DENVER -- Versatility is cool these days, and the Rockies hope Garrett Hampson can get them hip with the times in the Majors.
Hampson, 24, a rookie and natural middle infielder, can use his speed and baseball sense to fill in at several positions, either off the bench or as a starter.
It didn’t look good early. Hampson made the team out of Spring Training but was sent down after a .194 batting average through May 12. But in his third Major League stint, he is on the upswing.
Hampson started in center field against the Padres on Saturday and brought a .227 batting average into the game. However, he has flourished since making a major adjustment -- trading a high leg kick for a toe-tap. In 17 games before Saturday, he slashed .302/.367/.535 with two home runs, including a shot to dead-center Friday night off the Padres’ Joey Lucchesi in the Rockies’ 10-8 victory.
As the right-handed-hitting Hampson tries to make an impression and figure into next year’s plans -- not a given, since there is a thought that the Rockies could seek a similar player with more experience -- here are five points to watch:
1. Don’t forget to use natural talents
Hampson, a shortstop when drafted out of Long Beach State in the third round in 2016, has to keep his skills sharp there. While the Rockies would be in a world of trouble if they lost Trevor Story to injury, it will help if someone could replicate his defense. On Thursday, Hampson started as Story rested and delivered two dazzling defensive plays -- a charge and throw to the plate and a backhand grab and throw from short against the Cardinals.
2. Run, Garrett, run
Hampson made the team in spring partly by using the “short game,” and manager Bud Black has been pushing him to use it more. Going into Saturday, Hampson had three bunt hits and five infield hits in 91 games.
When comfortable, Hampson can use his speed in unexpected situations. The Rockies were down, 2-0, with two outs in the fourth inning on Aug. 28 when Hampson noticed Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers was playing deep. Hampson dropped a surprise RBI bunt single.
“It’s something I have in my game,” Hampson said, “and when the third baseman is back, he’s giving that bunt up. It’s a good opportunity to help the team win and get a run in.”
3. Enjoy being in the center of it all
The Rockies didn’t begin experimenting with Hampson in center until last year, but his ability to play there has opened many possibilities. Scouts from other teams believe he could start for many teams defensively at that position. His play Friday, against the center-field wall to rob the Padres’ Greg Garcia of extra bases, is something surely planted in the Rockies’ minds.
“It’s definitely nice to have [as opponents] the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez,” Hampson said. “Those guys are really good at it, so I watch and pick up little things from them.”
4. It’s a little tap dance
Hampson earned his Major League chance by hitting .314 at Triple-A Albuquerque last year, and he performed well enough to make the Rockies’ postseason roster. But those 24 regular-season and two postseason games gave opponents enough information to use his leg kick against him. Before the aforementioned 17 games of improvement with the toe-tap, he struck out on 30.9 percent of his plate appearances.
But during the first series of the toe-tap, Hampson pulled a home run into the left-field seats at Busch Stadium. That homer started the 17-game snippet of better hitting, during which the strikeout frequency dropped to 20.4 percent.
“The whole purpose is just to be on time and have less movement,” Hampson said. “It’s putting my foot closer to the ground when it’s time to hit the ball. It’s not a finished product, but it feels great, and the solid contact is more and more.”
5. The swing can change, but not the confidence
The degree of difficulty of Hampson’s adjustment is underrated. Often, major changes in setup and startup occur in the offseason, not while a guy is trying make and maintain Major League status.
“It’s a testament to the type of kid that he is -- willing to make changes, willing to make adjustments,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “I was a little hesitant to present it to him.
“He was able to take that right into the first game he played in St. Louis. Lucky for me and good for him, he got immediate results. He hit a home run that game.”
Hampson knows he must accept coaching, with the confidence he can execute.
“I feel good learning every single day,” Hampson said. “I’m riding the ups and the downs. It’s not going to be all roses from here just because of a good game or my leg kick is gone. I’ve got a lot of work to do with rhythm, swinging at the right pitches and putting at-bats together.”