Today, we now move from a position that is fairly set for the start of the season into one in a bit of flux. From the position of least expected offense, we move to the position of greatest expected offense, first base. The Marlins enter this season with question marks at the first base position for the second straight year running.
Starter: Gaby Sanchez
Backup: Jorge Cantu
Backup: Wes Helms
Spring Training competition: Logan Morrison
The Marlins enter the second straight season with Gaby Sanchez the heavy favorite to win the first base job and be the Opening Day starter. Last year, Sanchez went down with injury during Spring Training and had an awful camp, leading to his stint in Triple-A New Orleans and, sadly, the reign of Emilio Bonifacio. This season, Sanchez faces a far more dangerous for his spot in top Marlins prospect Logan Morrison.
Sanchez is the favorite going into this season again, coming off a solid season in Triple-A. In 366 PA in Triple-A in 2009, Sanchez hit a solid .290/.375/.478, good for a .378 wOBA. The line included an 11.2% walk rate, his lowest in a full season of minor league ball. Still, the Marlins had to be happy to see Sanchez get back on the bandwagon and hit well.
There’s a lot of question of what Sanchez would do in the big leagues, primarily because the Marlins have never given him much of an opportunity. Last season, as Bonifacio began to flounder in May, many of us fans clamored to see Sanchez come up once he returned from injury. We caught a glimpse of what might be when Sanchez returned to Triple-A New Orleans playing third base. He even arrived in the big leagues, only to be sent down 10 days later. In total, the Marlins have had two seasons with Sanchez on their roster for a small period of time, and given him 31 PA. Not much of a cup of coffee, right?
Well, Sanchez has his shot at proving the Marlins wrong and getting himself the starting job. How does he project?
Projection: 450 PA, around 1.2 WAR
Sanchez had surprisingly decent projected totals for hitting by CHONE, but gave some of that back on defense. However, he has appeared decent at first base to scouts and is probably closer to average than a -3 defender. Even at that clip, he’d be a 1 WAR player, and that’s a good deal better than what the Marlins got from Bonifacio last season. If Sanchez grows a bit from that range (and John will go over how that might happen a little later this week), we might even get closer to 1.5 WAR.
Morrison is the dark horse candidate to win the job. John spoke about Morrison’s capabilities last week, and at this point he may not be quite ready for full-time play, but managers never fail to jump on a random strong performance in 100 PA of Spring Training. Morrison hasn’t played a lick past Double-A, but he performed quite admirably at that level last season, putting up an absurd .393 wOBA and a 157 (park-adjusted) wRC+. He did so off an absolutely ridiculous walk rate of 18.7%, something that isn’t likely to stick once he begins facing better major league pitching.
As far as a projection, CHONE sees him as an average hitter (.264/.344/.402, .333 wOBA) with a solid 10+% walk rate but middling power. John projected a sophomore season-like line of .285/.379/.448, a solid .367 wOBA that would yield us a 2.5 WAR season. Still, for 2010, expect not much more than 1 WAR if he plays.
If neither Sanchez nor Morrison hold claim to the first base job, every Marlins fan’s greatest nightmare may yet occur: Cantu would move across the diamond to first base (good) and Bonifacio would once again take over third (horridly bad). Cantu is first in line to hold the job if necessary, as the team sees “Uncle” Wes Helms as a bench player primarily and not someone who can start. Helms can back up first base in a pinch, but his best value lies in playing a decent third base.
Last season, the Marlins often started Ross Gload at first base and Cantu at DH when visiting American League parks. The team is still considering a lefty bat and backup first baseman candidate from among the scraps remaining in the free agent market. One name to consider is former Texas Rangers corner guy Hank Blalock. Blalock is a pretty solid hitter versus righties (career .362 wOBA, .285/.348/.498), but has long since been worthless against lefties (sub .300 wOBA is all I need to say). If he doesn’t mind the pinch-hitter/occasional platoon role, he may be headed our way.