I think I did this a couple of winters ago, a look at each position up and down the organization. Who’s in place? Who’s on the rise? What should be expected at each spot? We’ll do it again this year, starting at a position that brings both stability and uncertainty. The Yankees have their first baseman of the past, present and future, and he’s a good one. Question is, is he an MVP candidate or simply a productive power hitter?
Signed through 2016
Halfway through an eight-year contract, Teixeira’s only real failure centers on his extreme expectations. When he signed in the winter of 2008, Teixeira was a 28-year-old with a brilliant defensive reputation and a terrific all-around bat. He hit for average, hit for power and drew walks. In his first year with the Yankees, he never won the MVP award. In the three years since, his batting average has dipped significantly. He’s maintained his home run power, his strikeouts have not increased significantly, and he still takes his walks, but Teixeira’s hit total has dropped year by year. The defensive shift used against him has been successful, and he’s had some trouble with injuries. He’ll be 33 years old in April, which isn’t particularly old, but isn’t particularly young either. His power and glove have been enough to keep him plenty productive, but there’s always the expectation that Teixeira should be more than this.
On the verge
For any number of reasons — Teixeira’s contract probably being one of them — the Yankees don’t really have a standout first base prospect. They have several notable guys who could probably play the position, but many prospects are tested elsewhere and moved to first base only if they can’t handle other positions. Instead, the Yankees true first base depth probably comes from newly acquired corner utility man Russ Canzler. The Yankees could also shift Kevin Youkilis to first base if necessary. As for true in-house options, Ronnier Mustelier has actually never played the position in the U.S., though I suspect he could see some time there this year. Instead, the top upper-level first baseman is Luke Murton, who hit 25 homers in Trenton last season. Kyle Roller is another power bat, having hit 18 homers in Tampa. Murton and Roller could each move up a level this season.
Deeper in the system
Four years of Teixeira means the Yankees have some time to develop or discover a replacement. With that in mind, keep an eye on 2011 fifth-round pick Greg Bird. He was selected as a catcher, and the Yankees kept him there early last year, but he spent the last month exclusively playing first base. After jumping from the Gulf Coast League to Staten Island, Bird hit .400/.489/.650 against the tougher competition. Granted, it was only 40 at-bats, but it was a glimpse of Bird’s hitting potential. He’s certainly the top first-base prospect in the system (though it should be noted that Ramon Flores has played some first). Two notable names from the 2012 draft class: 10th-rounder Matt Snyder and 33rd-rounder Saxon Butler each put up huge numbers in Staten Island (though Butler struggled after a jump to Charleston). They’d be a dynamite prospect together, because Snyder is all about on-base percentage and Butler has power.
If the Yankees honestly believe Mustelier can be a useful big league bat, they might have to get him a little bit of time at first base this season. His best big league fit likely comes as a Canzler-type utility player who can backup at the four corners, and given this year’s potentially crowded Triple-A roster, it might make sense to give Mustelier a few reps at first base if only to make it easier to keep his bat in the lineup while other guys take turns at third and in right. Guys like Flores and Tyler Austin have played some first base in their careers, but they’re more valuable as outfielders and likely to stay there.
What to watch
The true first-base interest comes at the extremes of the organization: In the big leagues and in the lowest levels of the minors. In New York, Teixeira is still a fascinating player worth wondering about. Can he raise his average enough to put himself back into the MVP conversation? Can he stay fully healthy this year? Can his left-handed swing come back around? Lower in the system, the question is whether Bird is the real deal. If the Yankees have given up on him behind the plate, that means they’re banking on his bat being enough to get him to the big leagues. He has a long way to go, but this could be his first full-season to really show something.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Teixeira, Canzler, Bird and Mustelier