Who's on First? (minor league edition)
It is getting hard to ignore the depth that the Mets farm system is suddenly developing at first base. There are some guys just flat out ripping the ball.
It is surprising to me since it does not get much attention or is not looked upon as a position of strength. Some of the 1b prospects may be getting old for their respective levels of play, but I think that may have more to do with a lack of roster spaces for them on the levels above them than their actual talent level. My list is comprised of guys that have played 1b for a substantial amount of the year, but some do in fact have secondary positions.
Craig Brazell is the most prolific homer run in the Mets entire system. The AAA first baseman is on his way to leading the minor league organization in home runs for his third consecutive year. He had a career .290 average coming into this year in professional ball. He is a guy that can hit for a decent average, pound out a lot of doubles, and hit the long ball. There is no reason why he would not be able to hold his own and produce on the major league level and contribute with 20+ home runs annually. The biggest knock on him is the fact that he K's a whole lot and does not walk very much at all. In 569 minor league games he has only managed 84 base on balls, which averages out to about 23 walks in a 162 game season. He is continuing to punish pitchers in AAA with 15 home runs and 34 RBIs in 49 games. If he can just learn some plate discipline, he would be quite a player. He still is a legitimate major league talent and he would not be the first guy to walk under thirty times and still be effective. Plus it does not hurt that he bats from the left side of the plate.
Josh Pressley, who was acquired in the Rey Ordonez trade, is yet another 24 year old guy that bats from the left side for the Met. He is currently hitting .296, with 10 doubles, and 25 RBIs in 40 games so far this season. Unlike Brazell, he does not mind taking the occasional walk. He has 15 walks so far and has only struck out twenty times. The biggest knock on him is the lack of power that he has shown throughout his minor league career. The most home runs he hit was nine, and that was in 1999 in A ball.
Brett Harper is a 22 year old picked in the 45th round of 2000. He is a 3b/1b who may play 3b primarily when Wright gets called up to AAA (hopefully soon). Baldiris just does not look ready at this point and Harper is simply hitting the cover off the ball. He was batting .347, with 7 home runs, 38 RBIs, 13 doubles, and 31 BBs in just 47 games. He was always a good hitter most of his minor league stops tallying a .300 average over 176 games. However, prior to this year he had five career home runs as a pro and has since eclipsed that in a significantly shorter amount of time. He just played his first AA game on May 28th and promptly got injured. The injury does not appear to be serious and he should be back in the lineup soon.
Jay Caligiuri is yet another 24 year old first base prospect in the Mets system. He is not a lefty like the other ones for a change. Jay plays for the St. Lucie team is probably the lowest level prospect on this list. He came in to this year batting .283 for his career over 144 minor league games with a total of 12 home runs. In 2004 he has seemed to find his home run stroke as he has hit eight already in 30 games. He is definitely old for high A ball, but starting with Brazell at AAA it is really hard to see anyone moving anywhere soon with the exception of Bladergroen and Harper.
Ian Bladergroen is probably number two on the depth chart in terms of who is the best first baseman prospect in the organization. Ian is a 21 year old lefty drafted in the 44th round out of community college in 2002 and really is proving to be quite a steal for the Mets. He is having a breakout year and proving that the low A ball pitching is not much of a challenge to him. In his first professional season for the Brooklyn Cyclones last year he hit .285 with 6 home runs. In 2003 he has opened a can of whoop ass on the league's pitching to the tune of a .339 average, 9 home runs, 17 doubles, 2 triples, and 49 RBIs. He is begging for a push up to the St. Lucie team and has certainly deserved it.
Tyler Davidson is a 23 year old that was picked up out of the University of Washington in the 8th round in 2002 (a whole 36 rounds before Ian Bladergroen) and has seen some time in the outfield but plays the majority of his games switching between 1b and DH. He is currently on the Capital City roster sharing time with Ian where at the beginning of the year they where both menacing pitchers at a torrid pace. Tyler slid into quite a slump over the last month or so and has cooled off considerably to a .253 average, 4 home runs, and 26 RBIs. He is beginning to heat up again and should provide some huge numbers again this year as he did in 2003. In his first full season between the Kingsport team and the Brooklyn team he hit .330, with 11 home runs, 40 RBIs, and an astounding 8 triples. At 6-4 and 240 pounds burning out 8 triples is no easy feat. Being that Tyler just came out of school and is 23 playing in low A ball, he is definitely old for his league and really needs to come alive to regain the attention that he garnered last year in his pro ball debut.
Four of the above mentioned players would be on track for 30+ homeruns if you average them out to a 162 game season with Brazell hitting 50+ over the course of a 162 game season. The depth at this position with power is a nice luxury to have. Brazell is technically considered the top 1b prospect, but that is more due to the fact that he is closest to ML ready and playing against AAA competition and putting up solid numbers. However, I believe that Ian Bladergoen has to be considered the 1b prospect with the best all around tools and the highest ceiling. His breakout year is opening a lot of eyes and is certainly putting up impressive stats. Brett Harper is certainly interesting in that he is one of the lesser known names when it comes to minor league prospects but is still relatively young and proving to be a capable and somewhat useful prospect as he can hit and play two positions. When he comes back from his injury it will be interesting to see if he picks up in AA where he left off in A ball.