After a stellar 2018 and a step back in 2019, what should we make of the first baseman?
9. Grant Lavigne (276 points, 13 ballots)
Grant Lavigne received top 100 prospect consideration from national outlets, most notably ESPN.com, as recently two years ago. The 6’4”, 220-pound, 21-year-old righty throwing, lefty hitting first baseman was the 42nd pick overall in the 2018 draft and got an over-slot $2 million bonus. Then the New Hampshire high school product absolutely mashed the Rookie ball Pioneer League with a 160 wRC+ as an 18-year-old. In doing so, Lavigne displayed not only a strong feel for hitting but also excellent plate discipline, walking more than he struck out and doing damage when the ball was in the zone.
Unfortunately, the 2019 season was a mighty struggle for Lavigne as he moved up to Low-A Asheville. In 526 plate appearances with the Tourists, Lavigne hit just .236/.347/.327 with 26 extra base hits (7 HR) against pitchers who were on average 2.5 years older. While the decent OBP actually means the offensive line was better than league average (104 wRC+), there was a higher expectation for Lavigne considering his 2018 season.
Beyond expectations, Lavigne saw his K% jump from 15.5% to 24.5% while his BB% dipped from 17.4% to 12.9%. Lavigne tried his luck at stealing bases, but he was a poor 8/17 at doing so. The trend line of performance wasn’t positive either: Lavigne started off with an .809 OPS April but saw that number decline to under .700 for the rest of the season. Defensively, Lavigne had 18 errors in 112 games at first base. In all, Lavigne experienced some growing pains in 2019, though it was at an advanced level for his age.
2020 was a lost year for Lavigne, though he did get some time in at fall instructs. An open question will be whether the Rockies have Lavigne repeat at the Low-A level in favor of a call up to High-A, moving fellow PuRP Michael Toglia above Lavigne on the organizational ladder. I’m leaning toward that scenario, but I expect Lavigne to make it to High-A at some point this year.
Here is some video of Lavigne from April 2019 courtesy of 2080 baseball:
Lavigne was named the #9 first base prospect in the minor leagues by MLB.com before 2020, albeit with only a 45 FV grade (top 100 prospects on their list usually are 55 or higher grades). He ranks 9th in Colorado’s system in their pre-2020 list:
[Lavigne is] big and strong, with bat speed and a ton of raw power coming from his 6-foot-4 frame. While he has shown a propensity for drawing walks, he may have been too patient during his first full season, not aggressively going after good pitches to hit. As a result, he didn’t drive the ball as consistently as he is able to and he certainly didn’t tap into that power, while seeing his strikeout rate spike as well. Given Lavigne’s age and experience, some struggles aren’t out of the ordinary, and a rediscovery of the balance between being patient and aggressive will allow him to develop into the all-around hitter the Rockies think he can be.
Lavigne is a first baseman only on the defensive end of things, and has work to do there, but he’s athletic and should be a capable defender, albeit one with a below-average arm. It will be his bat that will carry him and there’s confidence in the organization he’ll get that going again.
Baseball Prospectus gave Lavigne a 50 OFP evaluation (second division first baseman) when they ranked him 9th in the system pre-2020. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Lavigne:
Yet another corner bat with plus raw power and hit tool questions, Lavigne is the youngest of the group, but has also struggled the most with the transition to the pro game and wood bats so far. He gets good hand-hip separation from his leg kick, but can get out of sync and end up cutting off some of that prodigious raw power due to poor quality of contact. He was at times swinging to stay afloat against South Atlantic League stuff this year, which was a somewhat aggressive assignment for a cold-weather prep bat. Lavigne also struggled with spin, but then there would be an at-bat here or there that he would just swat with a big uppercut and watch the baseball soar. It may take some time for the bat to click, and it might never click, but there’s big power upside here. Lavigne is a below-average runner, but athletic enough, not a base clogger or anything, though he’s still raw at first base. That should come with reps, and the profile is going to depend far more on the bat than the glove anyway.
FanGraphs was pretty down on Lavigne after the 2019 campaign, dropping him all the way down to 16th in the system with a FV 40 designation:
After he looked just okay against his elite peers on the summer showcase circuit, Lavigne generated a ton of buzz as a senior the following spring. Northeast popup high schoolers have a dubious track record (there has never been a major-league hitter from New Hampshire) because they spend all spring mashing bad high school pitching, but lots of teams were in on Lavigne’s spike in power and thought he fit in the second tier of high school hitting prospects in the draft behind the likes of Nolan Gorman and Jarred Kelenic.
Lavigne has not shown that kind of power with the wooden bats in pro ball, both because he’s not hitting the ball as hard as we anticipated and because he isn’t lifting it. Were Lavigne as physically projectable as his age suggests, this would be less worrisome, but he’s a broad-shouldered, imposing presence, so the lack of present thump is somewhat troubling. We’re not out on him yet (he’s too young), but first base-only prospects need to mash and that hasn’t happened here yet.
Lavigne is exactly the type of prospect which I am doomed to rank lower than the electorate at large: a first base-only bat who hits well initially but struggles at higher levels. That profile puts a lot of pressure on the bat, naturally, and is made even riskier by the fact that due to Lavigne’s cold weather roots, he hasn’t gotten nearly as many reps to provide the polish to the hit tools needed to succeed as, say, Colton Welker did growing up in Florida.
I’m tantalized by the skills Lavigne showed in 2018 and the draft pedigree is strong, but the risks in the profile led me to rank Lavigne 14th on my list with a 40 FV grade. I’m rooting for him to prove that pessimism to be misguided. Organizationally speaking, on my list that would rank Lavigne fifth among the system’s likely corner infield prospects (I consider Ryan Vilade an outfield prospect now) and third behind Toglia and Welker among those who will most likely spend their time at first base.