Leading up to the beginning of the 2009 season, Rotographs will be looking at the top 30 prospects (in no particular order) who enter the season having the best chances to make an impact at the Major League level this year.
The Florida Marlins organization is no stranger to relying on rookies. The club has a revolving door at just about every position, and that door starts swinging about the time a player enters his first or second year of arbitration eligibility. The first-base position is no different this season, with Gaby Sanchez as the favorite to replace the dearly-departed Mike Jacobs, who was traded this past off-season to Kansas City for reliever Leo Nunez.
Sanchez was a fourth-round selection by the Marlins out of the University of Miami in 2005. He was originally drafted as a catcher, but moved out to first base and has spent just 13 games at his former position. Sanchez has also played third base in the minors but had a .938 fielding percentage – and below average range – in 62 games at the hot corner at Double-A in 2008.
Offensively, Sanchez has had a solid minor league career and sports a career line of .305/.397/.487 in four minor league seasons. Aside from his 2008 MLB stint, he has not played above Double-A. In 2008 at that level, he hit .314/.404/.513 with an ISO of .199 in 478 at-bats. Sanchez also stole 17 bases (but was caught eight times) and posted solid rates: 12.6 BB% and 14.6 K%. In his MLB debut, he appeared in just five games and went 3-for-8 (.375) with two doubles and two strikeouts.
As mentioned earlier, Sanchez will be replacing Jacobs, who mashed 32 home runs last season and posted a line of .247/.299/.514 with 93 RBI in 477 at-bats. Jacobs’ ISO was .266 and he posted rates of 7.0 BB% and 24.9 K%. The Marlins (likely) new first baseman will not be able to compete in the home run or RBI departments, but he will provide a much better average, as well as some other secondary stats.
Among the projection systems at FanGraphs, the consensus seems to be that Sanchez, 25, will hit about .272/.346/.430 with 15 home runs or so. Personally, I would expect a higher average, perhaps around .285, along with 15-17 homers, 30-35 doubles, and 65-70 RBI depending on his line-up position. He should also be good for about 10 stolen bases, with is a nice little bonus for a first baseman.
Sanchez’ biggest competition for playing time appears to be former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson, who had an excellent Triple-A season in 2008 and hit 42 home runs in 448 at-bats, while playing in a very good hitter’s park. Non-roster invitee Jay Gibbons could also see time at first base, if he looks good this spring. Long-term, the first base job will likely belong to prospect Logan Morrison, 21, who will open 2009 in Double-A. Sanchez obviously has a fairly narrow window in which to establish himself, so keep that in mind in keeper leagues.