Three years into his college career, Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon was a left-handed relief specialist. Now look at him. He's an All-Star center fielder, coming off a season in which he set a Major League record with 102 RBIs as a leadoff hitter.
Yes, he has been a late bloomer, but then he got a late start on his career as a position player. And it only happened because Blackmon had arm problems during his junior year at Georgia Tech but still wanted to play summer ball. So when he showed up in Arlington, Blackmon told his summer-league manager, former big league outfielder Rusty Greer, that he was a pitcher/outfielder.
By the end of the summer, Blackmon was an outfielder -- period.
Blackmon talked about the transition in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: Explain the decision to become a position player.
Blackmon: I pitched two innings the whole year. My arm was bugging me. I was coming back from bone spurs and was super inconsistent. I wasn't very good. But I wanted to play baseball. I hit a little bit in junior college, but I had not played a position since high school. It wasn't like I thought I was going to be a great hitter. I just wanted to get on the field. I told Rusty I was a two-way player -- which, of course, wasn't true. Sean Devine, one of my teammates at George Tech, went out there with me and I told him to keep quiet.
MLB.com: Any fear of failure?
Blackmon: I felt the worst-case scenario was if I didn't get any hits I'd just pitch. It turns out I started hitting pretty well. Rusty sat me down and told me, "I really think you can be an outfielder. I know you like to pitch, but you can make it as an outfielder." I decided to do it.
MLB.com: Was it tough to get the chance to be a hitter when you got back to Georgia Tech?
Blackmon: I thought I was going to have a fight. I thought they were just going to laugh at me. Rusty Greer called coach (Danny) Hall and told him, "Give Charlie a shot." So I come back and it's, "All right, you think you are a hitter now."
I remember that first workout in the fall. The first guy I face in an intra-squad game is our Friday night pitcher, David Duncan. He's left-handed. He is 6-foot-9, 230. He was a fifth-round Draft choice of the Astros. I wasn't really excited he was going to be my first at-bat. He threw a fastball over the plate and I hit it as good as I can hit a baseball. It goes way out. In intrasquad games, you don't hit a home run and run the bases. I touch first base and head back to the dugout. Danny Hall is laughing, complete laughing. He doesn't know what to think. I am thinking I was meant to be an outfielder. Since that time I was a hitter.
MLB.com: Things came together pretty quick. Did it surprise you to wind up a second-round Draft choice?
Blackmon: Sure. When it's just one season, you have to get someone's attention early enough that they are going to pay enough attention to you that when it comes to the Draft, they are willing to push hard for you. It was crazy high. I was thinking the 15th to 20th rounds would be good, and I kept moving up.
MLB.com: The biggest challenge of pro ball?
Blackmon: The biggest thing was to learn how to learn. I had to make adjustments, to figure out how to do that as quickly as possible. That's the name of the game. Once you enter pro ball, it is a fresh start. Everyone is in a race to make as many adjustments as they can, and get as good as they can. You have to understand. This guys' throwing fastball's, how do I catch up? This guy has a really good left-handed slider. How do I swing over the top every time?
MLB.com: Any particularly person have a bigger impact on you than someone else?
Blackmon: I don't want to let people down. I feel very, very responsible. I am very Type A. It's up to me. I make things happen. I know that's not always the case. I have a God-given talent and a lot of people who have helped me. I don't want to leave anything to chance. I take it upon myself that I'm the driving factor. It's my job to get better. The motivation comes from within. I did love watching Manny Ramirez.
MLB.com: Manny? Certainly a different type of hitter, wouldn't you say?
Blackmon: Completely different (style). He was the guy I felt he was the best at doing what he wanted to do. He wasn't scared to go up and swing at a first pitch and miss it by a foot, because he was looking for a fastball and he didn't get a fastball. He was OK with that. It was like, "I'm only swinging at fastballs. If it's not a fastball, I'm going to miss it. I am not going up there looking for a fastball, then slow my bat down, and roll over. I'm playing the percentages. I'll give you strike one, but I'm not going to give you the out."
MLB.com: So it is more than physical ability?
Blackmon: Half of it is learning how to control your mind. You have to have the right mindset -- dealing with failure, attitude and confidence. You have to be able to look really bad and come back and give yourself a good chance the next at-bat. You have to feel that next at-bat you can help win the game. You can't let things snowball.
MLB.com: So if you are always having to get better, what is your focus in the offseason?
Blackmon: I pinpoint some of my weaknesses, and I figure out how I'm going to get better at those particular things. I start working on them right away. It's never been a part of my game to just go out and play and not consider what I can do to be a better player. Most recently it has been about playing more consistently, figuring out how to make my body feel the same every day.
MLB.com: So it's not a particular aspect of the game?
Blackmon: It is less about specific baseball skills. It is a lot more about my body and selection. I want to be a better hitter every year. I really think that the best way to do that is to swing at the right pitches. That's the hard part. Everybody is athletic enough to put the bat on the ball that's playing. It's recognizing pitches early, recognizing what they're going to be once they get to the plate.
MLB.com: You talk about being focused. In what way?
Blackmon: I don't think anybody can go up there and hit any pitch. You can't cover everything. You can't hit a fastball and a change-up with the same approach. Figuring out what I do well and how that matches up with what the pitcher does well is the most important thing for me now.