SoxProspects: Slim pickings at first

With Adrian Gonzalez under contract to man first base at Fenway Park through 2018, there’s not a lot of room for upward mobility among the first basemen in the Red Sox system. If Gonzalez gets injured for any extended period of time, one of those players may get an opportunity, but the more likely scenario in that event would probably involve Boston calling up Will Middlebrooks to man third base and shifting Kevin Youkilis over to first base.

Because the position is blocked, there really isn’t a lot of quality depth in the organization. With that in mind, here’s a look at the first-base prospects in the Boston system.

Lars Anderson (Age: 24)

How Acquired: Drafted in the 18th round in 2006 ($825,00 signing bonus)

2011 Stats: .265 AVG/.369 OBP/.422 SLG with 14 home runs for Triple-A Pawtucket

2012 Status: On the 40-man roster, 2 options remaining. Likely headed back to Pawtucket.

Scouting Report: Once considered the top prospect in the Red Sox system, Anderson’s stock has dropped considerably over the last two seasons. A tall left-handed hitter with a strong frame and a smooth swing, he has a good plate approach with nice patience and strike-zone recognition. But while he’s shown flashes of plus power, he hasn’t put enough loft on the ball to produce the extra-base power required to be a starting first baseman for a first-division team. Additionally, he needs to work on making stronger contact on breaking balls and hitting to all fields. Anderson also has below-average speed, so he’s not going to run out many grounders. An adequate defender who has made good strides in the field during his development, he projects as an adequate major league defender.

Projection: Up-and-down major-leaguer who makes occasional impact contributions

Ceiling: Starter for a small-market team

Floor: Triple-A first baseman

Reynaldo Rodriguez (26)

How Acquired: Contract acquired from Yuma of the independent Golden Baseball League (Oct. 2009)

2011 Stats: .286/.355/.526 with 18 home runs for High-A Salem and Double-A Portland

2012 Status: Minor league camp. Likely to start for Portland.

Scouting Report: While he’s been older for his levels, Rodriguez has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Red Sox system over the last two seasons. A wiry-framed first baseman from Colombia, he spent five years in the Yankees organization before he was released in late 2008. Following his release, he went on to earn MVP honors in the 2008-2009 Colombian Winter League, Rookie of the Year honors in the Golden Baseball League in 2009, and then signed with the Sox soon after the completion of the 2009 season. Athletic and agile, Rodriguez plays solid defense at first base, and is also capable of playing a decent left field. Offensively, he has a compact swing from the right side of the plate and is adept at turning on inside fastballs and driving the ball with authority. He needs to work on being more selective overall, and even if he’s able to do that he very well may struggle against advanced breaking stuff at the Triple-A and major league levels.

Projection: Up-and-down bench player for a second-division team

Ceiling: Impact major league bench player

Floor: Career Triple-A player

Travis Shaw (21)

How Acquired: Drafted in the 9th round in 2011 ($110,000 signing bonus)

2011 Stats: .265/.372/.445 with 8 home runs for short-season Lowell and Low-A Greenville

2012 Status: Minor league camp. Could start with Greenville or Salem in 2012.

Scouting Report: The son of former major league pitcher Jeff Shaw, Travis Shaw has outstanding fundamentals but may not have the athletic skills to develop into a major league hitter and defensive player. On defense, he played mostly third base in college, but doesn’t project to have enough range and quickness to man the position as a professional. He’s likely slated to play primarily first base in the future, a position that he’s still learning but should have the skills to handle. He just may not have the bat speed or power to become an impact first baseman for a first-division team at the major league level. However, he does show an advanced approach, excellent plate discipline and the ability to drive mistake pitches out of the park. And that’s exactly what many scouts were saying about Kevin Youkilis 10 years ago.

Projection: Long-term organizational player

Ceiling: Reliable major league bench player

Floor: Double-A player

Mauro Gomez (27)

How Acquired: Minor league free agent (Feb. 2012)

2011 Stats: .304/.356/.522 with 24 home runs for Triple-A Gwinnett

2012 Status: Minor league camp. Should see time at 1B/DH with Pawtucket.

Scouting Report: Dominican first baseman spent seven solid-but-unspectacular seasons in the Texas system from 2003 to 2009, and then two above-average years in the Atlanta system in 2010-2011. Now 27, the fact that neither Texas nor Atlanta gave him even a cup-of-coffee in the major leagues doesn’t speak well for his projection. Originally invited to major league camp with Boston this spring, he was assigned to minor league camp before his arrival to the States, which was delayed due to visa issues. While he has a powerful bat, he strikes out a ton, and likely won’t fare well against major league pitching unless he overhauls his approach. Gomez has below-average speed and plays average defense.

Projection: Triple-A bat, insurance player

Ceiling: Bench player for small-market team

Floor: Early-season cut

Michael Almanzar (21)

How Acquired: International free agent (July 2007) ($1,500,000 signing bonus)

2011 Stats: .199/.243/.275 with 4 home runs for Salem and Greenville

2012 Status: Minor league camp. Most likely headed to Salem in 2012.

Scouting Report: Signed as a highly-regarded bonus baby with limitless potential in 2007, Almanzar has proven to be a bust to this point in his career. His fundamentals have not developed, his performance has been poor, and most reports indicate that he has a sub-standard work ethic. But he’s just 21 and the impeccable raw tools are still there, capable of putting on a show of plus plus power in batting practice. On offense, he has poor habits at the plate and is still primarily a guess hitter after four seasons in the system. On defense, he has spent most of his time at third base, where he showed nice tools, none of which he’s been able to refine. While he doesn’t look comfortable at first base yet, he has the skills to be adequate at the position. With the right dedication, Almanzar could still turn his career around and develop into an impact player. Without the right dedication, he sets a bad example for other players in the system and thus could be on the chopping block. At this point, he’s a lot closer to the former than the latter.

Projection: A-Ball player

Ceiling: Major league starter

Floor: Spring training cut

Others to watch for: Boss Moanaroa (20-year-old Australian with impressive batting practice power), Jorge Padron (Cuban import given $350,000 bonus in 2010), Drew Hedman (2009 NCAA Division III Player of the Year), David Chester (2011 33rd round pick with massive frame), Jair Bogaerts (Xander Bogaerts’ twin brother)