Last time we took a look at the catchers, which is a top-heavy group led by Bryan Anderson. The first basemen, on the other hand, don’t have a lot at the top, with non-prospect Josh Phelps holding down the Memphis job and Mark Hamilton struggling at Springfield. The best talent we have at the position are guys that probably are only first basemen because they aren’t really capable of playing their ‘natural’ position well enough at the big league level.
We’ll run through the whole lot of ‘em after the jump.
First base is often the position of last resort for prospects that field poorly and carry a big stick (see: Barton, Daric). The Cardinals have a couple of those guys in the system and a few ‘natural’ first basemen, as well. It is a good thing that the big club has Albert Pujols (and reasonable temporary replacements in Mather and Duncan) because there is no one on the horizon that might be ready for a major league job in the near future.
Here are the first basemen currently in the system:
Josh Phelps – Josh was a pretty decent prospect for Toronto in the early part of this decade, although he was never much of a catcher, which is how he made his first appearances in the big leagues. As a 1B/DH, though, he had some promise, putting up OPS+ of 138 and 113 his first two full seasons in the league. He has bounced around a bit since then, but has hit everywhere he’s gone. His career numbers are .273/.344/.476, which is pretty respectable. The Cardinals are really a pretty bad fit for him since we have a glut of corner outfielders (Duncan and Mather) that can pull playing time at first while Albert is out. It seems to me that a trade to a team like the Royals would be perfect for all interested parties.
Mark Hamilton – Mark was the Cardinals second round pick out of Tulane in the 2006 draft. The big lefty is supposed to be a power hitter in the mold of someone like Justin Morneau, but he has gone through stretches where his power has been non-existent. He struggled mightily at Quad Cities in 2006, but looked great (.290/.348/.520) at Palm Beach for the first 60 games of 2007. Then he was promoted to Springfield and he hasn’t been able to crack the .400 mark for a slugging percentage since. He’s still only 23 years old, but the clock is ticking. He needs to turn it around quickly.
Steve Hill – Steve got a mention in the Catchers post, too and he’ll probably get mentioned in the leftfield post in the future. Steve was a thirteenth round pick out of Steven F. Austin University in 2007 and he has hit well and for power at every stop. It seems that the organization really doesn’t know what to do with him since they have moved him from catcher to leftfield to first and back for the last two years. The problem is that he’s been pretty bad at all of those positions. If he continues to progress I can see him as a poor man’s Jack Cust – he’s not nearly in Cust’s league in OBP, but he has the same power potential and the same lack of defensive ability.
Brandon Buckman – Buckman was the Cardinals nineteenth round pick out of Nebraska in 2006. He’s another big lefty that showed power potential early on (he slugged .590 in 67 games at Quad Cities in 2007), but has failed to hit for power as he has moved up. Age probably has a lot to do with that, as he was already 23 when he was playing at Quad Cities.
Andrew Brown – Brown is an intersting contrast to Buckman. They were teammates at Nebraska for a year, but otherwise Brown is the anti-Buckman. He is righthanded, not all that big (6’0″, 185lbs) and he has continued to hit for power as he has moved up the ladder. Brown was the Cardinals 18th round pick in 2007 and was recently promoted (ahead of Buckman) to Springfield when Steve Hill broke his hand. He earned the promotion after putting up a .330/.410/.557 line in his stint at Palm Beach. Like Hill, Brown has been moved around in the field a little, but unlike Hill he is not a complete disaster in the field.
Francisco Rivera – Rivera is a nineteen year old that has twenty games under his belt at Quad Cities. It’s tough to make much of a determination after twenty games, but so far his power seems a little low for a first baseman. He doesn’t have a real big frame at 5’11″ and 170lbs, so I’m not sure there’s much power to grow into, either. But again, this is only twenty games for a nineteen year old. His line is .286/.373/.397, so I’m going to cut him a little slack.
Osvaldo Morales – Morales is a 20 year old product of the Dominican Republic that showed good power potential in two short season stops in 2007. He was up at Quad Cities for a few weeks this year and really struggled before being sent back down to extended Spring Training. Morales has also seen a bit of time at third base, but none this year at QC.
Matthew Arburr – Arburr is another guy drafted as a third baseman (17th round in 2007) and who has some power potential, but he isn’t getting on base enough or hitting for a high enough average to be considered a real prospect at this point. He has actually played more in the outfield for Quad Cities this year, but his size (6’4″ 260lbs) will probably limit him to 1B/DH at some point.
Charlie Pelt – Charlie was taken in the 29th round of the 2007 draft out of Georgia State. He was pretty good for nine games at Johnson City last year, but then struggled at Batavia for 40 games and has struggled in limited action at Quad Cities this season. He was drafted as a senior in college, so he’s already 23 and struggling in low A. The math isn’t too difficult to figure out.
Carlos Pupo – The mystery man was a NDFA pickup by the Cardinals prior to Spring Training this year. He seems to have decent power, but we will certainly know more when the short season leagues begin.
Former First Base Prospects of Note
Albert Pujols – Of course he wasn’t a first base prospect, he was a third base prospect, but Pujols’ evolution into the best first baseman in baseball means that the guys listed above will probably never have a shot at the regular first base job in the big leagues with Cardinals organization.
Mike Ferris – Mike was the Cardinals second round pick out of Miami-Ohio in 2004 and he was cut by the team during Spring Training this season. Somehow he saw time at Memphis last season even though his best season line was .230/.344/.399 and that was at Quad Cities in 2005 as a 22 year old. Ferris was never able to hit for average or power at the higher levels and I fear that Mark Hamilton is following closely in Mike Ferris’ footsteps.
Chris Duncan – Chris is the current first baseman for the big club while Albert is hurt, but his (semi-) regular role for the team is chasing around flyballs in leftfield. He seems a bit lost at the plate this year, but when he is right he has the power and plate discipline to be an effective 1B/DH. It would be better for the Cardinals and for Duncan if he played for a team that had a 1B/DH position available.