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Charlie Blackmon leads a crowded group in the Rockies outfield

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Left field and right field have a number of candidates for playing time.

The Colorado Rockies have a true superstar in center field. Charlie Blackmon will lead the way, but who will man the corners? The Rockies need offense and they probably need it to come from left field and right field.

It’s a crowded group competing for those spots, and yet that group does not yield any obvious answers. Will the top prospects that we’ve known for so long take over? Will the well-paid veterans provide stability? How will Bud Black divide up the playing time? Those are the questions for the Rockies’ outfield, and it might be a while until we have clear answers.

The Sure Thing

The Rockies are guaranteed one more year of Charlie Blackmon in center field. After proving his 2016 showing was real with an MVP-level 2017, Blackmon will be in the middle of any success the Rockies have in 2018.

The bearded outfielder is coming off a historically great season from the leadoff spot, but his role this season might be different. As we grapple with the possibility that the Rockies won’t make any additions to improve their offense, the team is looking at ways to shake things up. Black has floated the possibility of using Blackmon in the middle of the lineup and has already done so in the early days of spring training.

What will Blackmon’s numbers look like if he doesn’t lead off? They presumably won’t look too different, swapping out some runs scored for some runs driven in. Blackmon has proven that he is elite wherever he bats, making center field a position the Rockies don’t need to worry about in 2018.

The Former Top Prospects

We’ve been waiting for David Dahl and Raimel Tapia to arrive in the Rockies’ lineup for years. We’ve looked forward to it. We’ve pointed to their arrivals as part of the larger argument to just wait until the studs from a loaded farm system arrived in the big leagues.

This spring should be really exciting then. So is it? Maybe it is, or maybe it will be. But it’s certainly not obvious that Dahl and Tapia are the answers, and the corners of the outfield are where the team could still potentially make an addition. That’s not to mention the veterans already on the roster who we’ll get to shortly.

Tapia got a long look in 2017 and certainly did a lot of good to show he’s ready. He didn’t necessarily hit the ball hard consistently, but he showed flashes of the speed and the freaky hand-eye coordination that he is known for. If he can drive the ball more consistently and clean up his defense, he could find himself in the lineup more days than not. When he does play he’s a candidate to lead-off, which he has done a number of times in the early games of spring training.

Dahl looked for all the world like the elite prospect we thought he was in an extended look in 2016. The question isn’t about his talent, although he’ll have to prove he’s caught back up to the speed of the big leagues after missing the entire 2017 season. The question is about his health, and that question definitely still lingers over the overall picture in the outfield.

If Tapia and Dahl stay healthy and meet something like their sky-high potential, it will give the Rockies some offensive punch that they simply did not have in 2017. It would also seem to solve their questions in the outfield. Unfortunately it is rarely that simple, especially with young players.

The Veterans

Ian Desmond, first baseman, is a thing of the past. Maybe. If you add Ryan McMahon to the list with Dahl and Tapia, it might be that Desmond is the player poised to fill in wherever youth falters. Desmond’s athleticism and his struggles at first base would seem to suggest he should be listed as an outfielder first. But what if Dahl and Tapia both break out? Who knows?

As for Gerardo Parra, he seems more naturally suited to a fourth outfielder role when he returns from a broken hand that has him currently sidelined. If the Rockies need more from him than that, Parra showed that he can provide some stability with his bounce-back last season.

On the one hand, Desmond and Parra offer relative stability as veterans. It is absolutely a possibility that both crack the opening day lineup in the respective corners of the outfield. That feels like an underwhelming option, though, and it also feels like the team pretty much already tried a version of it last season. It didn’t work.

The Return?

Speaking of last season, Carlos González struggled for almost the entire season. His flash of greatness down the stretch was fun but did not persuade the Rockies or any other team to sign him for the 2018 season. At least not yet.

It seems obvious that the Rockies don’t need another left-handed outfielder, but the team misses CarGo nevertheless according to a recent story by Patrick Saunders. It’s not hard to make the emotional case for CarGo’s return—just the picture on that Denver Post story made me want him back. It is hard to make the baseball case if the team is truly going to give Dahl and Tapia first crack at things.

The Organizational Depth

Mike Tauchman and Jordan Patterson would appear to be the first guys up if the Rockies need to tap into the minor leagues for help (although Patterson is listed as an infielder at this point). Noel Cuevas and Yonathan Daza are the other outfielders on the active roster. Shudder to think about the series of events that would lead to the Rockies running out of outfielders, but stranger things have happened.

The Big Question

Can Dahl and Tapia do it? If the Rockies are banking on internal options to boost their offense, those two are the guys who could make a significant difference. Desmond will improve because it’s hard to be that bad two years in a row. Parra will hopefully be more like his 2017 version than his 2016 one. Those guys are fine and they have roles to play, but they aren’t potential difference makers like their young teammates.

Dahl and Tapia have the talent to be true difference makers. What remains to be seen is if they will get the chance and if they are ready to take advantage of it.