This is the second post in a series where I'm going to guess at the assignments of the Tigers' minor leaguers at each position for each of their four full season minor league squads. I've already covered the catchers and will now move on to the first basemen.
In my post about catchers, I said I wasn't going to talk about the players not selected for one of the squads. I did that with the idea that it would generate conversation about guys like Omir Santos and Patrick Leyland, who were left off my assignments.
Well, we're two posts into the series and I'm breaking that rule. In this post, I'm going to make a pick for each level but I'm also going to talk a little bit about the other possibilities. This is partly because the Tigers' first base prospects aren't all that interesting to think about on their own. It's also because the possibility of sticking a guy at DH means you could have two first basemen on the same roster.
Clay Jones, Born: 11/11/87, Bats: R
This pick was something of a copout, I suppose. Last year, you had Jones and Tony Plagman come out of the draft and both went to West Michigan to help out that lineup. Plagman, the much higher pick, was the starting first baseman while Jones was more often a DH. Since Plagman was the starter, a higher pick, and performed much better, (Spoiler Alert!) it's pretty easy to decide which of the two is more likely to get the Lakeland promotion.
However, Jones still isn't the only option for the West Michigan gig. In the GCL last year, you had Juaner Aguasvivas as the first baseman. Then in Connecticut, there was James Robbins. Aguasvivas raised some hopes by showing big power in his final year in the DSL, but has stalled since coming stateside. Robbins looked promising in a short GCL stint in 2009, but struggled badly in Connecticut last season. Could the Tigers opt for one of these two players to start in West Michigan over last year's 32nd round pick? Absolutely. I am just more confident that Jones will make that squad than either of the other two.
Tony Plagman, Born: 8/14/87, Bats: L
I gave this one away in the West Michigan section, but it's hardly a difficult one to figure out. Plagman was taken in the ninth round of last year's draft and handled West Michigan fairly well. It's not as if his .272/.337/.436 line as a first baseman set the league on fire, but at 23, there seems to be little reason to send him back to Grand Rapids.
I'd guess the only other player to be considered for this job would be Jordan Lennerton. He hit well enough in West Michigan last season to get a shot in Lakeland when a replacement was needed. He handled the challenge very well, hitting .301/.393/.505 in 239 plate appearances. The fact that he's 25 and likely to top out in Double A or so makes me wonder if he's a candidate to either retire or be released. After putting up such good numbers in 2010, though, it would seem like a shame.
Rawley Bishop, Born: 11/19/85, Bats: R
Again, Bishop seems like the natural choice here. He tore up Florida State League pitchers to the tune of a .301/.385/.462 line before his callup to Erie last season. Once in Double A, he seemed to catch on after a slow start and ended up hitting .252/.336/.407 at that level. That's not going to cut it for a first baseman, but I'd think it would be good enough to get him another shot.
The other two players I tabbed as possibilities for this level were Lennerton and Cesar Nicolas. I'd imagine Lennerton getting this assignment would be sort of a last ditch opportunity for him to show he can stick in the upper levels of the minors. As for Nicolas, I was actually surprised to see the Tigers keep the soon-to-be 29-year-old around. There were times last year that he was the SeaWolves' best hitter, though. At least in terms of results on the field.
Scott Thorman, Born: 1/6/82, Bats: L
Wrapping up with Toledo, if we assume Bishop is in Erie we are pretty much left with Scott Thorman. Thorman is a minor league veteran who was once a highly regarded prospect with the Braves. After struggling in his major league time a few years ago, though, he has bounced around as a Triple A bat. That's a role where he could be useful for the Mud Hens, except that his bat hasn't been all that great. His Omaha lines from 2009 (.297/.346/.496, .363 wOBA, 405 PA) and 2010 (.280/.348/.491, .362 wOBA, 532 PA) look good, but in the PCL hitting environment they weren't up to a first baseman's standards.
The other option, of course, is a guy who is usually no longer listed as a first baseman, Ryan Strieby. The Tigers have been trying to let him learn left field so he has a road to the majors, but I've never heard a positive word about his abilities there. So will the Tigers just let him go back to his natural position and try to re-establish that he's a big league quality hitter when his wrist is healthy? It's encouraging to me that we have photo evidence of him getting back to where he belongs.
This exercise is almost entirely for the benefit of these four teams' local fans. What I mean when I say that is these first base assignments probably don't mean diddly in terms of long-term planning for the Tigers. Strieby is by far the most important player in this bunch and even he has had to try to find a backdoor route to the majors.