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Blackmon tailoring aggressiveness to situation

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon's bushy beard, electric smile and bright eyes are like, well, baseball -- constant, maybe even eternal. But Blackmon's game is ever-evolving.

What little tweaks will Blackmon use to continue his improvement?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon's bushy beard, electric smile and bright eyes are like, well, baseball -- constant, maybe even eternal. But Blackmon's game is ever-evolving.

What little tweaks will Blackmon use to continue his improvement?

"I don't know what the next step for him is," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Sustaining what he already does is a good place to start. He's one of the best basestealers in the league, a very good leadoff hitter. He's got power, speed -- a lot of elements to his game."

Blackmon made the All-Star Game in 2014, but was better than in 2015 even though his batting average dropped a point, to .287.

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Much of Blackmon's 2014 was built during an otherworldly -- but ultimately unsustainable -- first two months. But a solid final month allayed fears that his start was a fluke. Last year was solid throughout, with improvements in on-base percentage (.347, after .335 in '14) and slugging (.450, after .440). Blackmon also succeeded on 43-of-56 stolen-base attempts, including 9 of 13 on steals of third base, after going 28-for-38 overall in '14.

So what's new from Blackmon?

"There are a few things approach-wise that I'm going to change, or at least implement at times," Blackmon said. "I've got to do a few things to be a little less predictable at the plate. That's really the only change in approach that I'll do."

Last year's biggest change was a career-high 3.99 pitches per plate appearance, a .20 increase over the previous year. According to STATS Inc., Blackmon swung at 29.8 percent of first pitches in 2014 but just 7.9 percent last year. As the season progressed, he fired earlier as pitchers, after seeing him be more patient, began attacking the strike zone early.

Video: PIT@COL: Blackmon collects 41st stolen base of season

"I picked my spots to be more aggressive," said Blackmon, who now can milk counts or attack depending on the inning or situation.

Blackmon's success is a study in having just enough strengths to counter the opposition's intelligence. The left-handed-hitting Blackmon tends to pull his ground balls, which leads to shifts to the first-base side. However, his speed discourages third basemen from moving toward the middle.

Last season, Blackmon finished tied for fifth in the National League with seven bunt hits -- nowhere near the Marlins' Dee Gordon's league-leading 19, but enough to gain scouting report mention. Even the shifted infield was no guarantee, since he had 12 other infield hits -- many into the shifted areas.

"There's a place for the bunt, especially as a leadoff hitter, but I expect teams to play an aggressive defense against me," Blackmon said.

It's not clear if Blackmon will push the stolen base or throttle back. His speed is solid but not like that of Gordon (58 steals last year) or the Reds' Billy Hamilton (57). It's more important for Blackmon to maintain a high success rate -- 76.8 last year -- than accumulate steals.

"I did a better job last year with the aggressiveness, but this year, I don't think I'll be surprising anybody," Blackmon said. "So I've got to be really good at figuring out when is a good time to go. Be an accurate self-evaluator -- what is aggressive and what's reckless."

Weiss noted that Blackmon's speed is functional beyond the steal. The nine triples and his solid 3.2 baserunning runs added, according to Fangraphs, which tied DJ LeMahieu for the team lead and was in a five-way tie for 14th in the NL, are testaments to his strategy-speed combo.

"The bottom line is scoring runs," Weiss said. "He can score from first on long singles. He runs bases very well, cuts corners -- he's a very good baserunner, on top of being a good basestealer, so the speed helps him in a variety of ways."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to Podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon