HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 28: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals singles to right field in the first innig scoring Allen Craig from third base against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 28, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
First and foremost, my apologies for the lack of scouting articles over the past few weeks. Only a gazillion different hurdles have come in the way of what I had hoped to be an easy and flexible September schedule. But now that I'm back, let's start from where we left off. When I last discussed the art of scouting, I talked about scouting pitchers. That was fun, but it's time to move on.
Now my friends, we're going to discuss first baseman, and the ways in which they're evaluated.. While each position is scouted completely different, it's probably fair to say first baseman have the tightest rope attached. What I mean is that scouts tend to get a read on first-baseman quicker than any other position, sans pitchers. That's not to say they are easier to scout by any means, but in some cases scouts write them off quicker than they would with another position involving similar circumstances. Anyway, let's discuss...
Rarely any first-baseman, amateur or pro plays the position because it's been their lifelong dream to do so. Maybe 90% of all first-baseman in pro ball are there because there's absolutely no way they can stick at anywhere else. First base has generally been represented by those whose bat needs to be in the lineup but can't play a position. And anybody who can't play first base will have a very tough time sticking as an everyday major leaguer, unless the bat is ungodly good.
When you watch a first-baseman in action, it's important to gather an idea of their jumps and reactions on hard hit balls and how they position themselves when approaching a throw. First-baseman generally don't feature quick feet, so it's important to have some patience with their glove, especially in the lower levels. Scouts have also said that in the lower minors, some first baseman tend to make the other infielders plus defensively or the opposite, based on their advancement and skill in terms of scooping and catching thrown balls.
While in the defensive discussion, it's also worth noting that scouts especially choose not to look at defensive metrics for men at first. This occurs for most teams' personnel, primarily because defensive metrics can be so futile, but when it comes to first baseman they just don't draw much conclusions for scouts. In any case, the bat should and normally be the selling point for short-season first-baseman as to whether or not they'll hit enough to become a major league first-baseman. And that's the next subject we're going to get into.
Here's the deal -- in this day and age, and most notably with the way the first base position has evolved, if a first-baseman doesn't feature 55+ power (at least), he usually isn't a major leaguer. He needs to be able to hit his way to the majors, and once he's there continue to be a middle of the order power threat. When you look at a minor league first-baseman's player page on MiLB.com you might glance at a guy in high-A hitting .330 accompanied by two homers. If he has little upside and doesn't project to feature any additional power, he's done and has absolutely no major league potential.
Think of it like this -- how many current major league first-baseman are everyday players and good ones at that who can't touch 10-15 homers on the year? Casey Kotchman is a prime example of a major league first-baseman with below average power, but he's one of the few and rare exceptions. Although they aren't scouted as hard as players at other positions, scouts are very diligent when evaluating first-baseman. First base is normally the position that fat and nonathletic players end up at, but as I previously mentioned, if a first baseman can't hit then you might as well consider him a goner.