Offseason Primer: Who Needs a First Baseman Anyways?
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Not a lot of players who end up at first start their careers there. Mauer’s the perfect example of that himself. These days, it’s also becoming more and more common that teams use some kind of a timeshare at the position. There are a couple of good examples on teams still playing in October.
Yuli Gurriel was the primary guy at first for Houston, making 99 starts there, but he also started 13 games at third base, another 11 at second and even made a start at shortstop. His flexibility helped the Astros cover for injuries to their other infielders and allowed slugger Tyler White to come up from the minors for regular time at first base.
Cody Bellinger started 85 games at first base for the Dodgers, but he also made another 50 starts in center field, of all places. That allowed Los Angeles to find playing time for incredible diamond in the rough pickup Max Muncy and his .973 OPS. Muncy made 58 starts at first base.
In Wednesday night’s NLCS game, the Dodgers used two different first basemen, neither of them Bellinger, and four different players at second base. That team has some pretty incredible flexibility.
Keeping those two examples in mind, let’s take a look at how the Twins might fill the potential opening at first base.
Taking a look back at 2018, the player with the most innings at first base behind Mauer was actually Logan Morrison. I guess it’s worth mentioning that the Twins do hold an $8 million option for LoMo with a $1 million buyout, but there are much better investments to be made.
Tyler Austin was the only other player to see as many as 100 innings at first base for Minnesota last year. He showed impressive power, but he’s also struck out in 36.6 percent of his plate appearances in the majors. On the other hand, Austin has a .937 OPS against lefties, making him at the very least an attractive platoon partner. He played much more outfield than first over his minor league career, but Austin didn’t play a single inning out there in 2018.
After Austin you’ve got Miguel Sano, who played 87 innings of first base this season. He’s certainly someone to keep in mind, but shifting him across the diamond just creates another hole at third base, which is already a weak spot in the org.
With Jason Castro expected to return to health and Willians Astudillo establishing himself as a player of interest, there’s a chance the Twins could roll with three catchers next year. In that case, Mitch Garver could be a candidate for regular time at first base. He has some experience there.
Max Kepler is a very strong defensive outfielder and hasn’t seen time at first since he played there regularly for Chattanooga back in 2015, but he’s a candidate. If Byron Buxton finds his footing and the Twins add another outfielder, Kepler could make a lot of sense as someone who forms a left-right platoon with Austin. Yes, Max did much better against same-sided pitchers last year, but his career splits still show a fairly significant split (.776 OPS vs. RHP, .605 OPS vs. LHP).
Robbie Grossman’s never played an inning of infield in his entire pro career — majors or minors — but he does throw left handed. Considering how uninspiring his defense is in the outfield, maybe someone ought to buy him a first baseman’s mitt ...
Down on the farm, Brent Rooker is the big name at the position. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him knocking down the door next season, though he’s certainly not a realistic option for Opening Day. Zander Wiel isn’t as big a name in prospect circles, but he actually had a higher OPS than Rooker last year. Both Rooker and Wiel played quite a bit of outfield, as well.
If you really want to go outside the box, LaMonte Wade played a lot of first base in his early years at Maryland, but he’s only played outfield these past four years in the Twins org.
So, as you can see, even if we focus solely on internal options there’s no shortage of options. Since first base is the bottom position on the defensive spectrum, in reality anybody could be thrown out there.
This is the first time in a very long time that the Twins (appear to) have an opening at first base. Mauer took the reins from Justin Morneau, who succeeded Doug Mientkiewicz. That’s an impressive run of stability — three guys covering 18 seasons — but my suggestion is to end it here.
Don’t get me wrong, offensive upgrades are needed, but the front office should simply be focused first on adding a bat. They have enough in-house options and players with defensive flexibility to figure out positioning.
How should the Twins fill the (potential) first base opening? They shouldn’t feel the need to.
Here’s a look back at what we’ve covered in these Offseason Primers so far:
Offseason Primer: Corner Infield Free Agents
Offseason Primer: Twins Need to Be Prepared to Pivot from Buxton and Sano
Offseason Primer: Building a Badass Bullpen
Offseason Primer: Twins Should Stick With Jorge Polanco at Shortstop
Offseason Primer: Can Minnesota Mimic Milwaukee's Success?
Offseason Primer: The Core Seven (?)
If you like what you’ve been reading at the site so far, you’re going to LOVE the handbook. One of the key features included is a full organization depth analysis for not just first base, but every position on the diamond plus the pitching staff. Also included are profile on all the free agent options, a discussion regarding potential trade targets and much more.
Click here for more on the handbook, a sneak peek at the cover and the list of special guest contributors.
- Cory Engelhardt and tarheeltwinsfan like this