7/24/2014 5:20 P.M. ET
Paulsen proving quick study in first big league stint
First baseman impressing Rockies with knowledge of game, approach at plate
By Cody Ulm / MLB.com
DENVER -- One day before receiving the call to the Rockies for his Major League debut on Monday, first baseman Ben Paulsen decided to trim his Charlie Blackmon-esque beard into an upper-lip upholstery that even Tom Selleck would be proud of.
"I shaved it because I thought I needed a change," Paulsen said. "People knew how ridiculous I looked with this, but they were like, 'You've got to keep it.'"
Call it mustache mojo or call it a long time coming, but by the time Wednesday rolled around, Paulsen was being intentionally walked by Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg just three games into his Major League career.
Paulsen has already joined the man he's been groomed to replace -- first baseman Todd Helton -- as one of three Rockies to begin their time in the Majors with consecutive multihit games. But after spending six seasons in the Minors honing his craft, Paulsen, a 2009 third-round pick, isn't trying to get ahead of himself.
"It's an honor to play first base for the Rockies and be drafted by them and be in those footsteps of Todd Helton, but it's only Day 3," Paulsen said.
Paulsen knows that first base has never been an easy place to make a name for yourself in the Mile High City. And it's looking more crowded than ever now that Helton has retired after 17 seasons.
Rather than hand first base over to Paulsen or 2010 first-round pick Kyle Parker, Colorado signed Justin Morneau to a two-year, $12.5 million deal this past winter.
"He's behind a legend at first base, and then Todd retires and he's still off the roster and in Triple-A," manager Walt Weiss said. "It was easy for me to say, 'Hey man, just keep plugging away.' But it's a lot tougher to do, and that's what he did."
Paulsen's professionalism is what had him feeling he was prepared to make a lasting impression. It's also what helped the 26-year-old continue to make progress once he was told his wait would continue.
"I think I've been ready for a while in just how I need to go about the game and how to be a professional," Paulsen said. "The first day I walked into Spring Training, [Triple-A Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill] said, 'You are a professional baseball player. I want you to act like a professional baseball player this whole time, no matter where you are.' And that really stuck with me."
As did the teachings of the "two-headed monster" of Hill and Colorado Springs assistant coach Dave Hajek once Paulsen began his second Triple-A stint this season.
Hill hammered home the concept of a "professional at-bat" with Paulsen, challenging him to see as many pitches as possible. That newfound patience has allowed Paulsen to be more aggressive when his pitch finally does come, resulting in 15 home runs in 95 games with Colorado Springs. In 123 games at the same level last season, Paulsen hit 18.
"Last year, I was just going out there and playing," Paulsen said. "[Hill] at the beginning of this year was like, 'We're going to have these talks. I'm going to open up my world of hitting to you, because I think you can absorb it.' Once he opened up, I just soaked it in and tried to get as much information out of him as I could, because he's so knowledgeable on the craft of hitting."
Spending three of the past four seasons with Hajek has allowed for the two to form a unique chemistry in the cage. Hajek has also fed into Hill's approach by intentionally throwing bad pitches to Paulsen in an effort to get him to take more. The technique has helped boost Paulsen's Triple-A on-base percentage from .345 in 2013 to .380 this year.
"I have different routines that I do different days, but he knows what I need to get better," Paulsen said. "We just mesh in the cage."
As difficult as the wait was, that extra refinement could put Paulsen in a superior position to take over as the Rockies' next homegrown first-base product -- even with the presence of fellow Clemson product Parker.
Although it's early, the initial results are promising.
Including a single in his first Major League at-bat Monday, Paulsen has gone 5-for-11 with two RBIs, a double and a run scored in the three games since Morneau landed on the disabled list with a neck injury.
Beyond the box score, Weiss was most impressed with a fleeting exchange between Paulsen and left-hander Franklin Morales on Monday.
"Frankie had to cover first base at one point, and Benny had the awareness to go the mound [after that] to give Frankie a second to catch his breath and gather himself," Weiss said. "The guy is in his Major League debut doing that. That didn't go over my head."
To Paulsen, that's "just playing the game of baseball."
"When he ran over to first base, I just wanted to give him time to get ready," Paulsen said. "This is one of the most important places to do it with the elevation, because you can tell by just walking up the stairs that you might get a little winded. That's where I've matured as a baseball player, just trying to do little things like that."
Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.