"Defense" will be a"key" factor
in determining who will play first base for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, which means the Diamondbacks are asking the wrong question of their candidates.
The open first base position has been a major question mark for the organization throughout the spring. The candidates to fill it -- Brandon Allen, Juan Miranda, and Russell Branyan -- are each lousy in their own way.
Allen has put up decent numbers in the minor leagues but he's been playing in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. It's not clear he has the swing to hit major league pitching. Miranda hasn't shown much at the major league level, hitting .219/.296/.422 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging) in 71 plate appearances for the Yankees last season.
Branyan is the only candidate who has hit in the majors -- and he might be out of the running for no good reason.
Statistically, Branyan has been an above-average defensive player, but Nick Piecoro reports that he hasn't impressed anyone with the glove this spring.
Branyan has been an impact player, hitting for above average power everywhere he's played, from Cleveland and Seattle to Philadelphia and Milwaukee. He's hit in the American League and the National League. The downside to Branyan is that he gets injured often and only rarely plays more than a hundred games each season. He does not play particularly good defense, but that's not a first baseman's job.
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First baseman are supposed to mash and destroy. Russell Branyan mashes and destroys the ball.The other guys don't. It isn't complicated.
But the Diamondbacks are on a weird kick this spring, hailing slap-hitter Willie Bloomquist as a "perfect role model" for the team. Bloomquist holds the record for least extra-base hits out of total hits, getting 46 hits in 2008 -- and only one for extra-bases.
There is room in the world for the first baseman who can hit and play good defense, like former Diamondbacks great Mark Grace or Yankees legend Don Mattingly. But the Diamondbacks need all the offensive help they can get this year, and Branyan has shown this spring that he can still hit.
It should be a no-brainer.