While Justin Smoak is signed through 2018, Jays From the Couch takes a look at the depth of first baseman in the system…just in case.
First base is a strange position. Defensively, a first baseman is involved, albeit simply, in more plays than anyone but the pitcher and catcher. Teams will often hide players with poor offensive skills at the position, while the good fielders exist, they are often lumped in with the poor ones and looked at mostly for their offensive prowess. Basically, to make it in The Bigs as a first baseman, you have to hit. Everything else is rich, creamery butter.
The first base position in Toronto has had it ups and downs, and after losing franchise great Edwin Encarnacion this winter, it looked like the position would be a black hole for the foreseeable future. That is until Justin Smoak ran away with the starting position and earned his first All-Star nod. He’s signed through 2018, and if all goes well next season, there’s a good chance he’ll leave the team via free agency if the Blue Jays feel there may be a replacement from within.
Here, we’ll discuss who might be the Blue Jays first baseman of the future, and there’s plenty of options to look at.
Next in Line
Rowdy Tellez has already become a fan favourite in Toronto, despite not having been close to the MLB at any point. This season with Triple-A Buffalo he’s struggled, but as of late, he’s heating up. He’s hit just six HRs after parking 23 in Double-A in 2016, and has seen decreased numbers across the board. While some shine has come off his top-prospect status (dropped from No. 5 to No. 13 via MLB Pipeline), he’s still the Blue Jays’ top option from within in regards to filling a potential first base void. Tellez won’t turn 23 until just before the 2018 season begins, so there’s plenty of development time available to the robust young Californian.
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Before the season, Ryan McBroom (then at Double-A New Hampshire) looked like he was the closest to threatening Our Rowdy Future, but he was sent to the Evil Empire in the Earth-shattering trade that netted the Blue Jays Rob Refsnyder.
Further down the Road
In the 2017 Draft, the Blue Jays drafted two college first baseman that are already making a significant impact with their respective clubs. Fifteenth-rounder Ryan Noda has roughed up Appalachian League pitching so far, slashing .388/.529/.619. Noda is more athletic than most first baseman, and considers himself an outfielder as well. His athleticism shows in his three triples and six stolen bases in nine attempts. For more insight on Ryan Noda, check out the Jays From the Couch interview with him here.
Oh, and he hit one on to the roof of the adjacent Fifth Third Arena at University of Cincinnati this spring:
— Cincinnati Baseball (@GoBearcatsBASE) May 11, 2017
Texas standout and pro-ball bloodliner Kacy Clemens (eighth round, 2017) has had a solid start to his professional career with the Rookie League Vancouver Canadians. Like Noda, he’s also a reasonably polished college hitter. At 6’2″ and 200 lbs, Clemens profiles well as a first baseman and adds a potential power-lefty bat to the lineup. The power hasn’t shown up yet in the Northwest League (it rarely does), but the peripheral stats are excellent, with Clemens boasting a .402 OBP and .846 OPS. He’s driven in 40 in 46 Canadians games, and struck out 40 times while walking 29.
At Dunedin and in his fifth professional season at age 23, Juan Kelly is enjoying a solid season, improving on his 2016 effort with Lansing. Kelly has seen an increase in power in recent years smacking 12 HRs with Lansing in 131 games in 2016. He’s up to eight so far this season through just 112 games, and doing it against better pitching and without much change in his slashline. Our own Ryan Mueller isn’t convinced he’ll stay at first base though, mostly due to his size (he’s “just” 5’10” and can supposedly play a solid third base, but more on that at another time). There’s not much between him and Rowdy Tellez at Triple-A, so expect to see him, should his development continue as hoped – before Noda and Clemens. He might be, at worst, a solid bench bat, with some extra value coming from the fact that he is a switch-hitter.
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The Wild Card
Max Pentecost, catcher. Just like Danny Jansen. And Reese McGuire. And 2017 draft picks Hagen Danner and Riley Adams. Of all the players listed, Max Pentecost might possess the best bat of the bunch, and we would have likely heard much more on him had he not struggled through injuries, playing just 80 games from 2014-2016. He’s healthy now and has blasted nine HR and 54 RBI in limited time with High-A Dunedin through 71 games.
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The thing is, Pentecost has caught only 19 games, as opposed to 30 at DH and 22 at first base. While the team still seems to be giving him a shot at catcher, the emergence of Danny Jansen and the catcher-heavy 2017 draft make it seem like the team might see him as a first baseman, especially if it keeps his excellent bat in the lineup. If he’s not in Double-A New Hampshire by the end of the season, I would be surprised, and seeing as he’s a year older than Rowdy Tellez and a right-handed batter, it might not be too terribly far-fetched to see a combination of Tellez and Pentecost by 2019 or 2020 in Toronto.
*Featured Image Credit: R Widrig UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.