Previously, we discussed Minor League free agent catchers. Today, we move on to first basemen. The point of this article is not to suggest that the Orioles need to deepen their talent pool at Norfolk with journeyman first baseman, but to show that their may well be some talent at the fringe corners of the market.
The Orioles lost two Minor League free agent first basemen. Rhyne Hughes had been in the organization since 2009. He was acquired in a deal for Gregg Zaun, who no longer wished to provide counsel for the emergence of Matt Wieters. The power Hughes' showed in the Rays' system never really materialized for the Orioles until he was forced to serve a suspension for PEDs and played out last year in AA. The other free agent is Billy Rowell. Often acclaimed as the man who caused Mike Trout to fall to the 24th selection due to the New Jersey fear (the fear that ball players from the Northeast can sometimes look like monsters merely due to playing vastly inferior competition). Rowell had difficulty translating his batting practice light tower power into game power as he had issues figuring out off speed pitches. He did not really take to the idea of being converted to a pitcher in spring training and then would up with a substance abuse violation. He finished the year out at home as the Orioles decided to simply cut ties with their former number 1 pick.
On to potential pickups:
Christian Marrero, 27yo
Marrero has never been considered a top prospect. He has been someone whose athleticism is not exceptional, but he has performed well enough at each step along the way. His power is fringy for a first baseman or left fielder. He is not particularly gifted with range, but he does have a strong arm that is useful in left. The hope for him is that he improves his skills and can be used as a fourth outfielder or backup first baseman. It will be a difficult road for him.
Reynaldo Rodriguez, 27yo
Rodriguez is a player who attracts my interest. After floundering in the Yankees system, he was dismissed after he was injured and lost a season. He kept at it and worked his way back to be signed by the Red Sox. As one of the more older players in the leagues he was playing in, he managed to move his way through the system a step each year. Last year saw hm with 49 plate appearances in AAA where he looked overmatched. With reports of solid defense and good plate coverage. A lean body with not much frame to add weight, his power will be at best average or, more likely, below average. I'd like to see what he could do in Norfolk where his line drive swing might play well. If he can pick up some time in the outfield, it might make him an easier player to carry at the MLB level on the bench.
Travis Ishikawa, 30yo
Ishikawa has always been a player that has interested me because he is someone who does something very well at a position where that particular skill is held with much value: defense. I have not seen him enough, but you could make the argument that he is the best defensive first baseman in baseball. His downfall is that he is an awfully poor hitting first baseman. He would fall in as the 25th or so worst hitting player at that position. However, that glove is worth about 1.5 wins over the course of a full season. In total, that would bring him in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 2 WAR, which is passable (not preferable) at first. Ishikawa would be someone I would be interested in sitting at Norfolk and bringing up in case of an injury at first. It is a bit difficult to argument for a defensive backup at first base who is not going to be of much help in pinch hitting situations.