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Yankees prospects: It's time to move Peter O`Brien to first base

Being a first base prospect isn't the worst thing in the world – just ask Greg Bird


Let's talk about Peter O`Brien for a minute. Wow. He's hitting .318/.342/.734 with 17 home runs between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2014. He's been so dominate with his power that he's already hit 6 dingers in only nine games with the Thunder and even though it's only May, he's already only six home runs away from matching his 2013 total for the whole season. It's amazing how a quick start turned him around from an older player beating up on inferior talent in A-Ball, to a dominate hitter who is equal among his peers in Double-A.

As awesome as it has been to see him destroy baseballs this season, there are two small pin pricks that burst his prospect bubble just a bit. One is that he doesn't walk much. Right now he has four walks on the season, all of which came with Tampa. He had an 8.2% walk rate last season, but so far he's struck out at a rate in the low-to-high 20s at every level. That's not going to be a good combination if he wants to succeed against major league pitchers longterm. You could say he will develop into a three true outcome hitter (home run, strikeout, walk), which certainly has its value, but if he can't actually take a walk, he might not even be able to be that.

The other pin prick, the one the Yankees can actually do something about, is that he doesn't really have a position. He's been a catcher, but absolutely no one thinks he can stay there in the majors. They tried him at third base last year and that didn't turn out so well when he made 18 errors in 38 games. This year they have tried him out in the outfield, where they hope his strong throwing arm will play up in right field. Unfortunately, that has created an even bigger logjam in the outfield than there was before. Right now the Trenton Thunder have Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel, Taylor Dugas, and the recently returned Slade Heathcott all in the mix. They already don't have enough room to get them all in the lineup on a consistent basis, so adding O`Brien only complicates things further.

The ideal place for him, in regards to what the team needs and what O'Brien's actual abilities are, is first base, but apparently that's not going to happen. Thunder manager Tony Franklin even said "you’ll probably see him in the outfield and behind home plate before you see him at first base," as if first base is the more difficult position. They had no trouble moving Austin and first baseman Greg Bird out from behind the plate before and O`Brien has already been stuck everywhere he can possibly go at this point, so why are they taking a stand now when it's the most practical place for him? After Kyle Roller was promoted to Scranton they actually had a shortage of first basemen with a rotating troupe of out-of-position players, including Tyler Austin and organizational filler like Dan Fiorito, Zach Wilson, and catcher Tyson Blaser taking up residence at first. Instead of trying O`Brien at a position he might actually take to, the organization has instead decided to use a random assortment of garbage players who have little potential or much future and a prospect that doesn't profile as a first baseman.

Top Yankees prospect Tyler Austin has hit an extremely disappointing .261/.347/.363 with a grand total of six home runs since his amazing breakthrough 2012 season where he hit .322/.400/.559 with a career-high 17 home runs. In fact, at the age of 22, he's displayed a rather worrisome lack of power for a corner outfielder, let alone a first baseman. There's nothing wrong with trying to make Austin more versatile, but allowing him time at first while outright denying O`Brien the ability to at least try and fail at the position sounds like extreme stubbornness or outright denial.

I'm not even saying to make him a full-time first baseman. Allowing him to split time between first base, right field, DH, and catcher could make him a very valuable part-time player at some point and would allow all the other prospects on that team to get ample playing time. Think how useful a third catcher on the roster who can also play the field and hit for power off the bench would be. Think about how nice it would be to have an actual backup option in place for Mark Teixeira as he comes to the end of his contract. The Yankees were burned by a lack of options in 2013 and they've seemingly just squeaked by in 2014 as well, but can they chance it next year for a third time in a row?

It's time to move Peter O`Brien to first base, at least on a part-time basis. TheYankees have to give him a chance to find where he belongs, because isn't a decent first baseman more valuable than a permanent designated hitter? Just like they tried to pretend Jesus Montero wasn't the worst catcher in the world, it looks like they're trying to pretend that O`Brien isn't actually a first baseman, which is an understandable strategy, but at some point you have to realize that no one is buying it and you just have to let the inevitable happen. Worse things have happened.