the Rockies.

The golden year in the past decade for college first baseman was 2017 when three were chosen. Two-way talent Brendan McKay (Louisville) was selected 4th overall, Pavin Smith (Virginia) was 7th and defensive wizard Evan White (Kentucky) went 17th.

With all the thump and thunder with those past amateur draft sluggers, the first round college first baseman is a demographic that has not produced much at the Major League level. Outside of Schanuel (0.2 career WAR) and Vaughn (0.1) not a single college first baseman who was selected in the first round in the past ten years has produced a positive career WAR to date. The list below:

Sabato: 0.0, has not reached MLB
Toglia: -2.1
McKay: -0.2
Smith: -0.5
White: -0.6
Chris Shaw: -0.9
Casey Gillaspie: 0.0, did not reach MLB

*A WAR below 0.0 in any individual season is loosely defined as a AAA player. 0.0-2.0 is a reserve player. 2.0-4.0 everyday player. 5.0+ All-Star. 8.0+ MVP candidate.

As a result, many clubs stay away from prospects who will be anchored to first base as a professional. For good reason they hope to find the next Nathaniel Lowe (2016, Mississippi State, 13th round), Rhys Hoskins (2014, Sacramento State, 5th), Trey Mancini (2013, Notre Dame, 8th), Max Muncy (2012, Baylor, 5th), Brandon Belt (2009, Texas, 5th) or the infamous Paul Goldschmidt (2009, Texas State, 8th) well after the Day One dust has settled.

2024 Top Ten:

1. Jac Caglianone, Florida- Cags is one of the very few hitters in all of college baseball who cut his strikeout rate from last season by more than 50% while increasing his ISO (SLG minus AVG). Possessing top of the scale raw power he consistently gets to it during games, he led the country with 33 round-trippers in 2023 and has slugged another 29 to date this season. And, by the way, he’s also a late Day One prospect as a left handed pitcher, touching the upper-90s with his fastball. Impressive resume certainly, but the question remains – is he better than all of those who were thought of in a similar light in the past? My answer is….yes, yes he is.

2. Nick Kurtz
, Wake Forest- Possessing both a swing geared for high average and big-time power, Kurtz oozes bat speed with his pure, all-fields stroke. If not for any early season shoulder injury that sidelined him for two weeks, the left handed slugger would likely have easily surpassed his elite production from 2023 of 25 HR and 69 RBI. He still recovered well enough to belt 21 and drive in 52 so far this season.

3. Jared Thomas
, Texas- Speaking of former Longhorn Brandon Belt, Thomas fits the same profile as a hit over power college first baseman. However, Thomas is also a solid outfield defender and will likely move there immediately in pro ball. His 20.7% strikeout rate is somewhat concerning, but a smooth swing that has produced a .363 average and 14 HR to go along with his defensive versatility, all lead to late second round, worst-case early third round draft value.

4. Blake Burke, Tennessee- A sophomore slump suppressed Burke’s draft value entering this spring, but he’s rebounded with a loud junior season producing a .359/.418/.696 slash line. He is anchored to first base defensively, but combines bat speed, strength and leverage in the batter’s box for consistent power production with a manageable strikeout rate of 15%. 

5. Carter Cunningham, East Carolina- Even with a loud .396/.490/.696, 14 HR season, Cunningham is a bit under the national draft radar as a senior in the American Athletic Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is a very good defender at first base and he’s also athletic enough to play a corner outfield spot which is a likely early career transition at the pro level.

6. Cole Mathis, College of Charleston- The right handed hitter made a name for himself on the national radar last summer in the Cape with a .318/.381/.667 slash line with 11 HR at the plate and a low-90s fastball on the mound. This spring an arm injury has taken him away from the mound where he was a two-way star his sophomore season, but Mathis has continued to rake at the plate with 14 HR, a .339 average and just a 12% strikeout rate.

7. Corey Collins, Georgia- After scuffling his junior draft year in 2023, the Bulldog senior has figured it out at the plate this season. Another left handed slugger on this list, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Collins has belted 18 HR while hitting for a high average (.361) and reducing his strikeout rate from 18.5% in 2023 to 13.8% this season.

8. Jared Jones, LSU- A converted catcher, Jones top tool is his raw power. Standing 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he has Paul Bunyon strength that he combines with excellent leverage to produce 80-grade raw power. A draft-eligible sophomore, his top EV so far this season is 118 mph. During an overall strong freshman season when he batted .302 with 14 home runs, he also struck out in 34% of his plate appearances. To date this season he has cut his strikeout rate to 25.4%. Still on the high side, but a remarkable improvement. A draft-eligible sophomore who is currently projected as more of a 6th to 8th round talent, Jones may be better suited by returning to Baton Rouge to further improve his bat-to-ball skills and raise his draft value in 2025.

9. Josh Kross, Cincinnati- The junior switch-hitter transferred from Eastern Michigan where he was the 2023 Mid-American Conference POY. He has pro-grade average juice from both sides of the plate and has produced a max exit velocity of 110 mph this season. It’s a grade short of what is desired for a corner at the pro level but Kross did lead the Big 12 this spring with 19 HR. Those 19 also tie former Bearcat and 10-year Major Leaguer Kevin Youkilis for third all-time at Cincinnati.

10. Michael Snyder, Oklahoma- Snyder is similar to Burke in what a difference that one year can make. The fifth-year senior transfer from Washington, has put together a huge season in the middle of the order for the Sooners with a .354/.467/.651 production line after scuffling to a .253 batting average and 23.6% strikeout rate last season in Seattle. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound right handed hitter has a max exit velocity of 114 this season which computes to plus on his scouting report.

Additional top 2024 draft-eligible first base prospects:

Christian Almanza (Saint Mary’s), Caleb Cozart (UNC Greensboro), Luis Hernandez (Indiana State), Hunter Hines (Mississippi State), Jeremiah Jenkins (Maine), Gavin Kash (Texas Tech), Tyler MacGregor (Northeastern), Cameron Sisneros (East Tennessee State), Jacob Walsh (Oregon).