Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon: “I still have a lot of baseball ahead of me”

Charlie Blackmon doesn’t intend to fade away.

The Rockies’ veteran outfielder made that crystal clear Thursday before taking swings in a batting cage at a workout facility near his Atlanta home.

“I still have a lot of baseball ahead of me,” Blackmon said in a phone interview.  “The last thing you want to do is take anything for granted and start wondering what you are going to do next in life. I’m still very, very focused on getting ready for spring training. I’ve found that the key to baseball is to focus on the here and now and not get too far ahead of yourself.”

But with spring training just a month away, it’s fair to assess Blackmon’s career as he heads toward a major crossroads.

He’ll turn 37 on July 1 and is coming off a subpar season that ended early with a left knee injury that landed him on the injured list Sept. 28. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in early October to repair a torn meniscus.

Blackmon’s entering the final year of the six-year, $108 million contract he signed in 2018. He will make $15.3 million this season, tied for second-most on the club with right-hander German Marquez, behind only Kris Bryant’s $28 million.

While Blackmon is aware that this could be his 13th and final season in Colorado, he’s not dwelling on that.

“I think about everything, but I don’t really want to go there and think about that until I have to,” Blackmon said. “I’m really not ready to comment on that. I still really love the game and I think I can still be productive, for sure.”

He remains a revered teammate.

“Chuck is our guy,” third baseman Ryan McMahon said. “He’s our leader in the clubhouse and someone everyone on the team has a lot of respect for. With a guy like Chuck, you never worry about expecting things from him because he holds himself to such high standards that you know you’re always going to get everything he’s got.”

Blackmon said it’s been a good offseason for him, and a memorable one for his family. His wife, Ashely, gave birth to their son, Wyatt, in early October. Now the Blackmons’ 2-year-old daughter, Josie, has a little brother.

“Let’s put it this way: having two little kids, let alone one, is very involving,” Blackmon said with a laugh.

While juggling daddy duties, the outfielder began working out in early November, only a month after his surgery. His strenuous offseason routine has not changed and Blackmon is intent on boosting his production at the plate.

That would be a big bonus for the Rockies, whose offense in 2022 was one of the worst in franchise history. The Rockies hit .254, the second-lowest in franchise history behind the 2021 club (.249). Colorado finished with a .398 slugging percentage, the first time in franchise history that it finished with a slugging percentage below .400.

Blackmon’s recent downward trend has been part of Colorado’s offensive woes. He hit just .264 in 2022, his lowest average since his rookie season in 2011, and down from a .303 average in the shortened 2020 season and down from .270 in ’21. Blackmon hit 32 home runs in 2019, but just 13 in ’21 and 16 last season.

“I wish I hadn’t finished the season on a homerless streak,” said Blackmon, whose final home run came on July 27, the start of a 46-game drought, the longest of his career.  “I felt like I was pretty productive until the end, and then the long ball kind of tailed off for me.”

Blackmon, a left-handed hitter, believes he will benefit from Major League Baseball’s decision to restrict infield shifts. Beginning this season, two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when a pitch is released. Furthermore, all four infielders must have their feet positioned in the infield cutout in front of the outfield grass.

“Last year I tried to pull the ball a little more and I’m definitely going to practice that swing again because I think it’s my best swing,” he said. “With no shift, I can just go back to what I do best and just hit the ball hard. I feel like there are going to be fewer situations where I need to drag-bunt or try to hit the other way. I do look forward to that.”

Blackmon started in 128 games last season, 79 as a designated hitter and 49 in right field. He still wants to play the outfield as often as he can.

“I really like to play defense but I don’t think you will see me playing defense four or five games in a row,” he said. “I would imagine it will be similar to last season, but one thing the Rockies always need to have is roster flexibility. So we’ll see what happens.”

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