Rockies’ Top 5 first basemen: Harding'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 … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

There isn’t much of a debate that Todd Helton is the top first baseman in Rockies history. Heck, Andres Galarraga, Helton’s predecessor, at No. 2 is easy. But after that, it gets tough. Just three players have more than 1,000 plate appearances at that position, and Daniel Murphy’s 104 games at first last season put him seventh in club history.

Here is Thomas Harding’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Rockies history. Next week: Second basemen.

1)  (1997-2013)
Key fact: Helton’s 61.8 Baseball-Reference WAR is highest in club history

Over 10 seasons -- his rookie year of 1998 through the team’s only World Series trip in '07 -- Helton compiled a 144 OPS+ (which adjusts for park effects) and a 1.017 OPS. He also made five All-Star Games and earned four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. During these prime years, however, the Rockies had only two winning seasons. But in a post-career interview, Helton explained how he powered through the hard times and maintained a greatness that has earned him Hall of Fame consideration.

“You watch the playoffs now and some of those guys are at the peak of their career, and they’re in the playoffs and the World Series,” Helton said. “That’s the way you’d like to time it. But that’s not how it works for everybody.

“But I always knew we were going to do some good things. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. But I did have that underlying feeling that we were gong to, sooner or later, accomplish what I thought would be winning the World Series. We came close.”

Back problems reduced Helton’s numbers in his final years. But he squeezed out a .325/.416/.489 performance in 2009 to help the club back to the postseason.

2)  (1994-97)
Key fact: Galarraga led the National League in RBIs with 150 in 1996 and 140 in '97

Galarraga struggled through a hand injury and an out-of-whack swing with the Cardinals in 1992, but that team’s hitting coach, Don Baylor, became manager of the expansion Rockies in '93 and believed in him enough to insist that Galarraga be signed. All Galarraga did was go on to win that year's NL batting title, hitting .370.

Galarraga was a key figure in the Blake Street Bombers era. From the opening of Coors Field in 1995 through '97, he batted .301 with 119 home runs, 396 RBIs and a .927 OPS.

After the ’97 season, the Rockies watched him sign with the Braves as a free agent and turned to Helton.

3)  (2014-15)
Key fact: Morneau slashed .316/.363/.487 in 184 games from 2014-15

One of the game’s top players with the Twins from 2003-13, Morneau finished the ’13 season with the Pirates then had his last big season with the Rockies in '14. He won the NL batting title that year with a .319 average, and his .496 slugging percentage recalled his standout days with Minnesota. Morneau, who saw his prime years with the Twins curtailed by concussions, suffered another one with the Rockies in '15, but he returned for the final month and finished with a .310/.363/.458 slash line.

4)  (2016-17, '19)
Key fact: After Helton and Galarraga, Reynolds’ 1,118 plate appearances and 281 games are the most of any Rockies player at first base. Only seven have played more than 100 games at first.

Reynolds accomplished career highs in batting average (.282) and on-base percentage (.356) in 2016, and powered 30 home runs and 97 RBIs in '17. A third baseman early in his career, Reynolds developed into a solid defender at first. Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado often said Reynolds’ ability to handle different types of throws increased his confidence to make difficult plays.

5)  (2009-12)
Key fact: Giambi’s 298 plate appearances at first base rank 10th in Rockies history

Giambi had some big pinch-hits to help the Rockies reach the postseason in 2009, and he was able to find playing time with Helton dealing with injuries. Giambi was productive when on the field, evidenced by his .895 OPS as a first baseman. Because Galarraga and then Helton were the only first basemen with significant games and accomplishments for the club, Giambi makes this list.