Organizational Overview: First Base

Organizational Overview: First Base

Freeman | Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter

For many of the organizational overviews I do to accompany our prospect rundowns, the current starter or starters at that position may run the gamut between good-to-bad, but there are often two or three really good prospects on the way to supplement them or push them out of the way. First base is the exception as not only is the starter elite, but there are nearly no prospects to speak of. That’s not a terrible thing – I mentioned before how many standout first basemen don’t start there. But it certainly makes for a relatively sad collection of prospect blurbs like we released on Friday.

I’m changing up the organizational overview slightly. The first section will include where that position projects right now for 2018 in comparison to the league. The second section will look at the near future and the “oh (expletive)!” plan should things go really wrong in 2018. Finally, the third section goes beyond the next couple of years. Some of the information I use comes from recent looks at the roster makeup for next season.

First Base
Signed: Freddie Freeman ($21 million)
Arbitration: Matt Adams ($4.3 million estimate based on Lonnie Chisenhall‘s 2017 arbitration settlement)
Minor League Free Agents: Carlos Franco, Joey Meneses, Matt Tuiasosopo
Current Projection: $25.3 million

For the Braves, their hopes and dreams for 2018 include a lot of Freeman playing. Next season will be Year 5 of Freeman’s big eight-year extension that runs through 2021. The deal was heavily backloaded, which is pretty common for a player signing prior to his big arbitration paydays. Freeman earned $20.5M this year, the first of five years he’ll earn at least that much cash. Freeman has yet to play in a playoff game since signing that extension, which is a terrible waste of some of the slugger’s best years. Freeman notably played a little third base this year and didn’t suck too awfully at it, which was surprising.

Adams is currently projected for the 2018 roster because to lose him for nothing is difficult to believe. When the dust settled on his 2017, it was a pretty solid – and unspectacular – season. Basically, a microcosm of his career. That said, he provides a big bat against right-hand pitching and could be useful for next year’s team as support for Freeman and a potential option in left field. You’ll lose value with Adams in left because he’s a terrible defender, but you can also say the same about the current projected starter out there.

Jace Peterson and Rio Ruiz, not mentioned here, also played some first base for the Braves last year and both could return next season.

Comparison – 2018

Freeman played in 117 games, roughly forty fewer than the other elite options at first base. Despite that, he nearly matched them as far as production goes. Despite swinging a wet newspaper for much of the second half, Freeman’s .280 ISO was only bested by rookies Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo among first basemen. It was the fourth time in five years he posted at least a 4 WAR and only Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt can make convincing arguments that they could be the best first baseman in the game since the beginning of last year.

There is zero reason to believe Freeman, when healthy, won’t continue to excel in 2018. He finished last season with the lowest strikeout rate of his career and the best wOBA so he’s still improving rather than regressing. Next season will be his Age-28 season so he could be still scratching the surface on what the Best Freeman might look like. That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the league right now.

If Adams is brought back, he remains a solid platoon option should Freeman go down, having OPS’d .828 against righties throughout his career. He brings limited value because of his flaws, but when he’s on, his bat can launch homers in binges. He’s also a tremendous pinch-hitter and I typically don’t attach such an adjective to a role that is often difficult to successfully duplicate. Over 155 pinch-hit appearances, Adams is slashing .315/.342/.555 with nine home runs.

You could make the argument that with Adams and a competent platoon option against southpaws, first base would be a strength. But with Freeman, it makes first base an elite strength compared to the rest of the league.

Comparison – The Near-Future/”Oh, (Expletive)!” Plan

For the latter, the presence of Adams gives the Braves a big boost. However, the Braves may find his salary, which could approach $5 million, a bit too rich for their blood. If so, the Braves would be in a dicey position depth-wise short of other moves this winter – basically, the same position they were in when Freeman went down after being hit by a pitch by Aaron Loup in 2017. At that point, the Braves signed the zombified version of James Loney, started Jace Peterson at first base, and promoted Carlos Franco from Double-A to Triple-A. None of those moves gave former General Manager John Coppolella any confidence – as they shouldn’t have – and he made the deal for Adams.

If the Braves cut bait on Adams, they should definitely be on the lookout for some help here because they lack any real options to immediately call upon. There’s Peterson, who…no. Just no. Rio Ruiz was given a late look last month at first base and also played a handful of games at first base this season for Gwinnett. There was some purpose to these moves as the Braves looked to uncover some added value in Ruiz, whose defensive inflexibility and limited offensive profile as a platoon hitter makes it hard to keep him on the roster. He looked like a guy who hasn’t played much first base to no one’s surprise. He’ll likely continue to get some work there this offseason and spring. If Adams is gone, without additional options brought aboard, Ruiz might be Atlanta’s best option at first base should Freeman go down.

This is both a potential strength and weakness. Not many teams – especially in the NL – have an option like Matt Adams to call upon. But if he is non-tendered, depth could be a real weakness that will need to be addressed.

Lugbauer | Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter

Comparison – The Future

Here’s a brief projection of what 1B might look like next year in the farm system with their rankings in our most recent Top 5 1B in parenthesis…

Gwinnett: Sal Giardina, Minor League Free Agents
Mississippi: Carlos Castro (5), Jonathan Morales
Florida: Drew Lugbauer (1), Kurt Hoekstra, Anthony Concepcion,
Rome: Austin Bush (4), Griffin Benson
Danville: Nicholas Vizcaino

That’s not good. Lugbauer is really the only member of this group that would seem like a decent bet to get to the majors and he was an eleventh round draft choice last June. As we talked about on Friday, there’s just not a lot else and that includes a pair of players from the Top 5 prospect list, Carlos Franco and Joey Meneses, who I believe are both possible minor league free agents this winter. The Braves could bring back either/both, but that won’t help the position much.

That said, with Freeman’s youth, first base is simply not a priority. Even if you are still worried about the future, first base could be aided by moving a prospect from another position. Like I pointed out, we saw Rio Ruiz get into some games at first base in the second half of the 2017 season. Another prospect, Braxton Davidson, could be one that gets moved sooner rather than later. When the roster for the fall instructional league was announced in mid-September, Davidson was listed as an infielder despite playing only the outfield after being drafted. Davidson’s prospect status has disappeared after an OPS under .700 the last two years at High-A ball, but at just 21-years-old, the Braves aren’t going to completely give up on him. He’ll have to hit a ton to be a first base prospect, but with little else in the system, it might be a good move.

Austin Riley is another guy who could be switched across the diamond, as our Stephen Tolbert eluded to last week. I’m not there yet with Stephen, but Riley’s defense at third base certainly is a work in progress. Others like Brett Cumberland or Alex Jackson could struggle to stay behind the plate, though Jackson seems like a better fit in the outfield.

Again, there’s no pressing reason to feel the need to add some big-time talent at first base. Beyond the fact that you can move other players there, Freeman is locked up for another four seasons so when we talk about the future at the position, it’s important to remember that the future is already here. In a weird way, despite the lack of any really talented prospects, the future at first base is still a strength. Other teams may have the big first base prospect, but when you have a guy like Freeman who is still pretty young and locked up, you’re still looking pretty even without much in the system.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

2017-18 Hot Stove Organizational Overviews
Catcher

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