Now that Ike Davis is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, they potentially have their first base position under control for the next three years. Davis might not work out, but if he plays up to his career numbers, he’ll be a good platoon player at the least.
The Pirates didn’t have a great first base option for the long-term in the minor leagues. The best bet in the short-term was Andrew Lambo, who was a converted outfielder. Lambo had a shot of winning the job out of Spring Training, but struggled and was sent to Triple-A. Now that Davis is in the system, and with Gregory Polanco arriving in right field this summer, it’s hard to find a future spot in Pittsburgh for Lambo.
Beyond Lambo, the Pirates have a few first base prospects, but they’re all raw to various degrees and none of them can be considered the “first baseman of the future.” If you’re wondering, this was true even when Alex Dickerson was in the system. One benefit to having Davis under control through the 2016 season is that the Pirates now have three years for one of those first base prospects to emerge as a long-term starter. Here is a look at each player, ordered from least risk to most risk (which is also ordered from Triple-A to low-A).
Andrew Lambo – The only way for him to get a shot at this point is for someone to get injured. He is hitting well, with a .315/.422/.463 line in 54 at-bats, although his power is entirely from extra base hits. Lambo is playing more outfield now, so his days as a first baseman might be limited. If Ike Davis gets injured (and that has definitely been an issue in the past), then Lambo could get a shot. His value really comes from his bat, and the power he showed last year. However, he hasn’t shown much of that home run power lately, and there’s not a big enough sample size to say that he can provide value without the homers.
Chris McGuiness – One benefit that McGuiness has is that he is a first baseman, so he doesn’t have to learn the position like Lambo. He doesn’t have the power that Lambo has, but he does do a good job of getting on base. McGuiness currently has a .382 OBP and a .477 slugging percentage with Indianapolis, with most of his power coming from extra base hits. It’s hard to see him as much more than a bench bat in the majors. He could become a starter on a weak team, but he’s not the type of first baseman you want to build around for the long-term.
Stetson Allie – He has the best power in the system, and it’s starting to show up lately in Double-A. Allie hit a homer on Tuesday, and hit two more today. He now has a .291/.400/.655 line in 55 at-bats, with five homers. The best part about this is that Allie only has a 23.6% strikeout rate, and is getting on base with walks. He has had issues with strikeouts in the past, and if he can keep those at a respectable level, his upside could be huge. The more likely scenario is that he becomes a version of Pedro Alvarez at first base — hitting a lot of home runs, but having a low average, a lot of strikeouts, and a decent amount of walks.
He’s Rule 5 eligible this off-season, and if he does well in Altoona, he’ll be a guarantee to be protected. The Pirates can take their time with him, but if he does break out this year, he could arrive in Pittsburgh in the second half of 2015, or in 2016. Allie has the most upside of any first baseman in the system, but he’s going to need to continue to show that he can limit strikeouts and do more than just hit home runs. So far, that’s looking good in Altoona this year.
Jose Osuna – Osuna was once one of four promising Latin American prospects coming through the Pirates’ system. Gregory Polanco has gone on to become one of the top prospects in the game. Alen Hanson could be the shortstop of the future for the Pirates. Willy Garcia is having some success in Altoona. But Osuna has struggled in High-A, and finds himself back in Bradenton for the second straight season. When a guy repeats a level, you generally want to see him dominate at that level the second time around. That’s especially true if you’re talking about an all-bat guy like Osuna. He’s shown good power in the lower levels, and he’s got a good frame. However, he isn’t showing much of that power in Bradenton, and looks to be stalling out.
Edwin Espinal – Espinal is intriguing because of the size and the raw power potential. “Raw” is the best word to describe him, since he’s pretty much all projection and no results at this point. In 53 at-bats in West Virginia, he has a .527 OPS, no homers, and just three doubles. The good news is that he only has a 15.1% strikeout rate, so he’s not totally over-matched. Espinal is a huge guy, and definitely has raw power that hasn’t made its way into the game. There’s no guarantee that this power will ever show up. I decided to list him here because of the strikeout rate, and because a lot of scouts outside the organization and people in the Pirates’ organization mention him as a guy with some promise.
Josh Bell* – I mention Bell here with a big disclaimer. Over the off-season I talked about Bell as a guy who could be the first baseman of the future. That was largely because he’d have no spot in the majors as an outfielder, since the trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco are expected to be together for several years. I don’t think the Pirates will be moving Bell to first base any time soon, as outfield is a far more valuable position for him. The only way I see him eventually moving to first base is if Allie doesn’t work out, and Bell is hitting well in the upper levels, and Ike Davis is on his way out of Pittsburgh with no other replacement to take his place.
If I had my pick for the “first baseman of the future”, I’d go with Allie. I was impressed with his approach at the plate this year during Spring Training. It was a noticeable improvement over what I saw in Bradenton last year, and led me to pick him as my breakout candidate for this year. If Davis works in Pittsburgh, then the Pirates can take their time with Allie, giving him full seasons in Altoona and Indianapolis before his jump to the majors. This would have also been true if Lambo would have worked out, since Allie has more upside than Lambo. Either way, he’s the best internal option, and having the first base position solved in Pittsburgh allows the Pirates to focus on his development without having to worry about the immediate need for him in the majors.
Links and Notes
**Brandon Cumpton Will Be Replacing Wandy Rodriguez. To prepare for his start tomorrow, check out Ryan Palencer’s article on how Cumpton avoided the first slow start of his career.
**Tyler Glasnow is Set to Make His 2014 Debut on Friday. That’s good news after all of the injuries to top prospects this year.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.