Paul Goldschmidt heads a strong class of NL West first basemen. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
As a group, the first basemen of the National League West are an interesting bunch. Two of the five are superstars. Another one is a former MVP about to replace a local legend. The fourth one is a World Series Champion while the last one still has something to prove. One thing should be noted about this group. The guy that plays first for the Arizona Diamondbacks is the best of the bunch.
Paul Goldschmidt: While he was not named the Most Valuable Player in 2013, Goldy was the best player in the National League. He led the Senior Circuit in many offensive categories including home runs (36), RBI’s (125), slugging (.551), OPS (.952) and total bases (332). He even swiped 15 bags and won the Gold Glove. Goldy did everything humanly possible to keep the D’backs relevant in the playoff race. There is no telling what their record would have been had he not played in 160 games. At 26, the best is yet to come even if it will be hard to match last season’s heroics. One other thing: how great does his contract look next to the monstrosity just signed by Freddie Freeman?
Yonder Alonso: Hand injuries limited the first baseman of the San Diego Padres to only 334 at-bats. At his best, Alonso is a hitting machine, having set the Padres’ rookie mark in doubles with 39 in 2012. Playing in Petco Park will not help anyone’s power numbers but at 250 pounds, Alonso has a chance to hit his fair share of home runs. He has a decent eye at the plate, drawing 32 walks last season and averaging a .346 on-base percentage for his career. As long as his hand has healed, look for a better Alonso than his coming-out party of two seasons ago.
Adrian Gonzalez: Although he plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it seems as though A-Gon flies under the radar. When you think about the current Dodgers, how many names would most people rattle off before they go to him? All Gonzalez did in 2013 was bang out 22 home runs and drive in 100 with a line of .293/.342/.461 in 157 games. He has been one of the most productive players of the past decade with six 100 RBI seasons to go along with career numbers of .367 in on base and .501 in slugging. He also fields his position flawlessly, with three Gold Gloves to his name. You can bring up Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw all you want. This team is not the same without A-Gon anchoring the lineup and playing 160 games at first.
Brandon Belt: As the playing time has increased for Belt, so has his production. He helped the San Francisco Giants capture their second World Series title in three seasons in 2012. Last year, Belt received over 500 at-bats and rewarded the Giants with some solid numbers. He hit 17 home runs with 67 RBI’s and a line of .289/.360/.481 and used spacious AT&T park to leg out 39 doubles and 4 triples. Belt turns 26 next month giving San Fran every indication that even more production will be forthcoming as the team hopes to bounce back from a disappointing season.
Justin Morneau: The 2006 American League MVP has a tall order ahead of him. Morneau is set to replace Colorado Rockies’ icon Todd Helton at first for a team that many expect can contend for a playoff berth. The long-time member of the Minnesota Twins was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 31st for the Pirates’ playoff push. He had only four extra base hits (all doubles) in 77 at-bats for the Buccos but did have six hits in 20 AB’s in the National League Divisional Series. Although not the same impact player as he was in 2009, Morneau remains fairly productive and should see his numbers jump in the friendly confines of Coors Field.
Outlook for 2014: The division shapes up to be the most competitive out of the six in Major League Baseball. These five players are critical to their team’s fortunes. You can argue that if any of the teams’ first basemen goes down for any extended period of time, the playoffs will be missed. Goldy gets some lineup protection in the form of Mark Trumbo and a full season from Aaron Hill. Alonso gets a chance to overcome an injury-filled season and the chance with Chase Headley to be a potent one-two punch. Expect Gonzalez to again put up tremendous numbers and stay in the background while doing it. Belt has the potential to be a 20 homer, 90 RBI guy for years to come. Morneau doesn’t have to be the guy from 2005-2009 but has to be able to extend the lineup with guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer in front of him. First base has always been a position of offense and the players of the NL West in 2014 are no exception.