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CarGo deal would have domino effect on Rox

Blackmon could move back to leadoff spot; outfield more crowded
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The pending return of Carlos Gonzalez likely means Charlie Blackmon will return to the leadoff spot in the Rockies' regular order.

Rockies manager Bud Black, who declined to discuss the Gonzalez agreement because it had not been announced by the club, has batted Blackmon third this spring. The team experimented at leadoff with Ian Desmond and several prospects hoping to break through -- Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman, primarily.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The pending return of Carlos Gonzalez likely means Charlie Blackmon will return to the leadoff spot in the Rockies' regular order.

Rockies manager Bud Black, who declined to discuss the Gonzalez agreement because it had not been announced by the club, has batted Blackmon third this spring. The team experimented at leadoff with Ian Desmond and several prospects hoping to break through -- Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman, primarily.

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But with nearly the same lineup as last season, Blackmon is expected to return to leadoff, where he led the National League with a .331 batting average and set a Major League record with all but one of his 104 RBIs from the leadoff spot.

Dropping Blackmon, who homered 37 times, was designed to give the Rockies a needed power bat in the middle of the order. Not only was Gonzalez -- who struggled last year but has been a power producer his whole career -- not in camp, but Colorado also saw Mark Reynolds and his 30 home runs last season test the free-agent market. Reynolds remains unsigned.

"We've thought all along -- Charlie is comfortable anywhere he hits," Black said Friday morning. "We thought based on how our roster could potentially shake out by Opening Day, it might be a spot for Charlie to hit third with the makeup of our roster. And it might work that Charlie hits leadoff with the makeup of our roster."

Video: Black on where he sees Blackmon in the lineup

Gonzalez is a makeup change.

Gonzalez slumped to .262 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs last season. But in the final two months, after determining that he had fallen into bad habits with the way he was gripping the bat and correcting a sleep issue, Gonzalez hit .325 with eight homers and 31 RBIs. Should Gonzalez return to that type of production, he could hit third or fourth and share the power spots with Nolan Arenado, who hit 37 homers last year and has had at least 130 RBIs each of the past three seasons.

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Additionally, the Rockies are expecting a step forward from Trevor Story, who set an NL rookie shortstop record with 27 home runs in 2016 despite being limited to just 97 games before suffering a season-ending left thumb injury. Last year, however, Story led the NL with 191 strikeouts (but still managed 24 homers).

Returning Gonzalez to right field makes the outfield picture either deep (the way the Rockies prefer to see it) or crowded (for those who expected prospects to receive their chances). But there is plenty of flexibility, which may mean Colorado will change course in another area by going back to the plan of using Desmond at first base.

Before last season, the Rockies signed Desmond for five years and $70 million with the idea of converting him to first base after a career at shortstop and in the outfield. But a broken left hand Desmond suffered in Spring Training, coupled with Reynolds' strong start, dictated that Desmond play primarily left field.

Desmond went to the disabled list twice during the second half last season with right calf strains. The way things worked out, Gerardo Parra was able to play regularly in the outfield between Desmond's injuries. Now, Blackmon, Gonzalez, Desmond and Parra -- who will return from right hand hamate surgery on Sunday -- are projected to head into the regular season healthy.

Desmond could toggle between left field and first base, or he could become the main person at first should the Rockies decide to ease in their No. 2 prospect, left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon, according to matchups, or allow him to get regular at-bats at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Video: Outlook: Desmond offers power-speed potential

The outfield situation also means the best option for David Dahl, Tapia and Tauchman to make the Opening Day roster would be as the fifth outfielder. The decision would have to be balanced with the thought that such prized players -- all were big league contributors last season -- would benefit from regular Triple-A at-bats that would keep them ready just in case the Rockies need them for the starting lineup.

Black profiled the fifth outfielder as someone who can offer consistent performance despite irregular playing time.

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"You feel good about their production in that moment -- whether it's an at-bat, whether it's a pinch-run, whether it's a doulbe-switch and they go in on defense," Black said.

Tauchman, 27, has had the strongest spring with a .333/.417/.633 slash line, one home run, two doubles and two triples in 13 games heading into Friday's action against the Indians at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Tapia, 24, entered the day at .265/.306/.412, but with better production recently. Both served bench roles last season and were on the roster for the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the NL Wild Card Game.

The interesting study is Dahl, a former top Draft pick who hit .315 with seven homers in 63 games of regular playing time when he was called up in 2016, but who didn't appear in the Majors last season because of a rib injury. Dahl, 23, was cleared to swing a bat in January and has been healthy, but he entered Friday with a .152 average and two homers in 12 Cactus League games. This week, Dahl used a "B" game to get some at-bats in the hopes of speeding his anticipation and pitch recognition.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez