Kyle Shwarber: First Baseman

On Friday night in Cleveland, Kyle Schwarber made his first start at first base for the Red Sox. Schwarber looked a little clunky and maybe a little nervous to play the position, but the first game went off without a hitch. Throughout his career with the Cubs and earlier this year with the Nationals he was an outfielder. It will be interesting to see moving forward how much time he will get at first base, and how quickly he can adapt to his new role.

Kyle the On Base Machine

Since being traded to Boston from the Nationals, Schwarber has played mostly a mix of left field and designated hitter. After returning from his stint on the injured list (IL) Schwarber hasn’t missed a beat offensively. He was always known as a power hitter, but people always wonder what you’re going to get out of a guy who is returning from the IL.

Schwarber’s ability to work the count and get on base has mostly been on display so far. However, he’s still clubbed a few timely home runs to remind everyone why the Sox traded for him. In 14 games with the Red Sox, he has a .326 batting average with an on base percentage of .483 and has already drawn 14 walks. His two home runs and only three runs batted in might be disappointing so far for some. However, his lack of RBI’s is offset by his nine runs scored. The power will come, but right now he is still producing by making pitchers work, getting on base, and scoring runs. This is something this team has lacked for the past month.

In the Field

Who plays everyday and what will be huge down the stretch if this team not only wants to make the playoffs but make it far in the playoffs? Ideally, you’d like the Sox to have Verdugo, Hernandez, and Renfroe be the everyday outfielders. They have played great defense all year and all have made significant contributions with the stick this season. Ideally, you’d like to have J.D. Martinez be the everyday DH. Not a good fielder, but the type of guy you need in the lineup everyday if you want to make the playoffs. If Schwarber can make the right adjustment and learn first base and become a serviceable everyday first baseman then that is huge for the push to October.

The Playoff Race

We’ll just have to wait and see how Schwarber, and this team does down the stretch. The Red Sox currently hold the second wild card spot 2 games behind the Yankees and 2 games ahead of the Athletics. The offense needs to turn it around in September for the playoff race, and Schwarber will be a big contributor to that. It’s just a question of can he learn first base well enough in time, so we don’t have to play musical chair with all the position players.

Should the Red Sox Trade for Anthony Rizzo?

With the Trade Deadline this Friday many rumors are beginning to swirl for teams across baseball. The Red Sox currently find themselves in a position to possibly build at the deadline rather than sell for the future, which is a pleasant surprise to say the least given the teams last place finish in the division last season. Fans and media were looking for a bounce back season, but it’s safe to say that almost no one saw this performance coming. The team has been rumored to be interested in several players, both pitchers and offensive players including Chicago Cubs star first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. However, should the Red Sox trade for Rizzo, or should they look elsewhere? Or nowhere at all?

Buy or Sell?

Coming into today the Red Sox are tied with the Houston Astros for best record in the American League. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Chicago Cubs currently sitting in 4th place in the National League Central. The team sits nine games out of first and trending downward. The Cubs posted a record of 18-28 since June 1st that includes an 11-game losing streak. The Cubs already dealt outfielder Joc Pederson, and are expected to sell players like Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. This makes the Cubs and the Red Sox strong possible trade partners come this Friday.

The Pitching Staff

Many people point to the pitching staff as the team’s weak point. They feel the starting rotation is subpar and lack a true ace right now. The Sox have a team Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.06, which ranks 7th in the American League. Not great, but not terrible either. Red Sox pitchers are ranked 3rd in the AL in strikeouts and 1st in home runs aloud so they can get it done and keep the offense in the game. Plus, Chris Sale and Ryan Brasier are expected to return from the Injured List at some point this season. Don’t expect Sale to start this season but he could definitely help the bullpen down the stretch. With the team also calling up young pitching prospect Tanner Houck to start, I do not expect this team to add any pitching at the deadline, nor do I think they should.

Offensive Prowess

Offensively the team is gritty and effective. The middle of the lineup with Xander Bogaerts (SS), Rafael Devers (3B), and J.D. Martinez (DH) is one of the best three through five slots in baseball. With Players like Alex Verdugo (LF), Christian Vazquez (C), and Hunter Renfroe (RF) performing well offensively for their respected positions, while also performing well in the field, it’s hard to find a week spot on the team. Kike Hernandez has been a good find as well this season with his ability to play almost anywhere in the field. Although he leaves a bit to be desired as the teams’ lead-off hitter with only a .244 batting average so far this season. His clutch hitting and electric play in the field and on the base path has been worth every penny so far.

Problems Beneath the Surface

This team looks solid on the surface. Dig a little deeper however and you can see where the cracks really are. The lineup is good, but if falls off a bit towards the end. The lack of left-handed hitting has been apparent. Devers, and Verdugo have been the only lefties in the lineup for most of the season. Marwin Gonzalez and Danny Santana can switch hit but both are injured for the foreseeable future right now. Left-handed hitting Jarren Duran was recently called up for AAA, but it will be a bit to see how he adjusts to major league pitching. The team also lacks a true first-basemen. According to Fangraphs.com, the Red Sox rank last in the AL in defense at 1B. Anthony Rizzo can help to fix all these problems. He is a four-time Gold Glove winning first-baseman. He batted lead-off for the Cubs for years. Rizzo has struggled a bit at the plate this season. His average is .244 and his power number has dropped a bit, clubbing only 12 homeruns this season so far. Bobby Dalbec is the Sox everyday first-basemen right now but is only batting .218 with 10 homeruns. Dalbec is only 26, while Rizzo is going to turn 32 on August 8th. It could do Bobby some good to maybe watch and learn from a veteran player for the rest of the season, rather then having to face is struggles at the dish every day.

A Good Fit

Rizzo fits the needs of the Red Sox right now to make a playoff run, but what will it cost? Rizzo is set to make $16.5 million this season, the final of his current contract. Teams will be looking for a guy like Rizzo to be a rental as they try to win the World Series this year. This can bring cost down a bit, but the Cubs aren’t going to part with a guy like Rizzo for cheap. They’ll probably be looking to score a couple prospects, including a team’s top ten prospect. Would you be willing to trade prospects like a Blaze Jordan, Jarren Duran or even a Jeter Downs for a rental like Anthony Rizzo? Do you give up some of your future for increasing you chance of success right now? Oh, to be a baseball GM in late July.

2019 MLB Top Five First Basemen

Historically, the best first basemen around the league bat in the middle of the lineup. In the past two decades, players such as Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira have not only been the best hitters on their respective teams, but the best hitters in baseball. In Pujols’s eleven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he made the All-Star team nine times, averaged 40 home runs, 120 RBI, a .328 batting average and a 1.037 OPS. He also won Rookie of the Year, three MVPs, and two World Series titles. Though Teixeira’s first seven seasons were split between four teams (TEX, ATL, LAA, NYY), he remained a pitcher’s nightmare, averaging 34 homers, 114 RBI, and a .921 OPS. Both Pujols and Teixeira were, at one point in their prime, Top Five First Basemen.

This season, there were four clear-cut players that made the list. Finding number-five wasTop Five First Basemen difficult. One may have favored Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, who has averaged a .869 OPS in five seasons since being signed as an international free agent out of Cuba. Other candidates were Eric Hosmer (San Diego Padres) and Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians). The selection, however, goes to up-and-coming star Rhys Hoskins, who slugged an .850 OPS in his first full season in 2018.

Top Five First Basemen – 5 – Rhys Hoskins (Philadelphia Phillies)

Hoskins’s 38 doubles and 34 home runs last season were no fluke. He made his MLB debut in August 2017, and in 50 games, hit 18 home runs, knocked in 48 runs, and posted an OPS of 1.014. Back in 2016, Hoskins spent a full season playing at Double-A Reading. He hit 38 homers and 116 RBI. In 2017, at Triple-A, he played 115 games and set the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs franchise-record in HRs with 29. After eclipsing the 30 home-run-mark in 2018, look for Hoskins to hit closer to 40 this season, if not more.

Top Five First Basemen – 4 – Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals)

Goldschmidt has been an All-Star in each of the past six seasons. His most notable strength is that he is a master at reaching base, averaging a .406 clip since 2013. He is one of the very few at his position to add speed on the base paths (17 per season). Goldy has finished top-3 in the MVP voting three times. He joins a new team in the Cardinals this year after spending his entire career with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals rewarded him with a 5-year contract extension on March 21st. The D-Backs never won a division title in the Goldschmidt era.

Top Five First Basemen – 3 – Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

The 2010 NL MVP turns 36 in September and has put together a spectacular career. Besides Pujols and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, JV is the only other active 1B to win a MVP award. In terms of reaching base, no one else comes close. His career OBP clip is an astounding .427. He has led the league in walks five times and OBP seven times. His slugging percentage, however, took a big dip last year (.419). The three years prior he had averaged .556. That decline, combined with the fact the Reds have won just 2 games in Votto’s career, puts him at 2019 first baseman number-three.

Top Five First Basemen – 2 – Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs)

The only first baseman to put together four straight 100 RBI seasons is Rizzo. He won his second Gold Glove in the past three years in 2018 and was a major contributor to the Cubs 2016 World Series championship. Rizzo is extremely durable, at least 616 plate appearances in each season, and has led Chicago to four straight playoff appearances.

Top Five First Basemen – 1 – Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)

Freeman led all first basemen in hits, doubles, and batting average last year. In his last three seasons he has averaged a slash line of .306/.397/.949. Freeman’s Braves won the NL East in 2018. He won his first Gold Glove last year and enters 2019 as the most feared first baseman.

Yes, Ramirez Can Play First Base (For Now)

The 2016 season is still young but many in the Red Sox Nation are cautiously optimistic about Hanley Ramirez. Since moving to first base, Ramirez has shown consistency at the plate and in the field. As of April 22nd, Ramirez hasn’t committed an error. In fact, Ramirez is starting to re-establish himself as a superstar, one that fans in Boston may come to respect for years to come. So far, Ramirez can play first base!

“We have a player, I think, completely different than a year ago,” Red Sox manager FarrellRamirez can play first base told MLB.com’s Aaron Leibowitz. “He’s engaged, he’s having fun playing the game, [and] I think being back on the infield has been a big boost to that. He’s doing one heck of a job.” Ramirez had played third base and shortstop with the Miami Marlins, and Los Angeles Dodgers before signing a four-year $88 million contract with the Red Sox in November of 2014.

While Ramirez had a decent start to the 2015 season, his season went downhill after a May 4th game against the Tampa Bay Rays. In the top of the first inning, Ramirez crashed into the Green Monster trying to field a catch, spraining his left shoulder. By September, Ramirez was sporting the worst defensive rating in the league, leading then-interim manager Tory Lovullo to pull him from his outfield position (just another sign that Lovullo should replace Farrell sooner than later).

The Red Sox have been struggling recently, first against the Toronto Blue Jays, who managed to overcome setbacks in two of the four games between the two to split the series, and now with Tampa Bay, who took two wins out of three games in the series on April 21st. The Sox were held to one hit during the first of a three-game series against the Rays that started on April 19th, and lost in the 10th inning. The third game on April 21st saw Boston take an early lead before David Price gave up eight runs in 3 and 2/3 innings before Farrell yanked him from the game, which the Red Sox lost 8-5. While the Red Sox are starting to slip back into a familiar pattern from last season, one of the shining glimmers of hope the Red Sox Nation can look forward to is in Hanley Ramirez’s command of defending first base. He continues to show a strong and consistent ability to play first base, giving the Red Sox Nation something to pin their hopes on as the season progresses.

Sea Dogs’ Jantzen Witte Making Transition from Third to First Look Easy

Jantzen Witte sea dogs

Jantzen Witte has been one of the Portland Sea Dogs best hitters to this point in the season, posting a .348/.392/.500 line with seven extra-base hits, 19 runs batted in, seven runs scored and six walks in 18 games.

He began his transition from third to first base in Spring Training last sJantzen Witteeason, and so far has made the job look easy, posting a .996 fielding percentage at first base over 960 career innings.

“Last year I kind of got moved over there the last day of Spring Training, and then played the majority of my games at first,” Witte told Yawkey Way Report. “I actually felt okay with it.

“As far as ground balls and things like that, I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment, but as far as my footwork around the bag and picks and things like that, it looks so easy, but there’s a lot of stuff going on. A lot of moving parts that I think a lot of people don’t realize. That’s something that I am still working on.”

Witte was selected by the Red Sox in the 24th round of the First-Year player draft in 2013 out of Texas Christian University. He was named to the 1st-Team Academic All Big-12 Team his senior year, when he hit .293 with 15 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 34 runs batted in.

The 25-year old talked about how his college baseball career has helped ease the transition into professional baseball, although there are some major differences.

“I think anybody that played college baseball, they have so many more reps than these guys [that come out of] high school,” he said. “The earlier levels of [professional baseball] we have so much more experience in close ball games, and so many AB’s [while] facing some pretty good arms.”

“I think the hardest thing to do is be consistent in pro ball, [because] you play so many games—[Double-A] is where the level is that everyone is at an even playing field.”

So far this season, the New England weather has had little effect on the Ft Worth, Texas native.

“In college we played in places like Air Force in Colorado in the snow. When we were in the Mountain West, BYU, you know we’re up in the snow, it’s icy, so it’s something I have played in before,” he said. “It might take an extra one or two sprints to get loose, but you know, you just got to play the game regardless of what the temperature is like.”

In 181 career minor league games, Witte is hitting .293/.361/.457 with 13 home runs, 54 doubles, eight triples and 122 runs batted in while splitting time between third and first base.