Miguel Cabrera missing more than 100 games in 2018 certainly put a dent in the expected production for the Detroit Tigers at first base.
Headed into 2019, that corner of the diamond is back to full strength with the return of Cabrera. Also factor that Niko Goodrum and John Hicks got valuable experience there in Cabrera’s absence, and there’s depth now too.
Return of Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera is certainly the focal point of first base for the Tigers for 2019. After missing so much time last year, Cabrera is now well-rested for the upcoming 2019 campaign. But don’t expect him to rack up 150+ starts like Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman have done in recent healthy years.
With Victor Martinez retiring at the end of 2018, Cabrera could see more designated hitter starts. It would be the perfect opportunity to keep his bat in the lineup and also give him some rest from playing in the field.
In spring training, Cabrera seemed to have a very keen eye at the plate, and Tigers fans generally know what they’re getting with the former triple-crown champion.
Goodrum a Serviceable Option
Goodrum is on Detroit’s opening day roster for the second consecutive season, and firmly slots in as a prime backup to Cabrera at first base.
A season ago, Goodrum played 37 games at first base with just three errors. The 37 games was his second highest total at a position last year behind 64 games at the keystone.
While Goodrum may sacrifice some ability at first base because he plays so many different positions around the diamond. With that comes a level of athleticism not normally found in first basemen.
Given that Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison are very solid middle infielders, and Gordon Beckham is an experienced backup, Goodrum is likely the top option to spell Cabrera.
Hicks Available in a Pinch
Goodrum got a fair amount of hype in 2018 after his hot spring training and his wide versatility, but Hicks actually held down first base for most of the games Cabrera missed.
He wasn’t a particularly stellar first baseman, but the footwork and glove work as a catcher easily translated over to first for Hicks. He committed only six errors in 441 chances in 2018, which is certainly a job well done. Prior to 2018, he only had 182 chances at first in his major league career.
One luxury Ron Gardenhire had last year was James McCann playing almost every day behind the plate, which allowed Hicks to play first. But now Grayson Greiner is the starting catcher and the leash will certainly be shorter for him than it was for McCann. That certainly means Hicks will have to dedicate more time to backing up behind the plate rather than over at first base.
Don’t count Hicks out from getting any work at first through. One injury around the infield can throw him into the mix just like last year.
The minor leagues is where the Tigers organization is quite thin at first base. In fact, shortstop Willi Castro is the only infielder in the Tigers’ top 10 prospects. Reynaldo Rivera is ranked as the organization’s best first base prospect, but has never played above Single-A. He’s at least a couple of years from cracking into the majors.
Brandon Dixon looks to be the favorite at first for the Toledo MudHens. The 27-year-old was picked up in the offseason from the Cincinnati Reds. He played 69 combined games at first base between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors across the last three season in the Reds organization.
Pete Kozma is also starting the season in Toledo. The former first rounder of the Cardinals has only five career major league games at first base. He’s primarily a middle infielder, but could slide over if the Tigers are left with nowhere else to turn.