The name of the game this week is First Basemen and Catchers. The Phillies are easily the most secure team of the division in regards to established starters, and established backups. Everyone else, including the Braves, has holes to fill. Some, like the Nationals and Marlins have bigger holes to fill, but the Nationals have the luxury of being the most stocked in the minors with potential talent in these two positions. But it's safe to say that every team but the Phillies should expect to see some new faces come 2011, in order to have some depths or positions filled.
Welcome to another week of Things Read in Other Moms' Basements.
First base: Ryan Howard (30) - And this is how it's going to be all the way until 2015, costing the Phillies 20-25M a year in the process. 2010 was "a down year" for Howard, who had "only" 31 homers and 108 RIBz, while putting up a career worst slugging (.505) and OPS (.859). But don't be fooled just yet, it's no secret that Howard spent much of 2010 experimenting on how to hit lefties better, and improved a good bit, going .264 and .826 OPS versus his career average of .232 and .766 OPS, and if he manages to put all the pieces together, he'll still have a few good dominant power years in him before his supposed decline.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz (31) - 2010 was a career year for Chooch, as he put up career highs in hits, RIBz, walks, and all his slash numbers (.302/.400/.447). Is this the real Carlos Ruiz? Doubtful, but he still commands some respect as a fully capable ballplayer, and the sooner that teams stop falling asleep on Ruiz, the better teams will handle the Phillies. When it comes to pressure, nobody's more money than Ruiz; according to Baseball-Reference's clutch statistics, with two-out RISP situations, Ruiz was He-Man, batting .302/.513/.396, and in statistical high-leverage situations, he batted an insane .350/.459/.513. In other words, Carlos Ruiz is pretty good at this baseball thing, and it's time everyone stops pitching to him as if he weren't.
Reserves: Ross Gload (1B, 34), Brian Schneider (C, 33) - both these guys are locked up through 2011 for $1.6M a pop, so it's a safe bet that both are going to see regular time in backup capacity as Sunday players and pinch-hitters.
On the farm: Given the security that the Phillies have in these two positions, I won't look too hard at what's to be, because barring any lengthy injuries, these four guys are pretty much a lock to see a vast majority of the time in 2011. Not to mention the Phillies look a little weak in both these departments, so it's good that they've got such long-term plans in place now. But Matt Rizzotti (1B, 25) soared through three levels of the minors in 2010, and is currently handling himself very well in the AFL, so he may warrant at least, a cup of coffee in 2011. Catching depth is a little lower in quality, but Tuffy Gosewisch (27) stood out a little bit amongst his peers in AA-Reading, with a .759 OPS, to be the best OPS out of AA and AAA combined.
First base: Ike Davis (23) - Mr. Dives-over-the-railing-for-outs is the likely lock for first going into 2011, and health permitting, based on what was seen throughout 2010, is probably going to be that way until he's either extended or jettisoned somewhere else. Davis had a fairly adequate rookie campaign, hitting 19 homers, and driving in 71 RIBz, both second to David Wright, but he still has some gigantic holes in his swing, which led to 138 strikeouts. But he's still young, and there is plenty of room for improvement.
Catcher: Josh Thole (23) - After Rod Barajas was shipped out, the starting job became Thole's for the remainder of 2010. The diminutive Marcus Giles clone that chokes up on the bat about six inches is very good at not striking out, and putting the ball into play. He also has a decent eye, and good patience as indicative of his 24 BB versus 25 K, leading to a respectable (and team best, in limited PAs) .357 OBP. I imagine the Mets will plug him into the 2-hole to give Reyes plenty of pitches to advance, or at the bottom of the order.
Reserves: Unlike the Phillies, the Mets don't have any designated reserves for these two positions already under contract. At first, 2011 may see some Chris Carter (27) spelling at first, and nobody's really quite sure what's going to happen with the Daniel Murphy (24) experiment; if Luis Castillo is successfully removed, and Murphy becomes the new second baseman, or if it all comes crashing down, and Murphy is a backup at first. At catcher, I'm envisioning Omir Santos (29) getting the role of backup catcher, unless supplanted by someone from the farm, or free agent acquisition.
On the farm: Nick Evans (1B, 24) stands out the most, as he had a very fruitful 2010, hitting well in AA, AAA, and in his third trip to the majors, hitting a cool .306, delivering 11 hits in 36 ABs. Not sure if he's susceptible to the Rule-5 draft, but if he stays, he could be a logical call-up candidate. On the catching side of the farm, I'll give the nod to Georgia Tech's Mike Nickeas (27), who ended out 2010 with his first cup of coffee, and saw a steady progression from AA to AAA in the process. Given the lack of catching depth, he might start in AAA, despite his numbers suggesting to me more suited for AA. A longshot candidate would be Kai Gronauer (C, 24), from Germany, who marched through Low-A, ending in High-A with better numbers, and is currently playing in the AFL.
First base: Gaby Sanchez (26) - 2010 saw a very successful rookie campaign from Sanchez, which might garner him some secondary votes in Rookie of the Year consideration. He led the Fish in doubles (37), and second in RIBz (85) behind Dan Uggla, and didn't play much like a rookie throughout the season. He won't ever be the flashiest, statistically sexy first baseman around, but he's simply got more, than just above-average, ahead of his career.
Catcher: TBD - This would easily be John Baker (29), but he's going to miss all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery three months ago. So there are a few possibilities here:
- The Marlins acquire a free agent, like A.J. Pierzynski (33).
- Grant arbitration to the mediocre Ronny Paulino (29), and he accepts.
- Have a good old fashioned Spring Training catch-off between Brett Hayes (26) and Brad Davis (27).
Reserves: Most people think Wes Helms (34) is primarily a backup third baseman, but he's actually played 302 games at first-base. And he's also signed through 2011, so he stands to be an option. But in the event of any DL for Sanchez, then I expect the Marlins to immediately shift Logan Morrison (22), originally a first-baseman, who Sanchez actually beat out of ST for the starting job, back to first, and then shift Coghlan back to LF, and fill that vacancy with Emilio Bonifacio. The backup catcher, will probably be either the aforementioned Hayes or Davis, barring any outside acquisitions.
On the farm: There's a good probability that between Hayes and Davis, one of them ends up back in the minors to start 2011. But aside from them, the lack of catching depth will likely need to be alleviated via free agents or outside acquisitions, because things aren't getting any younger or brighter on the farm for both these positions, in fact. Vinny Rottino (C, 30) started 2010 in AAA, played five games, hit well, drew walks, but then for reasons I can't seem to find out, was demoted to AA for the remainder of the season, where he put up a solid line of .307/.384/.430 in 433 ABs. Mark Saccomanno (1B, 30) is the only first baseman in the Marlins system that has remotely adequate numbers, but that's not saying a whole lot, because his 2010 line is still just .251/.298/.397... and he's the best of the bunch.
First base: TBD – The biggest question for the Nationals this off-season is simply, Adam Dunn (30). If not Dunn, then there will be either a free agent acquisition, such as Carlos Pena (32) or Derrek Lee (34), or they are going to the farm.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos (22) – The future is now for the Nats, and I’m actually putting Ramos over Ivan Rodriguez (38) to start in 2011. After being acquired from the Twins for Matt Capps, Ramos ate up AAA-Syracuse, before getting called up to Washington, and showed glimpses of talent that I think the Nationals will put into the starting lineup.
Reserves: Pudge started 2010 blistering, but cooled down really fast after April, not to mention that he’s 38 years old, and in the spirit of ushering in the present, a back-up role might be a very good way for transition into the end of his long and successful career. Not to mention the 25 GIDPs he hit into, the lineup would be better without those too. Also not dead yet, is Jesus Flores (25), who was on the slow recovery path from shoulder surgery, and may possibly be ready again by Spring Training. One could make the other expendable and tradeable, depending on the needs/wants of a suitor. As for first base, expect to either see some veterans signed to minor league deals to fill this role, and/or some various utility players playing first unexpectedly. These potential scenarios all but put the nail in the coffin for Wil Nieves, who will likely be released instead of being paid arb-2. Adam Kennedy’s release leaves only Mike Morse (28) as the only other National with 1B experience, and he’s not even guaranteed yet, being an arbitration player. First base depth is an essential need for the Nationals this off-season.
On the farm: Where as the rest of the NL East has very little to no talent brewing in the first base and catching wells, the Nationals have a glut of talent waiting in the wings, which could be very beneficial in the event that the Nationals do not get a free agent first baseman. Chris Marrero (1B, 22) is the front-runner to successor of Adam Dunn, has he has good power. He played all of 2010 in AA-Harrisburg, and put up a line of .294/ .350/.450 with 18 homers and 82 RIBz, and is currently faring nicely in Winter ball. He still needs to work on his patience, but the ground work for offensive replacement is prevalent. Tyler Moore (1B, 23), the Nationals MiLB player of the year that led the P-Nats to the Carolina League championship could very well leap-frog over Marrero, and potentially lead to a Nats version of Sanchez vs. Morrison. He had a career year, blasting 31 home runs, and plating 111 RIBz, but his patience definitely needs a lot of work (40BB vs. 125K). Derek Norris (C, 21) is very young, but very talented, and was another member of the championship P-Nats in 2010. His batting average isn’t pretty, but his OBP is ridiculous for a 21-year old (.419), and he’s got extremely good patience (89BB vs. 94K). He’s also blistering the AFL now with more XBH than singles, and 11 walks in 41 AB at the time of this being written.