D-backs’ Top 5 first basemen: Gilbert’s take

March 31st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. We also asked fans to weigh in on Twitter:

Here is Steve Gilbert’s ranking of the top five first basemen in D-backs history. Next week: second basemen.

1. Paul Goldschmidt, 2011-18
Key fact: 40.7 bWAR with D-backs is second only to Randy Johnson in franchise history

Fun fact: Presented his father with his second Gold Glove Award as a way of saying thank you for all the years he hit him grounders and threw him batting practice

It’s hard to believe just how overlooked was before he reached the big leagues. The lone scholarship offer the Houston native had was from Texas State University, and he was not selected until the eighth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the D-backs. He was tagged early in his Minor League career as having a slow bat and a below-average glove.

But Goldschmidt made those evaluations look foolish after he got to the big leagues in 2011. During his seven-plus years with the D-backs, Goldschmidt finished second in the National League MVP race twice and third once. He collected four Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves while appearing in six All-Star Games.

The D-backs dealt Goldschmidt, who was one year away from free agency, to the Cardinals prior to the 2019 season and got a good return for him in right-hander Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly and Minor Leaguer Andy Young. Still, general manager Mike Hazen was well aware of the fact that Goldschmidt had become the face of the franchise for this generation of D-backs fans.

“I mean look, I’m going to go down forever as the one who traded Paul Goldschmidt,” Hazen said. “That’s never going to change.”

2. Erubiel Durazo, 1999-2002
Key fact: Hit .364 in the 2001 World Series

Fun fact: Resides in Hermosillo, Mexico, and serves as advisor for D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall

’s power and strike zone discipline made him a feared hitter. The D-backs had Travis Lee and then Mark Grace playing ahead of him, which limited his at-bats. During his four years with the D-backs, his high for games played in a season was 92.

But man, could Durazo get on base. His on-base percentages starting in 1999 were .422, .373, .372 and .395.

“Such a quick bat with explosive power,” former GM Joe Garagiola Jr. said. “And he was good defensively. You look at him and you might not think of that, but he was.”

Durazo went from Hermosillo to Tucson, Ariz., to live with a family so that he could play high school baseball and hopefully be drafted. He was passed over in the MLB Draft in 1993 and, after going to Pima Community College in Tucson, again went undrafted in 1995. The D-backs signed him out of the Mexican League in 1998 when he was playing for the Monterrey Sultans, with whom the D-backs had a working agreement.

3. Conor Jackson, 2005-10
Key fact: Taking out his rookie year and illness-marred 2009-10, Jackson hit .292/.371/.451 with the D-backs

Fun fact: His father, John M. Jackson, is a renowned actor best known for playing Admiral A.J. Chegwidden in the TV series “JAG”

was drafted by the D-backs in the first round in 2003 out of Cal, and he rose quickly through the system, making his big league debut in '05. While he didn’t have a ton of power, Jackson was a doubles machine and had great plate discipline, drawing more walks than strikeouts in '07 and coming close to doing so again in '08.

In the spring of 2009, Jackson contracted valley fever, which caused him to be extremely fatigued. While most people are able to recover from a bout with valley fever, Jackson’s lingered and he was never the same player again.

“We all thought he was going to be ‘The Guy,’” said Garagiola, who was GM when the club drafted Jackson. “He got that valley fever and just never recovered. 'Sad' is the right word. It was so unfair for him. He had outstanding makeup, from a great family, all the potential in the world.”

4. Greg Colbrunn, 1999-2002 and 2004
Key fact: Had a .384 on-base percentage and a .911 OPS in an Arizona uniform

Fun fact: Has won two championships while managing in the D-backs' annual Fantasy Camp

is a better baseball player than most remember. He was originally a catcher in the Expos’ system before transitioning to third and first base in the big leagues. He became a feared pinch-hitter and was lauded by teammates and management for his ability to read a game and know when he might be called upon. It was not a surprise when he became a manager in the Minor Leagues following his playing career.

The D-backs tried to sign Colbrunn prior to their inaugural 1998 season, but with Travis Lee set to be the starter, Colbrunn elected to go to Colorado, where he would have the opportunity to play every day. The following offseason, though, the D-backs were able to sign him. While he didn’t play a ton at first for the D-backs, he raked when he did. The most games he played in a single season for the D-backs came in 2000, when he appeared in 116 games -- 99 at first base -- and hit .313/.405/.523.

“In his own way, he was as important a guy that we had during that run of success,” Garagiola said. “Colby was always ready. I told him, ‘You’re going to be a terrific manager one day.’”

5. Mark Grace, 2001-03
Key fact: Started game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series

Fun fact: Came on to pitch during a blowout game in 2002 and gave up a homer to David Ross, the first of his career

gets the nod here for his contributions to the 2001 World Series team. After a 13-year career with the Cubs, Grace signed a free-agent deal with the D-backs prior to the 2001 season. His best year for the D-backs was '01, when he hit .298/.386/.466 in the regular season and .375 in the NL Championship Series.

But he’ll always be best remembered as the guy who led off the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with a base hit against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The D-backs rallied for a pair of runs in the inning to beat the Yankees.

“He was such a perfect fit for that team,” Garagiola said. “Veteran guy, the moment was never too big for him.”