There is a potential battle at every position, but some are stronger than others. Yesterday we discussed the catching position, the Twins’ equivalent of Fort Sumter. Today it’s time to talk about first base.
Who is in Ft. Myers?
The Twins have quite a few men in camp who can play first base. Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee are the two men on the 40 man roster whose primary position is first, but they are joined on the roster by Ryan Doumit, Joe Mauer, Luke Hughes, and Trevor Plouffe, all of whom have some experience at the position. Non-Roster Invitees Steve Pearce and Aaron Bates will also be present.
Is there a battle?
There will be a battle if and only if Morneau cannot play. Unless you are a time traveler from somewhere 2009 or before, you are already familiar with Morneau’s injury struggles, so I will not waste your time talking about them here. But if Morneau cannot play, there will be a battle. Still just 30 years old, Morneau is eighth in team history in home runs, has won an MVP award, and holds a career slash line of .285/.353/.499. Thus, it is to be hoped that Morneau won’t fight a battle at all (unless it’s his usually man vs. bear toughness contest).
Mauer showed he can play first quite effectively last season, but his primary desire is to catch. Doumit, also a catcher by trade, would also be a contender for the role in Morneau’s absence, but he has not seen extensive time at first base since 2007, and his career UZR/150 at first is -22.4. His chief competition would come from Parmelee, a player who could use more time in the minors but mashed every ball thrown in his direction last September. Bates would merit a look as well. He hit .316/.408/.439 at Rochester in 2011, and he is a right-handed hitter, which the Twins can always use.
How does this battle compare?
First base might be the Twins’ Waterloo. Waterloo was the 1815 battle where the French Empire, led by Bonaparte, was convincingly defeated. There is a theory popular among some historians that the brilliant general Napoleon lost the battle due in part due to an illness that affected his decision making (theories about the illness range from hemorrhoids to stomach cancer). Likewise, Morneau cannot lose this job unless his health problems steal it from him.
A more disturbing parallel is that this position battle has the potential to destroy the Twins the way Waterloo destroyed the French army. Morneau is one of the cornerstones of this franchise, and losing him again might be a crippling blow.
Who will win?
If Morneau doesn’t get this job, Doumit will probably man the position for at least part of the season until Parmelee is ready for Major League duty. Doumit is far from the baseball equivalent of the Duke of Wellington, but he would be a better fill-in option than the ones the Twins had most of last year.
An intriguing, but far less likely solution would be a platoon scenario. Parmelee could play against right-handed pitchers and another player, such as Hughes, could start against lefties (Bates is a better right-handed hitter, but it’s silly to imagine two roster spots taken up by players who only play first base).
Whoever wins the starting job, Mauer will likely make at least a few starts here. He can play first base well, and he is a strong enough hitter to be a plus even at this most hitting-dependent position. The only reason Mauer would not win the starting first base job in Morneau’s absence is that he would leave a very big hole behind the plate.