For the first 20 years of Colorado Rockies history, first base was a pretty easy position to figure out. Todd Helton, or earlier Andres Galarraga, was going to play most of the time there. In the last four years, however, first base has become a bit of a revolving door situation at Coors Field, and there is another newcomer there this year.
When the 2017 offseason began, first base was an obvious need for the Colorado Rockies, for which there were several options on the free agent market, including Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, Steve Pearce and Chris Carter, among others. So naturally the Rockies gave a five-year, $70 million contract to...Ian Desmond?
Despite many thoughts to the contrary throughout the offseason, Desmond, who has never played a professional game at first base, will be the Rockies starter there in 2017. It will be Desmond’s third position in three years, as he played shortstop with Washington in 2015 and center field for Texas last season.
“From the first day my agent called and said the Rockies are interested I grabbed a first baseman’s glove and got to work,” Desmond told MLB Network Radio last month.
Desmond had a bounce back season with the Rangers last year, hitting .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs and 21 stolen bases, earning the second All-Star appearance of his career. That performance followed a 2015 season that saw Desmond post a sub-.300 on-base percentage in his final campaign with the Nationals. Like most hitters, Desmond has seen some success at Coors Field, hitting .379/.406/.611 with three home runs in 23 games at his new home park.
Defensively, Desmond is a complete mystery, seeing as he has never played the position before. For what it’s worth, defensive metrics have been mixed on him at the other positions he has played in his career.
If Desmond is injured or needs to fill in for someone else who is, the Rockies do have some interesting depth options at first base. The team brought back last year’s starter, Mark Reynolds, on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Reynolds hit .282/.356/.450 with 14 home runs in 118 games for the Rockies last season and is likely the primary backup.
The Rockies can also call on a pair of players that made their big league debuts in 2016. With Desmond and Reynolds both hitting right handed, the best lefty option at first base is Jordan Patterson, who came in at No. 13 on this winter’s PuRPs list after going 8-for-18 in a September cameo in 2016. They could also turn to Stephen Cardullo, who played 27 games with the team last season.
On the Farm
Legitimate first base prospects are few and far between, not only for the Rockies, but across baseball. ESPN’s Keith Law had just four of them in his top 100. That said, the Rockies do have No. 7 PuRP Ryan McMahon, who moved to first base last season. McMahon had a tough season at Hartford in 2016, hitting just .242/.325/.399 with a dozen home runs in 133 games for the Yard Goats. The underwhelming numbers are mitigated by the fact that he was a 21 year old in Double-A and playing a new position on a team that had no home games. All of that said, it would behoove McMahon to have a strong 2017 if he wants to cement his place as the Rockies’ first baseman of the future.
If Catastrophe Strikes
Should the Rockies need a first baseman in the relatively near future, there are still several of them that remain free agents, including Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Adam Lind. Any of those three could do the job in an emergency situation.
However, if there is a catastrophe further into the season, well folks, say hello to Gerardo Parra, first baseman.