Thanks to hard work and homework, Charlie Blackmon has become one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in Major League Baseball.
Now in his fifth season with the Colorado Rockies, Blackmon entered the All-Star break ranked first among National League leadoff hitters in RBI (40) and extra-base hits (31). He’s also fourth in the majors with 23 stolen bases after compiling a career-high 28 last season.
“He’s having a good year because of the amount of work he has put in,” said Colorado manager Walt Weiss. “He has the green light most of the time on the bases and he’s hungry to steal bases every day. It kills him to be on base for more than two or three pitches. He’s very calculated when he runs. He’s done a lot of work to make sure he has all of the info on his side and the odds are in his favor. In a day when there’s so much attention paid to the running game, he’s made himself a good base stealer.”
Overall this season, Blackmon is batting .291 with 52 runs, 15 doubles, a career-high five triples, and 11 homers, which ranks third for NL leadoff hitters. He’s also hit safely in 21 of his 25 games leading up to the All-Star break. Another part of Blackmon’s offensive prowess that has evolved this season is his penchant for drawing walks. After posting a career-high 31 walks last season, Blackmon already has 28 base on balls this season.
“I made a conscious decision in spring training to see more pitches,” Blackmon said. “You have to make yourself comfortable when you’re deep in the count. I’m not always going to go deep in the count. I don’t have a problem putting the ball in play early in the count either, but waiting until later in the count isn’t uncomfortable for me.”
Blackmon knows the leadoff hitter spot is an important one and has seen his attitude at the plate develop as he has evolved into an MLB veteran. He established a new Colorado club record earlier this season with his ninth career leadoff homer at Arizona on July 3.
“You can’t just stand there and take good pitches. If you give them strike one, there’s a good chance you’re going to strike out,” Blackmon said. “It’s taken a while for me to get comfortable in the count. I think that’s something that comes with experience. You don’t see a lot of guys from Triple-A coming up and having super high walk numbers. It takes a while to develop that.”
“He’s having a really good year. You could even make a case that he’s having an All-Star year,” Weiss said of Blackmon, who earned a trip to the All-Star Game last season.
After hitting just .220 in May, Blackmon has seen his success at the plate jump in the last two months, posting a .307 average in June and .391 in July. Since June 1, Blackmon is hitting .331 with nine doubles, three triples, four homers, 21 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. During that time, he’s raised his average from .254 to .291.
“As the season’s gone on, I’ve been able to figure out what’s best for me at the plate and when I’m on base,” Blackmon said. “You make adjustments and get a feel for the game. I’ve gotten more comfortable. It’s a natural process to me.”
While he’s been hot at the plate for a while, Blackmon entered the All-Star break on an absolute tear, hitting .481 over his past seven games, including at least two hits in each of his last four outings. In the first-half finale against Atlanta, he was 3-for-5 with four RBIs (tying a season-high) to lead the Rockies to an 11-3 win and four-game sweep of the Braves.
“We knew it was coming for a while,” Blackmon smiled when asked about the All-Star break. “We’re playing well all around so it’s tough, but physically, yeah, I want a couple of days off.”
With the All-Star break, Blackmon will begin to focus on the second half of the season as the Rockies hope to rebound from a disappointing first half.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “We’ve had some injuries. We’ve had personnel changes. We’ve had winning streaks. We’ve had losing streaks. It’s really about keeping the scope small. When you do that, you’re able to focus on what’s important and succeed.”