Minor League Depth — First Base
“Firstbase prospect” isn’t a concept that’s highly popular with scouts. They tend to dislike players who are limited to first for a several reasons. One is that such a player has to hit extremely well to advance. Another is that athleticism does matter for hitters, so in many cases a player lacking it may not hit as well as needed at higher levels. A player with any athleticism at all will usually play a more challenging position in high school or even college. In fact, most major league firstbasemen started off at other positions. As a result, teams may not specifically look for firstbasemen in stocking their minor league rosters, instead figuring they’ll shift somebody there.
Still, the Pirates right now have an unusual number of firstbasemen in their system who may have the hitting potential to advance at that position. Every full-season team will probably have a firstbaseman who has at least a decent chance of reaching the majors, although it’s uncertain whether any besides Alex Dickerson has the potential to be a regular. With all of them, the question will be whether they hit well enough for the position, particularly whether they show enough power.
Parentheses indicate that there’s a reasonable chance the player won’t open at that particular level.
Matt Hague, Jeff Clement, (Jake Fox), (Nick Evans)
With Casey McGehee around, and Fox and Evans both also competing for a bench job, Hague has little chance of opening the 2012 season in the majors, so he’ll return to AAA. He’s handicapped by having only modest power. Clement has re-signed with the Pirates and probably will share firstbase and DH duties with Hague. It’s unlikely that Fox or Evans will be with Indianapolis. They both probably had enough leverage to get opt-out clauses included in their contracts. Evans reportedly does have a clause that at least lets him go to Japan if he doesn’t make the Pirates’ roster. It’s hard to be certain whether either player could appear with the Indians, though, because the existence and terms of opt-out clauses are generally not reported. Sometimes they take effect at the end of spring training and sometimes at a later date. Other times they take effect only if the player has another offer.
Matt Curry, (Calvin Anderson), (Stefan Welch)
Curry will return to AA after struggling there in 2011. He looked like a good prospect after two strong months in low A at the start of the season, but he needs to show quickly in 2012 that he can adjust to AA. Anderson was starting to make significant progress in his second season in high A when he got hurt. The Pirates aren’t big on having players remain at one level for long periods of time, so they may give Anderson a shot at AA rather than sending him back to Bradenton for a third season. If so, he’ll probably serve as DH; he has significant defensive limitations and didn’t play in the field at all in 2011. Welch was signed as depth and will probably appear at Altoona or Bradenton, depending on other assignments.
Bradenton (High A)
Alex Dickerson, (Calvin Anderson), (Stefan Welch), (Justin Howard)
Dickerson is one of the Pirates’ best hitting prospects, and few power prospects. As a polished college hitter, he’ll undoubtedly skip over low A after a good debut with State College. Howard had only a passable season in 2011 at low A, enough to show he could be useful as an organizational player but not enough to establish him as a prospect. He could return to low A in 2012 or move up, depending on other assignments.
West Virginia (Low A)
Jose Osuna, (Justin Howard)
Osuna moved to firstbase partway through the 2011 season with the GCL Pirates, as they had several outfielders with much more athleticism and speed than he has. He hit very well, with a good approach at the plate, so it’s likely the Pirates will want to challenge him with a move to full season ball rather than send him to State College. There’s no other obvious candidate to play the position, so if Osuna isn’t at West Virginia or the team feels it needs a backup, Howard could return there.
State College (Short-Season)
The only firstbase prospect in the GCL apart from Osuna in 2011 was Jared Lakind, who struggled making contact. He’ll almost certainly return there, so State College’s firstbaseman figures to be a college player drafted in 2012.
Gulf Coast League Pirates (R)
Jared Lakind, Edwin Espinal
Espinal had a decent debut season in the Dominican Summer League in 2011 and was in fall instructional camp, so he’ll probably be in the GCL in 2012. He and Lakind could share first base and also DH. Lakind has good power potential, but needs to make a lot of progress with his contact issues.