Helton’s successor a growing concern?
The Denver Post
COLORADO SPRINGS — Has the time come to ask who’s going to be on first base next season for the Rockies?
Todd Helton has been a fixture there so long that it seems as if he’ll be there forever. For 16 years, anyway, Helton’s presence at first base has caused the likes of Brad Hawpe and Garret Atkins to change positions to outfield and third base on their way to the big leagues. Others, such as Ryan Shealy and Joe Koshansky, put up some big numbers on the way through the farm system, but fell by the wayside.
But Helton is approaching his 40th birthday and no longer is an everyday player.
When circumstances are such in baseball, the first reaction is to see what the farm system has to offer.
Let’s look at Ben Paulsen with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and Kiel Roling with the Tulsa Drillers.
“We see them as developing prospects,” said Zach Wilson, assistant director of player development for the Rockies. “Right now they are exactly where they should be. It’s way too early to speak on the future, but if there’s an opportunity, we’ll see what happens.”
Neither Paulsen nor Roling put up a lot of noticeable numbers in climbing up the development ladder. Helton served notice on his way to the Rockies, hitting .332, .352 and .352 in Double-A and Triple-A in his last two seasons of minor-league baseball in 1996 and 1997.
Tulsa manager Kevin Riggs has guided both Paulsen and Roling in their development time in Double-A.
“I wouldn’t lean one way or the other between the two players,” Riggs said. “They both should be in the discussion. Either one could become the heir apparent at first base unless we do something from the outside.”
Roling is playing for Riggs this year. He’s 6-foot-3, 240 pounds and throws and bats right-handed. The high point of his six seasons in the organization is his home runs. He’s second in the organization this year with 18 homers and has 83 in his career. Roling hit .331 in 2009 while with Single-A Asheville and led the South Atlantic League.
“Kiel has become as good as they get defensively at first base,” Riggs said.
The 26-year-old grew up in Grand Junction, giving him Colorado ties before he attended Arizona State. The Rockies selected him during the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He was drafted as a catcher.
“It would be weird not seeing Todd Helton at first base,” Roling said. “I’ve realized over the years that I have to hit with power to keep my job. Being from Colorado, if I get an opportunity next year, it would be special.”
Riggs said Paulsen has a “legitimate bat and is a solid defender.”
With 10 triples, 11 home runs and a .301 batting average for the Triple-A Sky Sox, Paulsen’s fifth season in the organization is his best. He will be 26 in October, bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He was a third-round draft pick out of Clemson by the Rockies in 2009.
“We’re never going to replace Todd Helton,” Paulsen said. “Realistically, we’ll develop as best as we can as a first baseman.”
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