After trading Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros in the offseason, the Colorado Rockies had a dilemma: Who would play center field? At one point, it appeared they would move Carlos Gonzalez there, as manager Walt Weiss said at the beginning of spring training, "Offensively, defensively, we'll look at how the club is designed and we'll make a decision accordingly. We've got multiple options in center field. But CarGo is going to run out to center field and we'll see how it works."
That idea didn't last long, leaving four players vying for the center field job:
Charlie Blackmon, a guy who has been up and down with the Rockies since 2011 and hit .309/.336/.467 in 258 plate appearances in 2013. The Rockies like his defense and he made an impression late in the season, hitting .343 in September.
Corey Dickerson, a bat-first player who hit .371 and slugged .632 in Triple-A and hit .263 as a rookie in 69 games with the Rockies but is considered to be stretched defensively as a center fielder (he had never played center as a professional until playing some there with the Rockies last season; a torn labrum from his college days means his arm is below-average). Like Blackmon, Dickerson hits left-handed.
Drew Stubbs, the former Reds center fielder who was with the Indians last season. He had one excellent year with the Reds back in 2010, but has proven over time that he can't hit right-handers. Still, he's a viable platoon guy.
Brandon Barnes, acquired in the Fowler trade, really more of a fourth outfielder, but a plus defender in center with good range and a strong arm.
In the end, the Rockies didn't really make a decision leaving spring training, electing to carry all four guys, making them the rare team to carry six outfielders on their 25-man roster. The lack of a decision also means the Rockies will run a revolving door in the leadoff position since the center fielder will hit leadoff in an otherwise set lineup.
Blackmon started on Opening Day. Stubbs started the second game, even though a right-hander was pitching. Blackmon started the third game and then Dickerson started the fourth game.
Blackmon was back out there on Friday and had a day for the ages: Six at-bats, six hits, four runs and five RBIs as the Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-2 in their home opener. That's a way to fill up a box score.
Blackmon became just the 66th player since 1914 to go 6-for-6 (Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox did it last year). He became just the 10th player since 1914 to go 6-for-6 with at least four runs and five RBIs, the last being Willie Harris in 2007.
Blackmon doubled to center in the first, singled to right in the third, hit a two-run homer to right in the fourth, blooped a double to left in the sixth (thank you, Mark Trumbo) and then, with the remaining fans from a sellout crowd chanting "Char-lie! Char-lie!" he hit a soft liner to left that landed just fair for his sixth hit. Not bad for a guy who started so slowly in spring training that it was rumored he would be the odd man out and get sent down to Triple-A to start the season.
"When you get an opportunity to play, it's really nice to come up and contribute," Blackmon said after the game, admitting he'd never had six hits in a game at any level. About his final hit, he said, "I didn't even know where it went when I hit it. You know you had a good day when you hit a ball and it ends up two inches inside the line."
While he may be the best combo of offense and defense, whether Blackmon will ultimately hit enough remains a question. While he hit .309 last year, he also drew just seven walks while striking out 49 times. His ratio in Triple-A was better -- 35 walks, 41 strikeouts -- but his .288 average paled in comparison to what Dickerson hit at Colorado Springs (.371). Blackmon is 27, so he's not likely to improve much going forward, but it's hard to maintain success with a 49-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Rockies never seem to have a game plan, but Weiss and the front office do seem to prefer defense, and that gives Blackmon the edge over Dickerson. (One reason they signed Justin Morneau to play first base is he's a better defender there than Michael Cuddyer, although Cuddyer's lack of range in right field is a detriment). One interesting thing will be whether Weiss will play Morneau against lefties, considering Morneau has been terrible against them in recent seasons. The Rockies haven't faced a lefty starter yet, but when they do Weiss should move Cuddyer to first and play Stubbs.
Anyway, the Rockies still have four center fielders on the roster. But Blackmon's big day may mean they have one for now.