Blackmon Was That Diamond in the Rough Rockies Discovered
SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Mention Charlie Blackmon’s name and Danny Montgomery, a special assistant to Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, can’t help himself.
He breaks into a big smile and shakes his head affirmatively.
Blackmon is one of those feel-good scouting stories.
He was a second-round draft choice of the Rockies in June of 2008, a senior at Georgia Tech, who was mostly an unknown, having made the conversion from a left-handed relief specialist to an every day center fielder less than a year before being drafted.
And it was more coincidence than anything that led to Montgomery uncovering Blackmon, whose late conversion to an offensive position kept him from being a factor in draft preparations. He actually flew into Atlanta to get a look at lefthander David Duncan, an eventual fifth-round pick of the Astros, and Tech coach Danny Hall, a long-time friend of Montgomery, “tells me keep an eye on our center fielder. This kid, Blackmon, was a pitcher, but I’m letting him hit now.”
Montgomery saw enough that Sunday afternoon that he decided to stay for a make-up game Georgia Tech was playing on Monday, but he didn’t tell anyone, not even Alan Mathews, the Rockies area scout at the time.
“I got to the park early, talked with Danny Hall and got all the pertinent information about Blackmon,” said Montgomery. “I was just shocked, the way he ran, the way he used his hands to hit. At the game, it was just me and another scout. I was sitting at the top of the stadium. I didn’t want anyone to know I was there and I really didn’t want anyone to know I was looking at Blackmon.”
“I told Billy (Schmidt, the Rockies scouting director) I had a guy I was going to try to overpower him to take high in the draft,” said Montgomery. “I wanted him in the second, third round, early. Fortunately in the draft, we all pulled together and got him.”
And nobody in Colorado is complaining.
Blackmon had made the conversion the summer before Montgomery saw him. He showed up to play on a college summer league team in the Dallas area. His arm was sore but he wanted to play so he told his manager, former big-league outfielder Rusty Greer, that he was an outfielder.
Greer knew better, but he went along with the idea, and by summer's end he called Hall and told him he needed to give Blackmon a shot at playing centerfield. Greer thought Blackmon had potential to be drafted with what he saw him do with a bat.
A year later, Blackmon broke into pro ball at short-season Tri-City that summer of 2008 and hit .338.
Three years from the date of that 2008 draft, Blackmon made his big-league debut, and now look at him.
At the age of 31, he is coming off a season in which he not only led the NL with a .331 batting average, but 103 of his 104 RBI came as a leadoff hitter, a Major League record for a lead off hitter. He has won back-to-back Silver Sluggers, as voted by NL managers and coaches, and was an All-Star for the second time.
Now the Rockies are looking at moving Blackmon into the No. 3 slot in the order, ahead of Nolan Arenado, which should be an even more productive spot for him, which is fine with him.
“I don’t think it will be that much different,” said Blackmon. “It will be a situation where there are more runners on base.”
And he will probably get more pitches to hit than he did at the top spot in the lineup.
“You know,” Blackmon said with a sly grin, "nobody wants to face Nolan (Arenado, Rockies cleanup hitter) with men on base.”
Hey, Blackmon figures to have more runners on base, too. Instead of having a pitcher hitting in front of him, which was the case as a leadoff hitter, he will have the 1-2 hitters in the lineup.
But it’s not the personal stats that Blackmon relishes.
He wants to think that the move will help the Rockies be better.
He wants to be a part of a team that advances past the wild-card game, which was where the Rockies season ended a year ago.
“The stats are nice, but the only stats that really matter are wins and losses,” said Blackmon. “That’s why you play.”