2013 Season Preview: The First Basemen

Hughes doing fine after latest throwing session
Yankees sign Chris Bootcheck to minor league deal

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

The Yankees have only had four regular first baseman over the last 20 years, so the position has become pretty low-maintenance in the Bronx. That doesn’t make it any less important though, and this summer the club will have to rely on the most recent of those four first baseman to anchor their offense and be a steadying presence in the lineup. Robinson Cano is clearly the team’s best hitter, but he can’t do it all himself.

The Starter
There’s no doubt Mark Teixeira is one of the most important Yankees heading into the 2013 season. The club lost quite a bit of offense this winter and will be without Curtis Granderson for the month of April, meaning they can’t afford another one of Teixeira’s customary slow starts — during his four years in the Bronx, Tex has hit .209/.336/.386 in April and .271/.361/.525 in the other five months of the season. Perhaps playing in the World Baseball Classic this spring will break that trend, but I’m not counting on it.

Teixeira, who will turn 33 a few days into the season, has all but abandoned any hope of getting back to being the all-fields hitter he was prior to the 2010 season. The short porch in right field was too enticing and he completely changed his approach as a left-handed hitter, opting to pull the ball in the air rather than just drive it wherever it was pitched. That approach is great for power but lousy for everything else, as the shift and routine fly balls have sapped his batting average and by extension, his on-base percentage. Teixeira tried to get back to hitting to all-fields last year and the result was a lot of weak fly balls the other way, so the damage to his left-handed swing is been done. He remains an above-average hitter (116 wRC+ in 2012) but is now just a one-dimensional one.

On the other side of the ball, Teixeira has few peers in the field and is one of baseball’s best defensive first baseman. His range actually kinda stinks thanks to his thick lower half and utter lack of foot speed, but he sucks up every ball he can reach and is as good a thrower as you’ll find at the position. The total package is an above-average player but not an elite one despite his salary, and Teixeira is aware of that. The Yankees desperately need him to stay healthy and be productive this summer.

The Backup
With the bench still unsettled, Teixeira’s backup right now is third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Given the team’s lack of hot corner alternatives, I’m guessing the bench will feature a more clearly defined backup first baseman such as 33-year-old Dan Johnson or even 34-year-old Juan Rivera, who played more games at first (54) than in the outfield last year (46). Either way, Teixeira has been a lock for 155+ games played for most of his career and will be counted on for that many in 2013. There will be no platoons or experiments here, Teixeira is the guy. If he gets hurt and misses a few weeks, the drop-off between him and his replacement — or the replacement third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first — is considerable.

Knocking on the Door
Johnson could either make the team or open the season in Triple-A — I don’t think either would be much of a surprise. If he does open the year on the bench in New York, 26-year-old Luke Murton would get the call as the regular first baseman for Triple-A Scranton. Matt’s little brother hit .249/.327/.464 (117 wRC+) with 25 homers in 526 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton last year, though he isn’t much of a prospect because he struggles against breaking balls and isn’t much of a defender. The righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is one of baseball’s weakest historical profiles, so Murton is at an even greater disadvantage. He is technically knocking on the door of the big leagues since he’ll be with the Triple-A squad, but I wouldn’t expect to see him wearing pinstripes this year or any other year for that matter.

(Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Once a catcher, but not any more. (Denver Post)

The Top Prospect
I didn’t rank a single first base prospect in my preseason top 30 list and that’s no accident. It’s a low priority position and very few players are actually drafted and developed as first baseman. Most move there from other more high-profile positions as a last resort. Prince Fielder is the most notable exception.

Anyway, New York’s best first base prospect — 20-year-old Greg Bird — has indeed moved to the position because he couldn’t handle catching full-time due to a back injury. The left-handed hitter owns a .307/.418/.446 (~159 wRC+) career batting line since signing for $1.1M as the team’s fifth round pick in 2011, but unfortunately that performance has come in only 122 plate appearances. Bird offers power and patience and he can really hit, but he’s going to have to keep producing since he’s already relegated to the lowest priority position before his 21st birthday.

The Deep Sleeper
As I said, there aren’t many first base prospects worth knowing throughout the game in general, nevermind in Yankees’ system. Bird is their best prospect at the position by a big margin, but last summer’s tenth round pick Matt Snyder could be a breakout candidate this summer. The 22-year-old hit .299/.397/.428 (147 wRC+) with more walks (26) than strikeouts (19) in 219 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island last year, but therein lies the rub: his season ended prematurely because of a broke wrist. Wrist injuries tend to linger and impact power output for a year or so, meaning Snyder’s breakout potential is limited.

* * *

The Yankees are setup well at first base with Teixeira, though his production has slipped and he’s no longer the two-way force he was earlier in his career. He’s more of a great complementary player than a cornerstone, which kinda sucks because there is still four years left on his contract. The team lacks first base prospects — specifically at the upper levels of the minor leagues — but that’s not really a big deal at this point. They are going to live and die with Teixeira for the foreseeable future thanks to his contract anyway.

Other Previews: Catchers

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Hughes doing fine after latest throwing session
Yankees sign Chris Bootcheck to minor league deal
  • vinnie

    I have nothing to back this up but I have a feeling Teix is gonna put up big numbers this year. Probably just a delusional false sense of hope on my subconscious cynical view of whats to come this year.

    This years going to suck balls

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      His decline has been linear since 2008 so while I’m sure there’s a chance he’ll bounce back, the fact that he pretty much abandoned the changes Kevin Long tried to make last season makes me not overly optimistic.

      • Barry’s Gift Basket

        Kevin Long is 0k, but see what happen with El Capitan last year…

        Not saying that will happen with Tex and he’ll turn the clock to 2009 now he has dumped Long’s advice, but he’ll remain productive if he stays healty (dah, i know).

      • Robinson Tilapia

        The bounce back doesn’t need to be all the way in order for it to matter. Obviously, we know where we’d like to see him improve, but the current baseline isn’t a bad place to start.

        Maybe we’ve found a position in which Eduardo Nunez won’t hurl the ball into rightfield after all.

        • Mike HC

          I somehow think moving Nunez to first would increase Jeter’s injury probability tenfold.

          • barry

            This is unconfirmed but I hear he caught a simulated game on the off day.

            • Havok9120

              Barry reports Nunez to make position change to catcher. More at 11.

        • Manny’s BanWagon

          Considering what he’s paid, his production offensively just isn’t satisfactory, at least in 2012.

          He had like the 14th best wOBA for 1st basemen last year at .345 and at $22.5 million and only 33 years old, I’m sure the Yankees expected production closer to his prime.

          I’m not expecting a 2008 Teixiera but I think a reasonable expectation would be the 2010 version when he had a wOBA of .369.

          • Laz

            It’s overpaid, but I would be content if he can regain what he did in his first 3 years. Get back to the .350 obp and 35-40 hr power he had. That would be a great bonus in the middle of the lineup.

            • Manny’s BanWagon

              That’s pretty much what I meant when I said a return to his 2010 level would be reasonable and acceptable.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            “Considering what he’s paid, his production offensively just isn’t satisfactory, at least in 2012.”

            And, as we now know, Tex agrees with you.

            • Manny’s BanWagon

              As Mike said, have to give him credit for acknowledging that fact though I’d prefer that he do something about it rather than just accepting it.

    • trr

      come in off the ledge! I think we can count on a similar average, but better power numbers as long as Tex is healthy

      • pablos lackof samwich

        come in off the toilet! I think we can count on a similar average, but better power numbers as long as Tex is healthy

        • Robinson Tilapia

          #indeed

  • Tyler

    Yea usually people dont succeed when they abandon kevin longs advice.

    • barry

      Let’s not act like Kevin Long is the best thing since sliced bread.

      • Mike HC

        Plus, Jeter excelled when he scrapped Long’s advice. I like Long but it is not one size fits all. You have to tinker until you figure out what works best.

        • trr

          +1

        • Laz

          Long has worked great with some, and others have struggled. Anyways, sometimes it is the coach’s problem, other times it is just that the player is deteriorating.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Unsliced bread is so underrated. Who doesn’t love a nice warm baguette?

        • Mike HC

          Best thing since microwaveable burritos?

          /momentofsilencefortsjc

          • Cris Pengiucci

            Sits quietly waiting for microwaved burrito to finish heating

            • Robinson Tilapia

              As well you should.

        • barry

          True but you ever try slicing bread every time you want a sandwich.. forget about it. plus the old fashioned bread goes bad way before you get a chance to eat it all, unfortunately.

          • Mike HC

            which is a positive sign that you are eating actual food that hasn’t been treated with so many chemicals and god knows what else.

            • barry

              A little bit of science is good for the body.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                Keeps the stomach guessing?

              • Mike HC

                haha … can’t argue with science

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Oh, I don’t mind slicing a nice loaf of bread at all. I’m also a stuck-up New Yorker.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              Best bread in the world! (Well, best bagels anyway.)

              • Jim Is Bored

                I was gonna say…Italy and France might have to argue.

                • Cris Pengiucci

                  I was going to comment on him being a stuck up Mew Yorker. We all know he’s still a Miamian at heart. Maybe even a Cuban. Me, I’m a New Yorker. :-)

                  • Cris Pengiucci

                    M New

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    Ha! I’m a little bit of everything. Fresh Cuban bread is delicious.

  • Mike HC

    These positional previews have been great so far. Looking forward to the rest of the roster.

  • Laz

    As long as Teix can stay healthy until July it shouldn’t be a huge deal. Arod can play some 3rd, and Youk can rotate between the two.

    • Now Batting

      Read on LoHud Tex was scratched from the WBC game due to a sore forearm. Just great.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Better that he was scratched than that he played with a sore forearm and was injured due to playing in the WBC.

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    Ah, the joys of crippling and exhorbitant long term deals. Fucking great. And one more coming very soon. Quickly Robbie, sign it before the suspension is handed down.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      dalelama no longer has to feel lonely.

  • tmk

    I totally agree. Why insult him with a sarcastic reference to wanting to play one more game at catcher. That is seriously messed up. All he did is respond in a straight-forward way to a question about his ultimate aspiration. I used to like Girardi but I have to say that his response here makes me think he is a total jerk (and, frankly, it may have some impact on how Joba views the organization and hurt any chance we have to keep him).

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    Mr. Tilapia, the guys on this site are bright, well spoken, knowledgeable and witty as fuck. I enjoy this site as it gives me tons of info on the guys down on the farm. But when it comes down to these mammoth, multi year, multi cajillion dollar deals, I am just not a big fun. And more importantly guarantees nothing as a franchise. I appreciate teams like The Rays that have built the farm and use FA judiciously. Same with Giants and Cards. Just saying…., but what do I know.

    • Laz

      But none of those teams have been to the playoffs as many times in the past 5 years, let alone the past 10 years. All these people want to grow the farm, which is good, but it is very difficult when you never get the top draft picks. Thats why we don’t have a Harper, Price, Longoria, Strasburg, Kershaw, etc.

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    Fan.

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    Laz, from 06 to 12, The Cardinals and Giants have won it all twice each. Look guys, I know that teams like The Rays and The Nationals have stock piled high draft picks, and have prospered in part because of it. But these teams have continued to build, develop, and continue to draft wisely. And occasionally sign a FA, and mostly keep their own under team control. And if not, they trade impending FA’s and reload.

    • Laz

      It’s really hard to win ws. It’s hard to build a ws team. Giants also have 1 85 and 2 90+ loss teams in that timespan. Sure Cards won WS in 2006, but they won 83 games, that is barely over .500, and wouldn’t have even gotten them to playoffs in the AL East. Taking the Cards regular season W/L record between 2006 and 2012, if they were in the AL East they would not have went to the playoffs in any of the years.

      It matters because if you can’t make it out of the regular season it is meaningless whether your team is built to win the playoffs or not.

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    Ok. What type of player is Cano ? And, how much is he worth ? Because for some ‘irrational’ reason I think it’s my team, my money. Type of player ? Pisses me off because I think he’s even better than what he shows. How much is he worth ? Considering my last thought and my aversion to long term, high dollar mama jamas …, 6 years, 20.5 per. More than fair considering his “numbers”.