Baltimore Orioles Position Spotlight: First Base
The one position that has eluded the Baltimore Orioles for years is the first base position. The Orioles have had a different opening day starting first baseman in each of the past five seasons. They also haven’t had a first baseman start in back to back opening days since Rafael Palmeiro in the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Since Palmeiro retired from baseball amid steroid allegations in 2005, the Orioles have not had much success with bringing in talent to the right corner of the infield. In 2010 the Orioles had one lone all-star and it was none other than Ty Wiggington, who played briefly for the O’s from 2009-2010. He was not the opening day starter at first, but instead Garrett Atkins got the nod opening day in 2010. Wiggington didn’t exactly post jaw dropping numbers in that “all-star” season. His average was just below .250 and he had just 76 RBI and 22 HR.
Prior to Wiggington’s lone AS appearance, the last time the Orioles had a 1B selected to the all-star game was back in 1986 when Eddie Murray made his seventh AS appearance. That statistic alone is enough to tell you that the Orioles and the first base position don’t exactly go hand in hand.
Currently, the Orioles are looking at Chris Davis to take over the reigns at first base. If Davis starts at 1B on opening day in 2013, it will mark the first time since 2005, when the Orioles had the same first baseman on opening day in back to back seasons.
Heading into his second full season with the O’s, Davis is looking to become a mainstay in the Orioles organization. Last season he set career highs in HR (33) and RBI (85.) However he also set a career high in strikeouts (169) in just 139 games. If Davis is going to be seen as an improvement over the departed Mark Reynolds, then he needs to cut down on his strike out rate.
Last season Davis had a K rate of 30.1% which was good enough for the fifth worst K rate among players in 2012. His rate was just above Reynolds who struck out at rate of 29.6%. Comparing their home run numbers, Davis had 33 and Reynolds knocked 23.
Now let’s say Davis gets hurt at some point during the season, you may be wondering who would take over. As Spring Training carries on, there are a lot of role players that could fill in. The back up is currently Wilson Betemit, who can also play 3B as well as DH. After Betemit, there are a few players that could see time at first. Steve Pearce is likely the leading candidate after his strong showing thus far in Spring Training. Pearce has four round trippers and a staggering .393 batting average. Another option could be Travis Ishikawa, who has not done particularly well this Spring as he is batting just .179.
With Davis healthy and working on his pitch selection at the plate, the Orioles could legitimately see their first opening day all-star first baseman since Eddie Murray in 1986. The power is there, but more walks and patience at the plate will go a long way for Davis this season.