How this rookie blossomed in September
This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Rockies rookie Sean Bouchard had the answers in Monday night’s 2-1 victory over the Dodgers.
Bouchard responded to Tony Gonsolin’s 93.6 mph fastball, left over the middle, with a second-inning double off the base of the left-center-field wall. Alex Vesia tried to fool him with a seventh-inning slider, and a reaching Bouchard yanked it past third base for a double. Brusdar Graterol threw 98.5 mph in the ninth. Bouchard went easy the other way for a single that set up Michael Toglia’s game-winning double.
And Bouchard added a solo homer off Dodgers starter Julio Urías in Tuesday night's 5-2 win over Los Angeles.
Bouchard is checking all the boxes during his Major League trial, given his .306 batting average, .452 on-base percentage, three home runs, 11 RBIs and six doubles going into Wednesday. Most of the production has come since being recalled on Aug. 30.
But there is an answer Bouchard doesn’t have. Bouchard’s success has come largely against contending teams -- namely the Braves, Padres and Dodgers -- while playing for a last-place club testing out its young players. Current production suggests he can fill several needs, as a batter with a discerning enough eye that works at home and on the road, a versatile fielder (he plays outfield and some first base), athletic (12 Triple-A steals) and, lest anyone forget, under a low service time salary.
But what happens when he reports to 2023 Spring Training, when the statistics don’t count, but the performance means everything?
“I guess I’ll let you know in March what it feels like,” Bouchard said, flashing the smile of a man having too much fun today to think five months ahead. “I’m focused on right now. I mean, I know we’re out of the playoffs, but there’s a lot of learning to be done, and experiences to be had.”
Before becoming a kinesthetic learner -- learning by doing, which is the best style for an athlete -- Bouchard was forced to be a visual and auditory student. Called up from Triple-A Albuquerque for the first time in June, Bouchard appeared in three games and went 0-for-7 with two walks and two strikeouts before landing on the injured list with a left oblique strain.
“It was a bummer that I got hurt -- that was the elephant in the room, the obvious thing,” he said. “But I could go one of two ways. I could put my head down and be bummed or try to make a positive out of a negative situation. The positive was I could rehab here and be around the team for a few more weeks.
“When you first get called up, things can be a little chaotic. [It's] a whirlwind physically, mentally, emotionally. I was able to take a big step back, be in the clubhouse and dugout, take in the game and observe the best players in the game, not only on our team but teams we play against.”
Bouchard went back to Albuquerque after the injury and performed much the same way as before his first promotion. He hit .300 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs in 69 Triple-A games this season. When he returned to Colorado, he was free from the rush of being in the Majors, which can impede many players. Plus, during the six-game series against the Dodgers, he has been playing in front of family and friends. Bouchard is from San Diego, and he played at UCLA.
“You get to play in the big leagues, not a lot of people get this chance, and it’s definitely not lost on me that this is not something that lasts forever,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s big, but it’s still baseball. There's a job to do and there’s an emphasis on that part, but it’s supposed to be fun. That’s how I grew up playing the game.”
The deep breath Bouchard took has allowed his game to match the Minor League scouting report.
“There's an on-base tool via the walk and controlling the strike,” manager Bud Black said. “He doesn’t expand the strike zone a lot. The shorter stroke plays in the big leagues. It’s not a complicated swing. It’s pretty direct to the ball. He’s shown that very well, especially here recently. It shows his on-base potential is real.”