Whereas the catchers are likely the weakest position in the system, First Base may be the strongest. As with catching and Joe Mauer, the Twins have a young budding superstar at first base. Assuming that Justin Morneau doesn't get seriously injured and that the Twins sign him to a long term contract, the Twins will not need a starting first baseman for some time. What they could use beginning in 2007 is a solid backup who could double as a designated hitter. Is there a player in the system who can fill this role in 2007?
The Rochester Red Wings (AAA) played much of the season after trading Jason Hart to Texas with only one first baseman, **Garrett Jones, 24, (#9/#5). Jones is one of the premier power hitters in the system, leading the system with 92 rbi and tying with Brock Peterson for the home run title at 21. The wrap on Jones is that he strikes out to much and hasn't been able to get his batting average much higher than this season's .238Ave with 32 doubles and 72 runs scored. He struck out 121 times in 525 at bats (23.0%) this season which was virtually the same as his 109 strike outs in 488 at bats (22.3%) at Rochester in 2005. Jones caught fire during the playoffs, getting 8 hits in 15 at bats with a home run and 5 rbi in their first round win and 5 hits in 17 at bats with 4 walks, 1 home run, 3 runs scored and 5 rbi in the championship round.
New Britain (AA) also had one regular first baseman, Daniel Matienzo, 25+, (#19/#6) although outfielder Doug Deeds played some first base when Matienzo needed a break. Matienzo, who was one of the top hitters in the Eastern League in 2005, was noticeably disappointed when he wasn't promoted to Rochester this season. This may be the reason his batting average took a dip from .282Ave in 2005 to .252Ave this season. His power was also down, hitting 17 home runs and 24 doubles with 76 rbi in 472 at bats this season compared with 23 home runs and 36 doubles with 87 rbi in 531 at bats in 2005. Matienzo's plate discipline also declined as his strikeouts went up from 112 to 117 in 59 less at bats this season while his walks went down from 40 in 2005 to only 25 this year. With Peterson likely scheduled for a promotion to New Britain in 2007 the Twins have a decision to make regarding where Matienzo fits into their plans for 2007, if at all.
The Ft. Myers Miracle (Hi-A) expected Johnny Woodard, 21, (#79/#46) to be one of the team's future stars. Woodard was injured early in the season affecting his play (.181Ave, 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 8 rbi in 72 at bats), then placed on the disabled list for much of the season. Although several players saw limited time at first base for the Miracle, Brock Peterson, 22, (#12/#27) emerged as one of the hitting stars in the Florida State League setting an all-time franchise home run record with 21. Peterson, who had 8 errors and needs to improve defensively, had an excellent .291Ave with 21 doubles, 4 triples, 75 rbi, 40 walks and 93 strikeouts in 447 at bats. Peterson's power numbers have certainly been noticed by the Twins and it is likely 2007 will find him playing for the Rock Cats in New Britain.
The Beloit Snappers (A) had Erik Lis, 22, (#5/#15) at first base until he went on the DL several weeks before the end of the season. Lis won the Midwest League Batting Title with a .326Ave which was also second highest in the system to Jason Tyner‘s .329Ave. Lis, who struggled at times defensively with 19 errors, was one of the most productive hitters in the organization with a system leading 37 doubles, 3 triples, 16 home runs, 69 runs scored, 70 rbi, 51 walks and 83 strikeouts in 411 at bats. When Jim Rantz was questioned on WCCO one Sunday about whether or not Lis should be converted to a DH, he responded that it was much to early in Eric's career to make that move. The Snappers also had Henry Sanchez, 19, (#40/#72) on their roster until the short-season teams began play and he was sent back to Elizabethton. Sanchez struggled at Beloit, hitting .202Ave with 12 doubles, 4 home runs, 18 rbi, 13 walks and 69 strikeouts in 168 at bats. Sanchez didn't play too long at Elizabethton before he was sidelined with an injury that had been bothering him. In 12 games in the Appalachian League, Sanchez hit .220Ave with 4 doubles, 1 home run, 8 rbi, 0 walks and 13 strikeouts in 41 at bats. The Twins have been excited about Sanchez's power potential since drafting him with a first round sandwich pick in 2005, however, his performance to date indicates he will need to work very hard to significantly reduce his strikeouts and raise his batting average if he is to advance in a system loaded with first basemen.
The Elizabethton Twins had Henry Sanchez for a few games prior to going on the disabled list and late in the year, catcher Danny Berg also played some first base. Although he played some games at third base, 19th round pick Daniel Valencia, 21, (#20/-) was the Twins primary first baseman after his signing in mid-July. Valencia, who had been a star for the University of Miami in this years College World Series, kept hitting at a torrid pace for the Twins with a .311Ave, 13 doubles, 8 homes runs, 29 rbi and .505SLG in 190 at bats. Valencia, who was the only Elizabethton player named to the post-season Appalachian League All-Star team, will participate in this fall's Instructional League. Josh Dean, 19, (#51/#22) was the top hitter on the GCL Twins in 2005. Dean never got his bat going in 2006, therefore, he saw limited playing time hitting .231Ave/3 doubles, 2 home runs and 15 rbi in only 91 at bats.
The Gulf Coast League Twins didn't have a first baseman on their squad. Seventh round pick Jon Waltenbury, 18, didn't sign with the Twins until the Gulf Coast League season was nearly over and did not play this year. Waltenbury will see his first action with the Twins in this fall's Instructional League. Various players shared first base including this years top pick, outfielder Chris Parmalee and catchers Rodolpho Palacios and Wilson Ramos. These players will all be discussed at their primary positions.
The first basemen were one of the strongest positions in the system during 2006. The highest ranked first baseman was Eric Lis, who was the #5 ranked player. The eight first basemen in the system had an average ranking of #28 out of 88 position players which compared favorable to the #57 average ranking for catchers.
As is the case with the catchers, the Twins will not need a starting first baseman for several years provided Justin Morneau is signed to a long-term contract and remains healthy. They do however, need a backup next year and finding a backup first baseman who could double as a full or part-time designated hitter would be the best of all worlds for the Twins. The only player in the system that appears nearly ready for the major leagues is Garrett Jones who had another good season at Rochester. Unfortunately he did not reduce his strikeouts or raise his batting average. His not being called up following the Red Wings season appears to be an indication that the Twins question whether or not he is an option for either of these roles in 2007. Considering that Danny Matienzo appears to have stalled in his development, the next best candidate to play for the Twins would be Brock Peterson who had a break-out year for the Miracle. It will be exciting to follow his career to see if he can maintain his power and solid batting average as he makes the jump to AA. The most exciting prospects at first base (Erik Lis and Danny Valencia) are further away from the major leagues but are both former college players who should rapidly move through the system. With Justin Morneau playing at a MVP level and an excellent prospect at nearly every level of the system, the Twins should be solid at first base for another decade or longer.