With the Colorado Rockies at 27-17 and sitting atop the National League West, the team seems to be doing all the right things.
The offense has been strong when needed, and the starting rotation and bullpen have exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. Most people seem to think of Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, and even Trevor Story when they think of the Rockies, but another player on this roster is arguably one of the best center fielders in baseball.
His name is Charlie Blackmon.
He first started to gain attention in 2014, when he notched 27 hits in his first 27 games. He finished April with a slash line of .389/.434/.642 with five homers and 18 RBIs. He fell back to earth over the next few months, but earned his first All-Star nod that July. Following the All-Star break, Blackmon cooled off significantly. He carried a .698 OPS through the remainder of the season, and led many to think he had a fluky first half.d
Blackmon’s 2015 season was similar to the prior year, except that he added base running to his skill set. He stole 28 bags in 2014 and was known as an above-average runner, but he really started to separate himself in 2015, when he stole 43 bases. Despite the improvement on the bases, Blackmon still was determined to take his offense to the next level, and he did just that in 2016.
In 143 games, Blackmon slashed .324/.381/.552 with a whopping 29 home runs and 82 RBI. What makes those numbers even more impressive is that he was the lead-off hitter in 135 of those games. It’s easy for people to attribute his success to playing half of his games at Coors Field, but his home-road splits were nearly identical. The difference in OPS was just 13 points more at home, although he hit five more homers and five more doubles on the road. He finished the year with the second-highest OPS for a center fielder, just behind Mike Trout.
He’s clearly not as elite as Trout (no one is), but he’s easily among the top center fielders and lead-off hitters in baseball. Manager Bud Black agreed in a recent interview with The Denver Post.
“I think, present day, Charlie ranks up there as one of the best, for sure,” Black said. “When he steps in the box to start the game, it’s dangerous for the pitcher. That’s not a good feeling when the guy has the ability to homer.”
So far in 2017, Blackmon seems to be increasing his ceiling. Prior to Saturday’s game, he had a .961 OPS, nine homers and 31 RBIs.
Blackmon has made himself into a unique lead-off hitter in that he’s able to work counts and draw walks, but also drive in the hitters who get on base at the bottom of the order. His 31 RBIs are the most in baseball from the lead-off spot, and it’s not even close. Jean Segura has the second most RBIs in that role with 19.
dAlthough Blackmon doesn’t get the recognition other players on the team receive, which still isn’t much, he’s been one of the most productive players in baseball the last three years. While the Rockies continue to play for their first postseason berth since 2009, Blackmon will continue to quietly be the driving force behind the team.
By Nick Stephens