The growth of Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon has gone better than anyone in the organization could have reasonably hoped for.
A former second-round draft pick, Charlie Blackmon started as a fringe prospect and has become one of the better center fielders in Major League Baseball. Respect from a national audience, however, has been harder to find.
Blackmon reached the Majors for the first time in 2011, but his time as a starter didn’t arrive until later. Blackmon struggled to establish himself in limited playing time and went back and forth between the minors and Denver. After spending half of 2013 in Triple-A, injuries led to Blackmon getting another call-up in July.
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Finally given an opportunity to play on a regular basis, Blackmon flourished. His .309 average over 258 plate appearances convinced the Rockies to trade Dexter Fowler and name Blackmon the starting center fielder in 2014. While the trade was questionable, the call to make Blackmon a starter was rewarded immediately as he made the National League All-Star team in 2014.
Since that time, Blackmon has continued to put up big numbers at the plate while giving Colorado passable defense in center field. However, perhaps because of his slow, unexpected rise to success or perhaps because people are skeptical of Coors Field, Blackmon is rarely mentioned in national discussions of the game’s better center fielders.
It’s the league’s worst-kept secret that Coors Field is a great place to hit. Many Rockies hitters post better numbers playing at home, but Blackmon took it to an extreme in his first two seasons as a starter. Blackmon hit .331 at Coors, but just .240 away from Denver.
This led many to label Blackmon’s success a product of circumstance rather than skill. It’s not fair to say road stats are a perfect indicator of a player’s talent level, but that level of discrepancy in his home/road splits was hard to ignore.
Whether it’s a Coors Field bias or some other reason, analysts have largely dismissed Blackmon’s accomplishments. When MLB Network ranked their top-10 center fielders back in January, 13 different players were named across three lists … and Blackmon wasn’t one of them. CBS Sports ranked the top-15 center fielders, and Blackmon still didn’t find a spot on the list.
Blackmon is having a career year in 2016, slashing .317/.376/.499 (all would be career highs). Most people haven’t noticed anything different about Blackmon this year because the increase in his overall numbers has been relatively small.
But in 199 at-bats on the road this season, Blackmon is hitting .302, over 40 points higher than his career average away from home. Perhaps even more importantly from the leadoff position, his on-base percentage in road games is up to a respectable .362 (compared to a career mark of .299).
Yes, 199 at-bats is far from a definitive sample size, but those numbers represent massive improvement over past results. Before this season, Blackmon’s offense was a liability on the road. In 2016, his road numbers are only slightly worse than his (terrific as usual) home numbers.
The numerous challenges Rockies players face when they leave home have been well-documented throughout the years. Blackmon is a player who took more time than most to hit his peak. It stands to reason then, that he might just now be figuring out a way to succeed away from Colorado.
There was a time not all that long ago where hardly anyone would have thought that Charlie Blackmon would be a starting center fielder in the major leagues. Even once he won the job, struggles with hitting on the road caused people to label him a mediocre player with inflated statistics.
But if Charlie Blackmon continues to handle pitching away from home the way he has this season, it might not be long before the critics are forced to start taking him seriously.