Editor’s note: Chris Jackson continues his look at the Dodger organizational depth with first base… if you’re wondering why the Dodgers felt it so important to upgrade the position with the big Boston trade, this might help, because, gross.
The corner infield positions were of great concern to Dodgers fans throughout 2012, at least until Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez arrived in separate trades to fill those spots at the big-league level. Though Ramirez is supposed to open at shortstop this year, at the very least the Dodgers have a couple of capable players on their roster at last.
All of this is due to the perceived lack of talent at the corners down on the farm. There is some truth to this, though there are some semi-promising bats lingering around first base. The logjam exists largely due to the likeliness that last year’s Double-A starter might not move up to Albuquerque. Here are the who’s who of who’s on first:
Nick Evans: A veteran free agent, Evans has been mentioned before on this site and on mine. He is what he is, a semi-capable bat with a reputation for good defense. In what essentially amounts to a season’s worth of games spread — 159 to be exact — over four years with the Mets, Evans hit .256/.305/.407 with eight home runs and 46 RBI. He should be the starter at Albuquerque.
J.T. Wise: A fifth-round draft pick back in 2009, Wise made the conversion from catcher to first base last season at Chattanooga. He put up a good slash line (.278/.377/.445) with the Lookouts, though his 125 strikeouts and measly nine home runs have Wise seemingly headed back to Tennessee to start 2013. Wise was actually considered more of a power hitter and less patient coming out of Oklahoma, but he has switched that up in the minors, showing less power and improved walk totals, including 62 last year. The biggest questions going forward for Wise are will he show more power and can he improve defensively?
Austin Gallagher: Once upon a time Gallagher was thought of highly in the Dodgers organization. A third-round pick in 2007 out of a Pennsylvania high school, Gallagher reached the Cal League in his first full season, splitting time between the infield corners. He has been a first baseman ever since, but only in the last two years has he begun to show signs of restoring some of his prospect status. Gallagher hit .283/.383/.481 with 15 home runs and 74 RBI for Rancho Cucamonga last year. He even played some outfield for the first time. Still, his lack of power (for a first baseman) has held him back, and Gallagher’s time is running out as he is already 24 and could be stuck in the Cal League for the fifth year of his seven-year career.
Chris Jacobs: The right-handed yin to Gallagher’s lefty-hitting yang (or is it the other way around?), Jacobs has made a slow trek up the ladder since being drafted in the 17th round in 2007. He spent three years in rookie leagues and all of 2010 and 2011 at Great Lakes. In his first shot at Rancho he hit .273/.353/.493 with 17 home runs and 49 RBI in a part-time role. He is what he is, an organizational player who has stuck around longer than anyone would expect, but not really an everyday player. He could end up squeezed out of the crowded first base picture this spring.
Angelo Songco: A former Loyola Marymount standout, Songco made the Cal League look like child’s play in 2011, batting .313/.367/.581 with 29 home runs and 114 RBI. He played 65 games in left field and 57 at first base that year as the future looked bright. Injury, though, derailed him as he suffered a badly broken leg after the season and missed the start of 2012. When Songco did come back, he was exclusively a first baseman/DH, batting a combined .201/.279/.357 with 12 home runs between Rancho and Great Lakes. The lefty masher will hope that being another year removed from his injury will get his numbers trending upward, but for now he is wedged between Gallagher and Dickson (see below). Songco’s 2013 status is uncertain, making him perhaps the biggest wild card of all when figuring out who will play where.
O’Koyea Dickson: The soon-to-be 23-year-old had a solid showing (.272/.366/.479, 17 HR, 48 RBI) at Great Lakes last season. A bat-first player, Dickson’s future power projection is not all that high, so he will have to continue to prove people wrong. A 12th-round pick in 2011 out of Division II Sonoma State, Dickson grades out as average at first base, but there is some potential in his bat. He might just continue to surprise people as he moves up the ladder, but with Wise, Gallagher, Songco, and Jacobs up ahead, he may have to repeat Great Lakes this year.
Jesus Valdez: A 17th-round pick in 2011, Valdez, 20, spent about two-thirds of his time with Ogden at first base, the rest in the outfield. Valdez hit a robust .385/.421/.657 with nine home runs and 62 RBI against the Pioneer League. He will have to show more power and more walks (just 12 last year) to continue moving up the ladder. With the logjam ahead of him, he might end up more in the outfield at Great Lakes this year.
Tae-Hyeok Nam: A rare Korean-born player in the Dodgers’ system, Nam hit just .252/.316/.417 With Ogden last season. He has yet to show much power or discipline so far, not good for a 21-year-old. At this point he is merely organizational depth and might not crack a full-season roster to start 2013.
Paul Hoenecke: A 24th-round pick last summer, he also saw some time in the outfield while batting a robust .385/.421/.657 with five home runs and 40 RBI, mainly in the Arizona League. The 22-year-old is purely organizational depth and could be a reserve player at Great Lakes.
John Sgromolo: Another organizational player who shined in limited playing time, the 22-year-old hit .310/.375/.430 in the Arizona League. He will be lucky to crack a full-season roster.
Justin Chigbogu: The Dodgers’ fourth-round pick in last summer’s draft, a former football standout who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He is very raw for a baseball player and it showed as Chigbogu hit just .200/.282/.313 in the Arizona League. He will open in extended spring training.