Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Position Analysis: First Base

Starting at first base for his first full season in the Majors will be the most exciting player in the Twins lineup, Justin Morneau, and all signs are pointing to a huge season. Morneau has shown great power at every level, and hit 19 home runs in just 74 games at the Major League level last season, and his combined total of 41 dingers between AAA and the Majors last year was the most in the Twins organization since Tom Brunansky in 1984. At age 23, he can only get better from here. Not only does Morneau have a penchant for hitting a lot of homers, he really POUNDS the ball. Last year, he regularly put the ball several rows back into the upper deck of the Metrodome, and many will remember the ball he clubbed in Milwaukee that set a record for the longest home run in Miller Park's (admittedly short) history. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Justin is that, unlike most power-hitters who come up quickly through the minors and are known for just slamming the baseball, he doesn't strike out too much. Morneau showed much better plate discipline last year than he did in his Major League stint in 2003. 54 strikeouts in 280 at bats is definitely not too shabby. There aren't too terribly many question surrounding him this year, although he will need to improve his hitting against left-handed pitchers. His defense, while certainly a step down from Doug Mientkiewicz, is better than a lot of people give it credit for. While he won't save a ton of errors for Michael Cuddyer and whoever starts at short, he won't commit too many on his own. In 567 total chances last year, Morneau had only 3 errors.

It is imperative that Morneau remain healthy all season, because there isn't much depth at first base. Matt LeCroy will likely spell him frequently throughout the course of the year, and Cuddyer can also play first if needed. If Eric Munson makes the team, he provides another backup first baseman.

Although he doesn't carry major injury concerns into the season, Morneau did collect just about every type of sickness known to man in the offseason. Therefore, he might get off to a bit of a slow start as he tries to regain his strength. If he remains healthy all year, there is no reason to think that he won't hit 40 home runs and 100+ RBI, providing the Twins with their first real power-hitter in decades.