Leo: A second look at first
A little less than a month ago, I posted an entry on the blog entitled “Who’s on first?”, essentially a comparison of Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman, the first basemen the Indians were pursuing. Now let’s take a closer look at that position now that Kotchman has been signed, sealed, and delivered to Cleveland.
The Indians will obviously have Casey Kotchman start a majority of the games at first, but he’s another left-handed hitter in an already overly left-handed lineup.
It’s possible that Carlos Santana will see a share of the 1B starts, especially against lefty pitchers. Last year, the switch-hitting Santana made 63 starts at first base. My guess is that he’ll see a mixture of time as the 1B and DH in an attempt to save some wear and tear on his still durable knees. The Indians are hoping to extend his life as a catcher by resting him, but still want his bat in the lineup as much as possible.
Shelley Duncan may also see time a that position, especially if he wins the job as the Tribe’s fifth outfielder and 25th man on the roster. He may be called upon occasionally just to get his right-handed bat in the lineup.
Jack Hannahan could land at first base every once in a while. Hannahan will either be the Tribe’s starter at third or make the club as Lonnie Chisenhall’s back-up and be available for a cameo across the diamond.
If Kotchman, Santana, Duncan, and Hannahan are all members of Cleveland’s roster, it still leaves quite a crowd at 1B in Columbus.
Matt LaPorta would likely be the Clippers Opening Day and the “everyday until further notice” first baseman. The 27 year-old hit .247 with 11 HR and 53 RBI in 107 big league games last year. His struggles at the plate combined with an always tenuous glove will put him in Columbus trying to re-prove himself to the Indians.
Russ Canzler could see time at first as well. The reigning International League MVP plays first, third, and the corner outfield spots. He only made 17 starts at 1B with Durham, most of his time late in the season was spent in the outfield. The Indians spent $100,000 to get him from Tampa Bay and if he doesn’t make the Indians roster, he’ll be on the short list for a call up for a variety of roles. Canzler has all his minor league options still available.
Beau Mills debuted on the Triple scene last season, playing 35 games with Columbus. He split time with veteran Nick Johnson and spoke several times about the positive influence Johnson was for his development. Mills, a 2007 first round draft pick, may get pushed back to Akron for a fourth year in the Eastern League. Another option would be a platoon at 1B and DH with the guys mentioned above.
Jared Goedert may be back to playing exclusively at the hot corner, but time will tell for sure. He made a brief transition across the diamond during spring training and after an injury delay the beginning of his season, only made one start at first after July 28th. He played 33 games at 1B between Akron and Columbus. My assumption is that he’ll go into camp fighting for a job at third, but his fate there may rest with Lonnie Chisenhall’s ability to make the Indians roster. If Chisenhall starts in Columbus, Goedert could be Akron-bound for a while. He could also land in a DH platoon situation.
Chad Huffman will go into camp looking for a spot in the outfield, but may also see a few starts at first. He logged 60 at-bats as the Clippers 1B last season and played almost exclusively at that spot during that year’s Arizona Fall League.
The history of first base…
A season with a log jam at first base is nothing new to the Clippers. Columbus spent the 2009 season with Matt LaPorta, Jordan Brown, Michael Aubrey, Stephen Head, and a host of others seeing time a first. Last season ended with five players on the roster that had started games at the position: Nick Johnson, Beau Mills, Jared Goedert, Chad Huffman, and Travis Buck.
It will be one of many areas I’m interested in following this spring. I’ll be watching to see who plays well, who gets the most opportunities, and who stays healthy. That’s what will determine the answer to “Who’s on first?”
On a side note (if you haven’t suffered enough), follow me on Twitter (@Scott_Leo).