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Pacheco seeks fresh start behind the plate

Former infielder is confident a return to catcher will pay dividends

DENVER -- Jordan Pacheco believes he emerged from a lesson-filled 2013 season better for it.

In 2012, Pacheco led National League rookies and finished fifth in the batting race with a .309 average while playing regularly at first base and third base. But last season, playing time was sporadic and the result was a .239 batting average in a year that included a brief demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs to brush up on his catching skills.

Pacheco enters 2014 playing catcher -- his position for much of his Minor League career -- which should mean more predictable playing time. Wilin Rosario will be the primary catcher, but he'll have days off and possibly some time at first base. Rosario is an offense-oriented catcher, so Pacheco's defensive ability could lead to opportunities late in tight games.

"I like catching," Pacheco said. "I take a lot of pride in working with the pitcher and the team trusting me to give the pitcher the best opportunity to help us win.

"It was my main position and only position for five years straight. It was the position that got me to the big leagues and I worked at being the best receiver thrower and blocker I could be. So it comes more natural now than the infield."

A shortstop at the University of New Mexico when the Rockies selected him in the ninth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Pacheco converted to catcher in '08. But at the end of '11 when he was ready for the Majors, most of the playing time was available at third base.

Last season, the Rockies turned to Nolan Arenado, who became the first NL rookie and second overall to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award at third base. Todd Helton avoided the injuries that opened playing time for Pacheco in 2012 and was the primary first baseman in his final Major League season.

Needing power at first base, the Rockies signed free agent Justin Morneau, but they determined that Pacheco was strong enough behind the plate that they didn't pick up an established catcher to team with Rosario. Last year, Yorvit Torrealba was the backup.

Pacheco's playing time and production was more consistent when he returned from Triple-A on Aug. 21. Pacheco hit .271 in 20 games, including 13 starts, over the final five weeks of the season while playing primarily at catcher. It was enough to convince the Rockies to go forward with him behind the plate in 2014.

"That's his natural position, and I felt it looked that way when he ws able to play there last year," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He looked comfortable. That's where he feels most at home."

Pacheco spent a month in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where he hit .274 with a .354 on-base percentage in 20 games for Toros del Este.

"I played for a month," he said. "I was signed to play another week, but I felt I got what I needed out the playing time plus I got a little sick at the end and thought it was best to just go home and get a well needed rest from baseball. I am totally healthy and just working to be ready to earn a job in February and March."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Colorado Rockies, Jordan Pacheco