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Positional Breakdown: First Base

A look at the cold corner through the organization.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Over the next eleven days, we are going to take a look at the Red Sox depth chart to break down each position both in the short-term and the long-term. We’ll look at projected starters, bench pieces, depth options, top prospects, sleeper prospects, other prospects, where the starter fits in the division in terms of projected fWAR using FanGraphs’ Depth Chart system and an overall view. Today we move over to first base.

Starter(s)

Mitch Moreland, Michael Chavis

Originally I was going to just have Mitch Moreland in this spot because I do think he’ll probably get the bulk of the starts here, but that didn’t feel right. First base should be mostly a true platoon for the Red Sox if they play in 2020, with Moreland getting the majority of the starts against right-handed pitching while Chavis will start basically every game in which the opponent has a southpaw on the mound. That’s not all of the playing time Chavis will get, of course, since he’ll fill in at other spots through the year. However, focusing only at first base I would venture to guess that, assuming health, about 80-90 percent of Chavis’ starts at first base will come against lefties.

In terms of production, this is not a group from which you should expect superstar production, but it’s also a serviceable pair. Moreland has basically proven who he is over the last few years in Boston, which is to say he’ll be a little bit streaky but settle in a little above average. The ceiling raises slightly if they can limit his exposure to lefties as much as possible, but he’s more good than great either way. Chavis is more of a wild card, but we saw the power is very real and we’ve seen adjustments with his strikeout rate in the minors. Again, if we’re only looking at how he performs as a first baseman I would think he’ll be productive because of the platoon advantage.

Bench

Jonathan Lucroy

This is obviously misleading because with two starters, that means if one is not starting they can then serve as the depth, whether that be on the bench or, in Chavis’s case, potentially moving from another position if needed. In the event Lucroy does make the roster as I predicted over the weekend, his main role would certainly be as a catcher, but his ability to fill in at first base has been mentioned by the coaching staff as well. All in all, it’s more of an emergency option I would think.

MLB: MAR 03 Spring Training - Red Sox at Yankees

Depth

Bobby Dalbec, Josh Ockimey, Tommy Joseph

This is arguably the position at which the Red Sox have the most Triple-A depth waiting in the wings. This could turn out to be important, too, given Moreland’s advanced age and history of nagging injuries as well as Chavis’s uncertainty. Dalbec is the cream of the crop here, and in a normal season it was expected he’d get a chance in the majors sooner than later. He’s likely the first baseman of the near future for this franchise, perhaps grabbing the job on a permanent basis by 2021.

Ockimey isn’t an everyday player given his defensive shortcomings and, more importantly, his extreme platoon splits. That said, I think he can surprise some people in his career as he has the potential to carve out a role as a big power righty-mashing bat that can come in off the bench late in games and fill in at first base when need be. Joseph is a wildcard who has shown flashes in the majors a few years ago. I wouldn’t expect him to make an impact here, but a hot start at Pawtucket combined with an injury ahead of him on the depth chart could open up a path.

Top Prospect

Triston Casas

Although he was technically drafted as a third baseman, everyone knew it was only a matter of time until Casas was going to move across the diamond. The good news is that it doesn’t tank his value as it would for some other prospects. For one thing, his defense at first has been graded quite well, and I have long believed that first base defense has been a bit underrated by the analytic community. More importantly, the kid can flat out hit. There’s a little swing and miss in his game, but he has a really good approach and his power potential matches the monstrous 6’5, 240-pound frame. Having only made it as far as a quick cup of coffee in Salem, he’s a few years away from really making an impact, but he’s at least one of the top two prospects in the system, arguably number one, and a top 100 prospect in the game in the eyes of numerous evaluators.

Sleeper Prospect

Pedro Castellanos

It’s kind of hard to emerge as a sleeper prospect as a first baseman since so much of your value comes down to how well you can hit and, generally speaking, it’s hard to sneak up on people with the bat. That said, Castellanos has some potential to do just that. The 22-year-old has long been frustrating to scouts who have seen legitimate raw power in batting practice but never saw it translate into games. Heading into last season his three professional Isolated Powers (SLG - AVG) were .169, .111 and .084. Last season wasn’t that impressive either, finishing at .124.

However, first of all he was playing in Salem, which is not an easy park to hit for power in unless you are Bobby Dalbec. Plus, and more importantly, he turned it on in a big way to close out the year after some mechanical adjustment. Castellanos his eight of his nine home runs over his last 30 games (26 percent of his games on the year) and his ISO in that final month was .275. Obviously the sample here is not huge, but if that can be carried into Double-A whenever baseball comes back, Castellanos can certainly sneak up on some people.

Other Prospects

  • Devlin Granberg was another consideration for a sleeper here. The ceiling is not super high but he’s done nothing but hit as a pro and could fly under the radar into an eventual bench role.
  • Dominic D’Alessandro was a college pick so the numbers can be misleading but he beat up on GCL pitching last summer.
  • Stephen Scott can play some corner outfield too and he showed good plate discipline in the New York Penn League last summer after being picked in the tenth round.
  • Joe Davis was yet another 2019 draftee who had a good debut in Lowell, using strong bat to ball skills to get there.

AL East Projections

  1. Luke Voit, NYY (1.7 fWAR)
  2. Ji-Man Choi, TB (1.3 fWAR)
  3. Mitch Moreland, BOS (0.6 fWAR)
  4. Rowdy Tellez, TOR (0.4 fWAR)
  5. Chris Davis, BAL (-0.9 fWAR)

This one is a little bit tough because there are so many platoons at play here, and not only with the Red Sox. The Rays, for example, will probably use José Martínez a fair bit at first base. Either way, I think this is a fair breakdown of the order. I’m still not totally sold on Voit, but I really don’t have a good reason for it and am honestly probably just hoping more than actually believing that. Choi and Martinez as a rich man’s Moreland and Chavis combination. Tellez has some power and I wouldn’t be totally surprised by a step above Moreland and company, but I also would like to see it before I crown him. The Davis projection just makes me sad.

Parting Thoughts

It seems like we’ve been talking about “first baseman of the future” for the Red Sox forever. With Chavis, Dalbec and Casas, they seem as well set up as ever in that department. Plus, the 2020 tandem, while not thrilling, is solid.