First Pitch: How Ike Davis Impacts the First Base Prospects in the System

Now that Ike Davis is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, they potentially have their first base position under control for the next three years. Davis might not work out, but if he plays up to his career numbers, he’ll be a good platoon player at the least.

The Pirates didn’t have a great first base option for the long-term in the minor leagues. The best bet in the short-term was Andrew Lambo, who was a converted outfielder. Lambo had a shot of winning the job out of Spring Training, but struggled and was sent to Triple-A. Now that Davis is in the system, and with Gregory Polanco arriving in right field this summer, it’s hard to find a future spot in Pittsburgh for Lambo.

Beyond Lambo, the Pirates have a few first base prospects, but they’re all raw to various degrees and none of them can be considered the “first baseman of the future.” If you’re wondering, this was true even when Alex Dickerson was in the system. One benefit to having Davis under control through the 2016 season is that the Pirates now have three years for one of those first base prospects to emerge as a long-term starter. Here is a look at each player, ordered from least risk to most risk (which is also ordered from Triple-A to low-A).

Andrew Lambo - The only way for him to get a shot at this point is for someone to get injured. He is hitting well, with a .315/.422/.463 line in 54 at-bats, although his power is entirely from extra base hits. Lambo is playing more outfield now, so his days as a first baseman might be limited. If Ike Davis gets injured (and that has definitely been an issue in the past), then Lambo could get a shot. His value really comes from his bat, and the power he showed last year. However, he hasn’t shown much of that home run power lately, and there’s not a big enough sample size to say that he can provide value without the homers.

Chris McGuiness – One benefit that McGuiness has is that he is a first baseman, so he doesn’t have to learn the position like Lambo. He doesn’t have the power that Lambo has, but he does do a good job of getting on base. McGuiness currently has a .382 OBP and a .477 slugging percentage with Indianapolis, with most of his power coming from extra base hits. It’s hard to see him as much more than a bench bat in the majors. He could become a starter on a weak team, but he’s not the type of first baseman you want to build around for the long-term.

Stetson Allie – He has the best power in the system, and it’s starting to show up lately in Double-A. Allie hit a homer on Tuesday, and hit two more today. He now has a .291/.400/.655 line in 55 at-bats, with five homers. The best part about this is that Allie only has a 23.6% strikeout rate, and is getting on base with walks. He has had issues with strikeouts in the past, and if he can keep those at a respectable level, his upside could be huge. The more likely scenario is that he becomes a version of Pedro Alvarez at first base — hitting a lot of home runs, but having a low average, a lot of strikeouts, and a decent amount of walks.

He’s Rule 5 eligible this off-season, and if he does well in Altoona, he’ll be a guarantee to be protected. The Pirates can take their time with him, but if he does break out this year, he could arrive in Pittsburgh in the second half of 2015, or in 2016. Allie has the most upside of any first baseman in the system, but he’s going to need to continue to show that he can limit strikeouts and do more than just hit home runs. So far, that’s looking good in Altoona this year.

Jose Osuna – Osuna was once one of four promising Latin American prospects coming through the Pirates’ system. Gregory Polanco has gone on to become one of the top prospects in the game. Alen Hanson could be the shortstop of the future for the Pirates. Willy Garcia is having some success in Altoona. But Osuna has struggled in High-A, and finds himself back in Bradenton for the second straight season. When a guy repeats a level, you generally want to see him dominate at that level the second time around. That’s especially true if you’re talking about an all-bat guy like Osuna. He’s shown good power in the lower levels, and he’s got a good frame. However, he isn’t showing much of that power in Bradenton, and looks to be stalling out.

Edwin Espinal – Espinal is intriguing because of the size and the raw power potential. “Raw” is the best word to describe him, since he’s pretty much all projection and no results at this point. In 53 at-bats in West Virginia, he has a .527 OPS, no homers, and just three doubles. The good news is that he only has a 15.1% strikeout rate, so he’s not totally over-matched. Espinal is a huge guy, and definitely has raw power that hasn’t made its way into the game. There’s no guarantee that this power will ever show up. I decided to list him here because of the strikeout rate, and because a lot of scouts outside the organization and people in the Pirates’ organization mention him as a guy with some promise.

Josh Bell* – I mention Bell here with a big disclaimer. Over the off-season I talked about Bell as a guy who could be the first baseman of the future. That was largely because he’d have no spot in the majors as an outfielder, since the trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco are expected to be together for several years. I don’t think the Pirates will be moving Bell to first base any time soon, as outfield is a far more valuable position for him. The only way I see him eventually moving to first base is if Allie doesn’t work out, and Bell is hitting well in the upper levels, and Ike Davis is on his way out of Pittsburgh with no other replacement to take his place.

If I had my pick for the “first baseman of the future”, I’d go with Allie. I was impressed with his approach at the plate this year during Spring Training. It was a noticeable improvement over what I saw in Bradenton last year, and led me to pick him as my breakout candidate for this year. If Davis works in Pittsburgh, then the Pirates can take their time with Allie, giving him full seasons in Altoona and Indianapolis before his jump to the majors. This would have also been true if Lambo would have worked out, since Allie has more upside than Lambo. Either way, he’s the best internal option, and having the first base position solved in Pittsburgh allows the Pirates to focus on his development without having to worry about the immediate need for him in the majors.

Links and Notes

**Brandon Cumpton Will Be Replacing Wandy Rodriguez. To prepare for his start tomorrow, check out Ryan Palencer’s article on how Cumpton avoided the first slow start of his career.

**Tyler Glasnow is Set to Make His 2014 Debut on Friday. That’s good news after all of the injuries to top prospects this year.

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie Crushes Two More Home Runs

**Prospect Highlights: Polanco and Allie Homer, Triple From Alen Hanson

**Minor League Schedule: Creasy Looks to Continue Scoreless Streak

**Travis Ishikawa Outrighted to Triple-A; Elects Free Agency

**Draft Prospect Watch: Derek Fisher Homers In Second Game Back

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • ElGaupo77

    I think Allie could at very least do what Gaby is doing this year in 2015 (’16 at the latest).

    • Lee Young

      My thought exactly.

    • stickyweb

      Way off topic, but a good article on FG listing 2 Cardinals and 1 Brewer as hitters to be concerned about their slow starts, including a thought about how playing OF could hinder Allen Craig. Our own Starling is last in the “Others receiving votes” section due to the spike in Ks. Also there’s a line in there about Citi Field “breaking” Ike.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/some-hitters-to-start-worrying-about/

  • Lee Young

    Its better to have TOO many prospects at a position than not enough.

  • lonleylibertarian

    Let’s talk again when we get to the All Star break with Ike Davis batting .230 and having 6-10 HRs….
    Davis could prove me wrong – but he IS NOT going to be a LT solution IMHO

    • jalcorn427

      Ike Davis has had exactly 1 major league season where he has had a wRC+ below league average. He is an above average MLB hitter with a good glove.

      • lonleylibertarian

        Again-let’s revisit this around the All Star break – he has a legitimate chance of proving me wrong – I just am very skeptical of a guy who could not beat out a mediocre Duda…
        He currently ranks 17th in WAR among first basemen and 21st in wRC+
        I am not impressed by 2 HR in 52 plate appearances – projects to 20 in 500…
        Not worth giving up either Jacoby Jones or Blake Taylor – or anybody ranked above them in prospects ratings,

      • stickyweb

        Jalc, 1700 MLB PAs that actually happened don’t mean anything next to lonely’s opinion.

      • smurph

        lonely is never wrong. He correctly predicted Volquez would suck and be a waste of 5 million dollars. He obviously knows a lot more about ML player talent than the Pirates brass and scouts. I’m sure he’ll be right about Ike Davis.

        • moose7195

          Why can’t the libertarian have an opinion? I for one agree with him. Ike Davis isn’t worth a prospect of any value to this system, and he was terrible last year. Even if he is decent this year, he’s never been consistent. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt Ike keep up the decent start he’s on now.

        • lonleylibertarian

          Glad I am wrong so far on Volquez – anybody notice how AJ is doing in Philly?
          On pace for a WAR in the 3 range last I checked…

          • stickyweb

            Well FG has AJ at .2 WAR through 5 starts and BR has him at .5. Assuming you don;t think he’s going to make 75 starts, so I guess you’re going with the higher figure. In that case, yes he’s on pace for a 3 WAR. And Volquez is on pace for 4.8 WAR. For $17 mil cheaper this year. Bucs really blew that one.

            • lonleylibertarian

              Well your math sucks – and yes the Bucs blew that one….
              I was using BR – so yes 30 starts for 3.0. Volquez looks closer to 4.0 than 4.8…

              But that is minor…

              What you and everybody else seems to forget is that the Pirates would not have had to bid for AJ
              and the fact that Phillies overpaid for him has no impact on what he would have cost the Pirates.

              $14.1 QO – either AJ signs it or not…

              Less $5 mill that was spent on Volquez that would not have been spent if AJ signed – the net
              cost of Burnett is $9.1 Million…

              I would prefer to have AJ – Liriano – Cole – Cumpton – and Morton or Locke as my starting five
              right now – but then I am an opinionated idiot I guess…

              Other than Cole I see no fire in the eyes of any of the starters – they just seem to be out there
              trying to survive – Burnett – and to some extent Locke had fire in their eyes – they wanted the
              ball and they wanted to win – as I said – Cole has it – but I see NONE of it in Frankie, Eddie or
              Chuckie….

          • Andrew

            Burnett’s strike out rate has collapsed and he is walking 5 batters/9, and has the highest contact rate of his career.

        • lonleylibertarian

          The ONLY way anybody is never wrong is if they NEVER have an opinion on things – sports are good for such ;-)

          • smurph

            Right. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. But in the case of lonely, he stated unequivically that Volquez was a waste of money, a stupid signing, going on the cheap, etc. That is a little more than an opinion. For example, here is my opinion, Davis will be hitting higher than .230 and have more than 8 HRs. I don’t know that to be a fact. It’s just how I see it. I also see it as an upgrade to what they have in their system. I totally agree with lonely that Jacoby Jones or Blake Taylor should not be the PTBNL.

            • lonleylibertarian

              For all of you dancing at half time on EV – I have two words for you…

              James McDonald

              Again – PLEASE understand I WANT THIS TEAM TO DO WELL!!!

              I bleed Black and Gold for all three of my home town teams…

              But when I see a Front Office try and run a con game on me I get a bit angry…

              My perspective is distorted by…

              4th or 5th LOWEST payroll in the majors last I checked
              Play in a division where three of our competitors have had $100M payrolls for a couple of years.

              Refused to make a QO to the one player who could be credited for turning this team around – yes Cutch was and is great – but AJ showed them how to win – and DEMANDED that they compete and try and win – the fire in the
              belly was obvious and he deserved better treatment from the Pirates.

              I am still waiting for someone to argue that this team – the one that lost a quality start by a guy who was screwed by the FO [he clearly won a starting spot in ST] because it could not score more than a single run is BETTER with Polanco in Indy and the bottom of the dumpster guys that continue to get ABs in Pittsburgh.

              C’mon SOMEONE defend this crap – if you can…

              • moose7195

                A low payroll doesn’t guarantee that this team cannot compete with Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. Take last year as proof. And spending all sorts of money of brand name FA’s wont guarantee that they’ll be better either. Take Robinson Cano as proof of that. Either way, it isn’t your money to spend. So you cannot reasonably demand them to offer 14.1M to a player if they cannot handle the repercussions of the move. It’s the same with Polanco. He is too important of a player to rush to the majors because of the risk of damaging his development. Yes he is killing the ball, but that could just be a hot streak which can hide shortcomings to his game. Look at Marte, IMO, he was rushed to the majors. Have you seen his plate approach? It’s atrocious, and part of that is because he was never given the chance to fix it where it is supposed to be fixed, aka the minor leagues. That is why the minors exist, it is supposed to help players fix their shortcomings in an environment that can be used as a teaching tool. So your demands wont fix this team like you think they will. AJ’s minset is only effective as long as he pitches well, and Polanco might help initially, but if he isn’t ready, that hole in RF will rear its ugly head again.

            • Clemente21

              It’s lonley, not lonely.

    • marty34156

      He’s much better than any of their other options.

      • lonleylibertarian

        I don’t know – Jose Abreu would look pretty good right now at 1st for the Pirates and would have cost $$$ – not good prospects…

        Justin M would be a big improvement on both Sanchez and Davis – again – would have cost $$$

        But this FO is built to maximize years of control – not winning now…

        • stickyweb

          So we have to hold judgement until the AS break on the guy that’s already done it a couple times in MLB, but Abreu’s a lock to be better after 85 ABs?
          And Morneau really didn’t cost that much money (they are paying Volquez $5 mil after all), you just needed to count on him reversing 3 years of trending down in his mid 30s. And frankly, the Rockies still need to count on that as it’s way too early to declare that a success also.
          But I guess the grass is always greener. Maybe if Garrett Jones gets hot next week, you can point him out as another missed opportunity.

          • lonleylibertarian

            No – I am ok calling him a dud now – 2 HR in over 50 plate appearances and a .227 BA – whopping .250 in the past 7 days. But I am a reasonable guy – will give him until July to get his act together.

            And you talk about trends – but ignore this one…
            WAR
            2010 – 2.0
            2011 – 1.1
            2012 – 1.2
            2013 – 0.2

            Not sure he is worth Zack Thornton – let alone Thornton plus another top prospect.

            • stickyweb

              Well you can include his stats from the Mets in there if it helps your argument, but I think the Pirates are more concerned with what he’s done since he got here. Which is 5 games and 20 ABs, with a HR. And you’re OK calling him a dud already?
              Fine, but let’s look look at your demi-god, Jose Abreu. He went over 7 games and more than 27 ABs before his first HR. Yet the White Sox didn’t give up on him. And he doesn’t even have a track record to point to. And after 17 games and 65 ABs, he was hitting .200 with a worse OPS than Ike has with the Bucs. Oh and Ike can play defense.
              And I’d rather give up Zack Thornton and $3 mil than $70 mil and no prospect, but I guess you think Thornton and the PTBNL are worth $60 mil or so. And let’s not call the PTBNL a top prospect until we see who it is.

        • marty34156

          I mean of the in house options, Davis is much better. Obviously Abreau is better than Davis. Disagree completely on Morneau, though. He can’t hit lefties, and Davis has much more pop at this point of their careers.

  • wkkortas

    I’m not sure Davis has much of an effect on the guys who are actual prospects, like Allie or Espinal; by the time they’re ready to contribute at the MLB level, Davis will be gone due to either performance or price tag.

  • jalcorn427

    Tim, not sure what you mean by this – “He is hitting well, with a .315/.422/.463 line in 54 at-bats, although his power is entirely from extra base hits.”

    Is there any other way to measure power than by extra base hits? ;-) I think you’re trying to say he has no home runs.

    • jalcorn427

      PS – Allie’s K rate is 20.0% which is very encouraging and he is hitting .291 with a normal babip. I have been pleasantly surprised so far.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      The answer to your question is later in the same paragraph:

      “However, he hasn’t shown much of that home run power lately, and there’s not a big enough sample size to say that he can provide value without the homers.”

      • jalcorn427

        Yeah I figured, but got a chuckle out of “his power is entirely from extra base hits” what else would it be, lol.

  • Kevin_Young

    Do we have Allie’s splits? (Albeit a fairly small sample size) Does he hit lefties well?

    • jalcorn427

      1.121 ops vs LHP in 18ab, 1.021 ops vs RHP in 37 ab, but this is a meaningless sample size. Can’t seem to find last year’s splits.

  • moose7195

    Lol, what first base prospects? We traded our best 1st base prospect in a desperate attempt to find a platoon at 1st. The Alex Dickerson trade looks terrible now because of the Davis move, despite Alex being out for the year now.

    • stickyweb

      moose, you lost me. How does the Dickerson trade look terrible now because of the Davis move? They would have still done the Ike deal even if Dickerson was still in the Buc’s org. And what desperate attempt to find a platoon 1B? Which of Decker or Mikolas was going to play 1B? Or did NH already have the Mikolas/McGuines deal done and didn’t announce it for 5 weeks?
      Even if Dickerson didn’t get hurt, he’s got much less potential at 1B than Ike.

      • moose7195

        Apologies, I have mistaken Jaff Decker with Chris McGuiness. If the Dickerson move was for a 1st baseman closer to the majors, then it would become irrelevant due to the Davis trade. Why bring in a guy, just to bring in a different guy? But that is clearly not the case. Jaff Decker is still a waste of resources though, as I think he has no chance of making this roster. Dickerson on the other hand, is a better prospect than Lambo IMO, and had a better chance of getting to the majors and producing something before any of the guys on Tim’s list.

        • stickyweb

          I gotcha. I didn’t completely understand the trade either, but I certainly don’t lose sleep over sending Dickerson packing. They already have good OF depth, so Decker seems superfluous unless they can make a couple of trades or lose somebody to injury.
          And Dickerson always seemed to get hurt for a stretch of each season.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          I think Dickerson, Decker, and McGuiness all have the same future value in the majors.

          As for Dickerson, one reason we always had him ranked lower than every other outlet was because he was very injury prone. He has a bad back, which is constantly an issue. I also talked with scouts who don’t like his body type.

          • moose7195

            Some players don’t stay injury prone. Perhaps the down time Dickerson now has because of his ankle will allow his back to heal. But none of this is relevant now, as he is the Padres problem. I still don’t see the sense in the trade for Decker though.

            • peanutbutterguts

              Why is Dickerson out for the year?

              • moose7195

                He tore a ligament in his ankle during Spring Training. He is done for the year

          • leowalter

            Not to mention the fact that Alex very seldom walked, and he wasn’t a very good defensive first baseman. At least that’s what I saw watching him in AA.

  • st1300b

    Allie still has an arm that has 100 mph attached to it – if he can learn to field well enough he may be capable of playing 3rd rather than first. I’d like to eventually see Bell take the 1b job and Allie at 3rd.

  • R Edwards

    Its early yet and too soon obviously to come to a final conclusion, but based on Davis’ performance thus far – I would not be so quick to rule out Lambo and Allie as 1B options this year, next year, and beyond…..If Davis is still hitting in the low .200s in June/July and Lambo is still producing at a high level at Indy, then what? Because they made this trade, the Pirates have hamstrung themselves unless Davis produces – because they sure will not release him and can they even send him down if that was appropriate??

  • Ron_Kaplan

    “his power is entirely from extra base hits”? Where else would his power come from?