First-Base Town
No sheriff, just varmints and tumbleweeds

Justin Smoak. 

Just the name sends a shiver through our collective souls at this point. Not for what he can do, but because of how much he’s failed to do with all the promise he had.  Justin Smoak was supposed to be Mark Teixeira.  Failing that, he was CERTAINLY supposed to be a positive force in the lineup.

Justin Smoak, 2000 plate appearances in, is a .240-hitting glove player who can draw a few walks, but doesn’t have a ton of pop and certainly can’t power your lineup as a MOTO hitter.

And he came out in the best collection of first-base talent in a long time. SEVEN first basemen went in the first 23 picks of the 2008 draft. A quarter of the teams in the league are now set at the position… no, wait, NONE of them are.

#3 pick: Eric Hosmer, 4.8 career WAR, most of it last year, career .755 OPS, slow start AGAIN this year
#7 pick: Yonder Alonso, 2.8 career WAR, .717 OPS, traded and flailing around as a poor 1B in the NL
#11 pick: Justin Smoak, 1.8 career WAR, .701 OPS, traded and flailing around as a poor 1B in the AL
#13 pick: Brett Wallace, -0.6 WAR, .704 OPS, was Fat Todd Helton in college, can’t carry Helton’s bags
#17 pick: David Cooper, 0.1 WAR, .750 OPS, had thoracic spine surgery to try to revive career
#18 pick: Ike Davis, 6.0 WAR (most of it in 1 season), just dumped for a minor league arm
#23 pick: Allan Dykstra, has not yet made the bigs, had a degenerative hip issue.


The Draft of First Basemen was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster.  Keep in mind that in the 10 years prior, first basemen had been the safest bet amongst all player types to contribute.  This draft blew the stats for the next decade right out of the water.  At the time, I liked Smoak best of all the 1B options for teams.  I liked Dykstra as a dark horse at our draft slot actually (He went 3 picks after the glorious Josh Fields).  But most of them “should” have been good.

They weren’t. They aren’t.  And right now it looks like they ain’t gonna be, either. Maybe Hosmer can escape the gravitational pull of Suck that has afflicted this draft class, but I have my doubts.

But surely there are other good, young first basemen around the league then, right? Teams were just wrong about THIS class.

Rizzo is a career .740 OPS hitter, but he’s only 24 so he’s got a shot.
Mark Trumbo actually hits HRs but that’s all he does (.223 iso, .768 OPS), and he’s 28 now.

There are basically 5 guys younger than Joey Votto and Prince Fielder who might be worth anything at this point.

- Freddy Freeman may be the best of the New Kids on the Block.
- Paul Goldschmidt is, well, a gold standard when it comes to young first basemen.
- Chris Davis was a one-year monster – now we’ll see what happens.
- Brandon Belt is hitting by the Bay
- Matt Adams can play 1B, well enough to push Craig back to the OF (.807 OPS in part-time duty)

You know where most of those guys play? The National League.  Crush Davis is 28 years old, and the only one of those semi-next-gen, actually-hitting first basemen to play in the AL. No wonder Texas traded for Fielder.

Is it better in the minors?


Short answer: No.

Jon Singleton is the #57 prospect in the land according to BP.  He’s not ranked by BA or in the top-100 prospects, but he is’s top-rated first base prospect. He’s a career .280/.390/.470 hitter and is 22 years old.  He’s all right even with a pretty high K rate (and will be playing for Houston soon), and he’s killing it in the early going this year after getting a lot of criticism this past offseason for not living up to his talent so far.

Here are the rest of’s top 5:
#2 Cron:
24 years old, finally finding power hitting in Salt Lake (aka at altitude), has a .25 batting eye and never walks.
#3 Vogelbach: as wide as he is tall, hit well in low-A at 20 (.824 OPS in the MWL). Might look like ballooning Veruca Salt at 25.
#4 Matt Olson:  .761 OPS in the MWL at 19 (not a deal-breaker), high Ks, struggling at 20 in the Cal League.
#5 Dom Smith:  drafted last year, faceplanting in the early going (.509 OPS) in low-A.

See why I was high on Choi (.312/.414/.512 lifetime) and his chances against that crop? A reason the low-A guys are rated so highly is because they have not yet failed to produce like the other first base prospects.  And there’s very little at the position in this upcoming draft either (tho there’s a high school kid with a chance to be decent – in 5 years).

First base is a wasteland for alternatives, especially in the American League.  The older sheriffs (hilarious that Fielder is now “older” at 29) are holding down the fort, but if you are expecting some glorious first-base production from some new and unheralded dude you’re probably sadly mistaken.  Which is another reason the Ms are considering moving Peterson to first.  It’s not just that Seager is holding down 3rd base, but also that there is a dearth of legit prospects at the position for the forseeable future.  I’ll be honest, I still like Choi’s mix of patience and XBHs – assuming he wasn’t ‘roiding to get those results in previous seasons, I suppose. But thanks to suspension and the post-suspension waiting period to see if he’s still legit, there’s another delay.

In the meantime, Smoak is some of the best that’s available.  There’s nobody who can upgrade the position in the long-term, and moving Corey Hart there in the short-term just creates an OF problem that we also can't solve internally just yet.  Maybe LoMo can come back and hit enough to warrant consideration.  Maybe. 

As Doc says, be afraid – be very afraid. Somebody else is gonna have to hit for us to go anywhere, because there’s not a first baseman we can get right now who is capable of doing that at a high level. So if Smoak can't do it for this team, who will?





Hard to imagine there are not more hitters out there... they can't all be turning to football...
This article makes it even more puzzling why Abreu did not get higher offers this off season.
Further, while I still believe the Mariners will take a left handed pitcher with #6 pick in June... it will not surprise me that they take Kyle Schwarber.
Kyle is supposedly the best combination of contact hitter with power in the draft... and is athletic enough to be an OF, 1B or part time C.


There are a few not on that MLB list that look promising. We've discussed Greg Bird previously, but he's been injured and not played a game this season.
Rangel Ravelo of the White Sox is my super-sleeper. No, the power numbers have not looked good through 2013 but he's bumping it up this year in AA. Very patient hitter. His stock could skyrocket by end of season, and CWS have 1B blocked off. Ronald Guzman, Tex looks like a future stud as well. Glad we have Choi, I'll live in a dream world for now where he mistakenly took something without knowing. Otherwise we'll have to wait for Peterson. Sigh......


But Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto says:
"Montero is also starting to look a little more fluid at first base. Still a long way to go, definitely, but you can see some progress."
I did put this in my post:
Montero has a higher HR% than Kivlehan or Blash, and he has eight hits and three homers in his four games back from paternity leave, and a 10-game hitting streak dating back to before he took the time off.
Maybe it's safe to have some expectations again.


The combination of drug testing and better understanding of how to protect (and surgically repair) pitching arms has made a big difference in general, but 1b/DH might be where it shows up the most.
I do think Smoak is not bad compared to average, it's just that he doesn't live up what we'd grown to expect from a first baseman, and the "Big Ol' Country Boy" type.


AKA "right-handed Choi-lite."  Missed a bunch of time, had trouble getting in rhythm, but his batting eye keeps getting better and the power is coming around. He's not a HR hitter but a lot of guys aren't until their mid-20s, which Ravelo is nowhere near. He's where Choi was last year: if he can put in a full season and find some HR pop in actual games, look out.  The rest of the skills are there.
And I agree, Bird is a good hitter (and I don't just like him because he's a local Colorado prospect). I like him better than Dom Smith or most of the other 1B prospects at the lower levels. Still a few years away, but I've got an eye on him. But when you're hoping the guy who took a hundred walks in low-A can be the next Youk, then he'll need to calm down on the Ks a bit. He's got a lil work to do.
It's still slim pickings at first base down there in the minors at the moment. There's a couple of B-level prospects who could make certain leaps but no Paul Konerko / Carlos Delgado types demolishing AA and AAA at 20, 21 years old.


That's always been his failure: his absymal performances against RHP.  If he can fix that he can at least compete for a DH spot.  I don't expect him to ever play a full-time 1B for us, but maybe he can give somebody a day off occasionally. Once he gets not-bad at the fielding aspect, that is.
Montero is 24.  That's not old. But the guy is gonna have to put up great numbers against both lefty and righty pitching to get his shot back. It'll be hard to keep 1.000 OPS kind of numbers since he's only ever had 60 points of patience, even in the minors.  But he'll need to iso a ton and keep that batting average over .300.  
So far, so good, even if the Ks are a little high. He definitely wants those HRs - but the Ms like greedy hitters anyway, right?


Willie McCovey came up an OF, Garvey a 3B, ditto Dick Allen. Those guys were athletic-types who ended up at 1B because that's where the opening was while minimizing their only adequate glove.
The next generation of bashing 1B were the Murray, Hernandez, Mattingly, Will Clark, Cecil Cooper and Big Cat Galarraga types. The big lefties went to 1B because there was no place else for them on the field, although Mattingly was primarily an OF in the low minors and played OF for two years in The Show.
Because of that, we're much more likely to see "1B" as a type rather than as a place. Carew ended up a 1B, Pete Rose, too. Can you imagine that today?
So I tend to think that Smoak's are 1B because they look like 1B usually lefty and "Big Country" big. The multi-positional athlete rarely ends up at 1B anymore.
But I think we break that mold with Peterson.


If Montero can again rip MLB lefties as he did as a rook, then he's probably more valuable to us, right now, than Ackley is.
Ackley's broken again. Sigh. His "sizzling" 2nd half last year was partly BABIP driven, as well.
I am not hopeful.

M's Watcher's picture

As Ackley gets established as a hitter, I could see him get time at 1B. If he hits, then no worries. As for Cano, his contract is long, and it should be no surprise to see him at 1B before it's done.


Sorry, Moe, but McCovey (who debuted 7/30/59 in a game I saw as a 10th birthday present) never played a game in the OF before 1962 in the minors or majors. He was a prototypical 1B. But so was Orlando Cepeda, who was just as bad in the outfield as McCovey proved to be. Playing either one in the outfield was a desperate attempt to get both bats in the lineup, while shading Alou and Mays to cover the deficiencies. Once Cepeda went to St. Louis, both he and Stretch had HOF careers.
However, a better example from the same era that supports your very valid point is Ernie Banks (Let's Play TWO!!), who came up as a shortstop, and was fair-to-decent, but blossomed as the premier 1B of his time because his bat was more than good enough and his fielding was superb. Think A-Rod moving to 1B at about the point he went to Texas.


is still available. How bad and for how long does Smoak have to suck to make him replaceable?


Sorry Bat. I remember him in the OF some early in his career and assumed he played there while on the farm, too. Mea culpa.
M's, your first line is better if it reads, "If Ackley gets established as a hitter......."
The jury is still WAY out. Personally I think we're about to the point where more Ackley time in LF is more money down the proverbial rathole, so to speak. We may not have many better options, but were we to package him in trade I would have no problem. He may hit somewhere else, but I don't wish to see much more of him.
OK, he still has some leash left with me. It's short, however.
Last year there were 24 guys who played 100 games at 1B AND had 500 PA's. Smoak had a better year than Moreland and Konerko. He was essentially on par with LaRoche, Morneau and Rizzo. Helton, Jones and Overbay didn't quite make it to 500 PA;s...he was some better than them.
He was somewhere around the 33rd percentile of "primary". If you don't count those last three guys, he was somewhat worse. He's a slightly better than league average bat, but below the league average as a 1B. There aren't many other options out there, however. He ours, for while longer.
If Ackley went down for the year, tomorrow, would we miss him? Likely not. Heck, Gillespie and Franklin and Morrison would more than cover for him. Our best OF is probably Morrison/Saunders/Romero, anyway. If we wouldn't miss him, he isn't much.
Smoak? We might miss him a bit.

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