Rockies Mailbag: What is Colorado’s future plans for first base?

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

The Rockies have not had a solid first baseman since Todd Helton retired. They lost the opportunity to use DJ LeMahieu. They did not draft for this position. What are their plans to fill first base?
— Judy Frieman, Denver

Judy, this is an annual question and concern. But please remember that the Rockies did select a first baseman last year in the first round of the draft. They picked Michael Toglia, a first baseman out of UCLA, with the 23rd overall pick. The club is very high on him. He’s a solid defender and a switch-hitter with power.

Last summer, at Class A short-season Boise, Toglia produced a .248/.369/.483 slash line with 16 extra-base hits (nine home runs) in 176 plate appearances before he was shut down in early August.

He appeared to be on a relatively fast track toward the majors until the coronavirus pandemic shut down all of minor league baseball this spring. Will he be the next Todd Helton? Probably not. But he does have a chance to be an impact player.

With the July Fourth weekend fast approaching, MLB has a golden opportunity to redeem itself from a disastrous delay of the 2020 season. How about a total public apology on national TV by the commissioner, each of the teams’ player reps and each of the teams’ owners? Greed is never a winner!

And last but not least, have the Houston Astros return the 2017 World Series trophy. Cheaters never prosper!
— Bruce Hellerstein, Denver

Bruce, I’m letting you vent, but you know what you ask for is never going to happen.

I understand fans’ frustrations but I also have to say that there are some principles at stake here.

Facing the coronavirus pandemic, the players never backed away from their belief that they were owed a full prorated salary based on the number of games played. They stuck by their decision and they stuck together.

In my view, the owners, and Manfred, bear the brunt of the responsibility for such a short season.

With both of Colorado’s MiLB teams heading to the history books, is either ownership group thinking about trying the independent league route? And as far as MLB is concerned this season, I can live with the DH in both leagues and relief pitchers facing three batters, but the California tiebreaker comes across rinky-dink. I know there’s some minor league data on it. How has it been received?
— Gregory Weiss, Denver

Gregory, in regard to your first question regarding the Grand Junction Rockies and the Rocky Mountain Vibes (the Brewers’ affiliate in Colorado Springs), I reached out to my colleague, Kyle Newman, for the answer to your question. He’s done yeoman’s work covering the sweeping changes to minor league baseball, including a story in Wednesday’s Denver Post.

Kyle tells me that the passionate, hardcore baseball fans in Grand Junction, long the site of the Junior College World Series, are unlikely to embrace an unaffiliated, independent team. Plus, remember that Rockies owner Dick Monfort is the principle owner of the Grand Junction Rockies, and he’s not going to field an independent league team.

As for an independent team coming in to replace the Vibes, Newman thinks that possibility could exist as a baseball “entertainment option” for Colorado Springs.

As for the “California tie-breaker,” that will be instituted this season. I’ll be honest and say that I have not had the chance to ask any of the Rockies about it. As you can imagine, access for media has been very limited during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s a question I will ask going forward.

What is your sense of likelihood that Colton Welker can bounce back after a disappointing 2019? How do you think he is regarded within the organization at this point?
— Derek, Grand Junction

Derek, I was a little surprised that Welker was not included in the original list of the 52 players in the Rockies player pool for the 60-game season. I do think, however, that he will be one of the players who works out with the team at the satellite camp in Albuquerque.

I think the organization still holds him in high regard and considers him a talented prospect with the potential to be a good major league hitter.

Welker was impressive through the first three levels of Colorado’s system, never posting an OPS below .850. But he dealt with an injured shoulder last season at Double-A Hartford and was limited to 98 games. Welker was still able to slash .252/.313/.408 for the Hartford Yard Goats, but it was doubtful he would have risen above Triple-A this season — if there had been a minor league season.

Welker veered away from his natural swing a bit, trying to get a more impactful launch angle, but he seemed to rediscover his swing during the Rockies’ abbreviated spring training.

Here is an interesting, very positive scouting report on Welker from the Last Word On Baseball.

I saw that Ubaldo Jimenez isn’t on the Rockies’ player pool list. Is this the end of his comeback attempt or can you see him back in a Colorado (or any other) uniform in the future?
— Gunnar, Fort Collins

Gunnar, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said that it was his decision, not Jimenez’s decision, to not include Jimenez in the pool. Bridich indicated that Jimenez’ two years away from big-league baseball, and the fact that the Rockies had a lot of other pitchers they were interested in, were the major reasons for a difficult decision.

Jimenez lives in the Dominican Republic and is difficult to reach, so I have not talked to him about his future plans. I don’t know if he is going to retire or not. I have not seen that he’s signed with any other team. I think his chances of pitching for the Rockies this season were slim but I hate to jump to the conclusion that his career is over.

I read recently (Wall Street Journal, June 19) that most teams dumped their minor league players when the virus derailed baseball, apparently to avoid paying them $400 weekly stipends. Exceptions mentioned were the Minnesota Twins and KC Royals, which retained their minor league prospects. As a result, those teams were able to sign more undrafted free agents who were reluctant to join organizations that had shown no loyalty to their minor leaguers. Question: How did the Rockies handle their minor league players after the shutdown, and how did it affect signing free agents following the abbreviated five-round draft?
— Paul L. Albright, Boulder

Paul, the Rockies have agreed to pay their minor-league players through the end of July. The question now is what to do with those players. That issue remains in flux, with the possibility of a late-summer or early fall camp or even an expanded Arizona Fall League. Right now, however, the Rockies are making a number of contingency plans.

We ran a story on Monday detailing the current situation.

Patrick, I know there are a lot of more important issues going on within baseball and with COVID-19, but has the netting at Coors Field been extended from the dugouts to the foul poles? Any other improvements that are of interest? Just looking toward the future and time that fans can return to in-person game attendance.
— John, Arvada

John, I’m told that, yes, netting to protect fans has been extended. The question now is when will fans be allowed back into Coors Field? We don’t know the answer to that question.

The Rockies also totally rebuilt the playing field at Coors. Here is the opening to the story I wrote in April:

“The green, green grass of home awaits the Rockies at Coors Field. Mark Razum and his crew made sure of that. A sixth-month rebuild of the playing surface at Coors was finished in March in preparation for the scheduled home opener last Friday. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out that game, and there is no telling when baseball will return. But when it does, the infield will be smooth and the outfield an emerald-green carpet.”

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

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