The Pittsburgh Pirates have drafted college first basemen near the top of each of their last three drafts. In 2008 they selected Matt Hague in the ninth round. Hague was drafted as a third baseman, but moved to first partially because Pedro Alvarez had taken third base, but also due to a lack of range. The Pirates also took Calvin Anderson as a 12th round pick that year. In 2009 they drafted Aaron Baker in the 11th round. In 2010 they took Matt Curry in the 16th round.
Hague signed quickly after the 2008 draft, and got an aggressive push, playing for low-A Hickory in 2008, then spending the entire 2009 season in high-A with Lynchburg. He hit for a .293/.356/.412 line in that time, and moved on to Altoona in 2010. While with Altoona, Hague hit for a .295/.375/.442 line, which was enough to get him promoted to AAA for the start of the 2011 season.
With a college first baseman being drafted each year, you’d think that there would have been someone right behind Hague, ready to move up to Altoona for the start of the 2011 season. That’s not the case. Aaron Baker didn’t have the same success Hague had. He signed early, but spent the entire 2009 season in State College, partially because Calvin Anderson was playing first base in West Virginia.
Baker and Anderson each moved up a level in 2010, but neither first baseman performed well enough to get a mid-season promotion. Anderson hit for a .259/.328/.392 line, which was mostly fueled by second half struggles due to a knee injury. Baker didn’t provide a challenge, hitting for a .253/.340/.453 line, all while putting up a poor 25% strikeout rate. With Anderson in high-A, and Baker in low-A, Matt Curry was blocked in State College, where he hit for a .299/.421/.477 line.
At the start of the 2011 season, the Pirates moved Baker up to high-A, and moved Curry up to West Virginia. Wanting to get both players regular time at first base, they moved Anderson to the DH role in Bradenton. The Pirates’ goal for Baker this year is to have him finish the season in Altoona, and when that happens, Curry should move up from West Virginia to Bradenton. Those moves could come sooner, rather than later, based on the early start to the season.
Baker is currently hitting for a .476/.571/.857 line with two homers in 21 at-bats. Even better, he’s walked in 21% of his plate appearances, and has only struck out in 14% of his at-bats. Curry is also off to a hot start, hitting for a .476/.560/.952 line in 21 at-bats, with one homer, and two triples. Curry has always shown good plate patience, and has continued that so far with four walks and two strikeouts.
It’s too early to assume any stats we are seeing are legit, but at the same time, it’s nice to see Baker and Curry off to a good start. Neither player will continue to bat for a .476 average, obviously. Baker won’t walk in 21% of his plate appearances. Neither player will be slugging at an .850+ rate. The lines for both players are certain to drop, but that doesn’t mean the numbers will be bad when they fall back to Earth. If the numbers look good enough, I wouldn’t be surprised to see each player moving up a level by mid-May.