Three for the Show: First Basemen
This is the second in a 10-part series (no…I’m not Ken Burns) where I will identify the top three players at each position in the Padres’ minor league system. Up next: First Base.
If the depth chart at catcher presents an “opportunity for improvement,” then first base can be considered a straight up reclamation project. Picture an abandoned town from The Walking Dead. In the not too distant past, the position was bustling with guys who had a shot at contributing. Nate Freiman was snatched up in this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. Hopefully we’ll see him back before long. Matt Clark took his talents to the land of the rising sun. Cody Decker showed solid lumber. And Anthony Rizzo…oh…nevermind. I won’t go there. I think that’s what brought the zombies in the first place.
So, let’s begin with Decker. He’s had a jack-of-all-trades minor league career thus far. In four seasons, he’s patrolled the OF 85 times. DH’d 32 times. He even visited 3B once. However, above all else, he has taken his talents to 1B the most: 171 times. What Decker has to offer, though really isn’t in the field. While his MiLB career FLD% of .992 beat out Yonder Alonso’s .991 from last season, a team, in general, wants its number one picker to have a percentage in the neighborhood of .995 or higher. His height (5’11”) is also less than ideal for the position. Decker’s bat, though, has a chance to play. His career .895 OPS and his 87 home runs over those four seasons shows that he has potential to hit in the big leagues. I like to use San Antonio as a benchmark. The pitching is better in AA, and the park plays a bit like Petco. Last season, Decker (25 years old) hit .263/.367/.540 with 25 big flies. The bat is solid.
And that concludes our minor league organizational depth at first. Seriously.
That being said, I’ll take this opportunity to discuss some first basemen who have some big league experience, though not much. Kyle Blanks is a guy I’ve always been behind. If you follow Blanks’ numbers in the minors, you really see a path very much like Chase Headley. In seven minor league seasons, Blanks owned a .305/.392/.513 line. His ’07 (Lake Elsinore) and ’08 (San Antonio) seasons were some of the best in all of minor league baseball those years. The peanut gallery always notes his struggles in the bigs, holes in the swing, long swing, etc. Well, it wasn’t until over 2,000 AB’s later that Headley really put it all together, and that was playing every single day. Blanks has 425 AB’s spread out over four seasons. The switch to LF to get him into the lineup backfired. Oddly enough, he possessed one of the strongest arms in the Padres’ OF that season, but the arm load led to a blowout and Tommy John surgery. Blanks has recovered and put up solid numbers this winter. If only the team was ready to give him a regular gig, I think he could be a middle of the order hitter for years to come.
That leaves us with Yonder Alonso. I’m trying like crazy to love this guy, but it hasn’t happened yet. Alonso was touted as a player that would thrive at Petco. That played out, though I’m not sure he thrived. Alonso hit 23 doubles at Petco versus 16 on the road. He also posted a higher slash line at home: .276/.362/.398. But those numbers don’t scream power first baseman to me. I may have expected too much, though, as it was his first full season as a regular. If Alonso can take some big steps forward this year, I’ll feel much better about handing over the reigns. His wOBA of .323 (second worst in the league) is what really concerns me. On the fielding side, he’s a bit bipolar. His .991 FLD% tied for last in the league, but his UZR/150 was 4.4, good for third in the league. This season will likely help us see if Alonso has middle of the order potential or is a solid 6-7 hitter.