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Isotopes Notebook: Who's on first

Jerry Sands led the Isotopes with 45 appearances at first base last season, but should begin this year with the Dodgers.
Jerry Sands led the Isotopes with 45 appearances at first base last season, but should begin this year with the Dodgers.
Courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes

This is the second in a series breaking down the players at a specific position who could see time with the Isotopes this upcoming season. For a look at the catching candidates, click here.

First base is usually a position of stability and consistency for a baseball team.

The Albuquerque Isotopes were not so lucky in 2011, using eight different players for at least one game at first base.

Five of those players — J.D. Closser, Corey Smith, John Lindsey, Damaso Espino and Jay Gibbons — are no longer with the organization. Closser's 34 appearances at the position were the second most of any player.

Lindsey was the projected starter, but he only played 26 games in the field due to calf and hamstring injuries.

The upcoming season may again see a rotation of players manning the position, though it should have less to do with injuries and more to do with the Dodgers' desire to see plenty of versatility out of their Triple-A players.

So who will be splitting time at first base this season?

Jerry Sands: The 24-year-old slugger led the Isotopes with 29 home runs last year while batting .278 with 88 RBI. He appeared at first base a team-leading 45 times, spending the rest of the season in the outfield corners. The odds seem to favor that Sands will be on the Dodgers' opening-day roster, though the club could always decide he needs to play every day rather than serve as a super-sub between first, left and right field in the Majors. With current Dodgers starting first baseman James Loney headed for free agency in the fall, the club could send Sands down to see if he can be a legitimate option to replace Loney in 2013. Next year's free agent market lacks any impact first basemen, with no one comparing to this season's duo of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.

Scott Van Slyke: The son of former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star center fielder Andy Van Slyke, Scott appeared briefly with the Isotopes in 2009 and 2010, both times as an outfielder. The 25-year-old broke loose in Double-A Chattanooga last season (.348, 20 HR, 92 RBI), including spending 65 games at first base. Van Slyke still has a lot to learn at the position, said Dodgers director of player development De Jon Watson. "At first base he's still a work in progress," Watson said in a recent interview. Van Slyke figures to again alternate between first and the outfield, much as Sands did last year. If he shows improvement on defense, Van Slyke could end up vying with Sands to replace Loney in 2013.

Russ Mitchell: Though he can usually be found across the infield, the soon-to-be 27-year-old's path to a job in the Majors will likely be as a utility player. Mitchell hit well (.283, 16 HR, 69 RBI) in his second season in Albuquerque despite battling a recurring wrist injury for most of the season. He played 23 games at first last year, along with 73 at third base and nine in the outfield corners. Mitchell has also appeared at second base in the past and there was talk that he might also try catching at some point to further increase his versatility. Mitchell has hit just .151 (14-for-93) with four home runs in call-ups the last two seasons with the Dodgers; still, he will likely be one of the first players called up in the event of an injury this season as he is still on the 40-man roster.

Jeff Baisley and Josh Fields: The two veterans were signed as free agents this offseason and are likely to compete with one another for the backup corner infield spot with the Isotopes in spring training. Baisley, a 29-year-old, appeared in 14 games with the Oakland A's back in 2008. Otherwise he has spent the bulk of his career at Triple-A, including last year, when he was a Triple-A All-Star with Salt Lake (Angels), batting 303 with 20 homers and 100 RBI. Baisley has primarily been a third baseman, appearing just 73 times at first over his career. To make the roster this year, he will have to show some versatility. Fields was the quarterback at Oklahoma State when the White Sox convinced him to give up football by drafting him in the first round in 2004. Three years later, Fields hit 23 home runs with Chicago, but his career never panned out after that. The 29-year-old split last season between Triple-A Colorado Springs (.365, 11 HR, 45 RBI) and Japan's Yomiuri Giants (.202, 2 HR, 9 RBI). He has only 25 games of experience at first base in the minors, but like Baisley, if he hopes to make the Albuquerque roster he will have to show he can be at least adequate playing more than just third base.

Brian Cavazos-Galvez: The Albuquerque native, a graduate of Manzano High School and a former UNM standout, sits behind the players listed above. Like Van Slyke, Cavazos-Galvez added first base to his repertoire last season at Chattanooga, where the career outfielder spent 55 games while batting .277 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI. The 24-year-old will likely return to the Lookouts to start the season, but if the Dodgers start calling up or trading away the outfielders and/or first basemen ahead of him, Cavazos-Galvez could get a chance to play in front of his hometown fans this year.


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