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 in spring training this year when Michael Toglia headed to a back field at Salt River to work on the intricacies of playing first base with Todd Helton, who re-joined the club as a special assistant. In those early-morning sessions, Toglia put on Helton’s mini-glove, and the bond between Rockies past and Rockies future began where no one was watching.
“He would throw me a bunch of picks and I would train with his mini-glove, and we’d talk about the game, how we approach it,” Toglia said. “We immediately bonded over the fact that we played first base, we took a lot of pride in our defense. We established a strong connection through (those back-field sessions), and throughout the year he’s come out to Hartford and we’ve been able to build our relationship even more. We talk hitting and defense and the mental side of baseball.”
Toglia, 23, is slashing .209/.316/.421 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs through 75 games for Double-A Hartford. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound switch-hitter is tracking to make his major league debut in the next year or two if he improves at the plate. Helton sees a potential Gold Glove talent who has “great 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 the baseball. He works hard at it. He can use some work at the plate, but there is really nothing big he needs to work on defensively.”
Helton, Colorado’s all-time leader in doubles (592) and home runs (369), is attempting to pass on the knowledge that made him a Hall of Fame-caliber gap hitter with power — much like the hitter Toglia hopes to become. Helton describes his role as “an evaluator and a part-time teacher,” and he travels once a month, usually spending about a week with a Colorado minor league affiliate.
“He’s helped me a lot with redefining my approach, and honing in on how to use the whole field, stay to the middle, and use that opposite field gap on a fastball that allows you to stay on offspeed a lot easier,” Toglia said. “He talks about how he did it consistently and how it could work for me and other guys.”
Both master and apprentice acknowledge there’s still room for growth as a hitter. Toglia has a 34.3% strikeout rate this year, which has contributed to his dip in average from the Class-A levels last year. He said “there’s no doubt about my ability to get it done, it’s just learning about how to be more consistent about it.”
Helton believes “a bigger load” will help Toglia be more consistent, and develop more power, for the next level. Helton thinks Toglia should be shifting more weight onto his back leg before the pitch.
“He just has so much natural power that he doesn’t do that,” Helton said. “He’s not recognizing some pitches because he’s not getting back far enough (in his load).”
Toglia’s bat heated up over the past month as he’s acclimating to Double-A pitching, and Rockies farm director Chris Forbes noted “you can tell he feels very comfortable in going to the oppo-gap, and he’s making quicker adjustments during (at-bats and in-game).”
The Rockies are also considering expanding Toglia’s defensive versatility to include third base.
“There’s more of a corner profile that we can add, even as he’s a very solid first baseman,” Forbes said. “(Offensively) he’s recognizing pitches and he’s recognizing what the plan of attack (against him) is, so we’ve just to keep on that trend. Those conversations that he has with Todd are certainly helping in that.
“To create a dynamic where you’ve built a relationship with a potential Hall of Famer who’s a homegrown Rockie, that’s fantastic. Please do, and we’ve got other players who are doing it. Between Todd and what (former manager and current special assistant) Clint Hurdle brings to the table, there’s a lot of baseball conversations going on every day, and we’re using those two guys not only as resources but as mentors to these guys, too.”
Staff reporter Patrick Saunders contributed to this story.