Now that the Colorado Rockies lifer Todd Helton has finally confirmed what so many Rockies fans expected, it is time to look to the future. After manning first base for the Rox since 1997, the front office has a difficult decision to make going forward. Who will they lean on to fill what could be argued as the largest void in franchise history? Seriously, who will snap those short-hops better than the ToddFather??
There was always a lot of speculation around putting someone like Michael Cuddyer at first after Helton retired, but he hasn’t received near as many games at that position as what was expected. Playing the young bashing catcher Wilin Rosario at first has suddenly become viable during this season, which would both keep his power in the lineup and hide some of his horrible defensive errors (or maybe it would accentuate them?). But who else could the Rockies pencil in daily at the 3 position? Here are a few options:
Ben Paulsen: Paulsen is 25-year old 6’4″ monster (all due respect Ben) in the Rox system. He has made his way through the ranks to AAA and has played 123 games there this year, hitting .292 with 18 home runs and 79 RBIs. That is not bad at all and Paulsen would probably be the most likely to get a shot at first base, if the Rockies are looking for young talent to move up. On the downside, Paulsen really only excels against righty’s and the last thing the Rockies need is another Seth Smith-type player. Paulsen is also eligible for the Rule 5 draft meaning the Rockies either have to protect him on the 40-man roster point forward or risk losing him to another team.
Xavier Nady: If the Rockies are not set on moving young talent up the ladder, Nady has been pretty solid at the AAA level this year as well. Between Omaha and Colorado Springs, Nady has combined to hit .296 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs. Nady is 34-years old though and is a free agent after the 2013 season. Should the Rockies not re-sign/promise him a spot in Denver for 2014, Nady would more than likely move on to another team that would be willing to give him a shot.
Jordan Pacheco: Pacheco fell on hard times in 2013 as his hit-for-contact style was over-run by the hot-hitting out-fielding trio of Charlie Culberson, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson. After hitting a measly .236 over ~80 games he was sent back down to Colorado Springs to work it out. In 18 games back at AAA the 27-year old has put up an impressive .315 batting average and earned 8 walks to only 3 strikeouts. That is more what the Rockies need to see consistently at the major league level out of him, and it earned him a trip back to Denver. What’s more important is that Pacheco, who has mostly played catcher or 3B in his career, does have some experience at first base. In fact the Rockies used him in 43 games at the position in 2013. Over 3 major league seasons Pacheco has played 99 games at first base for the Rox and has put up a .988 fielding percentage. That is his best fielding percentage out of the 3 main positions he has been used at. On top of that he has turned 62 double plays and committed only 10 errors on 150+ balls fielded. Not horrible — Not Todd Helton, but not horrible. Pacheco also has no options left on his contract, which makes him staying in Denver or being traded a strong possibility.
Wilin Rosario: The Rockies really are just copying the playbook of the San Francisco Giants with a move like this, where the defending World Series Champs (I just like to point that out) use their MVP Buster Posey at first base to give his legs a rest while keeping his bat in the lineup. In some limited and nail-biting action at first base this season Rosario has actually handled himself well and the idea of using him at first base could be a winner. As mentioned above, his power (21 home runs, 22 doubles, 79 RBIs) so far this season has been crucial and as he continues to grow with the bat it would be nice to elongate his career by occasionally resting him at first base. It would also be super if he would figure out the art of blocking a ball in the dirt (9 errors, 9 past balls, 47 wild pitches)
Of course the Rockies could always turn to the free agent market and pull in a veteran first baseman to bridge the 2014 season, but the odds of that are pretty slim. Judging on recent history if the Rockies were to make a free agent move it would be similar to Xavier Nady — cheap and not much left in the tank. A more interesting option would be to carry both Pacheco and Rosario on the 2014 25-man roster as a 1B/C tandem. Perhaps some focused off-season training at 1B (and catcher) would help both players in that development. That option also seems like the most likely to happen, with Paulsen maybe not quite ready to play at the big league level and the Rockies never seriously looking to spend $$ on free agents.
While it is highly unlikely that the Rockies will ever fill Helton’s Hall of Fame shoes at 1B, they at least have a few viable options to choose from.