FROM EVERYDAY PLAYER TO THE NEXT LEVEL – CHARLIE BACLKMON AND NOLAN ARENADO BUILD ON 2013
In a lost season a team has to get more out of it than just a high #1 draft pick. Seeing young talent break-out and make themselves part of your long-term plans is a huge plus. Corey Dickerson and Tommy Kahnle, both who will enter 2015 at age 25, have appeared during this season to be just such type of players.
But of course baseball is a year-by-year game, so you need to see players who have proven they are part of their long-term plans to continue to growth. Two players that the Rockies saw last year make that mark continued this year to make progress and move to the next stage – All-Star performance. The two players who did that this year – Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado.
1) Charlie Blackmon – Like most of us, I read all the article last winter saying how clueless the Rockies were to trade Dexter Fowler. How could you trade a player who had such a great OBP and played such great defensive center field (both of which I think were far over-rated with Dexter, again, a player I really liked). The team kept waiting and waiting for him to become a great player. The talent was always there…but Dexter never broke out beyond what was basically a league average player. But in the second half of 2013 Blackmon, finally healthy (a bad luck player with minor but painful leg injuries), broke out with a .317/.824 and 5 homers while playing acceptable defense. To be honest, I think the break-out for Blackmon happened in Baltimore when Blackmon hit the homer onto Eutaw Street, something done only 73 times since Camden opened in 1992. http://colorado.rockies.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130817&content_id=57304212&vkey=news_col&c_id=col
The team gave Charlie a lot of ABs at the end of 2013, making him an everyday player. But they needed him to do what Dexter never could do – take it to the next level. Charlie did…at least fairly well. Blackmon carried the Rockies offense for much of early April and continued to be a solid part of the offense and line-up throughout the year. His 1st half numbers of .306/.830 is all you can ask of a lead-off hitter, with the 14 homers a bonus. And this has happened with him playing against almost all left-handers.
The question that remains is whether Blackmon can become the player they want leading off on the road. His Coors numbers dwarf anything we have seen from other Rockies leadoff men:- .340/.945 and 11 homers. But perhaps no other stat indicates the team’s problems on the road offensively then Blackmon: .248/.288/.634 with 3 homers. Blackmon just turned 28, and so there is question of whether these numbers can change – they need to (comparison to Dex in 2013, .214/.343/.678 with 5 homers on the road). Blackmon was an All-Star, and he has been a plus for the team. But the next step is increasing his road .OBP and .OPS.
I have asked in recent days whether or not trading Blackmon right now might not be the best move – his value will never be higher after all, and they can create a platoon to cover the ABs with Stubbs, Barnes, Dickerson, Parker, and when he returns Cuddy. David Dahl is the future center-fielder and lead-off man for the Rox – the question is when? He was just called up to Modesto (High A) and if he succeed there as he did in Asheville (moving to a higher level but from pitching league to hitting league) – .305/.345/.846 with 10 homers and 18 for 22 in steals, he could be at Tulsa to start 2015 and then it’s a question of success. 2016 does not seem out-of-line for his starting debut. So, with Blackmon it’s the issue of a) can he improve his defense b) can he improve his OBP on the road c) are the Rockies contenders in 2015 or not – if yes, you keep him if not, cash in the chip now and wait for Dahl.
2) Nolan Arenado – what a great kid but wow, what a frustrating kid. Remember in 2012 how his attitude cost him a chance to move forward and his attitude probably impacted his performance. He learned, and was at Coors by May 2013. The offense didn’t arrive with him – and I know I make this point all the time, but Arenado and Manny Machado of Baltimore are two very similar players, with Machado a faster and more athletic version. Machado came up in 2012 with great defense and average offense…just like Arenado in 2013. Then in 2013 Machado became a doubles machine (51), hit for a decent average (.283) but the power still hasn’t fully arrived (14 homers in 2013, 10 so far in just 67 games in 2014). Arenado has increased his batting average, his doubles, and his RBIs this year (and the hit streak was great to watch). But the power is still waiting for Arenado (# of homers on the road? A big fat 0 in 28 games). He is the spark-plug of the team but then…he dogs running out the ball the other night. Frustrating. But he is also young (just over 23) and had he not broken the finger in Atlanta, not only would be likely had been an All-Star with Blackmon, I think the Rockies would be closer to .500 than they are now. Arenado is a key part of this team going forward, but they need to continue to see the development – especially the power numbers on the road. While I hit on the lack of homers, Arenado has been a good road hitter – .321/.342/.776. Between the glove, the usually “energizer bunny” of the team, the good 2-out ABs and the future power, Nolan is growing just like you want to see. Will we see the jump like Machado has this year (despite Manny’s bad knee at the start of the year)? I sure hope so and there is no reason to think it won’t happen. The role Nolan and Tulo played in shutting down the left-side of the infield gave a confidence to the Rockies sinker-oriented pitching staff…and there is no reason it won’t happen again next year and years to go.
Unlike Blackmon, Nolan is un-tradable at this point. The team has seen what happens without him, and the lack of 3rd base depth above Asheville…makes Nolan probably one of the key contract focal points of the off-season, as despite being a Boras candidate, they try and lock-up the arbitration years and at least 1 or 2 of the FA years. He will likely qualify as a Super 2 this off-season, and is scheduled like Dickerson, for Free Agency in 2020, when he will be 29, the perfect age to cash in. So getting a deal done next year will be a challenge.
Next Up –Finding Out Bad Information – Players Who Regress