While there’s a lot of depth in the Blue Jays’ system at first base, several veteran players became minor league free agents (or were claimed on waivers) leaving the Blue Jays a fair bit of room for guys to move up in the organization.
I’ll approach first base a little differently than I did with the catchers in the organization. The first section will deal with players who are primarily first basemen while the second section will examine other players who have played or can play first in addition to their other positions. Of course, all of the listings below are based on my own theories about who will end up where in the system and on how I think the Blue Jays evaluate their talent. Things will likely change as the Jays may sign minor league free agents as we approach spring training and opening day. Levels listed are where I think the player will be in 2014.
2014 Toronto Blue Jays Organizational Depth Chart (projected) — First Base
1. Edwin Encarnacion – ML
2. Adam Lind – ML
3. Dan Johnson – AAA
4. Gabe Jacobo – AA/AAA
5. K.C. Hobson – AA
6. L.B. Dantzler – A+/A
7. Matthew Dean – A
8. Kevin Patterson – A/A+
9. Jordan Leyland – A
10. Rowdy Tellez – R+
The saying goes that there is no such thing as a first base prospect which means that players generally don’t start their professional careers at first base but they end up there due to being unable to effectively play another position. Clearly by looking at the Blue Jays’ system, that isn’t the case for everyone. Sure, some of these players, like Matt Dean, have ended up at first base after starting their careers at other positions but some, like Rowdy Tellez and L.B. Dantzler, come with big bats that are thought to be able to play at first base right from the start.
Some of the names on this list might not be very familiar. Dan Johnson is, of course, a minor league free agent signing who has plenty of big league experience at first base. He is going to be the first man up if there’s a need for a first baseman in Toronto. Gabe Jacobo has hit everywhere he’s gone and had a very good season split between Dunedin and New Hampshire last year. He was taken in the Rule 5 draft (minor league portion) in 2011 and will hope to have an injury free season in which he’s able to produce like he did in New Hampshire last year. I could see him playing in Buffalo as well. He’s played in the outfield as well as at first base and could be a useful right-handed platoon bat with Johnson there.
I’ve written about K.C. Hobson for Jays Journal and despite his very low batting average last season, his BABIP was incredibly low and he still led the Dunedin Blue Jays in home runs last year in a Florida State League that’s very tough on hitters. I think people write him off but he’ll be a sleeper due to the fact that he didn’t strike out very much (16% of the time) and his BABIP should regress. If he makes it to Double-A (like I hope), he’ll be in a much better hitting environment and could take a lot of people by surprise. If Ryan Schimpf can hit 23 home runs in New Hampshire, I’d bet that Hobson can hit 28 or more.
I think L.B. Dantzler jumps over Lansing next year (to Dunedin) to allow Matt Dean to move up and get every day at bats in full-season ball and I think you see Jordan Leyland who destroyed pitching in the Northwest League only to falter in Lansing back in the Midwest League as a DH. Kevin Patterson should also head back to Dunedin and will be a DH there as well. Finally, Rowdy Tellez, who will have had plenty of extra hacks in the fall instructional league and extended spring training, will move up a level to Bluefield with the possibility that he makes it to Vancouver before the year is over.
There are few real first basemen on the Dominican Summer League roster to worry about but I’m sure a few guys will move down the defensive spectrum at some point.
Auxiliary First Basemen
1. Moises Sierra – ML/AAA
2. Andy LaRoche – AAA
3. Jack Murphy – AA
4. Andy Burns – AA
5. Shane Opitz – A+/AA
6. Kellen Sweeney – A+
7. Pierce Rankin – A+
8. Jason Leblebijian – A+
9. Seth Conner – A
10. Justin Atkinson – SS-A
11. Gabriel Cenas – R+
12. Lydell Moseby – R+
13. Angel Rojas – R+
Again, this list is of players who are either non-first-basemen who have played the position a little bit or who only had a little bit of playing time at the position. Really, with the organizational depth that the Jays have at the position, most of these guys aren’t going to play first base very much. Lydell Moseby, despite playing other infield positions in college, is likely going to stay at first base but the Blue Jays don’t have much of investment in him (signing him as a non-drafted free agent) so he may get very little playing time, perhaps in Vancouver next year.
I don’t see Justin Atkinson’s bat being a long-term fit at first base but he’s still only 20 years old and another year in Vancouver could have him as the every day first baseman for a while just to see how he does there. Gabriel Cenas could be a very interesting name on this list because, judging from what he did last year, he could have a future at first base. We’ll know more when he gets out of the complex league (the GCL) but he could open things up a bit next year.
Andy Burns got some experience playing first in the Arizona Fall League last year while Jack Murphy has played a bit there and at third base in the Australian Baseball League. The one last name I’d look out for is Kellen Sweeney. Sweeney can play multiple positions and will be looking to have a good season this year to put some rough waters behind him.
With the depth the Blue Jays have that include some players that could see some time in the big leagues over the next two seasons, I’d say that there are some interesting names to watch playing first base for the Blue Jays’ minor league teams in 2014.