Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
The relative strength of the two positions can be argued in a number of different ways, but ultimately, the nod has to be given to those at first base, if for no other reason than the Tigers have struggled to show players that can produce (and stay at the hot corner). While Brandon Inge provides a steadier presence for the big league club, there's simply not much coming up behind him. Jack Hannahan has proven that he'll never be an everyday big leaguer, and the two players below Hannahan in '06 (Kody Kirkland and Wilkin Ramirez) still have yet to show the ability to adequately man the position defensively. The Tigers likely have to go all the way down to Ronnie Bourquin to find a legit prospect to point at for a future third baseman.
While first base isn't much better, the Tigers have Jeff Larish, a TigsTown Top 10 prospect, and someone that could be a year or less away from the big leagues. Larish has power and patience, and could get the opportunity to compete for the big league job in 2008. Of course, there isn't much depth at first base either, as Ryan Strieby and Chris Carlson are the only other legit candidates, and neither made it to full season ball last year. But ultimately, the presence of Larish as a legit big league option (and soon) gives the nod to first base.
Mark Anderson, Associate Editor, Minor Leagues
The relative strength of first and third base within the system is much closer than I originally thought upon thinking about this question. Starting at the hot corner, you've got Brandon Inge locked in at the big league level for the next four years, and he's slowly crafted himself into a very viable option at the position. On the farm, Jack Hannahan's stock has faded as he's begun to become more of a utility player. Mike Hessman is minor league filler. Kody Kirkland has one of the most bizarre track records in the system, and while his power bat would play at the position, the rest of his game lacks substance. Wilkin Ramirez is being moved off the position, and Cory Middleton is quickly falling off the radar. Ronnie Bourquin appears to be the only remotely viable option at the minor league level, and the projected progression of his bat varies wildly depending on which scout you talk to. With all that in mind, I think it is safe to say there's little on the farm to backup Inge if something were to go wrong.
At first base, the Major League club is in a state of flux with Sean Casey only signed through this season, and Chris Shelton's actual ability in question. The farm has some intriguing players, including TigsTown's #4 prospect Jeff Larish, who will face his most difficult test with a trip to AA this season. A pair of 2006 draftees -- Ryan Strieby and Chris Carlson -- have loads of power and plenty of overall potential, but they both need to test their hands at full-season ball before any true judgments can be made. Rounding out the organizational depth at the position are all-or-nothing types like Kelly Hunt and Ryan Roberson, neither of whom projects to make much of an impact above High-A or AA. In the end, I think the potential provided by Larish, Strieby, and Carlson outweighs the uncertainty at the Major League level; leaving the Tigers more well-stocked at first base, than across the diamond at the hot corner.
Jason Avery, Associate Editor, Amateur Baseball
I think the Tigers are better at third base presently. Brandon Inge has found a home there after struggling to find his stroke while catching. The Tigers also have long-term security there after Inge signed a four-year extension in the offseason. In the minor leagues, the Tigers have Kody Kirkland, who hit 22 homers at Erie, but also fanned 157 times and hit .217. If Kirkland can begin to put things together, and that's a huge if, the Tigers would have a player that could help either in a trade, or help at the major league level. The Tigers also have Ronnie Bourquin, a second-rounder from last June's draft, but it remains to be seen whether he has the power to stay at third.
If you look at first, the Tigers have Sean Casey, who struggled mightily after coming over from Pittsburgh, and Chris Shelton, who after a stellar April, found himself in Toledo behind the end of the summer. In the minors, the Tigers have Jeff Larish, who could be the starting first baseman in 2008 if he hits well at Erie, and the Tigers decide not to pursue an established veteran after the 2007 season. Overall, I think with Inge establishing himself last year at third, it gives the nod over first base, because there is some uncertainty after next season, especially if Larish struggles at Double-A.
Have your own opinion on the issue? Ready to talk about it? State your opinion on the Detroit Tigers Open Message Board and go head to head with the experts!