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Talking Chop Roundtable: Braves First Basemen

As part of season reviews for major league players and top prospect ranking for minor league players, we here at Talking Chop thought it would be a fun idea to get all of our bloggers together with the help of Google Docs and debate the various aspects of each position in the Braves organization.

The participants are, yours truly (gondeee, indicated by MG), yondaime4 (indicated by MF), royhobbs (indicated by DH), and cbwilk (indicated by CBW).

I thought we'd have a few quick questions with some short responses, but apparently I underestimated the verbosity of my fellow bloggers, and this thing turned into an opus. But while it is quite long, it is an interesting discussion about the Braves catching situation in both the majors and the minors. If you have anything to add please feel free to post a comment... but please, keep it short.

MG: Did anyone miss Casey Kotchman? I'm surprised the Braves stayed with him as long as they did.

CBW: I certainly didn't. I was baffled when so many people were against the straight-up trade for LaRoche. They were arguing that we had Kotchman for three more years like it was a positive. Frankly that's like saying we had a few more years of Francouer. Yes, Kotchman's defense is outstanding, but first base is an offense first position, and the guy just isn't any good. I'm starting to wonder how the Angels win so many games with guy who can't walk and don't hit for power.
Usually, I'm more on the side of preferring to keep controllable talent over rentals, but the way LaRoche came mashing out of the gate, I forgot about Casey Kotchman, real fast like. Kotchman was no doubt a defensive wizard, which is no doubt an important asset, but it's not like Adam LaRoche was a slouch with the glove either. Kotchman had his good streaks of occasional doubles, but LaRoche's ability to hit them into the stands was a refreshing change that made me not care the least bit about how many years Kotchman still had left.

I defended Kotchman at times, solely to feel like we got something from the whole Teixeira thing, but when I heard about us getting Laroche I couldn't have been happier. I always loved Laroche, and I think he is a guy Atlanta fans love in general. Kotchman will save you runs with the glove but no one saves enough runs with their glove to make up for 150 pts difference in OPS.

MG: I want the Braves to re-sign Adam LaRoche, I'm just scared to death of him hitting .220 for the first three months.
CBW: Another complaint when he traded for LaRoche was that you can't bank on a second-half surge. Somebody said it's not a quantifiable stat. Well, he's done it every year and he did it again this year, so while it might not be quantifiable, it's something LaRoche does. For his career, he hits .252 with a .773 OPS in the first half and .300 with a .909 OPS in the second, so that's a fairly big difference. Sure, it's something to be concerned about, but Casey Kotchman hit .274 with a .742 OPS in the first half this year and Scott Thorman hit .253 with a .645 OPS in the first half of 2007, so it's still better production that what we've been getting in recent years in the first half out of first base.

I'd be thrilled if the Braves were able to re-sign LaRoche. At 29, he's right about at or near his peak "man-power." Ideally, I'd like to see perhaps a three-year deal, which is more than enough time for Freddie Freeman to finish up at AA, move into AAA, as well as have a year of flexibility to see if LaRoche could be dangled as a more appealing 1.5-year rental instead of the half-season. Now financially that probably won't be too feasible without examining the books, but with his BFF status with Chipper Jones, who knows if he very well would be willing to consider a manageable discount. As for his "slow starting," I can tolerate a slow start every year, as long as there's a strong finish. As CB mentioned, it might not be quantifiable or something to bank on, but he's without fail had strong finishes, practically every year of his career. Until he proves incapable of not doing it again, I don't see any problem with taking a risk on him.

I am all for bringing Roachy back. As much as I love prospects and as much as I think Freddie Freeman is the future at 1B (and sooner than everyone thinks; he didn't quite lay an egg in Mississippi, he was hurt) I will always take the proven talent over any other option and it is hard to argue that we have a better 1B option besides Laroche. What are we going to do? Trade Hanson and Heyward for Adrian Gonzalez?

MG: If we re-sign LaRoche, should it be for just one year, or do you think that Freddie Freeman needs two years to get major league ready? I'm for a one-year deal for LaRoche, especially with how streaky he is I don't want to commit any long term money to him.
CBW: I think the problem is going to be that it won't be possible to sign LaRoche to a one year deal. He's about the most attractive first baseman out there and somebody is going to give him the multi year deal. That being said, having some stability at the position would be nice, and I'm for signing him, even if it's to a three year deal, because you can always trade a big lefty first base bat. To me, Freeman is going to need a year and a half more of Minor League baseball. Everyone want to lump him in with Heyward, but Heyward is on another level. Freeman is an outstanding prospect, but he's not as comfortable in his body yet and still has some things to work out as a hitter. His power is developing and he's really learning how to be a productive guy in the middle of the lineup. His defense is already amazing, which is huge considering he played mostly third and pitcher as an amateur. I say sign LaRoche and when you feel Freeman is ready, probably around June/July of 2011, trade LaRoche; if he has another second half surge in 2010, and there's no reason to bet against it, somebody will bite.

Maybe I should've read all the questions before answering them, but I don't think there's any way LaRoche signs for one or two years, unless the market goes all Adam Dunn on him, and he's given no other option. That being said, it might not be impossible, but we're not going to know that until negotiations begin. I agree that Freeman will probably need at least two more years to get major league ready, but I stand with my thought that LaRoche probably won't sign for anything less than three years. I'll be happy if the Braves manage to hold on to LaRoche, whether it's for one more, or three more years.

MG: I don't know why you guys like Mejia and Rodriguez, I just think they're aged whiff machines.
CBW: I'm nowhere near as high on Mejia as I was last year. He's going to be 24 next season and coming off a mostly lost season. He was 5th on my list because I see him as more of a prospect than Barbaro Canizares. Sure, he was a little old for Myrtle Beach in 2008, but it's hard to ignore 47 doubles and 21 home runs. He's a huge, lumbering guy and he's not very good defensively, so it's hard to get too excited about him without a DH in the Majors, but I still think there's some talent. As far as Rodriguez, he's only four months older than RSF and succeeded both one level and two levels above him. His numbers got better afte his promotion to the higher level and he has a track record of success. Does he strike out a lot? Sure, but find me a guy who hits for power who doesn't anymore. Frankly, I think it's easy to get so excited about RSF's season and overlook the steady play that Rodriguez has put up. He's also put in a ton of work to become a good first baseman after starting out as a catcher. With a good Spring Training, he could end up starting out at Mississippi, exactly where he should be at 22, while RSF is going to be the same age either at Rome or Myrtle Beach.

I can understand why you may have some questions about Mejia's ranking, and I am probably still living off what he did a year ago, but Rodriguez was genuinely good this season. You realize he was second in our system in homers? Sure he will K a lot and he is a castoff from the Yankees organization but he has produced at a couple of levels now and deserves to be rewarded for that. Obviously AA will be the test. But he won't get there until late next year because of Freeman.

CBW: Matt, what caused you to rank Mejia ahead of Rodriguez, particularly considering that Mejia is 2 years older and coming off a season where he was injured? Also, if you look at the half season that Rodriguez put in at Myrtle Beach, it's fairly comparable to Mejia's 2008.

MF: You have a point, I probably should flip them, but in the end they ended up even on our rankings so i think it reflects it. But I do like Mejia's bat more, there seems to be a little more power in there. Problem is neither guy walks much and Mejia may just bomb next year in AA, so this will probably be born out over the next season. I wonder what caused the Yankees to just drop Rodriguez like they did.

MG: RSF, I'm really looking forward to what he can do next year. I always hesitate to highly rate college guys who played at Danville, but he did so good, I can't overlook it.
CBW: I really dont' mean to crap all over this guy's season, cause it really was amazing. But, he was old for the league. Ideally, you'd like a guy to be 19 or 20 at Rome, 20/21 at Myrtle Beach, 21/22 at Mississippi, and 22/23 at Gwinnett. So, at Danville, he's really playing two, possibly three levels below where you'd like the guy to be. And, at the same time, Gerry Rodriguez, who's just about the same age, is having a bunch of success at Myrtle Beach, so I just can't put RSF ahead of him. Also, has anybody looked at the decline in his numbers from one month to the next? Only 7 games in June for a .418 avg with a 1.420 OPS, followed by 24 games in July for a .378 avg and .958 OPS, followed by 30 games in August with a .299 avg and .811 OPS. He was slowly coming back to earth all season. I'm very excited to see what he can do in 2010 as well, but to me he's got the most to prove of anyone in the system.

Yeah I am not really feeling the RSF love yet. Great stats, no doubt, but for a guy as old as he is he didn't show me the power I like to see out of a guy completely dominating a level. He did flash some doubles power, but I need to see him tear the cover off the ball in Rome at the start of next season and then ideally make some noise in MB. He really should have been given a shot in Rome this year, but there just weren't enough spots for him.

I wonder if it had a much to do with there not being a spot for RSF at Rome as it did with the Braves commitment to putting a winner in Danville each year. Once Gerry Rodriguez was moved up to Myrtle Beach in early July, Rome ended up using Chais Fuller, a middle infielder, mostly at first, so it's not like there was a clear logjam there. I really feel like the Braves want their guys to get a big taste of winning early and keeping RSF at Danville was a key to that.

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