With the major league season under way and the minor league season opening this past week, it’s time to address the first question of the season: Who’s on First for the Colorado Rockies?
The big league club already has its first major injury, with Daniel Murphy, signed as a free agent during the off season, out with a broken finger tip. That opens up first base to former top prospect Ryan McMahon and second base to prospect Garrett Hampson, though the Rockies are just as likely to run out veterans Mark Reynolds at first and Pat Valaika at second.
Editor note – McMahon too was just placed on the 10-day IL as of Saturday, April 6th
But the long-term question remains. Murphy signed a two-year deal, which means first base should be open for a prospect in 2021 unless McMahon has staked an enduring claim. And with third baseman Nolan Arenado signing a long-term deal in the off season, the Rockies have a couple of elite third basemen in the minors who are now seeing time at first. The first base job is up for grabs in a couple of years. Who are the candidates?
Nevin had 13 homers, 62 runs batted in and a .328 average at High-A Lancaster in 2018, then followed up with an outstanding performance in the Arizona Fall League, leading in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
The son of former player and current New York Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, Tyler Nevin has played mostly third base to this point. But now there’s opportunity across the diamond, and his bat can really play. He’s playing first at Hartford and is the leading contender to be the Rockies’ first baseman in 2021.
Another contender is also beginning the season with the Yard Goats. Our #4 prospect, Colton Welker, also has been a third baseman, and that’s where he begins the season. But he played a little first base in Spring Training, so don’t be surprised to see him there some this season.
Welker, 21, also has a terrific bat and a blocked path to third base in the big leagues. He had 13 HR, 82 RBI and a .333 batting average at High-A Lancaster in 2018. Welker turned heads in 67 games at Low-A Asheville in 2017 with a slash line of .350/.401/.500.
Welker was named the California League’s top third baseman in 2018 but the hit tool is way better than his defense. He could be the Rockies’ first baseman in 2021, or he could be a trade candidate if he can’t supplant Nevin.
The #8 prospect on our Top 50 is also a first baseman. Grant Lavigne, just 19, may prove to be the best of the lot. The 6-4, 220-pound lefty hitting first baseman was drafted out of high school in New Hampshire in 2018 (42nd pick overall) and excelled at Rookie-level Grand Junction with a .350/.477/.519 slash line and 12 stolen bases.
Lavigne, who has to chance to be a classic power-hitting first baseman, takes his game to Low-A Asheville this season. He may have positional flexibility, having played left field and third base on his high school team, but for now he’s still in the mix to become the team’s first baseman of the future.
Our #18 prospect, Brian Mundell, needs a good 2019 to keep his name on the list of future first base candidates. Now 25, he and another prospect, Roberto Ramos, will share first base at AAA Albuquerque this summer. Mundell hit .302 in Hartford in 2017, but only .263 in a return campaign for the Yard Goats in 2018. His on-base percentage dropped 40 points, his home runs declined from 15 to 7 and his runs batted in were cut in half as well.
Ramos, our #27 prospect, is off to a hot start at Albuquerque, hitting home runs in his first two games there. Affectionately known as the “Mariachi Masher,” Ramos, 24, a native of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, could be the power bat the Rockies crave at first base.
He played at both High-A Lancaster and AA Hartford in 2018, with combined stats of 32 homers, 77 RBI and a .269/.368/.547 slash line. His defense, strikeout rate and hit tool are all questionable, but he has enough power. If he can show the ability to draw walks, he could either land on first base with the Rockies or at designated hitter with an American League team.
Another third baseman who played some at first in the Arizona Fall League because of the blocked path to the big leagues is Arenado’s cousin, Josh Fuentes. Fuentes, 25, played well in the Arizona Fall League following a breakout 2018 season at AAA Albuquerque that earned him the Pacific Coast League MVP award. He had 14 HR, 95 RBI and a .327/.354/.517 slash line in AAA last summer.
Our #26 prospect, Fuentes probably profiles more as a utility infielder but if he keeps on hitting, that could change.
Finally, our #46 prospect, Sean Bouchard, moves to High-A Lancaster after a solid season at Low-A Asheville in 2018 with 14 homers, 75 runs batted in and a .324 on-base percentage. Bouchard, 22, drafted out of UCLA in 2017, is the dark horse in this group.