Examining the First Base Depth in the Toronto Blue Jays System

 

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.

 

 

Embed from Getty Images

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.

 

Register Batting
Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP
2013 18 Blue Jays 34 141 124 10 29 5 3 2 20 1 0 15 26 .234 .319 .371 .690 46 3 1
2014 19 2 Teams 65 267 233 32 71 11 1 6 43 3 2 26 37 .305 .375 .438 .812 102 4 3
2014 19 Lansing 12 49 42 6 15 0 0 2 7 0 0 7 10 .357 .449 .500 .949 21 2 0
2014 19 Bluefield 53 218 191 26 56 11 1 4 36 3 2 19 27 .293 .358 .424 .782 81 2 3
2015 20 2 Teams 103 447 401 53 116 24 0 14 77 5 2 38 84 .289 .347 .454 .801 182 11 1
2015 20 Dunedin 35 148 131 17 36 5 0 7 28 3 0 14 28 .275 .338 .473 .811 62 7 0
2015 20 Lansing 68 299 270 36 80 19 0 7 49 2 2 24 56 .296 .351 .444 .796 120 4 1
2015 20 Salt River 21 91 82 12 24 4 0 4 17 1 0 7 20 .293 .352 .488 .839 40 4 1
2016 21 New Hampshire 124 514 438 71 130 29 2 23 81 4 3 63 92 .297 .387 .530 .917 232 12 6
2016-17 21 Estrellas 14 50 42 5 10 1 0 2 5 0 0 8 11 .238 .360 .405 .765 17 0 0
2017 22 Buffalo 104 425 377 41 84 24 1 6 51 3 0 39 82 .223 .294 .340 .634 128 9 2
Mino Mino Mino 430 1794 1573 207 430 93 7 51 272 16 7 181 321 .273 .348 .439 .786 690 39 13
All All All 465 1935 1697 224 464 98 7 57 294 17 7 196 352 .273 .348 .440 .789 747 43 14
A (2 A (2 A (2 80 348 312 42 95 19 0 9 56 2 2 31 66 .304 .365 .452 .817 141 6 1
Rk ( Rk ( Rk ( 87 359 315 36 85 16 4 6 56 4 2 34 53 .270 .343 .403 .746 127 5 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2017.

 

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.

 

Register Batting
Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP
2017 21 Bluefield 50 208 160 49 62 13 3 6 27 6 3 46 38 .388 .529 .619 1.148 99 3 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2017.

 

Oh, and he hit one on to the roof of the adjacent Fifth Third Arena at University of Cincinnati this spring:

 

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.

 

Register Batting
Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP
2017 22 Vancouver 46 199 169 26 50 10 3 3 40 4 0 29 40 .296 .402 .444 .846 75 4 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2017.

 

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.

 

Register Batting
Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP
2012 17 Blue Jays 37 117 100 10 17 3 0 0 8 2 1 14 19 .170 .276 .200 .476 20 3 1
2013 18 Blue Jays 65 270 213 36 54 8 1 2 27 14 2 52 30 .254 .403 .329 .732 70 5 2
2014 19 Blue Jays 54 212 188 22 54 10 4 0 21 1 0 21 36 .287 .363 .383 .746 72 1 2
2015 20 2 Teams 53 217 189 23 47 11 0 4 23 4 1 27 44 .249 .343 .370 .713 70 4 0
2015 20 Lansing 17 71 63 10 18 7 0 3 9 2 0 8 15 .286 .366 .540 .906 34 0 0
2015 20 Vancouver 36 146 126 13 29 4 0 1 14 2 1 19 29 .230 .331 .286 .617 36 4 0
2015-16 20 Licey 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2016 21 Lansing 131 548 475 60 130 35 6 12 67 11 0 57 113 .274 .356 .448 .804 213 11 8
2016 21 Mesa 11 47 46 5 13 0 0 1 6 1 0 1 10 .283 .298 .348 .646 16 0 0
2017 22 Dunedin 112 472 416 64 114 28 4 8 57 1 2 47 95 .274 .348 .418 .766 174 12 3
Mino Mino Mino 452 1836 1581 215 416 95 15 26 203 33 6 218 337 .263 .355 .392 .747 619 36 16
All All All 464 1883 1627 220 429 95 15 27 209 34 6 219 347 .264 .354 .390 .744 635 36 16
A (2 A (2 A (2 148 619 538 70 148 42 6 15 76 13 0 65 128 .275 .357 .459 .816 247 11 8
FRk FRk FRk 102 387 313 46 71 11 1 2 35 16 3 66 49 .227 .365 .288 .652 90 8 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2017.

 

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.

 

Register Batting
Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP
2014 21 Vancouver 19 87 83 15 26 2 3 0 9 2 1 2 18 .313 .322 .410 .731 34 3 0
2014 21 Blue Jays 6 22 22 2 8 2 0 0 3 0 1 0 3 .364 .364 .455 .818 10 0 0
2016 23 Dunedin 12 52 49 6 12 2 0 3 7 1 1 3 17 .245 .288 .469 .758 23 0 0
2016 23 Lansing 62 267 239 36 75 15 3 7 34 4 2 21 51 .314 .375 .490 .864 117 3 4
2017 24 Dunedin 71 314 286 34 79 14 2 9 54 0 1 23 62 .276 .332 .434 .766 124 8 2
2017 24 Blue Jays 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0
All All All 171 744 681 93 200 35 8 19 107 7 6 49 151 .294 .343 .452 .795 308 14 6
A+ ( A+ ( A+ ( 83 366 335 40 91 16 2 12 61 1 2 26 79 .272 .326 .439 .765 147 8 2
Rk ( Rk ( Rk ( 7 24 24 2 8 2 0 0 3 0 1 0 3 .333 .333 .417 .750 10 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2017.

 

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

 

 

THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND INSTAGRAM. LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE LATEST FROM JAYS FROM THE COUCH RADIO AND SUBSCRIBE TO OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL!

 

 

 

 

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.

Roy-Z

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.