Giants Offseason Analysis: First Base

First base is still Huff's to lose (Getty Images).

In part two of a seven-part series previewing the 2012 Giants, we look at first base -- a position the Giants have long struggled to fill with a legitimate slugger. Going into 2012, Aubrey Huff needs a bounce-back year, Brandon Belt needs to figure out big league pitching or Brian Sabean needs to find someone else. Prince Fielder, anyone?

In my opinion, the Giants need Prince. He's exactly what the Giants could use -- it's just a matter of giving the man his money.

Fielder will be 28 years old next season and the talent he's flashed in Milwaukee makes him a great purchase. Picking up an impact bat would plug the Giants' power void -- and pay dividends in the long run. Improving the offense with a marquee acquisition will make the Giants more desirable to the team's long-suffering aces. I get the feeling that without an uptick in offense in 2012, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are going to start seriously considering the open market when they hit free agency. Give the men some run support!

The old guard

The incumbent Aubrey Huff took 495 of the 633 total plate appearances from all (three) Giants first basemen in 2011. He carried a .690 OPS from the position -- the worst in all of baseball for players with more than 400 at-bats as a first baseman. Still, the Giants have said that Huff will get the chance to reclaim his 2010 form before any moves are made. They've also said he better be in shape to play the outfield.

To see a guy like Huff struggle so much after a 2010 season that included strong leadership and so many clutch hits was, in short, disheartening. In 2010 he scored 55 more runs than in 2011 in roughly the same amount of at-bats. In 2010 Huff finished seventh in NL MVP balloting. That's almost hard to remember.

Huff's 2011 left fans wondering: Did he switch from thongs to briefs? Did he lose the fire? In 2011 he seemed to be consistently fanning at breaking balls in the dirt. In 2010 he had a 83/91 BB/K ratio; in 2011 he had a 47/90 BB/K ratio.

The youth movement

With Huff's 2011 struggles, the Giants were able to give looks to two possible replacements. Brandon Belt was the hot name coming out of spring training, as he dominated the minor leagues in his short professional career. His season was filled with ups and downs -- and his MLB numbers reflect that. Belt struck out 57 times in only 187 at-bats. That ratio is unsustainable and the Giants are obviously going to look for Belt to drop that number considerably. As Belt continues to learn Major League pitching his numbers are likely to improve.

Brett Pill was a big surprise during his September call-up. The 27-year-old hit over .300 and showed the pop that earned him a reputation as a bopper in Fresno. At 27, his window to break through is running thin, but I think Pill showed enough in his time with the Giants to earn an extended look in Spring Training.

Below Pill, first base in the Giants farm system is extremely shallow. Wes Hodges manned first for double-A Richmond for most of the year. The 27-year-old hit .279/.316/.434 in 265 ABs after coming over from the Cleveland Indians organization mid-year.

I wish there was something to get excited about further down the ranks, but it's just not there. The system does have depth at third base and behind the dish, however -- and it's conceivable that at least one of those prospects could make the shift to first. At the top of that list is 20-year-old catcher Tommy Joseph, who put up an impressive 2011 campaign for high-A San Jose. He even played 16 games at first, spelling everyday first baseman Luke Anders.

2011 third-round pick Ricky Oropesa is also someone to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound USC product is said to have "plus-plus power potential and could easily be a 35 home run threat at the big league level," according to a scouting report from Scout.com National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere.

Bottom line

Heading into 2012, the Giants have some options -- but first base is definitely Huff's to lose. If he continues his 2011 slide, either Belt or Pill will get a chance to show their stuff. That is if Sabean doesn't go big first...


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