Last week, we began our organization depth series at the catcher position. Today, we continue with a look the franchise’s first basemen from top to bottom.
Starter: Mark Teixeira
Barring injury, Teixeira is embedded at first for 2015. The problem is that he hasn’t been the pillar of health the past few years: he’s made at least one trip to the disabled list the past three seasons. Turning 35 in April, Teixeira’s won’t magically become invincible. I think 120-130 games played is the target for Mark at this stage of his career. When healthy, he still shows above-average power and a good eye, but he’s far from the guy he once was. Not to anyone’s surprise, of course. Teixeira is basically at the tail-end of his career, and wrist surgery in 2013 probably sapped some of his ability. Steamer forecasts Teixeira for a .223/.314/.414 triple-slash, with 23 home runs in 125 games. That seems about right.
Backup: Garrett Jones
Unlike recent seasons (i.e. Lyle Overbay, Kelly Johnson), the Yankees are better prepared for Teixeira’s annual disabled list stint. Jones is known for his power, even though he’s only hit 15 home runs in each of the past two seasons, spanning just under 1,000 plate appearances. Yet, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to benefit from Yankee Stadium. Last season, Miami (Jones’ former club) suppressed home runs for left-handed hitters by 15%, while Yankee Stadium inflated lefty home runs by 17%. With that in mind, Joe Girardi might use Jones as more than just Teixeira’s backup; he’ll probably get a good chunk of time as a designated hitter at home against right-handed pitching. Steamer projects 14 home runs and a .198 ISO in 342 trips to the plate, which is a better power output than Teixeira is pegged for on a rate basis.
On the fringe: Kyle Roller
Roller wasn’t protected in this winter’s Rule V draft, which wasn’t a surprise. Sure, he hit 26 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year, but odds are that he’s your typical Quad-A slugger. If the Yankees were to lose Teixeira and Jones to injury, could he be in line for a promotion? I doubt it. Even a catastrophe at the position might not grant Roller an opportunity: the Yankees could always shift Chase Headley to the first, while trying Stephen Drew at third and someone like Rob Refsnyder at second. What does that say about Roller? Even though his power is semi-intriguing, he’s really the last line of defense at first base.
The future: Greg Bird
Kiley McDaniel named Bird the Yankees’ third-best prospect in an excellent overview of the organization’s farm system. It’s a must read for any Yankees’ fan. Back on topic — Bird, 22, is slated to open with Double-A Trenton after spending 27 games there last season. If all goes well, he’ll make his way up to Triple-A Scranton mid-season. That would make his ETA in pinstripes at some point in 2016, which conveniently would be the final year Teixeira’s deal. A solid cameo in 2016 would set him up to be the everyday guy the season after. Of course, that’s the ideal scenario. No prospect smoothly sails to the majors, and Bird isn’t likely to be the exception. Regardless, as one of the team’s top prospects, Bird’s the obvious internal choice to be Teixeira’s successor.
What does Bird’s future look like? KATOH foresees 5.2 WAR through age 28, with a one-in-five chance he beats 10 WAR by that age. That’s something to be be mildly excited about. McDaniel’s outlook is rosy, too. He sees an upside .275/.360/.470 with 25 home runs. That’s basically what Nick Swisher did with the Yankees in 2012: .272/.364/.473 with 24 home runs. No, it’s not a perfect comp, but it provides a general idea for the type of hitter the Yankees might have on their hands.
Farther Away: Mike Ford
Exciting first base prospects are difficult to come by, so one has to look really hard to find one at the lower levels of the system. For the Yankees, that guy is the 22-year old Mike Ford. He happens to be “[Carson] Cistulli’s Guy” within the previously linked article by McDaniel. He exhibited good power between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, but KATOH only foresees 2 WAR through age 28. Being a first base prospect from the start is difficult, especially at the lower rungs in the minors because it’s usually a position someone slides to once a team realizes X prospect can’t hack it at Y position (see: Bird, a former catcher). Knowing this, Ford probably is an “On the fringe” type, but considering there really aren’t any pure first base prospects for the Yankees at the lower levels, he’s the logical fit for this category.