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Ryan McMahon looks to have the lead on the first base job, for now

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The Rockies still have some uncertainty at first base.

The Colorado Rockies have gone from one bridge to the next since franchise stalwart Todd Helton retired. Veterans like Justin Morneau and Mark Reynolds have stepped in admirably, while other veterans like Michael Cuddyer and Gerardo Parra have just stepped in. They famously signed Ian Desmond, first baseman, one year ago. Wilin Rosario also played some first.

Ryan McMahon has the chance to change the state of the position in 2018. He is graduating from the Rockies’ minor league system as a top prospect with the first base position wide open. He can take hold of that spot for the foreseeable future and end the days of veteran bridges there with a strong season.

The Starter

This is still a little unclear, but all signs point to McMahon if he plays well in spring training. On the one hand, this is exciting because it means that the Rockies are ready to reap the benefits of the development of a talented player in their farm system. On the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on a young prospect with very little big league experience for a team whose offense needs to improve right now.

All indications are that McMahon is ready for the big leagues. After a slight setback in his minor league development in 2016, he tore through Double- and Triple-A in 2017 en route to a cup of coffee with the Rockies at the end of the year. That gave him a taste of the big leagues, but McMahon ultimately was not used much with the team in a playoff race and relying on veterans like Reynolds and Desmond.

Let’s say McMahon shows enough this spring to be the Opening Day first baseman. How much leash will the Rockies give him if he struggles? How much will he share time? Between McMahon’s youth and the tough left-handed pitchers in the National League West, the Rockies will likely have a right-handed player who takes a decent chunk of time at first base.

The Backups

Desmond looks like the primary candidate to share time with McMahon at first. That said, the team might have him focused on the corners of the outfield for now with the news of Gerardo Parra’s hand injury. We’ll see how Bud Black moves people around, but it still feels likely that there isn’t necessarily a set backup at first with Desmond, Parra, and even Pat Valaika flexing their versatility and filling in there as needed.

Jordan Patterson seems to be something of a forgotten man here, but we should mention the possibility that he cracks the roster and earns some playing time at first. That said, as a lefty with less promise than McMahon, it’s hard to see his path to significant time there.

Free Agent Options?

The Rockies very well may add another option at first base between now and the regular season. The frozen free agent market is finally thawing, and we might see players signing deals throughout spring training. Some of those deals might end up being bargains, and there are certainly options for the Rockies to add thump at first base.

Reynolds is still available and he hasn’t been afraid to let the Rockies know that he wants to come back. If he did come back, it would likely be as a reserve first. From there, the team could see how McMahon is doing and use Reynolds as something of a platoon mate or insurance option as necessary.

If the Rockies decide McMahon isn’t quite ready and needs to spend more time in the minor leagues, there are quality bats available. Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison are both available and you can imagine both hitting a bunch of dingers in Colorado.

Bottom Line

It appears the Rockies are committed to giving McMahon a clear first shot at the position. This is exciting, or at least it should be; we’ve been looking forward to the arrival of top prospects like him for years. McMahon slashed an absurd .374/.411/.612 in Triple-A, so he’s clearly ready to have his shot.

Any other year it would be just that simple. But in 2018, with the freeze that happened in free agency, I can’t help but wonder if the Rockies will miss out on an opportunity to get a bargain and add a veteran bat to their lineup at first base. McMahon might be ready to help a team win now, but sluggers like Duda and Morrison seem like surer bets for a Rockies’ team that desperately needs to improve on offense.

It feels like McMahon’s performance in spring training from day one will be important. If he plays well enough and looks ready, that should be that. If he scuffles, the Rockies might look outside of the organization. They will certainly have options if they do.