Over the next week or so I will preview the 2012 season for the Rockies position by position. There have been some fan favorites jettisoned from the team and some new faces (albeit longer in the tooth) who have jumped on board.
Today we talk first base.
Players lost: The two players who played the majority of innings at first base for the Rockies in 2011 return in 2012: Todd Helton and Jason Giambi. Both of them watched the greatest first baseman in history play live: Lou Gehrig.
Chris Iannetta, Jordan Pacheco and Ty Wigginton also saw some work at first last year and only Pacheco is with the franchise in ’12. Iannetta will be catching for the Anaheim Angels (pretty fortunate turn of events for Iannetta – going to the AL to play with Albert Pujols’ new team and play for Mike Scioscia who was a great catcher in his day and reportedly great to play for as a catcher) and Wigginton is off to Philadelphia.
Players gained: The Rockies didn’t add anyone to the team to play first base in ’12. Dan O’Dowd is more than happy to have spry youngins like Helton and Giambi to play the position.
Helton played in 124 games in ’12 and one would guess that 120-130 games per season is his max at his age and with his back. Going into 2011 he said his back had felt great all offseason and that allowed him to lift more regularly, especially his legs and that led to a decent year at the plate in which he slugged .466 (the days of him slugging .500 are long gone). Rockies fans everywhere are hoping that the even/odd year trend for Helton does not continue in ’12. Here are his OPS+ totals in each of the last five seasons: 133 in ’07, 99 in ’08, 127 in ’09, 87 in ’10 and 119 last year (anything above 100 is above average and anything below is, well, below).
To back up 38 year old Helton the Rockies will employ Giambi for the third season and he turned 41 on January 8th. Who knows? Last year Giambi slugged over .600 with a 142 OPS+ in 152 plate appearances. Can he reproduce those power numbers (last time his OPS+ was over 100 was in 2008) and if so does he warrant more playing time? His glove is as solid as a rock, which isn’t a good thing in this case, and is the main reason he doesn’t see the field as often.
Minor leagues: Kyle Parker impressed in A ball last year. The former Clemson QB is 22 and showed flashes of pure power. He is currently an outfielder but could transition to 1B. He is likely at least a year away as he needs to show he can hit pitching in AA, at least, before making the jump. Ben Paulsen and Jim Tracy’s son, Mark, are both in the Rockies organization and both have been mentioned as possible replacements for Helton in the coming years.
It is not likely any of these guys make the Rockies in 2012. If the Rockies need another first basemen they would probably rather try to sign one from the free agent pile as there are usually plenty of guys available with big league experience who play first base available to a team that needs one. (Think Mike Jacobs last year who spent the year in Colorado Springs for the Rockies.)
Who makes Opening Day roster: Barring a back spasm or four the Rockies will start Helton on April 6th in Houston with Giambi waiting on the bench.
Who might come up during the year: No one. Again, the team might sign another vet to play first for the Sky Sox and keep him stashed in the Springs in the event he is needed when Helton and Giambi get hurt. (See what I did there? When, not if.)
Next up: Second base