The Rays First Base Depth: Time To Free Russ Canzler? | The Process Report

The Rays First Base Depth: Time To Free Russ Canzler?

Depending on what happens with Dan Johnson over the next few days, the Rays could find themselves even thinner at a position that was already considered an organizational weakness. Regardless of your opinion of Casey Kotchman, the lack of viable first base options does not stop at the major league level. Ignoring the lower levels of the system since no one is making the jump from Bowling Green or Port Charlotte to St. Petersburg, the Rays do not have much to choose from.

At the Double-A level, one-time prospect Matt Sweeney continues to struggle at the plate. Acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade, Sweeney has faltered in Montgomery. In 314 plate appearances as a member of Biscuits, he has hit .177/.258/.287. This comes after he hit .279/.362/.490 in 403 plate appearances at the advanced-A level.

Sweeney has five home runs this season, but his on-base percentage is in the mid .200s and his slugging in the low .300s. He has struck out 47 times in 119 at-bats. At 23-years-old, it is too soon to say he is finished, but it is clear that he is nowhere near being considered an option.

Joining Sweeney in Montgomery is Henry Wrigley. In 2010, Wrigley had a strong showing in the Florida State League (.292/.343/.504); however, like Sweeney, he has bottomed out at the Double-A level. Since his promotion, he has hit .255/.283/.416 in 385 plate appearances. In a contrast to his teammate, Wrigley will be 25-years-old in less than three months and does not have prospect pedigree. He is more organizational filler than depth at this point.

Leslie Anderson was an intriguing signing on the International market last season, but has fizzled out stateside. In a fantastic piece written by Michael Lewis on Baseball in Cuba, an agent had this to say about Anderson: “if he washed up on Miami Beach he’d be a millionaire. “Anderson did sign a contract with the Rays that could make him a millionaire one day. That day, however, may never come.

In his first professional season, Anderson hit .302/.359/.442. That is not a bad line, but at the highest level of the minors he has hit .281/.313/.396. When the Rays removed him from the 40-man roster this offseason, he cleared waivers – meaning the remaining 29 teams passed on him as well. At a listed age of 29, he  is hitting .254/.285/.387 in 142 at-bats this season. He is showing slightly more power; however, his plate discipline in terms of walks is still lackluster. Considering his age and his lack of production, Anderson is unlikely to fulfill the potential he once had.

Our last option at the upper levels of the minors may be our best hope. Signed as a minor league free agent, Russ Canzler continues to produce at the minor league level. The former Chicago Cub farmhand enjoyed a breakout season in 2010 when he hit .287/.372/.566 with 21 home runs and 28 doubles in 355 at-bats at the Double-A level. He has picked up where he left off, hitting .303/.406/.470 in 132 at-bats coming into Friday’s game.

The home runs have cooled off a bit for him this season; however, he still has 16 extra-base hits in 36 games. In addition to the solid power, has walked 20 times in 150 plate appearances (13%). As a right-handed thumper, Canzler has a few attributes that could be appealing to a Rays’ roster than is a little left-handed heavy.

Although he is in his eighth minor league season, Canzler recently turned 25 last month. In fact, he is younger than Brandon Guyer and just six months older than Desmond Jennings. Unlike Jennings and Guyer, he has yet to make his major league debut and is not a member of the 40-man roster as of yet. The Rays, however, do have an open spot from Felipe Lopez’s removal.

At this time, it does not appear as if Canzler is a primary option at first base at the major league level. Meanwhile, Casey Kotchman’s inability to handed left-handed pitching could leave room for him as a platoon partner at first base against southpaws or a right-handed bat off the bench who can also play third base and some corner outfield. I’m not ready announce my candidacy just yet; however, the “Free Russ Canzler” campaign machine is starting to warm up.

One Comment

  1. Sandy Kazmir wrote:

    Beat me to it man. Nice read. The one negative is a .365 BABIP thus far that seems a bit inflated. Giant grain of salt, but he is hitting 18% line drives according to First Inning, which would be the second highest rate of his career. Even better than the 20 BBs, in my opinion, is the 28 strikeouts. Nice to see a guy that’s keeping his ratios tight while flexing a bit of power as well (.170 ISO). As I said elsewhere, if we’re willing to live with Kotchman’s failures and applaud his occasional contribution, why not ride it out with a guy that’s younger and has more promise?

    No matter how this shakes out, I’m glad we have Jennings, Guyer, and Canzler at Durham since I see a RHH as our most glaring weakness right now.

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