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Position preview: First base

Brandon Belt is gone. Now what?

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LaMonte Wade Jr. resting a weighted bat on his shoulder Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Our third 2023 season position preview for the San Francisco Giants tackles the very confusing base at first. It is odd. If you’re looking for answers, don’t scroll further.

Here are the other previews so far:

Players who played first base for the Giants in 2022

Brandon Belt — 63 games
Wilmer Flores — 45 games
Darin Ruf — 36 games
LaMonte Wade Jr. — 22 games
J.D. Davis — 14 games
David Villar — 11 games
Yermín Mercedes — 4 games
Tommy La Stella — 3 games
Curt Casali — 2 games
Jason Vosler — 2 games
Mike Ford — 1 game
Kevin Padlo — 1 game
Michael Papierski — 1 game

Roster locks for 2023

LaMonte Wade Jr.
Wilmer Flores

Other first basemen on the 40-man roster

J.D. Davis, kinda
David Villar, kinda
Blake Sabol, perhaps
Joc Pederson???

Players in the system who might factor into the position

Ronald Guzmán
Sean Roby, if things go very well for him this year
Ford Proctor, perchance
Donovan Walton, dare I say

The Giants are one of the most high-variance teams in the Majors entering the 2023 season. There’s a reason that Fangraphs projects them to finish just three games behind both the Los Angeles dodgers and San Diego Padres. And there’s a reason that your first response when seeing that was a snort.

Neither of these sentiments is more right or wrong than the other. It’s easy to see the Giants gliding into the playoffs with ease. It’s equally easy to see them forgetting that the league changed the size of the bases, tripping on them, and spending the season nose-first in the dirt.

Perhaps no position points to this distinction more than first base. A great season probably features stellar performance at first base, as we saw in 2021. A disappointing season probably features extreme mediocrity at first base, as we saw in 2022.

Which means all eyes dart towards LaMonte Wade Jr., a breakout hitter in 2021 who stunk up the show in 2022.

Wade reportedly played through a knee issue all of last year, after being unable to work with the team’s trainers during the lockout. You can look at that as reason for optimism or pessimism, though the Giants are clearly viewing it through the lens of the former, seeing as how they’ve spent much of the offseason touting Wade as a huge part of their team, while letting Brandon Belt — the Opening Day starting first baseman in 11 of the team’s last 12 seasons — walk to more Canadian pastures.

The starting configuration seems simple enough. Wade will play first against right-handed pitchers, and the Giants won’t let him face lefties even if he says pretty please with sugar on top. They’ve allowed him to have just 75 plate appearances against lefties in his two seasons with the team, compared to 617 against righties. And in that sample size he’s hit 8-75 with 2 doubles, 4 walks, and 21 strikeouts. When lefties are on the mound it will be Wilmer Flores.

And that’s kind of that.

The range of outcomes doesn’t require much explanation. You can see Flores and Wade combining to be a 125 wRC+ hitter with 30 home runs and more clutch plate appearances than you can count. You can see them hitting at league average — a death sentence at first base — while handling defensive duties like a drunk person trying to swat a fly.

Wade is certainly one of the more intriguing players on the roster, and if he doesn’t perform well it will be interesting to see what sort of leash he has. J.D. Davis — whose role on this team is something of a mystery (hey Siri, remind me to write an article about this) — has no platoon splits, and could easily take over for Wade, guaranteeing all of the offense that you hoped Wade would provide, with all of the defense that you were afraid he’d play.

There are other options. Joc Pederson is apparently fielding grounders, which, after you’re done throwing up, will leave you rushing to YouTube to watch the Scott Hatteberg scene in Moneyball. David Villar had no platoon splits in the Minors, and could potentially jut across the diamond to take over first if the Casey Schmitt best case scenario takes flight. Blake Sabol exists, which is a thing I’ll probably say in at least six different positional previews.

But in all likelihood it’s Wade against righties and Flores against lefties. And if history is any indicator, those two will be a damn fine barometer for how the season will play out.