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Friday, March 26, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: 1st Base

First base is a position where the A's are well stocked in terms of young talent.  All points indicate that some combination of Daric Barton and Chris Carter should get the A's through the next six years, but should Barton's bat never develop or Carter's strikeouts and size get the best of him we'll see what the A's fallback options are.  Should they both fulfill their potential (offensively) one could be the answer at first while the other DHs.

Here's my take on what the A's choices are at first base (the cold corner?) through 2015.

Daric Barton
Opening Day Age: 24
ML Service: 1+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2011
FA Status: Eligible after 2014

Barton's M.O. throughout his minor league career was to put up high OBPs, but hit with less authority than you'd like to see out of a first baseman.  Reviews were mixed as to whether or not that power would ever come.  It hasn't so far and Barton's got only 16 career homers in nearly 800 big league plate appearances.  His M.O. in the majors has been to only hit well in September.  There is reason for hope.  First is that he's only turning 25 this August.  Secondly is that despite his lack of power, he's not that far from being a useful bat (but still far from being a future star).  His major league OBP last year of .372 is will play, even at first base, as long as he hits for some semblance of power.  Fangraphs rates his glove at first to be above average and as a former catcher may still be improving.

The A's would be smart to refrain from locking Barton up through his arb-years.  If he doesn't improve offensively in the next two years he'd be a non-tender candidate when he becomes eligible for free agency.  Barton's still too much of a work in progress to guarantee any chunk of change for his services.  He does show enough hope that he's not a bad guy to have starting at 1B this year and he'll hopefully start showing some power soon...both for the A's and for his own sake because he might start getting pushed out by one or more of the guys a little farther down this list.

Eric Chavez
Opening Day Age: 32
Signed through 2010
Team Option for $12.5 million for 2011 (with $3 million buyout)

Oh, what could have been.  Through 2004 he was a borderline MVP candidate with only nagging injury concerns.  Those nagging injuries turned chronic and severe.  His last decent season was in 2007 and his one saving grace (and the reason for the name of the blog), his 3B defense, is no longer an asset.  He's appeared in only 31 games in the last two years and has been pretty bad when able to take the field.  He's learned how to play first, but there's no real good reason why.  At least the A's aren't committed to starting him, having acquired Kouzmanoff to play third and plan on playing Barton at first.  I guess Chavez could spot Kouz at third against some righties and maybe give Cust or Barton a day off here or there.  If Adam Rosales makes the team I could see Chavez pinch hitting for Cliff Pennington now and again as well.  We'll see how he responds to being a part-time player, but there's a better chance that the A's release him this year than he does of playing a significant role. 

It's not that I'm hoping that this to be the way it plays out.  I'd love to see him regain at least his batting stroke and make the A's at least think about playing him more frequently and perhaps bringing him back next year.  It's just that the smart money on this being the last season he's with the A's (and perhaps his last shot in the majors).

Jake Fox
Opening Day Age: 27
ML Service: <1
Arb Status: Eligible after 2012
FA Status: Eligible after 2015

Fox is out of options and his poor spring performance has him on the roster bubble.  I'm inclined to think that he would be grabbed by another team if the A's try to sneak him past waivers as although he has some flaws, he is a useful player.  He's not really a first baseman (or third baseman or outfielder) but he's shown the ability to hit well enough to be a productive part-timer.  Every projection system I've seen has him putting up a roughly .310 OBP with a SLG in the high .400s.  These are by no means all star numbers, but on this team it has its uses.  Barton and Jack Cust, the guys who figure to get most of the PAs at 1B and DH are left handed and neither are sure things to hit this season.  Chavez also fits these criteria.  Fox, a right handed hitter, can spot Barton or Cust against lefties and provide some power in a part-time role. 

I could see Fox being a good bench player for two or three years.  There's no real reason to keep a guy like this around once he gets expensive, so Fox's stay with the A's organization  may be short (it may be very short if he doesn't make the team out of Arizona).  He has his uses, though, and I'm not sure that he doesn't deserve a roster spot ahead of Chavez.

Chris Carter
Opening Day Age: 23
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Mid to Late 2010

Chris Carter can hit for power.  The question is, however, how will the rest of his game translate to the major league lever.  He strikes out a lot (at least 24% of his PAs in all of his minor league stops).  That hasn't stopped him from putting up solid OBPs, though his .406 BABIP in Midland in 2008 sure helped that year.  He doesn't walk a ton, especially compared to how much he strikes out.  Players with extraordinary power (and Carter has that potential) can be solid players even without additional baseball skills -- and can even become star players (see Ryan Howard).  He's proven that he can hit for a high enough average and walk enough to be successful through AA and hopefully he'll do the same in AAA this year.

If he really crushes AAA pitching, and if Barton or Cust fail to hit this year, Carter could see significant playing time in Oakland this year.  Otherwise, I'd expect to see him spend almost all of 2010 in AAA with an eye towards a starting job, either at 1B or DH in 2011.  Carter, along with Michael Taylor are the A's best bets to develop a true hitting superstar.  If this happens, we'll see if the A's can and will pay him big time money.  Regardless, he'll be under team control through at least 2015.

Sean Doolittle
Opening Day Age: 23
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Late 2010 to Early 2011

I'm not as high on Doolittle as some are.  Most prospect watchers have him as one of the A's top 10 prospects, but he's only had one good season and that was a partial year at high-A Stockton in 2008.  He battled injuries last year, but was OK in AAA when he was able to take the field, hitting .267/.364/.448.  He's athletic enough to play the outfield, which is where his future will have to be if Barton and Carter both pan out.  Marc Hulet at Fangraphs describes him as a "280-.300 hitter with 15-20 homer potential" which is more or less an unimproved Daric Barton.  Unless he takes a step forwards at the plate, or proves to be an excellent defensive outfielder, he's destined for the bench or becoming a AAA lifer.

Doolittle will likely start the year in extended Spring Training and rejoin the Rivercats when he's completely recovered from the knee injuries that sidelined him last year. 

6 Year Outlook
The A's have one of the game's top 25 prospects in Carter and is a decent bet to become the dominant hitter the A's haven't really had since Jason Giambi (version 1).  Barton is still young and has shown signs that he can be a big league first baseman as well.  The A's seem set in the near term as Barton isn't arb-eligible until 2012 and Carter likely won't be until 2014.

It'd be nice if the A's had more behind these two in addition to Doolittle.  If Carter blows up in a good way the A's might be looking to trade him in 2015 the way the Brewers might deal Prince Fielder now.  If he blows up in a bad way the A's would have to turn to free agency to fill in at first or DH.  Fortunately, 1B/DH types have been pretty cheap in recent years, but it's hard to say if that trend will continue or if there'll be any talent worthwhile there when the time comes to look there.

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