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February 11, 2009 at 11:10 PM

2009 Organization Outlook: First Base

For the second installment of our preseason organization outlook, we move 90 feet up the diamond to first base. At this position, there are a number of possible Major Leaguers at the top of the system, with the lower minors featuring one potential star prospect and a host of players lurking just off the radar. Below is a list of the first basemen/designated hitters currently in the system, sorted by highest level reached last season.
MLB: Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Mark Kotsay, Brad Wilkerson, Jeff Bailey
AAA: Sandy Madera, Jeff Natale
AA: Lars Anderson, Aaron Bates
High-A: Mike Jones, Jon Still
Low-A: Carlos Fernandez, Anthony Rizzo, Jered Stanley
SS-A: Deshaun Brooks
Rookie: Eddie Lora, Tyler Yockey
DSL: Pedro Gonzalez
Other: Boss Moanaroa
Gone: Ricardo Burgos, Sean Casey, Chih-Hsiang Huang, Brandon Moss

In the Bigs: Youkilis is the established starter after finishing third in the AL MVP voting last year. Ortiz was limited to 109 games due to injury, but still managed to hit .264/.369/.507. Kotsay was slotted to be the backup at first base and center field, but underwent back surgery at the end of January and will likely begin the season on the DL. Newly acquired Brad Wilkerson appears to be the likely candidate to fill-in for Kotsay, as he also bats left-handed and can play both first base and the outfield. However, Bailey, Chris Carter, and Paul McAnulty could also get a shot to compete for the job during Spring Training.

The Cream of the Crop: Anderson is not just the top prospect in the system, but one of the best in baseball. He is also close enough to the Majors that he will factor into the lineup soon – he will likely start in Portland but should be promoted to Pawtucket during the season and could even earn a September call-up … Bates was SoxProspects.com’s #14 prospect last offseason, but then hit a somewhat disappointing .276/.366/.420 while in Portland. Ideally, he would start the season in Pawtucket, but he may not be ready for that promotion. Should he return to Portland, he will likely split time with Anderson at first base and Jon Still at DH … Rizzo started his full-season debut by hitting .373/.402/.446 before being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in May. With the disease in remission, he will likely be the starting first baseman at Greenville, still just 19-years-old … Jones had a 28-game hitting streak near the start of the 2008 season and eventually earned a promotion to Lancaster. Although he has shown an ability to make contact, he has not shown the power one would expect given his 6’3”, 260-pound frame.

The Rest:
AAA: Bailey, the reigning International League MVP, has little left to prove in the minors. However, he will likely spend the majority of his time in Pawtucket after signing a minor league contract with the Sox. While he saw time in left and right field last season, expect him to stay at first base for most of the season given the organization’s glut of Triple-A outfielders … Natale had a lost season due to injury, but in 82 Triple-A at-bats, he once again put up an on-base percentage over .400. He appears to be stuck between defensive positions, as he may not be able to stick at second base defensively, but his bat may not allow him to fit at first base. He should back up both positions this season in Pawtucket … Madera put up a .292/.355/.496 line between Portland and Pawtucket in his first season in the system, but shuttled between the two levels and spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. He re-signed a minor league contract this offseason, but will need to battle for a spot in Pawtucket or Portland.
High-A: Stanley split his time evenly between the two outfield corners and DH last season, but reportedly worked out at first base during the Fall Instructional League. His power (17 HR in 285 at-bats in Greenville) should be sufficient for the position, so do not be surprised to see him splitting time with Jones in Salem.
Low-A: Fernandez seemed headed for Greenville to start last season after getting more than 150 at-bats there in 2007. However, he stayed in Extended Spring Training until the Lowell season started, presumably learning to play first base after three seasons in the system as a corner outfielder. He will need to show a lot more power, and will need to earn a promotion to Salem to be considered a legitimate first base prospect.
SS-A: Brooks will be fighting for a roster spot in Spring Training after an underwhelming performance in his second season in Lowell … Yockey was drafted as an outfielder, but was moved to first base during the GCL season. The 14th-round pick has good power potential, but has had problems with the organization’s batting and coaching philosophies.
GCL: Lora tore the cover off the ball in the DSL, earning a midseason promotion, but went 0-for-32 and was sent back, after which he resumed dominating DSL pitching. He will need to hit in the U.S. this season, and will get a shot in either the GCL or Lowell … Gonzalez split his time between first base, left field, and DH in his second DSL season, but saw his average sink below .200.
Looking Ahead: Boss Moanaroa will probably not debut in the U.S. until 2010. Other than Rizzo, there are not a lot of MLB prospects below Double-A at first base. Do not be surprised if the Sox attempt to restock the position in this year’s draft, not unlike how they restocked the catching depth in the lower minors in 2008.
So Long, Farewell: Casey was the backup at first base last season in Boston. A free agent, “The Mayor” retired and accepted a position as an analyst for the MLB Network … Burgos had showed some potential, but a .198 average in Lowell was not enough despite a hand injury, as it was his fourth season in the system … Huang spent his third season in the GCL in 2008. He received a $100k signing bonus back in 2006, but had not progressed enough to earn a promotion and was released … Moss had worked out at first base in Pawtucket to become more versatile before being traded to Pittsburgh as part of the deal for Jason Bay.

MLB: Starter (1B) – Youkilis; Starter (DH) – Ortiz; Backup – Kotsay/Wilkerson
AAA: Starter – Bailey; Backup – Madera or Natale
AA: Starter – Anderson; Starting DH – Still; Backup – Bates
High-A: Platoon – Jones and Stanley
Low-A: Starter – Rizzo; Backup – Fernandez or Brooks
SS-A: Starter – Yockey or draftee (possibly Lora)
Rookie: Starter – Lora or draftee
DSL: Starter – Gonzalez or signee