AL East 2015: Ranking the First Baseman


Sep 4, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) doubles in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The AL East’s crop of first basemen is a motley crew of guys who are aging, guys who are looking to get on track and veterans in major league baseball.  It is also the hardest position to rank in the entire AL East.

If I asked you to rank Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, James Loney, Mike Napoli and Mark Teixeira, how would you do it? You could make an argument for putting any of them at almost any ranking, 1-5.  And that is why the backups are going to play a huge role in this.

If you want to look at last year’s rankings, they are here.  And, in some cases, I don’t plan on deviating too far from that, and I will explain why. Also, to see a ranking on the AL East’s catchers for 2015, that can be found here.

1. Toronto Blue Jays* – Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak, Danny Valencia

Encarnacion once again takes the top spot, as long as he actually is the first basemen. Smoak is projected by MLB to start at first, but I can’t see that happening.  He still has yet to prove himself on the major league level, despite his immense potential. If he is the starter, I drop the Blue Jays all the way to last.

Encarnacion has 112 home runs in 3 years

But, assuming Edwin is the starter, I think the Jays come in first. Encarnacion has been a deserving All-Star the last two years. He also has been very consistent the past two seasons, something that can’t be said for the other players. Encarnacion has hit 30-plus home runs each of the last three years, and last year had a slash line of .268/.354/.547. That far exceeds his competition.

The Jays, if Smoak is the backup, are in pretty good shape with reserves as well.  But, if they choose to have Encarnacion at DH, all bets are off.

2. Boston Red Sox – Mike Napoli, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava

Last year I had Napoli ahead of James Loney.  And it is really hard for me to keep it that way, but I am going to based on his backups.  Napoli hit .248/.370/.419 last year.  Nothing earth-shattering there.  He hit 17 home runs, half as many as Encarnarcion.  Napoli is also rather limited defensively.  But, he has been a consistent major leaguer for several years now.

Napoli is probably slightly behind Loney, but his backups keep him ahead.  Craig struggled mightily in 2014, including being traded from the Cardinals to the Red Sox. However, this is a guy who is an All-Star and has been a star in the playoffs.  Craig also won’t be starting anywhere else, so Napoli could see a good amount of time at DH, just like Encarnacion.

Nava has continued to underperform for the Red Sox, but Holt made a favorable impression last year for Boston.  He is a guy who is all heart and fits in well with the Boston mentality.  He will likely be a utility player for the Red Sox in 2015, if he makes the team.

3. Tampa Bay Rays – James Loney, John Jaso, Juan Francisco

This was really hard, because Loney is better than Napoli. He has had two really good years for the Rays. His defense is superb, and his batting has been quite good for the Rays as well.  That is something the offensive deficient Rays are going to need in 2015. Loney is not a power hitter, which separates him from the rest of the AL East.  But, he has a very solid bat, as proven by hitting over .290 the last two years.

Behind him is concern.  Jaso is expected to be the DH, and also is the only quality catcher on the Rays’ roster.  I can’t see him playing much at first base.  Francisco is a non-roster invite to Spring Training, and with so many youngsters trying to make the team at other positions, Loney may not have a true backup. The good news is that Loney has been fairly durable throughout his career.

4. Baltimore Orioles – Chris Davis*, Steve Pearce, Christian Walker

Chris Davis has one game left on his suspension, and then will be back with the Orioles. He has received his exemption to take Adderall again, and also is healthy.  He was injured to start 2014, and everything snowballed on the O’s slugger.  His swing got out of whack, and it was ugly from there.  His slash of .196/.300/.404 was well below what was expected by the team and its fans.  However, Davis still hit 26 home runs and had 72 RBIs, while only playing 127 games due to his suspension and a DL stint. Davis remained a very good fielder for the Orioles, something that did not change despite his struggles at the plate.

Steve Pearce had a breakout year in 2014.  That has been covered at length here, and well-deserved. Pearce is the second-best backup on this list, behind only Craig.  But, he will likely see some time all over the field, playing some outfield, filling in at first base, DH, and possibly even spelling Manny Machado at third.  Pearce is a gritty, hard-nosed player who has endeared himself to the Orioles staff and fans.  He also is a player who figured some things out in 2014, and the O’s will hope that continues.

Walker is likely the heir apparent at first base, especially if Davis is not re-signed.  However, if he breaks camp with the major league team, it will likely only be for one game.

5. New York Yankees – Mark Teixeira, Garrett Jones, Alex Rodriguez

The Yankees’ Big Tex is right where I ranked him last year, 5th.  Tex is 34 years old and in his 13th season in the majors.  That is a ton for a guy who has injury issues, which can be said for a lot of the team.

Teixeira hit .216/.313/.398 with 22 HRs and 62 RBIs in 2014. Yes, that is worse than Davis in many regards.  And, his defense is also very limited at this point with his knee issues.  He also had the fewest doubles of all the AL East first basemen. In fact, ranking this grouping last was my easiest choice, as the Baltimore native comes in last.

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For Jones, in the last 5 years, he only has one season where he hit over .250. He also has played in Miami and Pittsburgh. This will be his first trip to the AL East, and could be a rude awakening.  However, Jones had a good year last year in Miami.

Then there is A-Rod. And honestly, who knows what to expect from him? I think most of his games that he plays, which may not be over 100, will come at DH.  On an aging team, having someone who can’t do more than play first base is extremely limiting, especially because Teixeira should likely be DHing at this point.

Do you agree?