It’s still spring training. It’s early. It’s about time we announced the best players at each position on the American League West division.
Between roster cuts, injuries, and trades many rosters are unfinished products, but we still have plenty of information to do a ranking of the best players at each position for each team in the west. This list might look much different in two or three weeks.
Here are the best first baseman in the AL West:
Mar 6, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels infielder Albert Pujols (5) reacts after missing a pop-fly in the second inning during a spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
1. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Is there really a debate with this choice? Even the twilight-of-his-career version of Pujols ranks among the best players in baseball. His name stands tall among luminaries such as Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig. In 2013 Pujols played in just 99 games, but last season he rebounded from injury to play in 159 games, swat 28 home runs, drive in 105 runs, and bat .272. While the .272 average is a far cry from his career number of .317, he still managed 65 extra base hits. Steamer projections, courtesy of Fangraphs, expect similar numbers all the way around, with a slight dip in playing time. In addition to being a huge threat at the plate Pujols possesses one of baseball’s best gloves at first base. He has received position defensive runs saved totals each season he has been in the bigs. Projected Wins Above Replacement: 2.8
2. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers – He has been in decline for the past few years. However, “decline” for this slugger still means 30 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .360 on-base percentage. In 2014 he hit only 3 homers, despite reaching base at a .360 clip. He had surgery to fuse a couple vertebrae discs in his neck and was limited to just 42 games the whole season. Now he is reportedly healthy and ready to show Texas he isn’t a complete waste of cash. Steamer projects him for 22 home runs and a .368 OBP, which is certainly doable. He once hit 50 home runs so I can see him hitting closer to 30 home runs in a revitalized Rangers lineup. Projected WAR: 2.1
3. Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics – This is a tricky platoon to project. While it is expected there will be some mixing and matching, it is still unknown who will play and when. Still, the fact that Butler and Davis have shown the capacity to hit close to or more than 30 home runs, there is plenty of upside. Butler is expected to DH against righties with Davis playing first base, and then Butler with play first against lefties to try to capitalize on the matchups. In a typical Butler season, against lefties he will hit around 5 home runs with a .360 OBP, and in a typical season Davis will hit around 10 home runs off of righties with a .360 OBP. Factor in a possible bounce back from each and a platoon of just those two could look something like this: 18 home runs, 85 RBI, .360 OBP, 120 wRC+. Now to bring Canha into the equation, the rule-5 draft pick whom the A’s traded for has shown the ability to mash this spring. With 2 homers this spring he’s shown the raw power we have only heard about, but he hasn’t shown the other hit tools that made him on triple-A’s best players last season. Should he make the team he will see some time against lefties at first base, third base, and the outfield. Projected WAR: Butler = 1.2*, Davis = 1.8, Canha = 0.3*
Aug 12, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison (20) doubles against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fifth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
4. Logan Morrison, Rickie Weeks, Seattle Mariners – These two have less of a track record than the A’s trio, but similar upside. Weeks, formerly a second baseman, was brought in to help around the diamond and perhaps form a platoon with Morrison. Despite Weeks’ recent decline, he still hit .256 against lefties last season with 7 home runs. Morrison is a former Miami Marlins top prospect with as much upside as one on this list. However injuries derailed his path to success. Last season he seemed to have overcome those injury issues and in 56 second half games batted .285 with 6 homers. His season ended up looking quite nice: 99 games, 11 home runs, 41 runs, 38 RBI, .262/ .315/ .420. Steamer projects 18 home runs, 61 runs, 64 RBI, and a .253/ .324/ .428 triple-slash line. Include anything Weeks might add and you’re looking at numbers similar to what the Oakland first basemen might produce. There is plenty of potential here, but more bust potential than anywhere in the Al West. Projected WAR: Morrison = 1.4, Weeks = .05*
5. Jon Singleton, Houston Astros – The Astros first base situation is a complicated as any in baseball. Singleton was rated as a top 100 prospect every year since 2011 and forced his way to Houston. His power showed up, but nothing else did. He is fighting for a roster spot, as our good friend Jason Burke points out, but he’ll have to improve upon his triple-slash line of .168/ .285/ .335. Steamer doesn’t expect more than 65 games or 10 home runs, which is as likely of an outcome as 160 games and 25 home runs. After him the Astros have former-Athletics masher Chris Carter and former-Braves catcher Evan Gattis – both capable of big power numbers – but their talents are best kept in the DH spot or left field. Similar to the Mariners possible platoon, Singleton has the upside to be one baseball’s best first baseman, but also the bust potential to be playing out his days in Fresno. Projected WAR: Singleton = 0.1, Carter = 1.5*, Gattis = 1.3*
*=Unlikely to receive qualifying at-bats at the position
If you are an Angels fan you are very pleased to have one of the all-time greats manning first base. If you’re a fan of the rest of the AL West teams you are simply hoping for a healthy 150 games, or more.
Who knows how things will go. When the games actually start there are likely to be surprises – both good and bad – and this ranking might need to be flipped on its head.
I guess that’s why they play the games.