Todd Helton is, to many, the greatest Rockies player to ever don a purple uni. With his number 17 retired, Colorado fans have been spoiled by the 17 years Helton played at a mile high. As the first base situation for the Rockies gets figured out, fans will have to realize and accept that there will never be another player like number 17, but that doesn’t mean the position can’t produce.
This year the Rockies will start off at first with a likely platoon of Ben Paulsen and newcomer from the Cardinals, Mark Reynolds. Paulsen, a lefty, will play primarily against righties, a may get the occasional spot start in left. Mark Reynolds will get the majority of the at-bats against southpaws. This is interesting for the Rockies and there is a lot to like about what these two may bring to the table.
Ben Paulsen: In 325 at-bats last year, Paulsen slashed his way to a .277 average, .326 OBP, and .462 slugging. Putting up only a .8 bWAR. There will be room to grow for Paulsen and having a more consistent schedule over at first should lend to his success, along with playing primarily against righties. Paulsen did strike out 92 times and with a number that high (not yet mentioning Mark Reynolds’ strikeouts) he will need to cut those down, which is entirely possible with the platoon situation. Paulsen is not a power guy, he will hit a few homers, he hit 11 last years, but primarily he will be a singles and doubles guy, driving the ball to the large gaps at Coors. He fits into the Rockies lineup as a 6 or 7 hole hitter and will give the Rockies a solid hitter towards the back of their lineup.
Paulsen does play solid defense and last year he finished with only three errors at first with a fielding percentage of .996. If the Rockies can keep Paulsen out of the outfield he will benefit greatly. I expect Paulsen to be around a .280-.290 hitter driving in a similar amount of RBIs as 2015 (49) and hitting around 10-15 home runs. Paulsen will be a consistent player for the Rockies, but don’t expect all-star numbers or anything of the like.
Mark Reynolds: Reynolds played for the Cardinals in 2015 and continued what he has done his whole career, except with less success. Reynolds slashed .230/.315/.398 while hitting 13 home runs and driving in 48 RBIs. He posted a negative bWAR for only the second time of his career at -.6, but he has never been one to rank high in that statistic either. Reynolds, as mentioned above, strikes out quite a bit. Four times in his career has he led the league in strikeouts and last year he posted 121. The Rockies knew what they were getting with Reynolds and he will actually be a fairly good fit in Colorado. In the high elevation and thin air, expect Reynolds to reemerge as a home run hitter and hit close to 20-25 bombs. He will slot in the same spot in the lineup as Paulsen, towards the bottom, but will provide some more pop for the Rockies at that spot. He will be a feast and famine player as he has been his whole career, but expect some positive results from him playing against lefties primarily and moving to one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. His defense is nothing to scoff at either. Although he is no gold glover, he is a utility sort of guy and is a serviceable first baseman. He can play the corner infield spots and will occasionally make the exceptional play.
First base for the Rockies will be a position to watch as the platoon experiment goes throughout the season. There won’t be a Todd Helton proving himself this season as the Rockies first baseman of the future, but the contrast between Paulsen and Reynolds will give the Rockies some options off the bench when one of them isn’t playing and will give the Rockies some stability at first and allow them to focus on other areas that are more in need. What would be most desirable is Paulsen showing some ability to play everyday and slowly earning his spot against lefties as the season progresses. The platoon at the start of the season will allow him to get more comfortable until the Rockies can make a decision on the future of the position.