Baker ready to add first to repertoire
Rookie counting on versatility to get bat in lineup
PHOENIX -- Rockies rookie Jeff Baker has to figure out how to be a multi-position reserve in the Major Leagues. Part of it entails adding a new position -- first base -- to the three he has played.But the new responsibilities haven't affected his ability to perform his main task -- hitting. "I'm going to be bouncing around -- first and third, possibly left and right," Baker said. "But you can't take your defense over to your offense. You've got to stay fresh mentally." Baker, 25, will never get stale if he continues to hit. His hot bat this spring (.297, 3 HR, 9 RBI) is a continuation of the offensive work he did in 2006. Baker hit .305 with 20 home runs and 54 extra-base hits in 120 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs before lighting up the Majors for a .368 average, five home runs and 14 extra-base hits in 18 games with the Rockies to finish the year. Because the Rockies play at Coors Field, they usually carry 12 pitchers -- one more than some teams -- so it helps to have players they can start or play multiple innings late in games at any of the corner positions. Terry Shumpert, Greg Norton and Luis Gonzalez have filled that roster spot with some success in recent seasons. Baker, who was 0-for-1 with a walk against the Brewers on Thursday before rain and hail halted the game and wiped out all statistics, has the power potential that the Rockies haven't had from such a player. Like those who have filled his role with the Rockies in the past, Baker is adept at hitting high fastballs and has a good shot at getting them from late-innings relievers. "I'm going to keep the same approach whether it's pinch-hitting or starting, and that's just looking for a ball up in the zone and trying not to miss it," Baker said. "You're not going to get too many pitches or too many at-bats, so when you do get that mistake you have to hit it."
Baker is a good candidate to become a starter should one of the important corner players -- Todd Helton at first, Garrett Atkins at third, Matt Holliday in left and Brad Hawpe in right -- have to miss an extended period.Baker's main position is third base, where he played at Clemson and where he spent the early part of his Minor League career. He moved to right field last spring and played in right and left during his month with the Rockies. At first base, his knowledge of situations and footwork are works in progress. "He's got enough bat to play anywhere for a while," manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's one thing he continues to bring. He's been very eager in his work defensively, at third, at first and in the outfield. He's a valued addition." Baker said, "I feel good at all four of them. Wherever I play, I'll play. If I get the opportunity to play extended, great. If I don't, I'm here to help the team win, whether it's double-switching, starting some games, pinch-hitting. I'll just play, and let it hang out."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.