As baseball writers across the country complete their Hall of Fame ballots over the next several weeks, Todd Helton is certainly a name that will draw a lot of attention. A reliable fielder and perennial All-Star, Helton spoiled fans and the front office over 17 seasons, all of them with the Colorado Rockies. He averaged a slash line of .316/.414/.539 during his career and earned five All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, and three Silver Sluggers. Of course, if you’re reading this, you probably already know all of that. Outside of the Helton years, though, what kind of performance have Rockies fans experienced at first base?
The Rockies had their inaugural season as an expansion team in 1993, four seasons prior to Helton’s rookie year. Seven of the top 10 seasons by a Rockies first baseman (by FanGraphs WAR) were by Todd Helton.
The other three? Andrés Galarraga in 1993 (4.2), 1996 (3.2), and 1997 (3.1). While Galarraga didn’t stay in Colorado long enough to pile up the stats that measure up to Helton, he established the excellent first base play that became synonymous with Colorado Rockies baseball. Galarraga garnered MVP votes in each of his five seasons with the Rockies to go along with two All-Star selections and one Silver Slugger award. The Rockies moved on from Galarraga in 1998 in favor of the up-and-coming Helton, which, of course, worked out very well.
Rockies Top Ten Seasons by a First Baseman
In 2014, Justin Morneau was signed as a free agent to pick up where Helton left off. He actually led the National League with a .319 batting average, but his production was not up to par with the standard that was set by Helton and Galarraga. Morneau’s decent 2014, however, is the closest any Rockies first baseman would come to reaching the heights set in previous years. Since then, consistent production at the position has been all but impossible to come by. There have been more attempts to bring in veterans (Ian Desmond, Daniel Murphy, Mark Reynolds) that haven’t worked out.
It’s exactly this conundrum that Patrick Saunders considered in his column on Tuesday. Since the 2015 season, Rockies’ first basemen have collectively accumulated a negative WAR. After such a strong history, it’s hard to imagine this team not having a consistent offensive force to be reckoned with at “the other hot corner”. In the 2020 shortened season, Josh Fuentes had a nice string of 30 games where he was near the top of the team in several offensive categories. But even if he could play at that level for a full season, it would put his WAR around 2.0, which still doesn’t measure up to the Rockies standard.
Will Fuentes be the answer at first base moving forward? History tells us the front office will take another shot at a veteran. There are also some prospects who could challenge Fuentes in the near future in Michael Toglia and Grant Lavigne. While there are a lot of options, it’s anyone’s guess who could step up to be the next great Rockies slugger at first base.
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Thomas Harding lists off his top five Rockies players who have not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Topping the list, of course, is Todd Helton who is the franchise leader in bWAR with 61.5 as well as hits, doubles and home runs. Helton is on the ballot for 2021. He was voted in by 29.2 percent of writers last year, short of the 75 percent cutoff. Other Rockies greats on the list included Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, Andrés Galarraga, and Vinny Castilla.
The Rockies front office has a handful of decisions to make and one of them involves right-handed pitching prospect Riley Pint. Michael Parnell of prospects1500.com weighs the pros and cons of placing Pint on the 40-man roster to avoid Rule 5 Draft eligibility. While Pint possesses some MLB quality stuff, he’s only pitched 26 professional innings over the last two years. It’s hard to see the Rockies using a spot on the 40-man for Pint so they could possibly risk him being picked up by another team when the Rule 5 Draft comes around.
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