08 January 2010

AL East Best Under-26 Team: Part 2 - First Base

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I'm tackling Part 2, stepping through the Top 3 Under-26 First Basemen in the AL East. There's a large drop-off between number one and the rest of the list, with new-to-the-division prospect Brett Wallace easily the most talented of the bunch.

The full list with brief write-ups after the jump...

1. Brett Wallace / Toronto Blue Jays (AAA/Las Vegas)

Height/Weight - 6-2/245 / Born - 8/26/1986 / Bats/Throws - L/R
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

Dating back to his time at Arizona St., Wallace has been labeled a not-long-for-3B guy, mostly due to his bottom-heavy build and limited range at the hot corner. 2010 may finally see his full-time switch over to first, a transition started by the Oakland Athletics at the end of last year. The good news for Jays fans is that Wallace's bat easily plays across the diamond.

Wallace's biggest asset is his advanced approach, which includes a solid understanding of the strikezone and above-average pitch-ID for a player his age. Though he can add some length to his swing at times, his bat speed and pitch-ID more than make up for this by allowing him to be selectively aggressive in the pitches he attacks. He should be up in 2010 and is an excellent candidate to hit right away. One item he may need to clean-up is the variance in his timing mechanism -- a leg raise into his stride -- which adds some inconsistency to the start of his swing.

2. Brandon Snyder / Baltimore Orioles (AAA/Norfolk)

Height/Weight - 6-2/210 / Born - 11/23/1986 / Bats/Throws - R/R
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

After posting slash lines of .315/.358/.490 at A-Adv./Frederick in 2008, .343/.421/.597 through 58 games at AA/Bowie in 2009, and .354/.456/.600 in the 2009 Arizona Fall League, Snyder appears to have finally won over the scouting community, with Baseball America now projecting him as a Major League regular. Snyder shows an uncanny ability to center the ball on the barrel and hit it hard, as evidenced in part by his routinely high BABIP (averaging over .350 over 1085 ABs between the start of the 2007 season and his promotion to AAA/Norfolk in 2009). He has little loft in his swing, keeping close to the plane of the pitch (which also aides his ability to make contact), and profiles more gap-to-gap than as a homerun threat.

Snyder's largest looming hurdle appears to be consistency. He's an aggressive hitter that puts a lot of balls in play, making him highly reliant on sustaining a high BABIP. It's likely that Snyder will see a fair amount of variance in his seasonal stat lines at the Major League level -- similar to the career path of Sean Casey (who has unsurprisingly become a regular comp in scouting circles), leading to two possible outcomes. If Snyder is able to reign-in his discipline some he could profile as a solid number-2 hitter with plus contact skills. If, however, his aggressive approach leads to too much "bad" contact (difficult pitches to drive) he may top out as a 6/7 hitter whose production is too inconsistent to slot into the top half of the order. In spite of the slash stats above, Snyder had a rough go at it in his first taste of AAA, and will likely find himself back in Norfolk in 2010 until he forces his way onto the 25-man roster. Lauded by his coaches for his work ethic and enthusiasm, he could prove to be a pleasant surprise for Orioles fans who counted him out after shoulder surgery moved him from behind the plate back in 2006.

3. David Cooper / Toronto Blue Jays (AA/New Hampshire)
Height/Weight - 6-0/175 / Born: 2/12/1987 / Bats/Throws - L/L
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

Like Wallace and Snyder, Cooper profiles better as a pure hitter than he does as a thumper. After a strong 2008, Cooper ran into some trouble with advanced pitching in 2009, opening the season with a rough April/May that saw him post a .659 and .692 OPS, respectively. As the season wore on, Cooper appeared to make the necessary adjustments in his approach, culminating in a strong August showing wherein he put up a .284/.408/.490 line over 102 at bats, while walking more than he fanned (21-19). A below-average defender at Cal - Berkley, reports on Cooper's defense have been equally unspectacular at the pro ranks. His most likely point of entry could be DH, and he could arrive sometime in 2010, shortly after Wallace.

HM. Lars Anderson / Boston Red Sox (AA/Portland)
Height/Weight - 6-4/215 / Born - 9/25/1987 / Bats/Throws - L/L
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

At this time last year, Anderson was coming off a strong season at age 20 spent between A-Adv./Lancaster and AA/Portland and would have been the unmitigated favorite for this list. Flash forward 12-months and a disappointing 512 plate appearances at AA/Portland and Red Sox Nation is left wondering if their system's top power prospect may have stalled-out. Anderson still carries with him the plus raw power and a solid approach that lead many to peg him as Boston's 1B and middle-of-the-order-bat of the future. He'll start 2010 back at Portland and try to right the ship.

Anthony Rizzo (Boston Red Sox) was also considered for this spot. As impressive as his age 19 season was between A/Greenville and A-Adv./Salem, Anderson was more impressive at the same age, as well as the following season in his first taste of AA before suffering his setback in '09.

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