Picking a starting first baseman may be as pointless as calling him “Who,” but until the beginning of the season rolls around, the position is up for grabs. So far, candidates include Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt, and Brett Pill. Now, I don’t doubt that at some point during the season, all four of these players will see time at first base. Posey will need a break from the rigors of catching, Huff may not find left field quite to his liking, Belt and Pill will quickly and repeatedly outgrow Fresno.
Buster Posey — Given his ongoing recovery, Posey won’t be starting at first base because the Giants have no better alternative, but because it’s a less taxing position than one behind the plate. In 2010, Buster started 30 games at first, with 196 putouts, 12 double plays and a single error in 248.0 innings for a FP of .995. He’s not my favorite choice for first base, but an understandable one.
Brandon Belt — The last time Belt saw a full season at first was in 2010, when he split 112 games among San Jose, Richmond, and Fresno, for 1,016 putouts, 91 double plays, and 9 errors. Of course, the main draw to Belt is in his bat. He batted .320/.461/.528 in San Jose and Fresno last season, and brought a line of .225/.306/.412 to San Francisco in 63 games.
Here, the concern is not ensuring Belt makes a good impression in Spring Training—or even in San Francisco, should Sabean and Bochy select him as their starting first baseman. It’s keeping him there, and getting him the consistency it takes to improve at a major-league level. What do you say, Giants? Can we do it this year?
Brett Pill — I’ll be honest, Pill has flown a bit under my radar so far. It’s not that he lacks power: his .300/.321/.560 average makes him an asset at any level. Granted, that’s over 15 games at the tail end of last season. Pill played 125 minor league games at first base in 2010, racking up 1,192 putouts, 112 double plays, and 5 errors for a .996 FP. Although his numbers are a slight improvement over Belt’s, he hasn’t had as much time to adjust to the majors. Playing in September, when your team is out of contention and everyone is test driving their minor league talent is different than pushing for a division title after the All-Star break. Time and experience will tell whether Pill pops under that kind of pressure.
Aubrey Huff — Huff has a lot going for him, he really does. Statistically, he should bounce back from his down year in 2011, if only to maintain his on-again, off-again flirtation with success. And of course, he’s been sculpting those abs with Pilates and texting his (shirtless) progress to Bochy, too.
Last season, he saw 120 games at first, 990 putouts, 76 double plays, and only 5 errors in 1032.2 innings. Offensively, he put up .246/.306/.370 over 150 games, with 45 runs and 12 homers. His WAR dropped from 6.0 in 2010 to -0.6 in 2011. While it may be Huff’s job to lose, I’m not so sure a few Pilates exercises will keep the competition at bay.
Hank Schulman captured Huff’s outlook best in an interview on KNBR:
"“I’m coming in hungry, dedicated. If these kids (Belt/Pill) want my job, they’re going to have to come in and take it from me.”"