The race in the National League East Division should be one of the more compelling during the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
The division has been won by the Atlanta Braves during each of the past two years. The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals also play here. Both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are legitimate contenders. And though the Miami Marlins are likely to again bring up the rear, they are an improving ball club with plenty of young talent percolating in their minor league system.
Over the next two weeks, I will be examining the rosters of each team and breaking them down with a position-by-position comparison and ranking. One position each day will be covered, beginning today with the division’s first basemen.
For positions players, I’ll continue working around the infield, then behind the plate, and finally to the outfield. Once the eight starting positions have been covered, I’ll do one piece on each starting pitching rotation as a whole. That will be followed by separate pieces on each bench and bullpen, and finally on the managers.
If it appears as though any particular position is unsettled or that a team may use a platoon situation, any potential starting players will be covered.
Once that process is complete you should have a good picture of where the Phillies, or whichever club is your personal favorite, stands entering spring training.
NL EAST – 2020 FIRST BASE RANKINGS
1) Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves: Freeman plays at age 30 for the entire 2020 campaign. He has been an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, and won a Gold Glove in 2018 and a Silver Slugger in 2019. Freeman slashed .295/.389/.549 a year ago with 38 home runs, 34 doubles, 121 RBIs, and 113 runs scored in what was his 10th big-league campaign. Signed through the 2021 season and due to make $22 million in each of the next two years, it will be interesting to see if the Braves look to extend him beyond that point before their team leader enters the final year of that deal.
2) Pete Alonso, New York Mets: Alonso was the near-unanimous winner of the 2019 National League Rookie of the Year Award. He turned 25 years of age in early December and so will play at that age for the entire 2020 season. Alonso slashed .260/.358/.583 with 53 home runs, 30 doubles, 120 RBIs, and 103 runs scored in his ROY campaign. Even if he can repeat or approximate those big offensive numbers, he cannot hold a candle to Freeman defensively. But at this stage, Alonso clearly has to be considered the number two first baseman in the division.
3) Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies: Hoskins was one of the most disappointing players in the entire division a year ago. His inconsistent offensive performances in 2019 were a frequently overlooked piece to the overall disappointing Phillies puzzle. Hoskins will turn 27-years-old on St. Patrick’s Day and play at that age for the entire 2020 season. He slashed .226/.364/.454 with 29 homers, 33 doubles, 85 RBIs, and 86 runs scored in what was his second full MLB season. The Phillies made the right move in bringing him back in from left field to play first base. Though he’ll never win a Gold Glove, he is really not a poor defender at the position. Perhaps no player has more to prove in the division and can be more of a difference-maker should he reach his true potential.
4)Eric Thames, Washington Nationals: First base is one position that could prove a weakness for the defending world champions. The plan at the moment is to go with the 33-year-old veteran Thames, who signed with the Nats as a free agent earlier this month. He slashed .247/.346/.505 with 25 homers, 23 doubles, 61 RBIs, and 67 runs scored last season with the Milwaukee Brewers. A lefty bat who fields right-handed, Thames is likely to cede at least a few games at the position to 36-year-old Howie Kendrick, the utility man who was MVP of the 2019 NLCS. There is also still the possibility that 35-year-old franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman, currently an available free agent, could return to the club.
5) Jesus Aguilar, Miami Marlins: The six-year big-league veteran was selected off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in early December and will go to arbitration next month on a one-year deal with the Fish. Aguilar appeared to have enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2018 when he blasted 38 home runs for a Milwaukee Brewers team that won the NL Central Division and nearly advanced to the World Series. But a year ago, Aguilar regressed to slash just .236/.325/.389 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs, and 39 runs scored split between the Brewers and Rays. He is not a shoo-in to keep the position, as 29-year-old Garrett Cooper is still here and slugging prospect Lewin Diaz could push his way to Miami during the season.
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