Desmond confident he'll thrive in move to CF
Blackmon shifts to RF; Black says center is 33-year-old's 'best position'
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At an age that is generally considered to be past an athlete's prime, Ian Desmond will try to rely more on his speed as the Rockies move him to center field.
"It's humbling to be able to do this at 33 years old," said Desmond, who makes the switch as Charlie Blackmon moves to right field in a decision designed in part to decrease Blackmon's wear and tear. "God blessed me with the ability to get faster and maintain strength and all that stuff at 33. We'll see what happens."
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Blackmon, 32, has played a club-record 691 games in center field, which includes a lot of games in the middle of Coors Field's vast center field. So in center, the Rockies are turning to Desmond, who played mostly left field upon joining the club in 2017 and primarily first base last year.
In 2016, the year before he joined the Rockies for five years and $70 million, Desmond signed with the Rangers and converted from shortstop to the outfield. He played the first two games of that season in left field before he was thrown into center. Desmond's .899 OPS before the All-Star break earend him a spot in the Midsummer Classic. Defensively, though, he finished with nine errors (eight fielding, one throwing) in center field, which were tied with the Phillies' Odúbel Herrera for most in the Majors.
Blackmon has noted that the flight of the ball will be an adjustment for Desmond, especially at Coors Field, where balls tend to stay truer in their flight path than on the road. But Desmond has time to prepare. Rockies manager Bud Black alerted him of the possibility of playing center field at the end of last season.
"I'm really fortunate they gave me a heads-up early in the offseason that this is something that would be a possibility," Desmond said, "so I was able to get my legs underneath me, strengthen and prepare for it.
"What Charlie has done, being able to play center field in Colorado and being able to play as many games as he does, is something that's not an easy task. I know I've got a handful in front of me."
Black believes Desmond's history as a middle-of-the-diamond player will help him handle it.
"Because of that versatility over his time as a Rockie, we knew that we could do certain things," Black said. "Primarily, you'll see him more as an outfielder, and primarily more as a center fielder. That's his best position. But he's also shown the ability to play left field, too, if that occurs."
Desmond also will take a fresh approach offensively. Last year, he had a .235/.307/.422 slash line, with the highest percentage of ground balls in the Majors. Desmond did hit 22 homers to go with 88 RBIs (a combination accomplished 53 times in Rockies history).
Desmond had a chance meeting with new Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan at a Bradenton, Fla., golf course -- around the time Magadan was hired -- during the offseason to begin communication.
"Everyone knew him when he played as a pure hitter. That's certainly not something I've ever been tabbed," Desmond said. "To be able to pick his brain and to have him keep an eye on me, be able to talk approach, it's going to be an exciting year. We hit it off, and I'm hoping the relationship can maintain throughout."