Todd Helton had 15 career games played in the outfield during his 17-year Major League career, all coming during his first taste of the big leagues in 1997. At the time, the Colorado Rockies still employed the franchise’s first ever All-Star Andrés Galarraga to man first base, so getting Helton’s bat in the lineup meant deploying him to left field, outside of his normal comfort zone at first base. But Galarraga was set to be a free agent after the 1997 season, so the temporary positioning of Helton was apparent. By the start of the 1998 season, Helton was back at first, where he would play for another 2,170 games.
A first-round selection out of UCLA in 2019, Toglia has been a highly-regarded defender at first base and an unconventional archetype of hitting prospect for the Rockies. Balancing a high-strikeout, high-power profile, Toglia has posted a 120 wRC+ in his minor league career despite a .240 average and a strikeout-rate just short of 30% in 999 at-bats.
The compromise in Toglia’s offensive equation has been working counts and drawing walks, which he has done at a 13% rate in the minors. This plate approach was proven in his 2022 minor league season, where he posted walk and strikeout rates in-line with his career averages while clubbing 30 home runs between 97 games at Double-A Hartford and 17 games at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Those numbers took time to stabilize, however. During the first two months of the season, Toglia hit just .215 while posting an unsightly 37.6% strikeout rate. He turned a corner in June, though, raising his OPS over 200 points while cutting his strikeout rate down to a much more palatable 25%. This newfound approach and upturn in production led to Toglia’s eventual promotion on August 30th.
“He made a little mindset shift in the middle of the summer after some good conversations with some people in our player development department about being a little bit more aggressive earlier.” said manager Bud Black, who also made sure to point out Toglia’s first MLB home run came on the first pitch of his at-bat against reliever Kenley Jansen.
Home Run #1 for Michael Toglia! pic.twitter.com/ckyM10uSH9— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) September 1, 2022
All told, Toglia has put together a .278/.333/.583 line with seven extra-base hits in his ten games played with the Rockies so far. The thump in his bat has been a welcome addition to a lineup that is thirsty for more power, but has come at a cost. To get his name in the lineup Toglia has been moonlighting in right field, starting six games in the outfield grass compared to four so far on the infield dirt.
This is uncharted territory for Toglia, as he spent just nine of his 270 career minor league games in the outfield.
“Yeah…I think I’ve doubled my career total.” said Toglia, who hasn’t sweated the added responsibilities. “I think it’s an easier position to adjust to than going from the outfield (to the) infield. So, I’ve handled it well.”
Like Helton – who has played his part in the development process – Toglia has had to play outside of his normal defensive responsibilities to get into the lineup. But unlike Helton, there does not seem to be an immediate plan to get Toglia regular playing time at his home position in the near-future.
Colorado currently employs four primary first baseman on their active roster: Sean Bouchard, C.J. Cron, Elehuris Montero and Toglia. Bouchard has proven his versatility as an outfielder and the club is still working to get Montero to stick at third base, so there is some maneuverability for the current roster. But Cron’s contract keeps him entrenched at first base for another year, and the questions about Montero’s ability to handle third are far from answered.
This is a problem that has been brewing for the Rockies for some time. Heading into the 2022 trade deadline, the benefits of moving Cron to clear a path were apparent. That narrative has only become more lucid with Cron’s subpar second-half and Toglia’s rise to the bigs.
So, heading into the 2023 season, the Rockies will have decisions to make if they want to fulfill Toglia’s “first baseman of the future” promise. Abstaining from transacting and playing first basemen at various positions is an unpopular decision that the organization has stuck to to this point. But for a franchise that has been searching for a homegrown fixture at 1B since it’s last such product retired in 2013 — and is not hiding who they think that will be — it seems clear what the best course of action is moving forward. Now, the only question is if they will commit to it.
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Friday morning, the Joint Competitive Committee — a recently formed panel of Major League Baseball consisting of four active players, six MLB appointed members and one umpire — voted in favor of three new rules for the 2023. The simplest change is base size, increasing from 15 square inches to 18 square inches with home plate unchanged.
The pitch timer, designed to create a quicker pace of play, will start with a 30-second timer between batters. During an at-bat, there will be a 15-second time with the bases empty and a 20-second timer when runners are on base. If a pitcher violates the pitch clock, an automatic ball will be charged. The same consequences exist for batters, who will be charged a strike if they do not abide. The pitch clock will reset if a pitcher picks-off or simply steps off the rubber.
The final agreed change is a limit to defensive shifts. Teams on defense must have (at least) four players on the infield dirt at the time of every pitch, with two players on each side of second base. This new rule bans infielders from positioning in the outfield grass or overloading one side of the infield. If a team is in violation of the shift ban, the hitting team can choose an automatic ball in the count or the outcome of the ball in play.
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On The Farm
It was a loss, but a wild loss, for the Albuquerque Isotopes. They trailed El Paso 7-0 through the first seven innings, with five runs coming against starter Karl Kauffmann who did manage to strikeout 11 in 5 2⁄3 innings. The Isotopes rally started with a grand slam from D.J. Peterson, his 18th home run of the season, to cut the lead to 4-3. Tim Lopes would kick off the bottom of the ninth with a solo shot to bring the lead down to down. That deficit was finally cut down on a two-run single from Sam Hilliard, with still no outs. Unfortunately the Isotopes would stop there and send the game to extra-innings. The Chihuahuas quickly put up two runs in the top of the tenth, which Albuquerque was unable to match in their half of the tenth.
Noah Davis locked horns with Randy Vasquez of the Patriots for a pitchers duel on Friday. Davis pitched into the sixth inning, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out seven in his 5 2⁄3 innings. He departed with scored tied at one after Willie MacIver drove in the lone run with an RBI ground-out in the fifth inning. Unfortunately, the Hartford offense couldn’t mount any pressure in the late innings and ultimately fell after Austin Kitchen surrendered a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning.
Spokane never led in their road matchup with the Dust Devils. Starter Andrew Quezada gave up four runs in 4 2⁄3 innings, notching five strikeouts with no walks but surrendering nine hits. Nick Kent and Ronaiker Palma drove in the Indians’ first two runs with ground outs in the third and sixth innings. Robby Martin Jr., who had two hits in the game, drove in Spokane’s final run with a single in the seventh.
The wrong-side of a sweep for the system was completed with a tough night for the Grizzlies against the Giants. The game was tied 3-3 after three innings thanks to two RBI from A.J. Lewis, but the pitching fell apart from there. For starter Jarrod Cande, the good was eight strikeouts but the bad was four runs on two homers in four innings. In relief, Felix Ramires didn’t fare much better with four runs (one unearned) in his two innings while, after him, Sergio Sanchez managed to give up his four runs without getting three outs. Fresno was out-hit 13-to-4 in the ballgame.
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