For the first time in a long while, first base is one of the Rockies’ strongest and least worrisome positions heading into 2022. Not only do they have a strong returning face in C.J. Cron who turned in an impressive 2021 season, but they also have an assortment of characters on the roster to fall back on if needed.
After signing a minor league contract prior to the 2021 season, Cron looked to prove himself as an everyday starter on the field. After injury robbed him of the 2020 campaign with the Detroit Tigers, the former University of Utah product returned to the Rocky Mountains and quickly became the best bat in the Rockies lineup.
Cron slots in as the Rockies starting first baseman heading into the new season. He became the Rockies’ most productive offensive player in 2021 while also having one of the best seasons of his career. In 142 games, he slashed .281/.375/.530 with a team-leading 28 home runs and 92 RBI. Cron also provided a much-needed improvement for the Rockies at the plate by drawing a team-leading 60 walks. His efforts garnered a two-year contract extension worth $14.5 million shortly after the season ended.
However, one of the biggest concerns for Cron is if he can improve upon his .235/.337/.397 slash line on the road. Cron has taken full advantage of Coors Field, but the drop-off away from home is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, especially when he needs to help carry the offense this season.
With a sturdy bat that’s expected to be the big bopper in the lineup (pending any other acquisitions), Cron also provided defense at the position not seen since Justin Morneau. Cron had three defensive runs saved and showed his best defense between May 23 and August 31 when he committed just one error. With his first full season since knee surgery in the books, his glove should continue to be a steady scooper.
After several years of underproduction from first base, Rockies fans can rest easy knowing that Cron has things covered both offensively and defensively.
The Rockies have a few players on the 40-man roster that could see time at the cold corner should Cron need a day off or simply become the designated hitter for a game: Connor Joe, Colton Welker, and Elehuris Montero.
Connor Joe will be in the mix to play left field, but his versatility to play first base will give him plenty of opportunities, especially if he gets hot at the dish. In 63 games last season, Joe batted .285/.379/.469 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. With the addition of Kris Bryant and the expectation he will primarily play left field, Joe’s ability to play first base will be a vital ability for him to get more playing time.
Colton Welker experienced a brief cup of coffee with the Rockies in 2021, but the young infielder is looking to take a step forward and find a way to get more playing time in 2022. He tallied seven hits in 19 games at the end of last season while striking out 11 times in 40 plate appearances. He will need to make progress after missing most of last season due to a suspension, but he may get some action at first if needed.
At some point in 2022, it is expected that Elehuris Montero will make his debut after a strong 2021 campaign in the minors. Acquired in the Nolan Arenado trade, Montero split the season between Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque. In 120 minor league games, Montero slashed .278/.360/.529 with 28 home runs and 86 RBI. He’s shown an ability to hit the ball hard and has a reasonable K/BB ratio. His defense needs to be cleaned up, but he showed well at first base in the minors.
On the Farm
Looking to the future, the Rockies have a couple of players rising through the system but are still a few years off until they can claim the position for themselves.
Viewed as the next heir to Todd Helton’s crown, Michael Toglia (No. 4 PuRP heading into 2021) is looking to progress more in 2022. The switch-hitter was drafted in 2019 and has shown impressive power numbers to all parts of the field. Last season in High-A Spokane, Toglia belted 17 home runs and drove in 66 runs, and added five more home runs in Hartford. His ability to make contact and limit strikeouts still needs improvement as he hit for a .228 AVG with 142 strikeouts to just 65 walks. If he makes the strides to improve and continues high-quality defense, he should be in line to replace Cron in the near future.
Grant Lavigne (No. 22 PuRP) is the other minor leaguer that is slowly making his way up the Rockies system to compete with Toglia. Drafted in 2018, Lavigne spent 2022 in Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane and while he doesn’t have the same power potential as Toglia, he is still a solid bat and glove. However, when it gets down to the wire, Lavigne may find himself bested by Toglia as he awaits his own promotion.
If Disaster Strikes
The Rockies don’t have much to worry about going into 2022. Cron is a reliable piece, but if he begins to take a drastic decline on either side of the ball, they have plenty of options to replace him. It’s hard to imagine injuries wiping out their entire depth at the position, but if that happens, I’m sure the Rockies have Ian Desmond’s phone number still.