Charlie Drysdale's article the other day on the depth of catchers in the Rockies' farm system started me thinking about a more immediate concern at first base. With Todd Helton at the final stage's of his career, does Colorado have anyone knocking down the door to take his place?
Michael Cuddyer looks to be Todd's primary backup this year and, barring a trade, will be a likely candidate to fill the starting role in 2014, which will be the last year of his $31.5M contract. Others at the big league level that have shown ability to play the position include Tyler Colvin and Jordan Pacheco. However, I want to focus this discussion on who in the Colorado Rockies system has the best chance of being a long term answer at first base.
Over the last decade, the Rockies have had several of their top prospects be first basemen. Unfortunately for them, they either had to learn a new position to make the big league club or they became expendable. Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins are two that come to mind that followed the first track while Jack Cust and Joe Koshansky followed the latter. Since Koshansky, the position hasn't been too strong in the system and only one first basemen made last fall's PuRP list at #20 (Harold Riggins). Also, with the loss of manager Jim Tracy last year, the organization decided to clean house on Tracys (whether or not they are related) and got rid of both first basemen, Chad and Mark Tracy. With that being said, here is the top first base prospect from each level with their wRC+ and ISO numbers as Charlie Drysdale used for the catchers. I will then follow it up with other prospects that could transition to first base and may be a better fit.
Matt, who can also be looked at for the outfield and catching, had a successful year in Colorado Springs while playing some of his time at first base. Coming over in the Ubaldo trade with Cleveland, this right handed hitter is a little old at 27 to be considered a prospect. If he doesn't stick at the big league level in 2014 as at least a backup, then he will likely be done in the Rockies system. If he continues to improve on his 2012 numbers of .344/.365/.535 though, he will certainly have a chance to contribute.
|130 wRC+||.191 ISO|
Kiel performed slightly better than Ben Paulsen last year for the Drillers, albeit in less at bats, to take the spot as top first basemen in AA for the Rockies. Another right handed batter, Kiel had a slash line of .261/.313/.463 last year and is also getting a tad old for a prospect, entering the year as a 26 year old. It will be interesting to see which, if either, of Roling and Paulsen will be moved up to AAA this year and that may be telling to which one the organization prizes more.
|114 wRC+||.291 ISO|
High A-Jared Clark
Spending his second year in Modesto, Jared improved significantly in 2012. While not hitting for a high average, .236/.369/.465, his ability to pick up 89 walks gave him a good OBP and his 24 home runs kept his slugging percentage strong. These stats also led to him being selected in 2012 as a MiLB.com organization All Star. He, like the previous two, is old at the age of 26, and 2013 will very likely be a make or break year in Tulsa.
|118 wRC+||.227 ISO|
Low A-Harold Riggins
This right handed bat is the only first baseman on the current PuRP list and is listed at #20 due to skill set, youth, and position played. After Colorado selected him in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, Harold had a good first professional season with Casper and followed that up with an even better season in Asheville last year. Playing in a talented infield, he hit .302/.338/.546 with 19 home runs in only 328 at bats. He earned honors as a SAL league mid-season and post-season All Star as well as being recognized by MiLB.com as an organization All Star. While still a long ways from the majors, he seems to be the highest hope at the position of current hopefuls.
|155 wRC+||244 ISO|
Short Season-Ben Waldrip
I joined Tri-City and Grand Junction together because there was a relative weakness in this group at the position. Ben was the strongest of the four players to select from, not showing much contact but some power with a line of .217/.282/.424 and 10 home runs. However, he is still not considered above average by wRC+ and will need to improve greatly to be considered much of a prospect.
|74 wRC+||.207 ISO|
It can be argued that PuRPs #4,5, and 7 could all be better prospects for the Rockies than the minor leaguers currently fielding the position. Kyle Parker, Will Swanner, and Corey Dickerson all have plus bats and have displayed questionable fielding to this point in their career that may warrant a position change. Which of the three would be the best can be an excellent discussion.
Since leaving football, Kyle Parker has continued to improve at the plate. His 2012 line of .308/.415/.562 with 23 home runs led to him being a CAL Player of the Week and Postseason All Star. Double A will be a good test for him this year as the tougher pitching and less friendly hitting environments of the Texas league will provide a good gauge on the total value of his bat.
|152 wRC+||.254 ISO|
Charlie already spoke in length about Will Swanner in his article on catchers, but suffice to say that if he can't stick at catcher and can learn a little patience at the plate, Will has the power to be first baseman. Last year, as a 20 year old at low A Asheville, he hit .302/.385/.529 with 16 home runs in 325 at bats. A league All Star in 2011 and 2012, it will be interesting to see how he plays in the higher levels of the organization and if he can stay at catcher.
|151 wRC+||.228 ISO|
I haven't heard much, if any, talk about moving Corey Dickerson to first base, but with the current crowd at outfield, his ability to hit at every level, and the fact that he is the only left handed bat of these top tier prospects, I think it should be looked at. Corey received a rare call up from Modesto to Tulsa in mid-season last year and continued to play well after the promotion. His combined line was .304/.358/.542, and he had a total of 22 home runs. Being with the big league team for spring training has been valuable for him and, other than his catch while sitting on the ground yesterday, he has done fairly well so far. I am a huge proponent of Corey and want to see him stick in the outfield but if first base is the best way to keep him on our team then I am for it.
|135 wRC+||.238 ISO|
While 2014 is likely to see Cuddyer with a temporary backup from the McBride/Paulsen/Roling group, 2015 is the first year the Rockies are likely to field a first baseman of the future. Can one of the current first baseman improve enough to take the job or will the organization move someone to the position? Will Nolan Arenado have to move there due to the emergence of the middle infield talent? Does Will Swanner provide a better defensive option at catcher, pushing Rosario over to first? Or, is the future first baseman not even on the team? The process to find the answer begins this summer as the setting of the sun on Todd's wonderful career means the rising of someone new.