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Paulsen eager to work his way into lineup

Outfielder-first baseman made most of his opportunities in 2014
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- It's not clear how the Rockies' roster will look in 2015, since the push for improved starting pitching could lead to roster changes. But whatever happens, Ben Paulsen hopes to prove he is capable of earning a wire-to-wire roster spot.

The left-handed Paulsen yo-yoed between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs this past season, but did quite well in his small Major League sample as a first baseman and pinch-hitter -- .317 with a .348 on-base percentage, four home runs and four doubles in 66 plate appearances over 31 games. As a pinch-hitter, Paulsen went 4-for-14 (.286) with a home run and a double. Now, he hopes to expand his talents in hopes of expanding his opportunities.

DENVER -- It's not clear how the Rockies' roster will look in 2015, since the push for improved starting pitching could lead to roster changes. But whatever happens, Ben Paulsen hopes to prove he is capable of earning a wire-to-wire roster spot.

The left-handed Paulsen yo-yoed between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs this past season, but did quite well in his small Major League sample as a first baseman and pinch-hitter -- .317 with a .348 on-base percentage, four home runs and four doubles in 66 plate appearances over 31 games. As a pinch-hitter, Paulsen went 4-for-14 (.286) with a home run and a double. Now, he hopes to expand his talents in hopes of expanding his opportunities.

"I appreciate just the opportunity -- that's all I ask for -- and I think I took advantage of it and I had fun," Paulsen said. "The main thing now is seeing me in the outfield. I think that's going be the main focus, getting me ready to make an impact quicker. I want to approach being an outfielder, not just a first baseman or an infielder."

The intriguing debut was a long time coming for Paulsen, 27, selected out of Clemson in the third round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. In past years, players such as Todd Helton and Michael Cuddyer blocked his path to the Majors. Paulsen needed the time, anyhow, given that he struggled to .241 and .255 averages at Double-A in 2011 and 2012 while learning to hit for power. He completed that piece of the puzzle in 2014, when he hit .294 with 20 home runs, 32 doubles and six triples in 117 games at Triple-A.

A neck injury to Justin Morneau opened the door for many of the starts Paulsen made at first base -- 10, with 15 total appearances. He also made three appearances, a total of 17 innings, in right field.

"When he got his opportunity up here, he was ready for it," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He performed very well. I've tried to find different spots on the field for him to get him in the lineup. That tells you I really like the kid, and think he can be a part of this thing next year."

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said Paulsen was impressive.

"He came up and made people take notice," Bridich said. "I won't speak for Walt, but it was a feel-good story for this kid, after working so hard for so many years, he finally got his chance and when he did, he didn't disappoint. To be thrown into the outfield for the first time and having shown athleticism and shown versatility, it can only help."

Paulsen has possibilities for playing time.

Cuddyer signed with the Mets as a free agent, which potentially could open at-bats at first base and in right field. The team's search for starting pitching could lead to trades. Morneau or right-handed hitting Drew Stubbs could draw interest. The club also will listen if teams want to talk about star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, although Gonzalez's oft-injured status and high salary are impediments to a deal.

Also, the Rockies' small- to mid-market payroll doesn't leave room for a higher-priced veteran bench player. One of the Rockies' main weapons off the bench in 2014 was Brandon Barnes, who led Major League pinch-hitters in hits (17), runs (12) and triples (3).

It would take a major leap for Paulsen to go from his status in 2014 to an everyday job going into next season, regardless of what the Rockies do in the trade market. But over the last two years, young players Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson made the most of their pinch-hitting and sporadic starts and hit their way into the lineup.

"It's a tough role for any young player, but you saw Brandon Barnes do a nice job this year," Weiss said. "One of my philosophies is I don't like young players sitting around for too long. I try to keep guys involved. If I have a young player up here and he's not an everyday guy, I'm going to find at-bats for him.

"I don't have a problem with a young guy. If he can handle it and you feel like he can give you a good at-bat late in the game, you can match up well with him."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Colorado Rockies, Ben Paulsen