First base is notthe best career path in the Rockies' organization, not as long as five-timeAll-Star Todd Helton, 32, who has a career .337 average and a contract thatruns through 2011, is playing the position. But it wouldn't be accurate to saythat Colorado has no place for Shealy, a 6'5", 235-pound prospect with abooming bat and, unfortunately for him, a first baseman's mitt. "I've got aspot for him," says manager Clint Hurdle. "The batter's box."
Themajor-league-ready Shealy, 26, hit .330 with two homers and a .413 OBP in 91 atbats with the Rockies last year (while Helton was sidelined with a strainedleft calf muscle), which is why they planned to give him a crash course inplaying the outfield this spring. That experiment was scuttled early in campwhen Shealy came down with an inflamed right elbow, the same joint on which hehad reconstructive surgery six years ago while at the University of Florida.Shealy thinks the flare-up may have been the result of making throws from theoutfield.
The injury haskept Shealy out of action since March 13 and almost surely punched his ticketback to Triple A Colorado Springs, where he hit .328 with 26 home runs in 108games last year. It may also have punched his ticket out of the organization;trade speculation has increased since his injury, after which the Rockies saidthat Shealy would not be returning to the outfield. (The Red Sox and theIndians had already expressed interest in him.)
It's a familiarstory in the NL: The Brewers (Lyle Overbay out, Prince Fielder in) and thePhillies (Jim Thome out, Ryan Howard in) broke up first base logjams withtrades this winter. All of which means that the biggest unknown regardingShealy is his future big league address, not his bat. "He's got a ton ofpower," Hurdle says. "There really isn't much question about him as ahitter.