Thoughts on First Base

 

My reaction to the White Sox signing of Jose Abreu was mild disappointment. I had wanted the Nationals to sign him, but couldn't be too disappointed that they didn't since, from the start, only one team was going to and the chances it would be the Nats were one in thirty to begin with. I was slightly more disappointed that they didn't even try and this caused me to wonder if they know something about their farm system that I don't. Then I immediately realized how stupid that thought was.   

The candidates for the long term first base position may not be known right now or even thought of by most of the fans. Everyone knows Tyler Moore, but he has never shown a consistent ability at the major league or any level to lay off bad pitches out of the zone. He is a mistake hitter with a ton of pop, a poor man's Mike Jacobs. That isn't lofty praise or a very high ceiling. He could serve as a platoon partner for Adam LaRoche this season, but that is a waste of a roster spot depending on how the new manager wants his bench constructed. The Nats acquired Scott Hairston mid-season in 2013 to take the right handed power bench spot away from Tyler Moore and they aren't going to carry two right handed power bats when they are in need of a left handed power bat, a back-up catcher, a utility infielder, and fourth outfielder. Moore fits in with the Nationals more as AAA depth than he does as a major league piece for 2014 and he certainly hasn't demonstrated the ability to be a starting first baseman in the major leagues and it is unlikely that he suddenly develops a quality batting eye and takes the steps necessary to be even a productive major league first baseman

That takes care of Tyler Moore, but there are other contenders for the role in the system. Matt Skole has been overlooked in this discussion because he had his 2013 season end early due to Tommy John's surgery, but he has picked up where he left off in the 2012 Arizona Fall League by clobbering the 2013 Arizona Fall League to the tune of a 1.292 OPS. The downside to Skole is that he is 24 years old and has never played above the AA level and only saw two games of action at that level before being injured. A 25 year old AAA player isn't unheard of, but he still has a lot left to prove in the minors before he even earns a shot in the majors, but he has shown an ability to get on base and hit for power at every level he has played at. Of all the Nats minor leaguers he has the skill set that best matches what a first baseman should be.  

Because of first base's ranking on the defensive spectrum the most important question when looking for a first baseman is, "Can you hit?" That means any outfielder, third baseman, catcher, or anyone that has played any position in the minors can be moved to first base if they can hit. Adam LaRoche had a disappointing season and was near the bottom of the league in offense for qualified first basemen, but he was still an above average hitter for the league, and that is what a first baseman should be. Someone who in a disappointing season is still a better offensive player than the majority of guys playing baseball. This brings us to the AA Harrisburg Senators and Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Unlike Skole he did finish out his AA season and it was a breakout of sorts for him. After never having an OPS higher than .747 at any other level Souza produced a .953 OPS at AA and more important than that it was an OPS that included a .396 OBP. Souza showed both the ability to get on base and to hit for power, the two main offensive qualities desired in a corner player. Like Skole, Souza is currently in the Arizona Fall League and thus far has an .885 OPS with a .500 OBP in his first four games out there. 

Other than Souza and Skole there isn't anyone that stands out from the AA level and moving down to high A Potomac doesn't yield many results either. With a 2015 first base free agent class that is highlighted by Michael Cuddyer, Billy Butler, and Adam LaRoche the Nats best move to find a long term first baseman may be through a trade. That is unless they trust that of Souza, Skole, and Moore that one of them can play the position or that there is a prospect in the system whose numbers don't jump out but has all the tools to be that great power hitter that can get on base. By not signing Jose Abreu the Nationals have muddied the picture of what they are going to do about first base moving forward, but that is my prospective. There is a strong possibility that the team knows something I don't about their own minor league system or players that could abruptly hit the trade market. As of right now, in November of 2013, it is unclear who will be the starting first baseman come Opening Day 2015.   

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