This week we continue our look at the Impact Prospects for 2012 with a scan of young first sackers.
The rookie first base situation for 2012 is highlighted by Yonder Alonso and Anthony Rizzo. Prior to the off-season, the Padres were going to utilize a rookie first baseman in 2012. They still are. Their decision to move Rizzo and to prefer Alonso over him and comparing those two players over the coming years will be a constant subject.
I for one, feel the Padres made the correct move. While Rizzo has the tools to be solid and may be a better pure athlete at least as far as defense is concerned, Alonso provides the more well-rounded offensive game. First and foremost, he has shown throughout his minor league career that he is a very disciplined hitter who not only draws walks, but who has an approach and the bat speed to make consistent contact (85% of the time in Triple-A last year) and at least upper-teens, if not low to mid-twenties per season home run power. The result could be a .290 if not .300 hitter if he is able to translate his plate discipline to the Majors. Where he may somewhat disappoint is in the home run department, but that is due to the change in ballparks from Cincinnati to San Diego.
Speaking of Anthony Rizzo, the Padres knowing Alonso after his flailing attempt to play anywhere but first base, moved Rizzo to fill other organizational needs. For the Cubs, Rizzo is a good fit as a low-cost/good upside alternative. Rizzo crushed Triple-A pitching, batting .331, but struggled upon his promotion to the Majors. His struggles were not surprising when you consider his .369 BABIP which was composed of his typically high fly-ball rates (close to 50%), low line-drive rates, and average foot speed as well as his power-hitter strikeout rates of greater than 20%. That said, Rizzo has the tools and talent to be a MLB regular. He is fairly selective and has legitimate 20+ per season home run power. However, his ability to hit left-handers still needs to be proven. For now, I still consider him to be an Adam LaRoche-type player. In other words, I currently project him as a solid citizen/corner infielder type in NL-only and mixed league play. There is talent here to improve on that projection, but Rizzo needs to prove his skills in the Majors first.
Chris Parmalee of the Twins, despite not having the highest upside on this list, could in fact be one of the biggest impact rookie first basemen this season. Justin Morneau unfortunately continues to battle post-concussion syndrome and the timing of his return, if ever, is quite unknown. Parmalee, meanwhile, has transformed his game in recent years from an all or nothing slugger to a highly disciplined hitter who makes consistent contact. He was able to bring his selectivity and bat speed to the Majors in a late-season call-up, batting a well over his head .355/.443/.592. Parmalee will never win any gold gloves and is pretty slow, but his combination of power and plate discipline are assets that could transform into a .280s or better hitter at the MLB level with a fair amount of power.
2012 could be Chris Carter’s last chance to crack the Oakland lineup. Considering how woeful that lineup has been, this says a lot. Carter is not short on power at all. He indeed has legitimate 30+ per season home run power. He has a traditional power hitter’s all or nothing approach, drawing walks when he does not homer or strike out. The 25-year-old's limitations are two-fold. #1 he is a right-handed hitter. #2 he is atrocious on defense, even at first base. The combined limitations, given his strikeout rates of a third or more of the time make him a tough player to keep on the 25-man roster. Were he left-handed, he would at least be on the right side of the platoon split and perhaps a useful part-time DH. He will get a shot at 1B and DH this spring, but will face quite a bit of competition.
Over in Cleveland, the first base situation is so wide open the Indians are considering moving slugging catcher Carlos Santana there on a part-time basis. Truth be told, Matt LaPorta has failed to seize the job and is really something of a wrong side of the platoon player. Enter former first round pick Beau Mills. The 25-year-old has spent the better part of the past three seasons in Akron at Double-A. While there the lefty has continued to show an ability not only to make consistent contact (around 85% of the time), but high-teens to low-twenties per season power potential as well. Now of course, the picture is far from rosy as Mills struggles against lefties, has limited experience above Double-A, and is not a particularly patient hitter. Still, the Indians may yet find value in him as a platoon partner for LaPorta, and as the left-handed half. AL-only leaguers at least must keep an eye on him to see if he is indeed given a shot this spring.
The Nationals’ Chris Marrero has little left to prove in the Minors after a successful Triple-A campaign. He has shown improvement in all facets of his game, showing more patience and making more contact, showing an ability to hit for average. What has been lacking, however, is the monster amount of power once projected of him. The Nationals did not land Prince Fielder on the free agent market and have Adam LaRoche returning from a torn labrum for the second season of a 2-year contract. Keep an eye on the Nationals. While they certainly are built to compete for the NL East title this year, LaRoche could be moved for prospects and Marrero given his chance should they fall from contention.
The Brewers knew they could not afford to re-sign Prince Fielder. In an attempt to replace his bat, they brought in Aramis Ramirez but also traded their former starter Casey McGehee away to their divisional rival while leaving their first base situation unaddressed from outside of the organization solutions. First crack will go to former prospect and now 26-year-old Mat Gamel. While he no longer has his rookie status and does not technically qualify for this article series, he has made some interesting adjustments in Triple-A. In 2010, he improved is plate discipline and made more consistent contact. In 2011, he made even more consistent contact while rediscovering his power stroke. It is quite possible the position is done and spoken for if he can move all those elements successfully to the Majors. If he cannot, however, waiting in the wings is Taylor Green.
For a moment, before Ramirez was brought in, it was possible Green could claim the third base job (his more natural position). He has experience at second base too, so that factor combined with a very disciplined left-handed bat could easily earn him a bench role at the very least. Last year in Triple-A, he discovered some power, hitting 22 homers while making contact 85% of the time and walking 11%. His possible multiple-position eligibility and offensive potential alone should make him a sleeper target in NL-only leagues.
David Cooper enjoyed playing in Las Vegas so much last year. He batted .364/.439/.535. Yes, this was mostly generated by a .380 batting average on balls in play, but it still remains that Cooper made contact greater than 92% of the time while walking over 12% of the time. His power, however, suffered with that effort, dropping off from 20 homers to just 11 between two levels. His promotion to the Majors was a rather big flop too. He will return to Triple-A with a resurgent Adam Lind at first base and Edwin Encarnacion backing him and/or playing DH. Neither of those two players have been truly excellent, so an opening does remain if either falters or, especially in Encarnacion’s oft-injured case, are unable to play. Cooper would get the first call in that situation.
The Red Sox once thought Lars Anderson would be their first baseman of the future. The acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez last season along with Anderson’s struggles and lack of power development shattered that perception. While no clear path to the Majors is currently available to Anderson, the 24-year-old did at least make some minor strides at Pawtucket in 2011, showing a bit more power (14 homers) and continued plate discipline. Still, he hit just .265/.369/.422. That’s not quite MLB worthy and time is running out. Still, like Cooper, injury situations could get him a crack at playing time and his name is worth knowing from that perspective.
The Mets are a team in much need of power. However, they are a bit defensively limited with Ike Davis returning to play first base and Lucas Duda, a first baseman, likely to spend most of his time in the outfield in 2012. These are significant obstacles to a sub-par defensive player like Allen Dykstra. The former Padre and first-round pick has had a fairly consistent career as a somewhat injury-prone, but very patient power hitter who strikes out a quarter or more of the time. He will be moving to Triple-A this season and if he continues to hit for power and get on base, the Mets may have to figure out a way to get him into the lineup later this year.While Lance Berkman will be moving back to first base for 2012 and was healthy for most of 2011, he will be 35 to start the season, and it is far from a guarantee his luck will continue. Already on the 40-man roster is Mark Hamilton. He hit .345/.439/.472 last year. He has good raw power but appeared to sacrifice it for making contact, improving his contact rate by nearly 10% from the previous season but only hitting two home runs. Still, he is likely to get first crack.
Matt Adams, however, may ultimately end up the primary beneficiary of the Cardinals’ decision to not bring back Albert Pujols. The 23-year-old will ascend to Triple-A this year and is coming off of a 32 home run Double-A campaign in which he also hit .300. Throughout his minor league career, he has shown himself to be an adept contact hitter, driving the ball to all fields with authority. He may never be a huge OBP threat, but his other assets certainly could make him a very valuable fantasy player. Berkman is an ideal mid-season trade candidate to a contender should the Cardinals be unable to return to the playoffs, so that could clear a path for either Hamilton or Adams.
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups:
If there are any first basemen who were not included in this piece who you would like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or post to the Mastersball.com forums.