Bouchard aiming to add power, take over starting job in right

February 18th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Outfielder was a ninth-round 2017 Draft pick out of UCLA who never reached the top of the Rockies’ prospect charts, but he proved to possess exactly what the team needed: a hitting approach that travels.

In two short Major League snippets, Bouchard has given signs that he is going places.

In a 27-game debut in 2022, Bouchard hit .297 with three home runs and, most eye-catching, a .454 on-base percentage. He arrived at Spring Training last year in line for playing time, but sustained a left distal biceps tear in March. Finally activated in September, Bouchard slashed .316/.372/.684 in 21 appearances, and hit four homers in the final five games.

Bouchard, 27, enters 2024 penciled in as the Rockies' right fielder, although there will be challengers in camp, with a bevy of prospects expected to bang on the door during the season. But no matter how gaudy the rankings or how salivating the power-hitting potential of others, it will take a lot to overtake Bouchard. Tasks like wearing down a pitcher with plate discipline and being on base for others become important for the Rockies, who play in an extreme offensive environment at Coors Field but are on a different baseball planet on the road.

Teams that win have players like Bouchard -- actually, multiple players like him.

“It’s just knowing yourself,” Bouchard said. “I have found that I might not have the same power as other guys have, so I can’t totally just sell out. I need to stay in my lane. I’ve always been a try-to-get-the-next-guy-up kind of guy. It’s a team game, right? It’s not all about me hitting a homer.

“There’s a balance, having the right approach for different pitchers, different situation. I’m just trying to play the game the right way.”

An on-base guy is good, but one with thunder is even better. And just maybe, Bouchard and hitting coach Hensley Meulens found a key that not only helps him drive the ball better but could reduce the chance of a repeat of last year’s injury, which occurred at the end of a swing early in a Spring Training game.

The adjustment came late last season, when Meulens and Rockies coaches went over motion data from Reboot Motion, a company that provides biomechanics reports from in-game measurements.

“We had a Reboot session and went through all his deficiencies and all his strengths,” Meulens said. “I said, ‘You need to use your top hand to drive the ball. The at-bat is good but you’re not driving the ball right now.’

“He was getting outs when he first came up [after last year’s injury]. He did, and he started doing it in the batting cage. Then he hit four homers. When he was releasing the bat with his top hand, there was more stress on the arm and shoulder. He was happy with the adjustment, and the [goal this] spring is to try to stay consistent with it.”

If he holds onto the adjustment, the right-handed-hitting Bouchard’s trajectory could be a mirror image of left-handed-hitting veteran Charlie Blackmon's. Early in Blackmon’s career, there were exciting moments interspersed with injury. When he consistently became healthy, he turned into a four-time All-Star.

While rehabbing the biceps injury, Bouchard dressed in a corner of the Rockies’ clubhouse about as far away as possible from Blackmon’s locker. But when Bouchard wasn’t going through the strengthening-treatment routine, he was watching how Blackmon prepared, played and did physical maintenance. Blackmon noticed, and invited Bouchard into his world.

“He’s one of my guys that I really like talking to because he’s always thinking about baseball,” Blackmon said. “He was asking a lot of questions. He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He’s one of those guys that’s going to continue to make adjustments."

The No. 8 spot in the Rockies’ projected order is calling for him. If he’s able to lengthen innings, he could offer chances for speedy No. 9 hitter Brenton Doyle, who is trying to learn patience and plate discipline. The plan is for Bouchard and Doyle to bring the order back to Blackmon, the leadoff hitter.

After last season, Bouchard played winter ball in Mexico to make up for lost playing time and also to adjust to different pitching. Pitchers threw more off-speed and breaking pitches, but often he went into games with little information.

It starts with winning a job this spring. Switch-hitting Michael Toglia -- who primarily plays first base -- and Hunter Goodman, who debuted last year, are considered prime competition. There could be lineup shuffling, where Bouchard spends some games as a designated hitter while Blackmon or Kris Bryant play right field.

There will be challenges. The camp is full of prospects who could push their way to the Majors this year. Yanquiel Fernandez (the Rockies' No. 2 prospect) is the only one in this group on the 40-man Major League roster, but Jordan Beck (No. 4), Zac Veen (No. 5), Sterlin Thompson (No. 6) and Benny Montgomery (No. 8) are all first-round picks slated to begin the year in the Minors (Double-A Hartford or Triple-A Albuquerque). That’s close enough to force the Major League issue should any develop rapidly.

To win and hold the job, Bouchard must continue his disciplined at-bats and realize his potential for impact.

“People would say competition is a good thing, and I agree,” Bouchard said. “The best guy is going to play, and the more guys you have around that, you push that selective bar higher.”