When Todd Helton announced his retirement following the 2013 season, the Colorado Rockies found themselves in a Defense Against the Dark Arts type of revolving door of players to replace him. After having a consistent presence at the position since 1998, the Rockies are now on their sixth primary first basemen since 2013. Following C.J. Cron’s recent month of August that won him the National League Player of the Month award, it felt like a good time to compare the production of these various first basemen.
Justin Morneau (2014)
The Rockies chose to sign the Minnesota Twins icon Justin Morneau as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. Morneau had been plagued by neck injuries and general aging over the previous seasons but the Rockies saw potential and decided to hand the reigns of the position over to him. That gamble paid off as Morneau won the batting title in 2014 with a .319 batting average while playing in 135 games. He also added 17 home runs and 77 RBI en route to posting a 3.4 bWAR while playing fairly solid defense in 126 starts. The 2014 season was a good transition from Helton as it brought about the same type of production he had provided in the later years of his career.
Ben Paulsen (2015)
When Morneau went down in 2015, the Rockies turned to one Ben Paulsen to take over as the primary first baseman. Paulsen played in 91 games that season with 60 starts at first base and provided a batting line of .271/.317/.454 at the position. He hit eight home runs and drove in 34 while playing first base but strikeouts remained a problem for Paulsen. He posted a 1.1 bWAR with the club during that season which isn’t enough to really make a difference on a team that was already struggling.
Mark Reynolds (2016-2017)
The Rockies decided to go back to a veteran in free agency by signing Mark Reynolds. He had primarily been a third baseman early in his career but had transitioned over to first which worked out for the Rockies. In 112 games at first base in 2016, Reynolds provided decent enough production with 13 home runs and a batting line of .279/.351/.442 but his knack for striking out left a lot to be desired with his other subpar stats and 1.3 bWAR.
His best production came in 2017 when he made the most of an opportunity after Ian Desmond suffered an injury in Spring Training. For the first half of that season, Reynolds was a man on a mission hitting .284/.379/.513 with 19 home runs and 61 RBI. However, his production began to decline in the second half of the season and strikeouts continued to plague him as they did in 2016. He finished the season with a .267 batting average, 30 home runs, and 97 RBI, but his 0.6 bWAR still left a lot to be desired.
Ian Desmond (2018)
After Reynolds took the position in 2017, the Rockies were ready to give Ian Desmond his shot at the position they signed him to play. Unfortunately for the Rockies, it didn’t turn out well for them. Yes, you could spin the fact that Desmond hit 22 home runs and stole 20 bases as a positive outcome, but everything else about his season was not ideal. Desmond struggled mightily with a 23.6% strikeout rate and a 61.4% ground ball rate which resulted in a low batting line and missed opportunities with runners in scoring position. He ended the season with a .236/.307/.422 batting line.
Desmond, like several of the players in this list, did fine defensively when it came to the routine plays in the field. However, just watching Desmond play the position, you could tell he didn’t have the feel for it. He posted a -0.1 bWAR that season, the first negative WAR a primary first baseman had ever posted for the Rockies which may have contributed to the decision to move him to the outfield where he would be more comfortable and play better.
Daniel Murphy (2019-2020)
On paper, the Rockies' decision to sign Daniel Murphy to play first base looked like it could have been a wise move, even if it came at the cost of losing D.J. LeMahieu. The veteran slugger could provide a seasoned approach at the plate the team desperately needed and the prospect of playing at Coors Field could boost his slugging numbers.
Unfortunately, Murphy suffered a hand injury early in the season that stunted his production all year. In 132 games, Murphy slashed .279/.328/.452 with 13 home runs, 35 doubles, and 78 RBI. He managed to put the ball in play a bit more which helped lower strikeouts, but it was still well below the production the team would want at the position.
That slide in production continued in the shortened 2020 season where he ultimately was replaced by Joshua Fuentes in the second half of the season. Murphy posted a 0.6 bWAR in 2019 and a -1.1 bWAR in 2020 and, like Desmond, never quite provided the polished defense the Rockies wanted at the position.
C.J. Cron (2021)
When the Rockies decided to sign C.J. Cron prior to Spring Training in 2021, it seemed to be a universally approved moved by Rockies fans. The signing has paid off as Cron has provided a bulk of the Rockies offense this season.
In 116 games, Cron has batted .275/.376/.534 with 26 home runs and 79 RBI and has a 3.1 bWAR. He got off to a bit of a slow start in 2021, but for the past couple of months, especially August, he has been the Cron of old that the Rockies hoped he would become. He has also looked the most comfortable at first base over the last couple of months and has positioned himself to get a solid contract following this season. It remains to be seen if the Rockies decide to keep him around.
Ultimately, the Rockies are still waiting for the next great prospect to fill in the shoes of Todd Helton. After several years of searching, they may have finally found a true first baseman who can hold down the fort until those prospects are ready.
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Nick Groke does a rundown of some of the plans the Rockies may have with September call-ups this month. With the season out of contention, they could choose to give their pitchers some rest by rotating them through and giving other players opportunities to gain experience at the big league level. He also gives an idea of how they could bring in some of their prospects to get some at-bats and audition for roles in 2022. The most intriguing is seeing if Peter Lambert makes a return to the Rockies this season after Tommy John surgery.
On Friday, Rockies prospect Zac Veen continued a strong 2021 season in Fresno. Veen stole four bases in a single game, tying a Fresno franchise record, and placed him in the top-10 for most stolen bases in a single season in Fresno team history with 36. Veen is proving himself to be a valuable asset to the Rockies in the future and it’s exciting to think about what he may be able to do in Colorado.
On the Farm:
The Isotopes may have been due for a miracle ninth-inning rally, but the weather in Oklahoma City had other plans as the game was called due to rain after eight innings. It was another rough outing for Dereck Rodríguez who only lasted 1 2⁄3 innings, allowing 6 runs on eight hits to be tagged with his fifth loss of the season. Greg Bird and Alan Trejo led the offense with two hits apiece, including Trejo’s 11th home run of the season.
It was a lethargic offensive output for Hartford as they dropped the game to Reading in a 5-2 score. Michael Toglia provided the runs for Hartford with his third home run in Double-A (20th of the minor league season), a two-run shot in the fourth inning. The Yard Goat pitching was fairly solid throughout the game, however. Michael Baird tossed four innings, allowing one run on five hits. He was then followed by Alex Moore who allowed one run on three hits. The bullpen kept the game tied at two runs apiece until Reading tagged Will Gaddis for three runs on two hits and gave him the loss. A notable stat was the fact Hartford struck out just three batters on the night.
High-A: Spokane Indians vs. Tri-City Dust Devils (Postponed due to COVID-19)
Saturday night’s game has been postponed to allow for additional testing and contact tracing of members of the @TC_DustDevils organization. We are adhering to Minor League Baseball’s health and safety protocols and will practice caution as we follow the guidance of experts. pic.twitter.com/66sZ64F0Vh— Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) September 5, 2021
It was a historic night for Fresno as they managed to set a single-season franchise record for stolen bases after Julio Carreras stole second in the fourth inning. Tony Locey spun another good outing for Fresno, notching his third win of the season by allowing just one run on four hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. The Grizzlies offense was able to manufacture their runs through seven hits, with all but two starters tallying a hit. Robby Martin Jr. led the scoring by tallying two runs.
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