One of the big questions currently facing the Blue Jays is who to play at 1st base, as Toronto is definitely not short on players who can play the position, with the likes of Justin Smoak, Steve Pearce, and Kendrys Morales all factoring into the conversation. When Morales was signed by the Blue Jays back in November, I automatically assumed he’d pretty much become the full-time DH, seeing as that’s all he’s been doing the past two years. But after taking a quick peak at Morales’ defensive numbers over the coarse of his career, one quickly realizes that he’s no slouch when it comes to playing 1st base.
Back when he was with Kansas City, Morales became a full-time designated hitter simply because the Royals already had one of the better defensive 1st basemen in the game, Eric Hosmer. When it comes to measuring the defensive statistics of a 1st baseman, I hate using defensive WAR, and much prefer fielding percentage or if this was to be a more in-depth comparison, defensive runs saved (DRS) or ultimate zone rating (UZR). When looking at Morales’ fielding percentage at 1st base over his career (.995), he compares very well to players like Justin Smoak (.995), Edwin Encarnacion (.994), and Eric Hosmer (.994). Morales can certainly play 1st base, just because he’s spent many more games at DH than 1st base during his career, it doesn’t make him a David Ortiz or Pedro Alvarez type of DH who essentially were assigned permanent DH duties to mask their poor defensive skills.
With older players like Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Steve Pearce, Toronto will need to use the DH spot much like a revolving door so that their aging veterans can all have regular breaks from the defensive grind while still keeping their bats in the line-up. Knowing that Morales can play 1st base, and play it well, is a comforting feeling considering that Toronto doesn’t have a young line-up. The only doubt I have about playing Morales a decent amount (say anything more than 50 games) at 1st base is that he hasn’t played more than 28 games at this position in one season since his devastating leg injury back in 2010 with the Angels.
It’s safe to say that many of us like the idea of having a solid defensive 1st baseman, which is why so many Blue Jay fans like Justin Smoak, despite him striking out at a higher rate than almost any other player in the game. Last season, when Encarnacion proved to be just as good defensively as Smoak, it only made sense to have Encarnacion at 1st base, and then DH with someone who contributed more offensively than Smoak. Given that Morales can play 1st base just as well as Smoak, I think we can expect to see Morales spending quite a bit of time at 1st this season, with Smoak once again coming off the bench.