For the Rockies’ first baseman of the future to realize his potential, he’s tapping into the club’s great first baseman of the past.
The partnership began during spring training this year when Michael Toglia headed to a backcourt in Salt River to work out the intricacies of playing first base with Todd Helton, who joined the club as a as a special assistant. During those morning sessions, Toglia pulled on Helton’s mini-glove, and the connection between the past and the future of the Rockies began where no one was looking.
“He was throwing a bunch of picks at me and I was practicing with his mini glove, and we were talking about the game, how we approach it,” Toglia said. “We bonded immediately because we were playing first base, we were very proud of our defense. We made a strong connection through (those backcourt sessions), and throughout the year he came to Hartford and we were able to strengthen our relationship even more. We talk about hitting and defending and the mental side of baseball.
Toglia, 23, is cutting .209/.316/.421 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in 75 games for Double-A Hartford. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound hitter is aiming to make his major league debut within the next year or two if he improves at the plate. Helton sees a potential talent from Gold Glove who has “big hands” around the bag.
“He still needs to work on his lower half, getting his feet in tune with his upper body (defensively),” Helton said. “But other than that, he can really field baseball. He works hard at it. He can use a little home plate work, but there’s really nothing big he needs to work on defensively.
Helton, Colorado’s all-time leader in doubles (592) and home runs (369), is trying to pass on the knowledge that made him a Hall of Fame-caliber power hitter — much like the hitter Toglia hopes to become . Helton describes his role as “a part-time assessor and teacher”, and he travels once a month, usually spending about a week with a Colorado minor league affiliate.
“He helped me a lot in redefining my approach and perfecting how to use the whole court, stay in the middle and use that opposite court gap on a fastball that makes it much easier for you to stay off speed. “, said Toglia. . “He talks about how he’s done it consistently and how it could work for me and other guys.”
Both master and apprentice recognize that there is still room for growth as a hitter. Toglia have a withdrawal rate of 34.3% this year, which has contributed to their average drop from Class A levels last year. He said “there’s no questioning my ability to do it, it’s just learning to be more consistent about it.”
Helton thinks a “heavier loadout” will help Toglia be more consistent and develop more power for the next level. Helton thinks Toglia should transfer more weight to his back leg before the pitch.
“He’s got so much natural power that he doesn’t do that,” Helton said. “He doesn’t recognize some throws because he doesn’t back up far enough (in his charge).”
Toglia’s bat has warmed up over the past month as he acclimates to Double-A pitching, and Rockies farm manager Chris Forbes noted “you can tell he feels very comfortable going to the oppo-gap, and he makes quicker adjustments during (at bat and in play).
The Rockies are also considering expanding Toglia’s defensive versatility to include third base.
“There’s more of a corner profile we can add, even though he’s a very solid first baseman,” Forbes said. “(Offensively) he recognizes the throws and he recognizes what the plan of attack is (against him), so we just have to continue that trend. Those conversations he has with Todd definitely help with that.
“To create a dynamic where you’ve built a relationship with a potential Hall of Famer who’s a local Rockie, that’s fantastic. Do that, and we have other players who do that. Between Todd and what (former manager and current special assistant) Clint Hurdle brings to the table, there’s a lot of baseball conversation going on every day, and we use these two guys not only as resources but also as mentors for these guys.”
Staff reporter Patrick Saunders contributed to this story.