I wanted Corey Dickerson, not Charlie Blackmon, to be one of the Rockies' three starting outfielders entering 2014, but I knew it wasn't realistic; Carlos Gonzalez wasn't going to play center field and Dickerson is, well, not very good there. Because of that, I knew Blackmon would be the Rockies' guy because of his great finish to 2013, his deceptively good speed and his above-average defensive skills.
What I didn't know was that we'd have an All-Star and, at least for the first month and a half of the season, a legitimate MVP candidate manning center for Colorado.
Of course, nothing stays gold, particularly when talking about someone who was always good but certainly never great during his ascent to the big leagues. Blackmon crashed -- and crashed hard -- but that doesn't mean all is lost for the 2008 second-round draft pick.
Blackmon's beard contained super powers from Opening Day until roughly mid-May. The 28-year-old Georgia Tech alum picked up three hits in the Rockies' opening series in Miami before having a full-on a breakout party in the team's home opener on April 5. Blackmon went 6-for-6 with three doubles, a home run and five RBI in a 12-2 rout over the Diamondbacks, and he never really stopped hitting during Colorado's successful first month of 2014. He finished the month with a .374/.418/.616 line, and for a good while, led the National League in just about every category, including WAR.
His teammate, Troy Tulowitzki, eventually overcame him in most of those departments, but Blackmon was still wildly successful during the first half of May, posting a .913 OPS and swatting four homers in 10 games. However, upon the Rockies' trip to Kansas City in the middle of that month, Blackmon's magic began to wear off. Perhaps not coincidentally, so did that of his team.
Charlie Blackmon, 2014
* -- Defensive runs saved above average (provided by Baseball Info Solutions)
From May 13 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit an uninspiring .268/.319/.384 with 24 walks and 82 strikeouts. He did have 30 extra-base hits and 20 steals during that stretch, but his woeful on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot in that 4½-month span shouldn't be discounted when talking about the things that resulted in the Rockies' downward spiral out of contention and into MLB's cellar.
Blackmon did earn a spot on the NL All-Star team thanks to his Herculean effort in April and May, but his appearance in the game was rather fitting; after the initial hoopla of being selected to play on the same field as all of the league's best players, Blackmon went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and ended the game with a weak grounder to second.
2014 Grade: B-
Blackmon was a superb player early in the season but wound up as an out machine at a spot in the lineup where that tends to be an extremely bad trait. The hot start was responsible for him finishing as a slightly above-average hitter in terms of OPS+, a number that sadly was worse for Blackmon in 2014 than it was the year prior. Still, getting 19 home runs and 28 steals out of a center fielder who does not kill you defensively can hardly be considered a negative thing.
The best thing that Blackmon did in his first full big league season was make Rockies fans forget about the Dexter Fowler trade. That wasn't easy to do, and while I'd rather have Fowler's on-base skills in the lead-off spot, Blackmon proved to be the better player overall in 2014, largely due to his ability to stay on the field and not be a defensive liability while doing so.
What to expect in 2015
It's hard to picture Drew Stubbs as a full-time player, so Charlie Blackmon is going to be the Opening Day starter in center field next season, regardless of Carlos Gonzalez's status. And, as I stated above, that's a good thing. Blackmon might not be an ideal leadoff hitter with his sub-5.0 percent walk rate, but he belongs in the Rockies' everyday lineup nonetheless.
It's also worth noting that Blackmon might benefit from better batted ball luck over the course of a full season. That sounds strange to say given his otherworldly April and May, but he finished with a BABIP of just .315 in 2014. The league average for that category was .300, but Rockies players generally eclipse that mark by 25 to 30 points due to the gigantic outfield at Coors Field.
Of course, there's also the possibility that pitchers have adjusted to Blackmon, and that he won't be able to overcome his inability to find his way on base by means other than a hit. In that case, Colorado better hope that Stubbs, with increased exposure, can still hit like he did in 2014.