Down On The Farm: First Basemen
By David Egbert
The crop of prospects at first base is better than the catchers but nobody is knocking on the door for big league playing time at this point. Let’s take a look at who’s in play.
DURHAM: Sadly, there are really no prospects at this level. The two guys playing the position most of the time are having great years but that’s not going the help them reach the show. Leslie Anderson was signed out of Cuba four years ago and has consistently hit at AAA. However, the rap on him is that he is too old (31), doesn’t take to coaching, can’t hit for power and isn’t smooth around the bag. His 2013 AAA line is .324 BA/13 HR/60 RBI/.922 OPS. Nice numbers but as he is not on the 40-man roster, he probably won’t see the big leagues this year.
You could probably say ditto for Vince Belnome. Signed out of the Padres organization as a AAA roster filler, he has a 2013 line very similar to Anderson’s (.939 OPS) but with less power and more plate discipline. He’s younger than Anderson (25) but also not on the 40 man roster. He does, though, have the ability to play third base and second base as well as first, and that type of versatility could earn him an opportunity with the Rays at some point.
As both players have shown solid bats and play multiple positions, they probably deserve a shot to be at least bench players. However, that is unlikely to happen for Anderson with the Rays, and Belnome’s future remains up in the air.
MONTGOMERY: Things start to look a little better in Biscuit land. Cameron Seitzer is their first baseman and while he is a bit of a project, the Rays seem to like him. The son of a former major leaguer, Kevin Seitzer, the Rays thought enough of him to have him skip a level and go from low A to AA at age 23. At Montgomery, he has put up steady but not spectacular numbers with a .271 BA/2 HR/41 RBI/.725 OPS. He stands out for his bat speed and plate discipline but has shown little power outside if winning the AA home run derby. Lack of power is often the kiss of death for a corner position player but the Rays are seeing and liking his kind of hitting approach in James Loney. Nevertheless, how much power he develops will likely be the key to his future.
There is a lot of road to be traveled before Seitzer even makes it to the 40 man roster but he is going to make the trip interesting.
CHARLOTTE: One of the real real gems among Rays position players, Richie Shaffer is a college kid who was the Rays first round draft choice in 2012. Considered the best college hitter available that year, he had a solid pro debut at short season Hudson Valley. He skipped low A and went right to Charlotte where he got off the a rocky start. He has picked up his game and now shows a .257 BA/8 HR/54 RBI/.720 OPS line including a .307 BA/3 HR/15 RBI/.891 OPS line since the start of July.
Shaffer is perhaps the most polished hitter in the system with a patient approach and good plate discipline (although it wasn’t until July that he finally started drawing some walks). As time goes by, he will hit for more power. He is athletic in the field and has played first and third. Shaffer has plenty of talent, but it will be interesting to see whether he can overcome his rough start to this season to get back on the fast-track.
BOWLING GREEN: Patrick Leonard was the last part of the James Shields/Wil Myers deal. A high school kid with only one year of pro ball under his belt, he is truly raw. He has the most power potential of all of the first basemen in the system but some scouts felt he would struggle with advance power pitching and early this year, he did. Off to a horrible start with Bowling Green, he has picked up his offensive game in the second half, managing a .283 BA/6 HR/24 RBI/.863 OPS since May 31st. His overall line on the season remains unimpressive as he’s hitting to just a .219 BA/7 HR/39 RBI/.649 OPS line, but the second half numbers are reason for optimism. He has played both first and third and needs work in the field. Leonard could need a lot of time to develop but the potential is there.
In conclusion, the talent in there but it is certainly not refined at this point. Stay tuned and hope that Shaffer continues to pick up his game.