Blackmon, unfazed by age, brings glove to Rox camp

February 15th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- picked up fielder’s mitt after fielder’s mitt, some black, others in traditional brown shades -- a lot of leather for someone who has transitioned to designated hitter duty for the Rockies.

This time last year, Blackmon’s contract was nearing its end. He vowed to cherish all the moments, whether with a bat in his hands or right field’s grass beneath his feet. He enjoyed the time so much and the team liked what he did enough that they agreed on a $13 million contract extension for 2024 -- it will be his 14th career season, each with the Rockies.

So on the eve of the initial pitcher-catcher workout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, six days before the first full-squad workout, there was Blackmon, 37, trying on gloves -- even if he will be wearing strictly batting gloves most games. He’s not just playing baseball. He's wrapping himself in the sport before having to eventually let it go.

“With more life experiences, your perspective changes,” Blackmon said. “Things that used to be something I would rush though, I enjoy it more than in the past. I used to only be about the game on the field. Now I really enjoy Spring Training -- hanging in the locker room and some of the other things that go with the game of baseball.”

Logic based on age, injury history and the need to transition prospects into the lineup dictates that Blackmon will be primarily a designated hitter, which he realizes. The expected structure of the lineup works best with him as leadoff hitter -- already a job associated with a younger player.

But part of Blackmon packing gloves, and planning to use them, is to foster a standard.

“I’m planning on playing a lot of defense,” Blackmon said. “I am 100 percent planning as if I’m going to play in the outfield every day. If we get into a situation where we have other options or we think there are better options defensively, that’s a good problem to have.”

Blackmon missed 52 games last season with a fractured right hand after he was hit by a pitch in June. He returned on Aug. 14, and revved up instead of winding down.

In his final 40 games after the fracture, Blackmon batted .297 with three home runs, posted a .386 on-base percentage and drove in 14 runs. He also made 18 defensive appearances in right field after appearing just 12 times defensively in 56 games last season before the injury.

According to FanGraphs, Blackmon (who notes vehemently that outfielders are punished for playing at Coors Fields by current formulas) finished 2023 with two defensive runs saved in right. It was his first time above zero in the metric since 2012, when he posted five DRS in 30 games in center as a rookie.

“Not playing every day keeps you fresher,” Blackmon said. “You’re sharp. You’re fresh. You’re running well and can play better defense.”

The favorite for regular right-field duty is Sean Bouchard, who debuted strong in 2022 but missed most of last year with a left biceps tear. Michael Toglia and Hunter Goodman also saw time at the position last year and are trying to make this year’s team. Kris Bryant moved to first base near the end of last year but still may play some in right in 2024.

But as long as Blackmon is healthy and productive, there should be times when he’s the correct choice in right -- with Elehuris Montero, Bryant or others taking a turn at DH.

“Best case scenario for Charlie is to make sure that he gets his reps in the outfield to keep him current,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Because he truly enjoys playing the outfield, and he still can. Him being capable of that allows us to DH one of the other players in the mix of right field and first base.”

With each young player’s opportunity, with each prospect on the rise, the Rockies are in position to move forward should Blackmon’s star fall. But as long as Blackmon is still the Rockies’ best bet to reach for the sky in ‘24, his bat -- and sometimes his glove -- will be part of the picture.

“We’ve got to manage his workload,” Black said. “We want him to be productive for the full year and feel good physically.

“Charlie’s just a great teammate. He’s good on the team in so many ways -- primarily on the field with what he does performance-wise, but who he is as a person, leader, mentor. He has a lot of great attributes.”