To start off, Morrison won’t be with the Twins in 2019 (he has a team option, but there’s absolutely no reason the Twins would pick it up). Mauer may or may not be back, as he is considering retirement and will reportedly wait until after the MLB postseason finishes to decided. Sano isn’t someone I’m counting on anymore, but I am still hopeful he can figure it out. I’m not expecting him to make much of a difference at first base next year, though that’s due in part to him being much more of a third baseman than a first baseman to this point in his career. So, of the 4 main first basemen the Twins used this year, there is a very good chance that 3 of the 4 won’t be a factor at the position in 2019. Thankfully, we still have Tyler Austin.
Let’s get excited for a minute. If you project Austin’s numbers over a 162-game season, using his totals with the Minnesota Twins from this season, you get a pretty nice line- 83 runs, 18 doubles, 41 home runs, 50 walks, 194 strikeouts, .236 average, .294 OBP, .388 SLG%. Now, it’s difficult to keep that pace for a full season, and that line is probably closer to a ceiling for Austin than an expectation. But still, Austin never seems to get overly hot or overly cold, and he’s been waiting for his chance to play a full season in the majors (the Yankees weren’t ever able to give him more than 40 games in a season). Austin strikes me as someone that will be a pretty solid contributor. His downside with high strikeouts and low batting average is made up for with his fantastic power, and while he doesn’t look like a Gold Glover defensively, he’s certainly more than serviceable and there shouldn’t be any major concerns.
Due to a combination of skill set and lack of competition, Austin should be our main first baseman in 2019. If he elects not to retire, Mauer will get time at first, though I have to think he may start to shift to more of a backup role than a starter. Though, it’s worth noting that for now, the Twins have the space to use Mauer and Austin both in everyday lineups, giving one 1B and the other DH. That could certainly change as the roster is tweaked throughout the offseason.
As it stands now, nobody other than Austin is a lock play a lot of 1B next year. After he and Mauer, there’s not anyone with big league experience in the organization that we should expect to see at 1B consistently. Prospect Brent Rooker had a successful season in AA, hitting .254 with 32 doubles and 22 home runs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Twins elect to give him another half season with AA or AAA in 2019, perhaps promoting him after that if he plays well. He’s been a solid prospect for the past few years with good, not elite skills. He has a fairly high floor, but doesn’t appear to have a super high ceiling either. He’ll do a bit of everything at the plate, but likely won’t be great at any one thing. I do think he’ll turn into at least an average MLB first baseman with solid, not fantastic power, and solid, not fantastic average. I’d be very surprised if 2019 passes without him making his debut, but again, I think the Twins would like to see a bit more work from him in the minors before debuting.
If we want to get creative, one potential situation would be to have Mitch Garver transition away from catcher and into more of a first base role. That would allow Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo to handle the catching duties, and let Austin and Garver split time between 1B and DH. I don’t see this as a very likely scenario, though, and Garver’s hit skill is more valuable as a catcher than as a 1B or DH. But, if something comes up and the Minnesota Twins desperately need another 1B, then it could be worth considering as an emergency solution.
There isn’t a whole lot available at first base in the free agent pool this offseason. Mauer, of course, will be an option if he elects not to retire, but after him, the only semi-realistic possibilities I see are Matt Adams or Lucas Duda. Neither are very exciting at all, and the Twins wouldn’t look great if they had to rely on either as a starter. But if Mauer retires, Rooker needs a bit more time in the minors, and Garver stays behind the plate, I could see Adams or Duda coming in as a backup. Again, neither are very exciting, but those are the free agent 1Bs that seem somewhat realistic to me.