In this weeks State of the Farm article, we will take a look at the first base position. While the Reds do have Joey Votto locked up until my 40th birthday, as we have seen in the past 12 months, you can still use these guys to bolster your roster via trade or even to step in for Votto in case of an injury to fill in.
Neftali Soto was coming off of a 30 home run campaign in 2011, but he saw his power drop off as he headed to AAA to play with Louisville. Soto would hit just .245/.313/.400 for the Bats with 30 doubles and 14 home runs. The knock on Soto in the past has been his overaggressive approach where he boasted a 3.64 strikeout to walk ratio before 2011 in his career. During the 2012 season he improved that to 2.83, but the improvement did not lead to better results when he did swing the bat. More advanced pitchers were able to generate a higher rate of groundballs by Soto than ever before, with his career high of 50%. Soto still has plus power potential in his bat and the improved plate discipline is a nice step to see, but he still has work that he needs to do before he will be considered valuable to a Major League bench.
Donald Lutz had a breakout year in 2011 with the Dayton Dragons, though much like Soto, his plate discipline was a question mark. 2012 didn’t do much answer any questions about that. He would hit .265/.325/.561 with the Bakersfield Blaze before earning a promotion to Pensacola where he would hit just .245/.315/.389. While Lutz has plus power potential, he is over aggressive at the plate and pitchers have been able to take advantage of that at times. Lutz has spent time at both first base and in the outfield. Like Soto before him, he is going to need to round out his game before he will be considered for a spot on the Major League roster.
After those two guys, there is a drop off to the next level of players. Carlos Sanchez did some really nice things with the bat in 2012 for the Billings Mustangs as he hit .308/.346/.574, though he too has some questions with his plate discipline and unlike the other two previously mentioned guys, he is undersized at just 5′ 10″ and 175 lbs. He is worth keeping an eye on moving forward though as the power he showed was quite impressive. Dominic D’Anna missed the first half of the season with an injury and returned to hit .277/.386/.430 for the Blaze with 29 extra-base hits in 300 at bats. He has shown very good plate discipline in his career, though his home run power output has not been ideal for the position. While his ceiling may be as a utility type player who can pinch hit or play first, he brings something that none of the other first baseman have shown to this point with his excellent plate discipline. Robert Maddox once again showed off impressive power with Billings, but his age is catching up quickly and chances may be running out for him to make that next step. He improved his plate discipline this year as he repeated the level, but 2013 will be pivotal for his future. Sean Buckley showed off good power for the Dayton Dragons in 2012, but he didn’t do a lot of hitting outside of that with a .244/.307/.413 line to go along with very questionable plate discipline. There has been talk of trying him in the outfield, so he may not be limited to just first base. He will need to make improvements at the plate regardless of whether he sticks with first or moves to the outfield grass though.
While the Reds certainly have several guys who are considered prospects at the position, none of them really stand out from a tools and performance standpoint. They all have rather large questions about their game that seem to limit them to likely being a back up if they don’t take big steps forward in some part of their game. So while there is depth at the position, the lack of a legit prospect leaves the position at a C, perhaps even a C-. There are simply too many questions at a position where you need to be a real threat at the plate to even be average in the Major Leagues.