The Rockies’ farm system is deep at several different positions. They have abundant talent at pitcher, catcher, and in the outfield. However, according to most experts, the organization lacks depth at first base. Many think that prized third base prospect, Nolan Arenado, will eventually move to first, but he remains at third for now. The void is largely the result of Todd Helton’s success. For the past decade, the Rox have had no need for a first baseman and drafted accordingly. In fact, they haven’t had a first baseman rank among their top ten prospects since, well, Todd Helton.
Despite what the rankings say, there are a couple of solid first base prospects in the system. I wrote about Jared Clark in December. Clark, an older prospect, hit 24 homeruns last year with Asheville while carrying over a .400 OBP. There is also Ben Paulsen, who is in currently in camp with the team and playing quite well. While neither player is without flaw, each has the potential to become a solid major league first baseman. Of the two, Paulsen probably ranks a little higher. He is younger and already in a higher level of the minors. Plus, he’s made a good impression over the last week.
Paulsen played at the University of Clemson, where he was a teammate of Rockies’ 2010 first round pick, Kyle Parker. Ben spent three seasons with the Tigers, appearing in over 55 games all three years. Like many freshman, he struggled his first season, hitting .258 in 178 at-bats. He busted out as a sophomore. In 226 at-bats, he posted a slash-line of .310/.393./571, with 13 bombs and 18 doubles. In 2009, as a junior, he once again hit 13 homeruns and 18 doubles, but increased his batting average to a very impressive .367.
The Rox drafted Paulsen in the third round of the 2009 draft, and upon signing, sent him to Tri-City. While he wasn’t awful, Ben didn’t play up to his potential with the Dust Devils. He failed to generate much power, only hitting one homerun in 175 at-bats.
Last year with Modesto, Ben was much better. He increased his batting average to .310 and hit 12 balls out of the park. He also hit 29 doubles and eight triples, while driving in 83 runs. The organization clearly took notice; he is the only first base prospect that was invited to camp with the Big Club.
Paulsen, a lefty hitter but right-handed thrower, is a smooth player. Offensively and defensively, his game is crisp. In the field, he has soft hands and good footwork; he projects as a plus major league first baseman. At the plate, he uses his hands well to stay inside the ball and generate above average bat speed. His swing is pretty, easily producing line drives to all fields.
If there is a knock on Paulsen at the plate, it’s that he lacks the power most expect of first base prospects. However, he has reportedly bulked up this season and his swing will allow him to hit more homeruns as he gets stronger. It’s important that he develops in this area. Teams expect first basemen to produce power and Paulsen would have trouble moving to another position.
Paulsen will probably start next season with Tulsa, but, as I said before, he has impressed the team’s brass during camp. Considering the organization’s lack of depth at first, a jump to the Springs is a possibility. I definitely think he will be in AAA at some point this year.