Oakland A's Depth Chart: First Base

Over the past three seasons, injuries have become almost synonymous with Oakland A's baseball. The frequent injuries have tested the A's organizational depth and caused the front office to stockpile talent at the upper levels of the A's system. We take a closer look at the A's depth at the major league and Triple-A levels at each position. Inside we examine the A's depth at first.

Incumbent Starter: Daric Barton

At the start of the 2008 spring training, Barton entered camp not only as the unquestioned A's starter, but he was also thought to be the A's first baseman for years to come. A poor 2008 left Barton on the outside looking in at the start of 2009. After hitting well below .200 for Triple-A Sacramento in April, Barton turned his season around and worked his way back to the big leagues by posting an 844 OPS in 70 games for the River Cats. Barton saw sporadic playing time in June and July and landed on the DL with a hamstring problem in August. However, he re-inserted himself into the A's plans with a solid September during which he hit .310/.406/.488 over 84 at-bats. Barton has also distinguished himself as one of the top defensive first basemen in the organization.

That strong September finish should give Barton the inside track to the A's starting first base job to start the season. He won't enjoy a lot of leeway, however. Barton has a history dating back to his days in the minor leagues of slow starts to the season. He has also suffered from a series of injuries throughout his career to his elbows, hand and hamstring. Barton will need to get off to a fast start and steer clear of nagging injuries to hold off challengers to his job.

First Line of Defense: Jake Fox

One of Barton's top challengers will be Fox, who was acquired in a trade with the Cubs this off-season. Going into camp, Fox is expected to serve as a back-up and possible platoon partner at first base, third base, left field and DH, but he could emerge as a starter at any one of those three positions if he gets off to a fast start.

Fox hit 28 homeruns last season between Triple-A Iowa and the major leagues. On a team generally starved for power, Fox has one of the top right-handed power bats on the projected Opening Day 25-man roster. In seven minor league seasons, Fox has a .528 slugging percentage and he has a .457 slugging percentage in 230 major league at-bats. However, he will have to adjust to playing in a new league and a home stadium that is pitcher-friendly. Fox will also have to prove that he isn't a defensive liability to overtake Barton at first.

Triple-A Depth: Chris Carter, Sean Doolittle and Matt Whitney

Both Barton and Fox may find themselves looking over their shoulders, as the A's have two of their top prospects expected to see time at first base with Triple-A Sacramento this season – Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle. In addition, Whitney, a former first round draft pick, will be looking to recapture the form he showed in 2007 when he posted an OPS above 900 in A-ball.

Carter, the A's top first base prospect, will have an outside chance of earning a spot on the A's Opening Day roster during major league spring training, although the A's front office has expressed a strong preference that Carter see more time in Triple-A before making his major league debut. It will be hard to keep Carter off of the roster if he is launching balls into the stands while Barton and Fox struggle, however. Carter earned the Texas League's MVP award last season and he has slugged 67 homeruns over the past two seasons. He has work to do still defensively, but Carter represents the A's best hope for a 30-homerun hitter outside of DH Jack Cust. He will get his opportunity at the big league level at some point in 2010. If Barton or Fox take control of the first base job, Carter will likely debut at DH or in the outfield instead of at first.

Doolittle was one of the stars of the A's big league camp last season and he was on the verge of an opportunity in the big leagues when he injured his knee. He wound up missing all but five weeks of the season and having off-season surgery to correct a torn patella tendon. Doolittle will likely be limited early in minor league spring training camp and may start the season at extended spring training. However, once he is healthy, he could quickly make himself a factor. Doolittle has arguably the best glove of any first baseman in the A's system. He had an 811 OPS in his limited time with Sacramento last season and hit 22 homeruns between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland in 2008. Doolittle demonstrated that he can also play a solid right field.

Whitney signed a minor league free agent contract with the A's this off-season. He was a first round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2002. A freak injury cost Whitney the entire 2003 season and his career stalled for a time, as he didn't advance past A-ball until 2008 when he hit .268 with 10 homers for Double-A Akron. Whitney spent last season in the Washington Nationals organization and he hit .268 with a 796 OPS in 107 games, mostly at the Double-A level (he appeared in six games for Triple-A Syracuse at the end of the season). Whitney will participate in the A's major league camp. He is a long-shot to challenge for the A's first base job and may even begin the regular season in Double-A if both Carter and Doolittle are sent to Triple-A. However, in each of the past two seasons the A's have needed to call on the services of minor league first baseman who were considered long-shots to appear in the big leagues (Wes Bankston in 2008 and Tom Everidge in 2009).

Other Options: Eric Chavez, Dallas McPherson, Josh Donaldson

The A's have decent depth at the major league and Triple-A levels at first base, but it is always possible that the team will be forced to look for creative solutions to their first base job should a myriad of injuries strike.

One of those creative solutions would involve placing the A's former Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez at first. Of course, that would involve Chavez being healthy enough to play at all, something that hasn't occurred since early 2007. Chavez has played at first only once in his professional career, but assuming that he is healthy, he should be able to handle the position with little trouble. Chavez should get a look at first this spring.

McPherson was signed by the A's to a minor league free agent contract early in the off-season and was considered one of the leading candidates to be the team's third baseman in 2010 before the A's acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff in January. The former Angels' top prospect has missed two of the past three seasons with back problems, but the one season in which he was healthy, he was the minor league leader in homeruns with 42. He has a career .458 slugging percentage in 128 major league games, but injuries have prevented him from winning a full-time job in the big leagues. Even with the Kouzmanoff acquisition, McPherson will still get a long look at third base during the spring, but the A's may also see what he can do at first base, a position he has played occasionally during his career.

Donaldson is one of the A's top catching prospects, but since Oakland has two young catchers at the major league level, the A's may try Donaldson at the corner infield positions this season to increase his versatility. He was a third baseman in college and played some first base at the Arizona Fall League in 2008 and shouldn't have a problem handling first base defensively. He would be an emergency-only option at first base for the A's this season, especially given that he will be making his Triple-A debut this year. Donaldson will likely see time at first and third, as well as behind the plate, this spring.


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