Impact Prospects for 2011: The First Basemen | Rob Leibowitz
Last week we began our look at the minor leaguers who will have an impact on the 2011 season with a breakdown of catchers. This week we continue with this focus, but move on over to first base.
The Orioles signing of Derrek Lee to a one-year deal was a stop-gap move, perhaps just for a crack at 2012 free agent market (Prince Fielder?), but a stop-gap nevertheless which implies that should the Orioles fall from contention, Lee could easily be traded opening up the door for minor leaguers to get an audition. While non-rookies Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott, and Josh Bell could ultimately all end up there, Brandon Snyder also remains a possibility, though not a good one. The former first-round pick is now 24 years old and has spent parts of two seasons at Triple-A. He has shown glimmers of upper teens to low-20s per season home run power, but a combination of being right-handed and a lack of plate discipline will probably doom him to Triple-A journeyman-hood. He's in this piece as a "nothing to see here," walk-away cautionary who could get playing time despite better available options.
Carter hits bombs, but what else?
The Blue Jays will be trying out Adam Lind as their primary first basemen this year and unless his bat returns, he could quickly be out of job. If he does fail, the Jays do have versatility to cover at the MLB level, but they would still require another bat to fill that power void. Enter David Cooper. Cooper, who will turn 23 in February, has an interesting blend of power, contact-making, and plate discipline skills, but hasn't been someone who has lit up the prospect headlines. He has spent each of the past two seasons in Double-A, and last year doubled his home run output of 2009 to 20 while walking nearly 10 percent of the time and making contact 85 percent of the time. He is however, not great with the glove and I would like to see what he can do at Triple-A. I'd particularly like to see him repeat in the power department and see how well he handles lefties. Right now I see him as a mid to late-season call-up.
Jordan Brown has spent three straight seasons in Triple-A and was actually sent outright off the 40-man roster this winter. Still, he could make an impact in 2011 as the Indians have few options beyond Matt LaPorta at first base. Unfortunately, Brown is not a traditional slugging first baseman. He is more of a contact-hitting, gap-powered, mid-teens home-run-per-season first baseman. One of the required skill sets for this type of first baseman, however, is being good with the glove. Brown is not. His approach, at the plate, despite his low ceiling, could allow him to transition fairly quickly to the Major Leagues if he is given the opportunity.
After a weak 2009 season it looked like the Royals had drafted a lemon in Eric Hosmer. But 2010 ended up being a coming-out parade as Hosmer played at two levels, showed above average power, and excellent plate discipline. He now, once again, profiles as a potential .300+ 25+ HR hitter at the MLB level. Between A+ and AA he hit 20 home runs while making contact over 87 percent of the time and walking 12 percent at A+. He declined a bit to 7 percent in 195 plate appearances at Double-A, but I expect that to bounce back with more experience and over a larger sample of playing time. To start the year he will move up to Triple-A, but if Kila Ka'aihue continues to struggle to translate his skills to the Majors, then the Royals may be unable to resist calling him up earlier than expected.
Mark Trumbo, 25, of the Angels, has good power, but he has an inconsistent track record of showing off that power and varying how often he makes contact (a lot of it may partly because of park conditions). Last year he walked 10 percent of the time while striking out 24 percent of the time and hitting 36 home runs. I would be more excited were he not a righty and if he had a more consistent history for showing some selectivity at the plate. For now he has no likely spot for playing time barring a repeat freak home plate broken leg by Kendry Morales. His best bet at playing time will be DH where Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera will both split time. Long-term I see him as a right-handed platoon player with low to mid-20s per season home run power.
Chris Carter failed miserably in a late-season call-up for the A's, but still remains a part of their long term plans despite a flurry of off-season activity that will stop him from earning an opening day roster spot. A right-handed hitter, Carter has true 30+ home run potential and an all or nothing approach where he walks at high rates and strikes out a quarter to a third of the time. There are skills and talents here to like, but given his right-handedness, I remain skeptical of his ability to land a job as a MLB regular, or at the very least, skeptical of his ability to hit above .240 in the Majors. The A's have tried him in the outfield too to get him at-bats, but by far his best position is DH. He'll get another cup of coffee should the A's fall from the race and decide to trade Hideki Matsui and others.
Freddie Freeman has the Braves' first base job as his to lose this spring. That is something no one else in this article can say. As a 20-year-old he more than held his own in Triple-A, hitting .319 while swatting 18 home runs and making contact over 80 percent of the time. The jury is still out as to his long-term power potential, but he looks to have at least 20 to 25 HR per-season type power combined with the ability to hit for average. I would, however, keep my expectations for 2011 quite level-headed with mid to high teens home run total and a .260 to .280 average considering he will now be jumping to the Majors. In other words, fairly pedestrian first basemen numbers that are more in line with a NL only corner draft or auction selection.
Allen is pining for an opportunity
Chris Marrero was expected to be the long-term solution for the Nationals at first base as a potential 30+ HR threat. Instead he has spent significant time on the disabled list and has not fulfilled his potential, hitting just 18 home runs in 577 Double-A plate appearances. Though he is just 22 years old, the Nationals have now opted to pass over him and have committed to Adam LaRoche for the next two seasons. That said, Marrero will be moving up to Triple-A this year and will not turn 23 until July. In other words, he is not done yet. There is still a chance there for him to come around. Right now he is a right-hander who still has the raw tools to be a 30-HR hitter and who makes contact more than 80 percent of the time, but has mediocre selectivity at the plate and is sub-par defensively. Keep an eye on his progress. He is the type of player who could come out of nowhere if he can address his plate discipline and find a consistent approach at the plate. Right now he is a late-season call-up unless there are injuries.
Former first-round pick Yonder Alonso is a man without a position. A first baseman, he has this Joey Votto guy in front of him on the depth charts and he lacks the defensive chops to be a considered a starter at any other position. That renders him trade bait and he is pretty good trade bait at that. He has very advanced plate discipline, though it has not quite translated to Triple-A and the Majors yet. In Double-A he had a 1:1 BB/K ratio while making contact 85 percent of the time. To go with that, he has legitimate 20+ home run per season power. So Alonso is a potential .300 20+ guy without a roster spot. If the Reds cannot find a spot for him, another team will.
Koby Clemens makes this list due to Brett Wallace not having translated his minor league talents to the Majors yet and as such, Clemens could get a shot. A 24-year-old right-hander, Clemens hit 26 home runs in Double-A while walking 13 percent of the time. Of course, he also struck out 31 percent of the time and was playing in a home run friendly environment. Yes his skills will likely limit him to being a wrong side of the platoon split player, but he still needs to be on your radar in case an opportunity arises.
With Adam LaRoche moving on to Washington D.C. it looked like Brandon Allen would get a much deserved shot. Instead the Diamondbacks have brought in journeyman Juan Miranda to get first crack at the first base job. To be sure, he has some on-base and moderate power skills, but does not have Allen's potential. Though Allen is no longer a rookie, it feels like he is one as he has yet to really get a true shot to win a starting job. Last season in Triple-A he walked 18 percent of the time while striking out just 26 percent of the time and hit 25 home runs. While he may be just a .260's or .270's hitter at best in the Majors, one cannot deny the 30+ home run potential and on-base skill. The first base situation in Arizona is one that must be watched.
The Padres acquired Anthony Rizzo in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and the 21-year-old is going to have a lot of pressure on him to produce. However, given his age and lack of experience above Double-A, the Padres were wise to sign a stop-gap like Brad Hawpe so that he could spend as much time in Triple-A as he needs. Rizzo has legitimate first baseman power, hitting 25 home runs in Double-A last year. Like many sluggers, he strikes out around a quarter of the time, but has shown decent, though not overwhelming patience at the plate, walking 9 percent of the time and managing only a .334 OBP. A significant concern going forward with Rizzo will be his ability to hit lefties after hitting just .207 against them last year. The real concerns with respect to Rizzo are his platoon splits, hitting just .207/.281/.380 against lefties last season. Rizzo is not going to be the next Adrian Gonzalez. If he can improve against lefties, he could be a solid citizen, average first baseman type, but he does not look like an All-Star.
Brandon Belt, however, may be a star. This nearly 23-year-old played at three levels and the Arizona Fall League and did damage everywhere except for Triple-A where hit only .221 over a tiny sample. Belt lives up to his name and has 30+ home run potential. He also possesses advanced plate discipline, walking 17 percent of the time in A+ ball and 21 percent of the time in Triple-A. Where his strikeout rates will end up remains to be seen as he made contact more than 80 percent of the time at two of his stops, but struck out close to or over 30 percent of the time in the AFL and in Triple-A. He will spend most of 2011 in Triple-A. The re-signing of Aubrey Huff will help to ensure that, but if he hits as he did this past season, Huff or Belt may have to get out his outfielder's mitt.
Possible MLB Phase Draft/Auction Selections:
Freddie Freeman, Brandon Allen
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Yonder Alonso, Brandon Belt, Chris Carter, Eric Hosmer (most likely already taken in most keeper leagues, but a must if not), Chris Marrero
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups
Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Snyder, Koby Clemens, Mark Trumbo, Jordan Brown
As always, if there are any second basemen who were not included in this piece who you like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or to post to the Mastersball.com forums.