Each October, MLB teams send a collection of top minor league prospects to the Arizona Fall League. The AFL consists of six teams; each is a collaboration of seven prospects from five different franchises. The league was founded in 1992 and it is a veritable showcase for future major league talent. Past alumni of the AFL includes Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Jason Giambi, Todd Helton, Shawn Green, Albert Pujols, Garret Anderson, Troy Percival, Roy Halladay, Alfonso Soriano, Torii Hunter, Derek Lee, Jermaine Dye, and Jimmy Rollins — just to name a few. Oh, and a guy named Michael Jordan also played in the AFL. According the 2010 AFL Media Guide, roughly 3000 prospects have played in the league and over 1800 of them went on to play in the big leagues. There is no better place to view baseball’s future stars.
The Rockies’ affiliate in the AFL is the Scottsdale Scorpions. They share the Scottsdale team with the Giants, Nationals, Diamondbacks, and Orioles. This past fall, they sent the following players to Scottsdale: catcher Jordan Pacheco, shortstop Thomas Field, centerfielder Charlie Blackmon and pitchers Greg Reynolds, Rex Brothers, Bruce Billings and Adam Jorgenson. The Scorpions won the AFL championship and all seven Rockies played a part in the Scorpions’ success. All of Colorado’s 2010 AFL prospects have a bright future, but the focus of this write up is Charlie Blackmon.
Blackmon is the Rockies’ top outfield prospect. He was sent to the AFL to see how his game stood up against other fine talent. He started the fall in a 0-11 slump, but he finished strong. In twenty games, he slugged three homeruns. More impressively, he drew thirteen walks in just seventy-two at-bats, good for a .372 OBP. Overall, it was a successful fall campaign for Charlie. He benefitted from the exposure and cemented his status as an elite prospect in the Rockies’ system.
In high school, Blackmon was both an outfielder and a pitcher. He was successful at both positions, but scouts thought his future was as a pitcher. He was drafted out of high school by the Marlins in the 28th round of the 2004 draft, but opted to attend Young Harris College in Georgia. He spent two years at Young Harris, pitching exclusively. He was named to numerous all star teams during his time there and was drafted by the Red Sox in the 20th round of the 2005 draft. He turned down the chance to play for Boston and chose to attend Georgia Tech instead.
The Yellow Jackets recruited Blackmon as a pitcher, but elbow tendinitis shelved him for most of 2007. He missed so much time that he was given a medical redshirt for that season. The following summer, Blackmon played in the Texas Collegiate League with the Colleyville LoneStars. It was with Colleyville that Blackmon starting playing in the outfield again. He lobbied manager Rusty Greer (coincidently a childhood hero of mine) for a chance to hit. Greer, impressed with Charlie’s left-handed swing and his speed, complied and sent him to centerfield. It was fate. He led Colleyville in hitting and his career took off like a rocket ship.
The following year at Georgia Tech, Blackmon became the Yellow Jackets’ starting right fielder. Hitting leadoff, he batted an incredible .397 with a 1.033 OPS. He also stole 25 bases in 30 attempts. After his impressive season, the Rockies selected Blackmon in the second round of the 2008 draft. In just one season, he elevated himself from an injured pitcher to a promising outfielder.
The Rockies immediately sent Blackmon to Tri-City where played in 68 games for the Dust Devils. He hit .338 with an OBP of .390. He also made a name for himself with his defense in centerfield. Charlie is an intelligent guy that gets a good read on the ball off the bat. He has terrific range and the type of arm that you would expect of a former pitcher.
Blackmon spent his second minor league season with Modesto and was once again a standout. He hit .307, posted an .803 OPS and stole 30 bases. He only struck out 83 times in 550 at-bats, while walking 39 times. His defense in center was even more impressive. Blackmon scored a 13 in total zone fielding runs above average. Trust me; that’s very respectable.
Because of a nagging hamstring injury, Charlie got off to a late start in 2010, but he put together another very solid season. Playing for AA Tulsa, he hit 11 homeruns and 22 doubles in just 337 ABs, while only striking out 43 times. He hit .307 and stole 19 bases. He followed this terrific year with his previously discussed Arizona Fall League season.
Defensively, Blackmon is ready for the big leagues. The Rockies could play him at left, center or right and feel confident. However, Colorado is rich in outfield talent and there is no room for Blackmon in Denver. Seth Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs and Dexter Fowler are all in place with the big club and promising prospect Cole Gardner was placed on the 40 man roster in December. Plus, the organization lists Eric Young Jr. as an outfielder, even though he can play second as well. Something will have to give before Blackmon can see any real time with the Rockies.
If Dexter Fowler struggles again this year, Charlie could push for his spot. Fowler is faster than Blackmon, but he isn’t a better outfielder. Dexter’s potential is high, but the Rox could give up on him if his talent doesn’t start to translate on the field. If the Rox were to give up on Fowler, Blackmon would be a prime candidate to take over.
When a great talent like Blackmon gets log-jammed in the minors, he inevitably becomes a trade target. His name has already come up in the Michael Young talks with Texas. Thankfully, the Rockies didn’t make that move, but they might next time. In the end, it’s a nice problem to have. In Blackmon, the Rockies have something of value. If they trade him, they are likely to receive a nice return. If he becomes a better player than Fowler, then the Rockies can trade Dexter instead. Either way, Blackmon will probably only play one more season in the minors. His immense talent will eventually force the Rockies to make a tough decision.
Topics: Adam Jorgenson, Arizona Fall League, Bruce Billings, Carlos Gonzalez, Charles Blackmon, Cole Gardner, Dexter Fowler, Eric Young Jr., Greg Reynolds, Jordan Pacheco, Michael Young, Rex Brothers, Rusty Greer, Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith, Thomas Field