First base is often thought of as a position where you can stick a big bat without worrying about defense. The traditional thinking is that anyone can play first base. After all, you just have to catch the ball, right?
I don’t buy that approach to first base at all. In T-Ball, a lot of kids cannot even catch a ball. Having a kid there who can actually catch is a blessing. And having a kid who can dig the ball out of the dirt in T-Ball, as my son could, is a Godsend. No, I’m a big fan of defense at every position, including first base. Getting to the point where you put just anyone at first base means you failed with that part of building a team.
The Royals signed former Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana to a two-year contract in the offseason. So we know who they are playing at first base this year. As far as defense goes, he’s a good one. The concern is that Santana hit just .199 in 60 games in 2020.
But what do we make of 2020 statistics? Many players have a bad couple of months and then turn around their season. I will trust Dayton Moore and his staff to know better what to think of what Santana did last year. And besides, the guy has been a really good offensive player his entire career. As long as it’s not age that is catching up with him, I like the signing.
So that takes care of 2021. Santana will play most of the games at first base with an occasional game from Salvador Perez to rest Santana and get him out from behind the plate. Santana will be 35 in April. Does that concern you? Not me. Well, other than Salvador Perez’s defense when he’s playing. That does concern me.
The Royals probably had to give Santana two years to sign him. Will he be the first baseman for two years? That probably depends on the development of Nick Pratto. Keith Law lists Pratto as the club’s #10 prospect:
As you can see in Law’s write-up, Pratto took a step back at the plate in 2019. He was supposed to be advanced with his bat when he was drafted, but 2019 was a huge disappointment. The Royals think they have him back to the approach that was successful for him before 2019. Of course, they do. And maybe they do. But it also sounds like someone reporting to Spring Training in the best shape of his life. Most of the league reportedly does that every year, and you know that’s not true.
So Pratto is expected to be the future at first base. He’s supposed to be the next Eric Hosmer. Will he be as good as Hosmer? I could see that. Hosmer’s bat was solid but never really spectacular. Pratto could be as good as Hosmer. Of course, most prospects never reach the height Hosmer reached, so the odds are probably against him.
But the signing of Santana allows Pratto time to develop. Pratto has not played above High-A in his three years with the Royals. Who knows where guys will begin this year with minor league baseball not having been played in 2020. Let’s say he starts at AA. Too high? Back to High-A? Maybe.
I’m not sure Pratto will be ready in two years when Santana’s deal is up. If Pratto takes off, he could be ready in 2022 sometime. Of course, if he’s not, you can always go back to the approach of sticking anyone at first base. As much as I don’t like it, it’s much easier to do that at first base than, say, shortstop.
So that’s where things stand today at first base and looking out a few years. If Pratto doesn’t work out, there will be another prospect coming behind him. The Royals can’t afford to miss on prospects as much as some other teams can.