If you had asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you that Justin Smoak would be the Mariner’s all-star first baseman by 2013. It’s unbelievable how things change, isn’t it?
The man that was supposedly a future all-star first baseman has done absolutely nothing in a Mariner uniform. He even whiffed his way into AAA this year. Smoak’s struggles have created a vacancy at first base as well.
So, who is the first baseman of the future?
Call me crazy, but I think Smoak deserves a little more time. Not much time, but a little. Essentially, I think that he gets Spring Training and a few months of next year to prove that he is a better option than anyone else. There is simply too much potential and too much value in him to give up on him now. Switch hitting first baseman with plus gloves don’t come around very often. Smoak knows that his career is on the line, and he might be able to make a few adjustments and pull a move like Michael Saunders did this spring.
A lot of people, including myself, had given up on Saunders, but he has turned in a solid season. I think that we should give Smoak an opportunity to turn around his career in a similar way.
In all likelihood, Smoak will not figure out how to hit over the course of an offseason which means that it will be time to look for better answers. There are a few options from within the organization including Mike Carp, Alex Liddi, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Luis Antonio Jimenez, Vinnie Catricala, Rich Poythress, and Taylor Ard.
I’m not sure what we can expect from Carp. Following an impressive 2011 campaign, Carp has hardly produced and has been constantly bogged down by injuries.
Liddi, who is just 24 years old, has flashed power in his stints in Seattle. Through 144 professional at bats, Liddi has 6
homeruns which averages out to a homerun every 24 at bats. That’s not fantastic, but that should give you a 20-25 homerun season with a starting job. Liddi’s real problem is his strikeouts. While his plate selection and ability to make contact have improved with experience, he still has a contact% of 69.2% and K% of 36.8 in limited time with the big club in 2012.
As soon as Mike Zunino is a catcher, there is a decent chance that Jesus Montero will no longer be given catching duties. When this happens, he will have to either move to DH or first base. Montero could be a good fit at first considering that his bat will profile well there.
Dustin Ackley is another potential first baseman who is already in the system. I would prefer to see Ackley at second since his bat doesn’t provide enough pop to be a good offensive first baseman. Nevertheless, he is a solid last resort.
At the ripe age of 30, Luis Antonio Jimenez could also receive consideration for the MLB job. After demolishing AAA pitching this year, he earned a place on the 40-man roster and a September call-up. Sure, his glove isn’t anything to write home about, but his bat speed and natural power is impressive. I believe that his ability to hit for power is similar to that of Carlos Peguero. The difference between the two players is that Jimenez can actually put the ball in play. Jimenez’ 18.1% K% in AAA isn’t great, but it’s acceptable if you can get good power production in return, and his ISO in AAA was not a big step down from Peguero. The 30 year-old also had a higher OBP and wRC+ than the Peguero. Jimenez becoming the first baseman for the Mariners is certainly a long shot, but it’s also an idea to keep in the back of your mind.
At this time last year, I was convinced that Vinnie Catricala would be a starter on the Mariners in 2013 or 2014, but his 2012 campaign in AAA saw his batting average and OBP drop around 120 points and his SLG% nearly get cut in half from his 60 game stint in AA the previous year. Even worse, his wRC+ went from 184 in AA to 65 in AAA. This drop off is certainly discouraging, but he certainly should not be given up on yet. If “Cat the Bat” can create an assemblance to his 2011 minor league season, he will be a legitimate option at first base in Seattle. He could also play at third base, left field, or right field as well. Last spring training, Catricala challenged for a MLB roster spot, so perhaps he will do the same this year.
Rich Poythress and Taylor Ard were both high level draft picks that play first base as well. Both of them are a ways from being major league caliber hitters, but they are still names to remember in the long run.
Seattle could also look outside of the organization for a first baseman. There are several options which have been discussed in several different articles on this blog, but some of those names are Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Nick Swisher, or Justin Morneau. I am not hugely in favor of dumping lots of money or prospects on anyone right now, but Billy Butler and Ike Davis, who are 26 and 25 years old respectively, could be good trade acquisitions for the right price.
As JJ said in this article, he expected that acquireing Butler would take, “LHP James Paxton, OF/3B Vinnie Catricala or SS Brad Miller, and Erasmo Ramirez and/or Stephen Pryor for Butler and a reliever/AAA throw in.” I’m not willing to give up that much, especially since Butler will end up being a DH. If there was a way to avoid trading Paxton, I would be in, but I don’t think that that is possible.