Going into Spring Training 2013, Charlie Blackmon was third in line for a bench outfield role, with Tyler Colvin and Eric Young Jr. the two leading candidates for fourth and fifth outfielder. Colvin's inability to impress in Spring Training opened a door for Blackmon, but despite the Rockies' willingness to send the arbitration-salaried Colvin to the Sky Sox to begin the year, they elected to carry an extra middle infielder in Reid Brignac and let Young Jr. handle the spare outfield duties solo, and Blackmon was headed once again to Colorado Springs.
Blackmon joined a Sky Sox outfield corps that included fellow lefty competitors Colvin, Tim Wheeler and rising hotshot prospect Corey Dickerson, who less than a year and a half earlier had been with Asheville. With concerns of Colvin's plate discipline still on the brain, the Rockies brass went first to Blackmon when Michael Cuddyer went down with a nagging neck injury in May. He spent the second half of the month getting moderate playing time, as Young Jr's early success began to fall off when confronted with regular play. Blackmon was not much more successful himself during the stint, with a home run in his first game up being his only extra base hit, and was optioned back to the Sky Sox upon Cuddyer's recovery.
During his time with the Sky Sox this year, Blackmon actually put up lower-than-average offensive numbers for his career, but the fact that they were still half decent really speaks to his ability as a prospect as he'd moved upward in his career. Lower-end power numbers, which is nothing unusual for Blackmon, but a decent OBP thanks to an excellent K/BB ratio. Blackmon had never been a high strikeout guy, but the walks were an extreme improvement, though as we will see later, that tool didn't transition with Charlie to the majors this year.
Blackmon would get his second chance to impress just before the All Star Break. Since his previous time with the big league team, he Rockies had moved on from Eric Young Jr, and Corey Dickerson had been given the chance to make his own major league impact as a reserve outfielder at the end of June. Dexter Fowler was rehabbing his obnoxious hand bruise and was due back in just a couple days, but the Rockies chose to send Dickerson back down at that time instead. Blackmon would end up remaining a fixture on the Rockies big league roster for the rest of the year.
Initially, Blackmon showed improved power numbers by netting more frequent extra-base hits, but his July was ultimately nothing special. Come August, however, Blackmon rose to the occasion and as he got more playing time, truly began to show what he was capable of. By this point, the Rockies had fallen out of contention and Blackmon was seeing a significant playing time increase as both Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez were nursing injuries. Despite walking only one time in the entire month, his power numbers continued to rise, and he saw his batting average rise from the low .240s to the .280s.
By the time we hit September and we learned that Fowler and Gonzalez would be unable to fully recover from their injuries before season's end, Blackmon had essentially become a starting outfielder, and his upward trend only continued. Having developed consistent doubles power and utilizing an excellent contact tool, Blackmon finished the season with an incredible heat. During the seven day period between 9/18 and 9/24, he produced two homers and six multi-hit games, including a 4-8 performance in the 15-inning win over St. Louis. This production led to a NL Player of the Week award for the outfielder as the Rockies closed out the season.
Overall at the major league level, Blackmon's on base skills suffered due to the extreme lack of walks, but his contact and power numbers were the best they'd been in years, since his foot and leg injuries had begun. His strong August and September balanced out his weaker May and July numbers, and Blackmon ended the year with a respectable .309/.336/.467 slashline.
It was a tale of two Charlies this year, comparing his AAA and MLB numbers. One was a light hitting OBP guy, the other a much more impact AB oriented player. Ultimately, Blackmon did what was necessary to prove that he belonged in the upper tier of lefty outfielders moving forward. While most of his best production came in the latter part of the season where it was less valuable, he demonstrated enough of a variety of tools to suggest some very solid potential, not to mention stable health all the way through. He wasn't a key cog in much success or failure for the team as a whole this year, but looking at Blackmon's career alone, 2013 was a big, big win.
With the broken Colvin leaving the organization and Wheeler continuing to tread water in fringe-prospectdom, Blackmon enters 2014 competing most directly with Corey Dickerson for opportunities. Both players are candidates to start in right field if the Rockies don't solve the corner problem with an acquisition of some sort. Both also have solid chances for bench outfield positions, though I do not want both to be on the team in that capacity (I would prefer to see a greater right handed presence in our OF depth next season).
It is fair to say that it is quite possible that one of the two will start the year with the Sky Sox. Blackmon is the older player, as well as the more versatile defensively. My guess is that while Dickerson is more likely to be a starter for either the Rockies or Sky Sox, Blackmon should be the top choice for fourth outfielder in either situation. If he finds a way to bring his plate discipline skills to the majors, Blackmon could be a very dangerous player, adequately able to serve as a pinch hitter and as outfield insurance in the case of injury.
When assessing the Rockies bench situation, Blackmon represents one of the only players that is, in my estimation, a true fit. 2013 was a career breakout and he is a very popular personality. He remains a pre-arb player for at least one more season, and can be optioned to the minors again if need be.