The Colorado Rockies have struggled at first base in recent seasons. 2016 was the last year in which the team received more than 1 WAR from the first base position. It’s shameful for a franchise that has featured such sluggers as Todd Helton and Andres Galarraga. Now, it’s hard to find a slugger of that caliber, but the Rockies must try and correct their lack of production at the position. First base depth is just one of the issues the team needs to address in the coming years regardless of the plan heading into 2021.
Colorado Rockies First Base Depth
Major League Level
Josh Fuentes is going to get the majority of starts at the cold corner to start 2021. He accumulated only 103 plate appearances last year, but he was far more productive than the original starter, Daniel Murphy. Fuentes slashed .306/.320/.439 with two home runs, 29 strikeouts and two walks. A .406 BABIP is a huge inflating factor, so don’t read too much into that slash line. It’s hard to imagine him being a .300 hitter over the course of an entire season at the major league level.
However, there are reasons to think he can hold down the position. He has over 1000 innings at first base from his time in the minor leagues, so he is very familiar with how to field the position. That is reflected in his eight defensive runs saved in 2020 in only 196 and one-third innings. Fuentes’ defense alone might be worth giving him an extended look despite a potential lack of traditional first base hitting. Ryan McMahon can also handle first, but the majority of his defensive innings have come at second base and the team seems committed to having him serve as a utility player.
AA & AAA
The Rockies do not have a major prospect dedicated to first base that has played above the High-A level. That leaves two non-roster invitees as the main sources of depth at the moment. Connor Joe has the higher profile as a former first-round selection from the 2014 Amateur Draft. The 28-year-old Joe has slashed .271/.377/.120 with 43 home runs in 2036 plate appearances, mostly for Pittsburgh Pirates or Los Angeles Dodgers affiliates. He does have 16 plate appearances for the San Francisco Giants from 2019, but that information is essentially worthless.
Another potential option is former 30th round selection Nick Longhi. Longhi’s last action came in 2019 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds AAA affiliate. That is where the 25-year-old utility option slashed .283/.336/.463 with 12 home runs for Louisville in 424 plate appearances. Neither of these two are necessarily eye catching prospects. However, there are far more exciting options as your go down the organizational depth chart.
High A & Lower
Prospect Grant Lavigne reached Asheville at the A-level in 2019, where he struggled as a 19-year-old. As the Rockies first-round selection, he hit just .236/.347/.327 with seven home runs and 129 strikeouts in 526 plate appearances. That is after crushing things at rookie-level Grand Junction with a .350/.477/.519 slash line in 258 plate appearances. It’s important to remember that while Lavigne’s power numbers crashed in 2019, he showed excellent plate discipline despite being over two full years younger than the average pitcher. There is plenty of promise here as a regular slugger.
The team also has a major interest in the development of 22-year-old Michael Toglia. The Rockies drafted Toglia in the first round of the 2019 Amateur Draft after a productive career at UCLA. He also has a brief stint as Low-A Boise where he posted a .248/.369/.483 slash line with nine home runs in 176 plate appearances. Both Toglia and Lavigne have futures as regular Rockies, but neither will be much of a factor at the major league level until 2022 at the earliest.
First base is easily the position that lacks impactful depth in the Rockies organization. Murphy was a complete flop and Mark Reynolds offered only sporadic production. The last person to exceed an OPS of .800 while playing at least 50 percent of his games at first was Justin Morneau in 2014 and 2015. It shouldn’t be that hard for Colorado to find someone who can handle a position with low defensive expectations and one who can also hit at Coors Field.
As frustrating as it is right now, things should get better after 2021 assuming the prospects are able to continue along their development track. Hopefully with the options mentioned above, the Rockies will find a first baseman within their organization that can give them the production they desperately need.
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