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Dragons 2011 Preview: The First Basemen

March 8, 2011
Part 2 of 8 in the Dragons 2011 Positional Preview

By the end of the day today, March 8, all Reds minor league players should be in camp, and the positional battles will start immediately. The Dayton first base job will be hotly contested and feature at least three strong candidates to open the season at Fifth Third Field on April 7 when the Dragons host Bowling Green.

Hands on deck: Dominic D'Anna, Robert Maddox, Jaren Matthews.

In 2010, Chris Richburg won the Dragons everyday job at first base with a solid spring training month, and when the regular season began, Richburg provided the Dragons with a big bat in the middle of the lineup and steady defense. Richburg hit 14 home runs with Dayton in 72 games and then another five in the Carolina League. Power potential at first base exists for the Dragons again in 2011.

Robert Maddox, a native of the Cleveland suburb of Euclid, Ohio, enjoyed a huge junior season at Ohio University last spring. He led the Mid American Conference in home runs with 21, set the OU school record for runs batted in for a career and single season, and posted a conference-leading slugging percentage of .737. He batted .377 for the year and had a four-hit, three-homer, seven-RBI game. Collegiate Baseball named Maddox as a 3rd Team All-American.

Maddox was drafted in the 18th round last June by the Reds and bypassed his senior season at OU to turn professional. He was assigned to the Reds Arizona League affiliate in Goodyear and enjoyed a solid first season of pro ball, capped off with his selection as the designated hitter on the AZL full-season all-star team. With the AZL Reds, Maddox led the league in RBI with 46, 11 more than any other player in the circuit. He also tied for the league lead in home runs with seven (he added another in the two-game AZL playoffs), finished second in extra base hits, and tied for fourth in doubles while batting .283. He hit .338 with men in scoring position. Impressively for a power hitter, Maddox struck out just 30 times in 198 at-bats. Maddox split his time almost evenly between first base and designated hitter and showed a need for improvement defensively, committing 10 errors in 27 games in the field.

Jaren Matthews will compete with Maddox at first base and is a similar player in many ways. Matthews played collegiately at Rutgers University for three seasons, starting every game that the Scarlet Knights played from 2008-'10. Matthews attended the same school as former Dragon Todd Frazier, but missed Frazier by a year at Rutgers. Matthews hit .305 with seven home runs and 40 RBI as a junior at Rutgers in the spring of 2010. Matthews was a 3rd Team All-Big East Conference selection as a freshman in 2008 and again as a sophomore in 2009.

Matthews was selected in the 32nd round by the Reds last June and, like Maddox, was assigned to the AZL Reds in Goodyear. Matthews split his time equally between first base and the outfield (playing both left field and right field). He logged exactly 100 at-bats, about half as many as Maddox, but tied with Maddox for the league lead in home runs with seven. Matthews had a two-game stretch in July in which he hit four homers over five at-bats. For the year, he batted .290 and drove in 22 runs, putting him on a pace that would have rivaled Maddox for the league lead in RBI over the same number of at-bats. He hit .345 with men in scoring position. Unlike Maddox, he did struggle at times to make contact, striking out 38 times in those 100 at-bats. Matthews is said to be an athletic player who can help in the outfield when not playing first base.

Dominic D'Anna, like Maddox and Matthews, is a left-handed hitter. Also like the other two candidates, he was a productive college player who was drafted by the Reds last June. D'Anna played at Cal State Northridge, where he spent three seasons. In 2010 at the college level, he batted .338 with eight home runs and 47 runs batted in. He put together an 18-game hitting streak and earned honorable mention All-Big West Conference honors.

D'Anna was selected by the Reds in the 31st round of the 2010 draft. He was initially assigned to the AZL Reds, where he got off to a sizzling debut to his professional career. After his first eight games, he was batting .536. After 19 games with the AZL Reds, he was promoted to Billings with his average standing at .406. D'Anna hit fourth in the batting order in all 19 games he played in and his average never dropped below the .400 mark for a single day. With Billings, D'Anna hit .254 in 18 games and then was promoted to Dayton. His combined totals in short-season ball, covering 37 games, included a batting average of .333. He did not hit a home run and drove in 22 runs. He posted a solid walk-strikeout ratio, drawing 22 free passes with just 18 K's. By the time he reached Dayton on August 16, D'Anna had been playing almost non-stop since February and he showed the effects of fatigue, batting just .154 with the Dragons in 17 games. With three clubs in his professional debut season, D'Anna appeared in 54 games and hit a combined .279 with no homers and 29 RBI in 190 at-bats. D'Anna would hope to show some power as he continues making the adjustment to the wood bat.

Donald Lutz, a promising hitter who is a native of Germany, also played 22 games at first base with Billings in 2010 and figures into the Dayton roster picture in 2011. However, most observers feel that Lutz will be utilized in left field as a primary position with the Dragons. Meanwhile, Jonathan Kaskow, who played first base with Billings and Dayton in 2010, has indicated an intention to retire.