As of today, December 23 here is the Pirates depth chart for the first base position:
1. Lyle Overbay
2. Garrett Jones
3. Steve Pearce
Lyle Overbay comes in as the starter, and his accomplishments have been written about constantly within the past couple of weeks on this blog. Overbay will bring his .996 fielding percentage to Pittsburgh and an infield that will greatly benefit from his consistent and sound defensive play. Overbay is a lefty, and offensively projects very similarly to Adam LaRoche, meaning he will hit his share of home runs but he will get some walks and a boatload of strikeouts to go with it. I am eager to find out what his batting average will be, as last season he hit a disappointing .243 which was well below his career average. If he can hit at PNC Park, perhaps that $5 million deal will look a little better.
Garrett Jones is not a great first baseman, and defensively he was unable to scoop a lot of throws that the average first baseman could make. I am sure that his frequent stints in right field don’t help his cause, but for a guy who played first base for AAA, I did not come off impressed. Jones seemed to do a good job against right handed pitchers, but other than that Spring Training home run against C.C. Sabathia last season, he did not have any really significant success against left handed pitching. With Overbay the starter at first base, Jones will lose those at-bats against lefties and share right field duties with free agent acquisiton Matt Diaz. While that will make his average look better, a lot of his power numbers could drop off. However in a way, I see Jones much like I saw Doumit in the second half of last season. This means, that if he gets hot with his bat, it may be too hard to sit Jones down and that could result in the benching of Diaz and/or Overbay.
Steve Pearce had what seemed to be a comeback season for him, as he came up to the team after hitting .345 in Triple-A. Pearce was hitting the ball effectively offensively and then all of a sudden got injured. For Pearce, the problem has been either an injury or just looking overmatched in the Majors. Pearce is best known for starting the 2007 season with Class A Lynchburg and then making it all the way to a September call up with the Pirates. Pearce is a resilient player and perhaps is a dark horse candidate to make the roster.
John Bowker would be one to mention on here as well. Bowker had a great September and clearly was the most useful of the September call-ups. Bowker appears to be a front runner for a bench position with the team. The thing that stands in his way is his competition. That sentence may sound stupid, but it is true, as Bowker is a lefty just like Jones and Overbay and his chances of getting the first base position are slim if any. There would have to be some significant injuries for him to start but his starting wouldn’t be the end of the world as we know it.
Jeff Clement seems to be a forgotten man at the moment. Clement came to Pittsburgh in the deal that sent Jack Wilson and Ian Snell deal. Clement was the starter last season but an early season slump changed that. Clement was sent to the Minors to fine tune his game. Clement was always good for batting practice and hitting long home run distance balls into foul territory. First base has actually become a solid position depth wise for the team, so Clement is likely to go to the Minors to fine tune his game.
Two other dark-horse candidates are the recent signings in Josh Fields and Garrett Atkins. Sure both naturally play third base but both could play first base if they had to. It helps that both guys bat from the right side as it would be more attractive to the team. Atkins may have the edge on Fields, as he hits more more power and a higher average. Still both have an outside shot and certainly a better shot than Clement. I see one of these guys making the team’s bench.
So what have we learned about the first base position? Pretty much it is Lyle Overbay and the field. Here is how I see things stacking up come April 1st:
Honestly Jones is not an attractive backup to me, as he like Overbay is left-handed so perhaps Atkins or Pearce would receive more looks at the first base position. Pearce and Atkins both to me are essentially even although I think that Atkins is the better hitter and Pearce the better fielder. Still, Atkins to me is just a tad better than Pearce.
The Pirates early season preview will continue tomorrow with part 3, the second base position. Neil Walker surprised many when he grabbed the position from Aki Iwamura, but how will he fare this season, and who is his main competition? I will answer these questions and more tomorrow.