Friday, February 22, 2008

NL West breakdown: 1st Base

My next NL West position breakdown will look at 1st base.

1. Adrian Gonzalez (.282 AVG, 30 HR, 100 RBI)
San Diego Padres

Gonzalez was a member of the Texas Rangers organization for the 2004 and 2005 seasons where he only garnered 192 AB’s. Leaving a hitter’s park in Texas to go to pitching-friendly San Diego would normally mean that your offensive numbers would only get worse, right? Wrong. He hit .304, 24, 82 in 2006 and became one of the better hitters in the NL. Last year his AVG dipped a bit, but his power numbers did not. He has become a legit hitting threat on a team that desperately needs it.

What is worth noting is that his numbers at home were not nearly as good as on the road. At home he was .262, 10, 36. On the road, he was .295, 20, 64. Those are pretty big differences. In my mind, that means that Petco Park really is a hitter’s nightmare like it’s advertised as. If a good hitter like Gonzalez has only decent numbers there, then it’s not hard to see why the Padres continue to stockpile their pitching.

With Mike Cameron gone and old man Jim Edmonds in, then he will have to continue to carry the power load with Khalil Greene. So, expect plenty of close ball games this summer yet again.

2. Todd Helton (.320, 17, 91)
Colorado Rockies

Mr. Consistency had yet another year hitting over .300. While he’s no longer the home run threat that he was in the early 2000’s, he still can hit 15-20 while driving in around 80-90. Not bad for a guy that has survived the Rockies’ youth movement to still be a main hitter.

Of course, he’s also smart for staying in Colorado and playing in the “rarified air.” I guess the Humidor, or whatever it is, has made for more realistic games, but it’s still Colorado. His AVG is much better at home compared to the road (.333 - .308), but his power numbers are surprisingly about the same. Looks like hitting behind Matt Holliday takes away more RBI chances than I thought.

What’s good for him is that he won’t be expected to carry the offense like he once was, thanks in large part to Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins, and Tulowitzki. He can slide nicely into any part of the lineup and just continue to pile up the hits. Can’t beat that.

3. James Loney (.331, 15, 67)
Los Angeles Dodgers

It should be no secret to anyone that has been reading my blog that I love Loney, so I was tempted to be totally biased and put him higher. But, I gotta look from a reporter’s standpoint, so 3rd it is. His talent is good enough where he may be 1st by next year, though.

Loney emerged last year from Triple A to supplant Nomar Garciaparra as the primary 1st baseman, and what a move it turned out to be. He started off hot, fought off a .244 AVG in August, and hit .382 in September. Plus, his defense has often times fantastic. Unlike other positions on the Dodgers, there is no talk at all of competition at 1st base. It’s now all his.

His power numbers probably won’t overwhelm anyone, but his AVG is good enough to land him in the 3 spot in the order. One great sign is that his road numbers were outstanding (.370, 10, 34). It’s hard to expect him to hit that high again, but for such a young guy, handling the pressures of playing on the road was done with ease. The sky could be the limit for this kid.

4. Conor Jackson (.284, 15, 60)
Arizona Diamondbacks

Like Loney, Jackson is another young stud with plenty of upside. But, a very slow April made playing time more difficult as the year went on. He should have been the starting 1st baseman, but instead had to settle for 107 starts there. The good news is that his numbers picked up as the year went on despite the inconsistent playing time.

I remember drafting him in one of my fantasy leagues and being really excited about his potential. Then, he went out and hit .217, 0, 5 in April. 60 AB’s and only 5 RBI’s. Ouch. Arizona won the NL West, so it’s hard to claim that they should have left him alone at 1st rather than decreasing his playing time. His postseason was pretty lousy as well (at least he made it there…). Overall, it probably was a year he’d rather forget.

In my mind, he’s good enough to eventually be the everyday 1st baseman and hit more than 15 HR’s. He never hit more than 4 in a month, which he can improve upon. Going into his 3rd full year, he will be pushed by the newly arriving Tony Clark. While Clark will get his AB’s, he needs to establish himself as someone who can drive in runs more often in order to be the main guy at 1st.

5. Rich Aurilia (.252, 5, 33) or Dan Ortmeier (.287, 6, 16)
San Francisco Giants

Ah, the San Francisco Giants offense. True, getting rid of Barry Bonds means the circus has left town, but any hope of scoring runs left with it. For crying out loud, Bengie Freakin’ Molina is their cleanup hitter! Wow, and do I mean wow!

But since I’m looking at everyone, let’s look at Aurilia first. He’s really old and also really unproductive. I could pretty much just stop right there, but I’ll continue. He actually did halfway decent with Cincinnati in ’05 and ’06, but not last year with the Giants. To even suggest that he may be a starter is kind of sad.

Ortmeier is someone I know nothing about, and the rest of civilization probably doesn’t either. It’s been suggested that he’ll win the starting job. He was a call-up in May last year and appeared in 62 games. Looking at his Minor League stats, he can be a decent power threat, but nothing too overwhelming. The most he hit was 20 at Double A ball in 2005. In my mind, just give him the job and let old man Aurilia sit. It’s not like the Giants have anything to lose (other than 100 games).

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