It might seem strange to profile a prospect who was just traded away last night in exchange for Derrek Lee, but I figured this would be the best way to review what the Pittsburgh Pirates gave up in exchange for their new first baseman. Baker is a first base prospect, drafted in the 11th round of the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma University. In his first full season as a pro in 2010, he hit for a .253/.340/.453 line in 459 at-bats in West Virginia, including 18 homers, good enough for third in the arm system.
The numbers weren’t overly impressive for a guy who came out of the college ranks the year before, and they looked worse when you factored in his 25.1% strikeout rate. Baker was moved up to high-A this year, where he’s had a bit more success. Prior to the trade, he’s put up a .282/.351/.469 line in 386 at-bats, with 15 homers, a total that was tied for second in the Pirates’ farm system. He even cut down on his strikeouts, with a 23.6% rate.
You might ask why the Pirates would give up a first base prospect who has shown that he can hit for power, when they have a long term need at the position. The main reason is that Baker falls behind a few other first basemen on the depth chart. The first is Matt Curry, who skipped over Baker earlier this year, making the jump from low-A to AA. There was a lot of controversy when the move was made, as some didn’t think it was worth it to give Baker everyday playing time, while risking the development on Curry with an agressive move. The move seems to have paid off, as Curry is getting hot in AA, and Baker was given more time as a starter in high-A, and I doubt he gets traded otherwise. The Pirates also have 2011 3rd round pick Alex Dickerson in State College, and Matt Hague in AAA. The Pirates don’t have a long term first baseman right now, but Curry, Dickerson, and possibly even Hague end up ahead of Baker on the depth chart, making Baker expendable.
The big flaw in Baker’s game is a lack of defense, which is a main reason the Pirates wanted him getting everyday time at first base this year. He’s in a good situation now in Baltimore, as he could eventually become a designated hitter option in the majors. The odds of Baker making it are still kind of long. He’s got power, but the strikeouts are still concerning, and his average doesn’t really point to dominant totals. The power is a great tool, but he’s going to need to continue improving his plate patience in order to eventually have success in the upper levels.