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It feels like the Red Sox just won the World Series and there is a long offseason ahead of us, but things have snuck up on us pretty quickly and Spring Training is now 12 days away. With baseball so close, three writers at Sports of Boston, Scott Siegler, Brian Roach, and myself, have felt it important to take a position by position look at the AL East. Here is our first installment of rankings in the AL East with a look at the first baseman.
1. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles: It was a hard decision between Davis and Encarnacion, but in the end the difference in age (27 to 31) placed Davis here. Chris Davis has always had power potential, it’s always been a question if he could make consistent contact and walk more. In 2013, Davis learned to do just that as he nearly doubled his walks from 2012 (37 to 72) while hitting 53 home runs. The biggest knock on him is his tendency to strikeout (199 times in 2013), so if he can continue his upward trend in walks and cut the strikeouts he should continue to get better. Defensively he can hold his own but do not expect to hear his name in the Gold Glove conversation.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays: Encarnacion is one of the premier right-handed power talents in the Majors. This would have meant nothing during the height of he Steroid Era but now Encarnacion is part of a dying breed. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, Encarnacion is the only right handed hitter to have 35 or more home runs the past two seasons. Along with his power, the Toronto first baseman has collected at least 80 walks the past two season and has struck out over 100 times just once in his career (2008). Encarnacion is not known for his defensive prowess as he also looks to spend considerable time at DH.
3. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox: There is no doubt that the bearded first baseman is streaky but his is consistent in one way: he takes pitches. Napoli led the Majors in seeing 4.59 pitches per plate appearance last year which set the bar for the Red Sox offense which liked to wear out pitchers. While he will never hit for a high average, Napoli has extra-base power and the ability to take a walk which makes him a valuable offensive player. Quite unexpectedly after his move to first base Napoli nearly won the Gold Glove and could be considered the best in the AL East (if Loney weren’t around). Napoli’s grinding approach at the plate and on the field is sure to make an impact this year.
4. James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays seem to have found a knack for turning glove-first first baseman into above-average offensive players. Now no one will confuse James Loney for Chris Davis, but he was an integral part to the Rays offense last year. While he did hit an impressive 33 doubles last year, Loney’s real value is tied to his glove. He is the best at the position in the AL East and is one of the few first baseman who has a strong arm and is not afraid to use it when necessary.
5.Mark Teixeira, New York YankeesTeixeira used to be one of the best all around first basemen in the game. He good do it with his bat and he had five Gold Gloves to his name. Recently, it has been a different story. Hampered by wrist injuries Teixeira has struggled to stay on the field and when he has the results are not what they used to be. Through 2009 Teixeira’s splits looked something like this .300/.390/.550, but since 2010 they have been on a consistent decline and look something more like this .250/.335/.490. Wrist injuries can do a lot to derail a players career and it seems that is what is happening to Teixeira.
1. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles: First Base is a position of strength for every team in the AL East, but the Orioles can take comfort in knowing that their situation is the best. Chris Davis enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 leading all of baseball with 53 home runs and 138 RBI while maintaining an impressive .286 batting average and .370 OBP. The 27-year-old has been on the rise since the start of his career and is just now hitting stride.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays: Unlike Davis, Encarnacion came out of nowhere. After hitting 17 home runs and driving in 55 runs in 2011, Encarnacion exploded for 42 homers and 110 RBI in 2012 and then followed up with 36 home runs and 104 RBI in 2013. Regardless, the Dominican Republic native has proved he can hit and will continue to be a nightmare for AL East pitching.
3. Mike Napoli/Mike Carp, Boston Red Sox: Although Napoli will get the bulk of the playing time, it’s worth noting just how productive Mike Carp can be at first base, even in a limited role. This duo combined to hit .270 last season and teamed up for a 31 home run and 136 RBI showing. It is the depth at this position that gives Boston a leg up on Tampa Bay and New York.
4. James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays: Loney quietly put together a very impressive season in 2013. He may not have the power numbers that the rest of his AL East counterparts do, but a .778 OPS and 33 doubles is impressive by any standard. Just like in 2013, the Rays are going to get a lot of production from Loney is 2014.
5. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees: We all know how Teixeira can hit home runs, but his health struggles and declining OBP are showing signs that the switch-hitter’s effectiveness is waning at the plate. This season will tell a lot about what the rest of Teixeira’s career is going to look like. However, even if he stays healthy, the Yankees likely won’t get the type of production they are paying him for.
1. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays: Encarnacion has had the numbers the past couple of seasons compared to Chris Davis’ breakout 2013 season. The 31-year-old has 40-110 power and most of that is without Jose Baustista in the lineup. Plus, he struck out only 62 times compared to Davis’ 199. He also walked 82 times with Davis only working 72. Another pro about this Blue Jay is that he is right-handed and right-handed power is hard to come by in the MLB at this point in time.
With 53 home runs and 136 RBI to lead all of MLB, Davis nearly stole MVP away from Miguel Cabrera in 2013. However, he is still a left-handed slugger that has a huge hole in his swing with over a third of his at-bats resulted in strikeouts. If he could contact the ball at a higher rate and field the ball a little bit better, then he will be the top first baseman in the AL East in 2015.
3. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox:
With a near Gold Glove on his mantle, Napoli almost proved himself as the best first baseman in the AL East with a career-high 38 doubles and 93 RBI in the heart of the Red Sox’ order. He only hit .259, but had some good stretches and some stretches where he could not make contact at all. The 32-year-old struck out 187 times in 498 at-bats, but, with a two-year deal now agreed upon, he should be able to relax a little bit and show what he can do in the middle of the lineup in 2014.
4. James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays:
Loney may not be the big popper that the rest of the AL East has at first base, but he provides a solid amount of offense for the Rays and ended up winning the Gold Glove-caliber defense for the Rays in 2013. He played 158 games and remained healthy, which is the main reason he is above the final first baseman on this list. The 29-year-old had only 13 homers and 75 RBI, but did provide a nice boost for the Rays offense at stretches.
5. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees:
With Teixeira the oldest in the division (33) and also dealing with an ailing wrist, it will take some time to get back his batter’s eye as well as the power in his swing. Also, the Yankees are expecting the slugger to develop wrist soreness throughout the season, which means resting the switch hitter multiple times in 2014. Don’t expect too much this season from Teixeira; maybe 2015 will be his year.
Agree or disagree with our rankings? Why not try compiling your own list and telling us what you think? Make sure to check out next weeks ranking which will focus on second base.