6. Grant Lavigne (785 points, 32 ballots)
The Rockies made waves when they picked Grant “stop calling me Avril” Lavigne with the 42nd overall pick (Competitive Balance Round A) in the 2018 draft out of a New Hampshire high school and gave him an overslot $2 million signing bonus. After all, Lavigne was not only a high school first baseman, but a high school first baseman from a cold weather locale that had never sent one of its high school hitter signees to MLB. He was also only the number 99 prospect in the draft according to MLB.com, though other evaluators had him closer to the range in which he was picked.
The 6’4”, 225 pound lefty-swinging Beeflord was picked because he has an advanced offensive approach and good power potential, and that’s exactly what he displayed in his professional debut season. Sent to Rookie ball Grand Junction in the Pioneer League where the average pitcher was 2.6 years older, Lavigne was an offensive force. In 258 plate appearances, Lavigne hit a robust .350/.477/.519 with 21 extra base hits (6 HR) with 12 steals (in 19 attempts) in 59 games for Grand Junction, good for a dominant 160 wRC+.
Lavigne’s 45:40 BB/K ratio, representing 17 and 15% of his PAs respectively, was notable for a younger player against advanced pitching. Though he was young for the level, Lavigne did benefit from a friendly offensive environment, similar to the environments that will greet him in Low and High A. Lavigne was very strong at home (1.045 OPS) but was no slouch on the road (.960 OPS). He didn’t face many lefties, but when he did Lavigne was good (.896 OPS), and he mashed against right-handers (1.014 OPS). Defensively, Lavigne spent all his time at first and committed 5 errors in 53 games at the position.
Jack Etkin, writing for Baseball America in August 2018, got some quotes on Lavigne from Rockies Director of Player Development Zach Wilson. Here’s a sample:
“He has no fear of hitting in any count,” Wilson said. “And he has a similar approach throughout an entire at-bat. And that is: I’m going to get a pitch to drive. I’m going to get a pitch that is in my area where I can attack and impact the baseball.
”And if don’t get that pitch, I’m going to be OK with being patient and taking balls. I’m going to be OK with taking bad strike calls, because I’m not coming out of my approach.”
Here’s some pre-draft video of Lavigne courtesy of the Prospect Pipeline:
In their recent system overview, Baseball Prospectus ranked Lavigne 11th in the system:
Our image of the prep first baseman usually fits in one of two molds. (1) The advanced hitters with fringe athleticism who may or may not add enough game power as they move up the totem pole (Dominic Smith or Nick Pratto). (2) The leveraged slugger with even fringier athleticism and usually significant hit tool questions (Josh Ockimey or Bobby Bradley). Lavigne threads the needle here. He’s a strong kid with a reasonably athletic frame that doesn’t need to get too long or too leveraged to tap into his substantial raw power. There’s the beginnings of a quality approach here as well, with more polish than you’d expect from a cold-weather high school bat.
The main quibble is that, well, he’s still a first baseman. Lavigne may not be your average prep first base pick, but the bar for major-league performance is still as high as every other cold corner prospect. And the hit or pop alone might not be a carrying tool, so he will still have to prove it level-by-level.
Keith Law of ESPN.com named Lavigne one of the players who came closest to his top 100 list earlier this week:
I know a few teams thought Lavigne -- who played high school baseball in New Hampshire -- was a fringe first-round candidate last year because of his natural feel to hit, even though he was already big at 18 and limited to first base. The Rockies took him in the supplemental round, 42nd overall, and sent him to short-season Grand Junction (since they don’t have a complex-level team in the Arizona League), where he hit .350/.477/.519, leading the league in on-base percentage as one of its youngest regulars.
I’m hard on first-base prospects because replacement level there is so high, but Lavigne gets a lot of comparisons to a young Anthony Rizzo and might be the exception.
Scouts lauded Lavigne’s raw power as the Draft approached, seeing his bat speed, strength and 6-foot-4 frame all pointing to future over-the-fence ability, some of which showed up during his first taste of pro ball. There’s confidence he’ll get to that power because of his advanced approach from the left side of the plate. He works counts, draws a ton of walks and rarely gets fooled, giving him the chance to eventually be a plus hitter with plus power.
While his below-average speed does limit him to first base as a pro, he’s surprisingly athletic given his size and has the chance to be a solid defender. His bat should profile at the typically run-producing spot as well, with the Rockies excited to see what he can do over a full season.
The profile is highlighted by 55 grades for both hit and power.
As readers of this series know, I have a bias against first base prospects given the significant pressure put on their hit and power tools to succeed, as that’s the only way they’re going to be able to provide value. A high school first base prospect from a cold weather location like New Hampshire is even more risky due to fewer reps to provide the polish to the hit tools needed to succeed.
And yet: Lavigne’s pedigree is strong and the production in the Pioneer League against older pitching was phenomenal. Scouts are loving the profile (though they too question the ceiling given the role) and that led me to make a bit of exception with Lavigne. I ranked Lavigne 8th in the system with a 45+ Future Value tag as a first base prospect with real promise. Given the pressure on the bat, he’ll need to prove himself at every stop up the ladder, starting in 2019 with his full season debut in Asheville.