First base is not just the biggest hole on the Indians’ MLB roster, but in their farm system as well. When the only recognizable name that pops out on a list of first base prospects is Beau Mills, you’ve got some obvious issues.
But an answer may have arrived: after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League to follow up on a breakout 2011 campaign, 21-year-old Jesus Aguilar could be the top first-base prospect in the Indians organization.
While AFL stats should always be taken with a grain of salt—it’s a small sample size in a very specific environment—Aguilar hit an impressive .339/.458/.610 in 16 games. It’s especially impressive considering fact that Aguilar, who has no experience above High-A Kinston, was facing pitching from the high minors. Since the AFL season ended he’s been playing winter ball in Venezuela, where he has found continued success to the tune of a .286/.476/.571 triple-slash.
Again, winter ball stats should not be taken very seriously, but he tore the cover off the ball during the regular season too: in 126 games between Low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston, Aguilar slashed .284/.359/.506 with 23 home runs.
But Aguilar is not a sure thing just yet. He’s got good power but his plate discipline needs some work. His .359 OBP in the minors this year was solid, but he had a K/BB ratio of 126/46. As he rises through the minor-league ranks these numbers could get worse without the right coaching.
Breaking balls have been Aguilar’s Achilles heel, which is a big part of why he strikes out so much. He has mostly been able to work through this weakness against pitchers who are still developing their breaking pitches. But once he moves up to Double-A and Triple-A pitchers will be much more advanced and be able to expose these weaknesses, which could prove problematic and stop him from being able to continue to grow.
Scouts also question Aguilar’s defense. It’s a big flaw in his game but the Indians believe that he can develop into an average defender with time.
Age is the final thing holding Aguilar back from becoming a blue-chip prospect. At 21 he isn’t old, but for someone who has yet to reach Double-A he probably won’t see the majors until he’s at least 23 or 24. The longer it takes for him to join the MLB team, the less of an asset he is to the Tribe.
So the question is: Is Aguilar a solid prospect? Despite his plate discipline issues and age, Aguilar could potentially develop into a solid Major League first baseman. It’s too early to make predictions with any certainty, but his main issues seem to be correctable. His struggles with off-speed pitches and questionable defense will stop him from being a true impact player, but if he continues to improve he could turn out to be a solid asset a few years down the road.