Third time's a charm for Blackmon
Rockies select former pitcher to hit as Draft draws to a close
DENVER -- Charlie Blackmon was a good enough pitcher to be drafted twice -- in the 28th round by the Marlins in 2004 out of North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga., and in the 20th round by the Red Sox in 2005 out of Young Harris (Ga.) College, a two-year school.
But he really wanted to hit.
Georgia Tech signed Blackmon, but as a pitcher, in 2007, and he was limited to one inning because of elbow tendinitis.
Besides, he really wanted to hit.
Blackmon uncorked a plan -- tell his summer league coach, former Major Leaguer Rusty Greer, that he was an outfielder-pitcher. Blackmon proved he could hit there, and made the most of his chance after returning to Georgia Tech. After playing the outfield and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in several offensive categories, Blackmon found himself being drafted in the second round by the Rockies in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
"Not a chance," Blackmon said when asked if he foresaw his rise. "I just think that having been drafted as a pitcher, I was supposed to be a pitcher, even though I loved to hit. But I got an opportunity. I had no idea that I would turn out to hit as well as I did."
Blackmon's story is one of a player maturing and finding his proper place after going to college. That story played itself out time and time again for the Rockies, who didn't choose a high school player until the 14th round, and didn't go back to the high school ranks until the 25th (Andrew Burns, a shortstop from Rocky Mountain High in Fort Collins, Colo.).
Blackmon, who turns 22 on July 1, made himself into a dominant offensive player in his only major college season.
"You're looking at a kid who'd been predominantly a pitcher, and it was his first full year swinging the bat," Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt said. "But really it was his athleticism and his tools. You don't step into the ACC and hit (.396). You're talking about a tall, athletic kid who can really run."
The 2007 season was a tough one for Blackmon, who didn't even travel with the Georgia Tech team. His break came when Tech coach Danny Hall sent him to play for Coffeyville in the Texas Collegiate League, a summer program sponsored by Major League Baseball.
Greer said when the summer started, he had a strong pitching staff and didn't know where he'd find innings for Blackmon. But Greer and his hitting coach liked his swing. Watching Blackmon run in the outfield clinched it for Greer.
"I asked him if he'd every played center field and he said no, but I told him the way you swing the bat and the way you can run, that'll get you drafted," Greer said. "The next day, I put him in the outfield. Three or four days later, he made two really nice plays, one in the right-center-field gap and one in the left-center-field gap. He hit a home run and had been hitting and driving the ball well.
Rockies' top five selections
|25.||LHP||Christian Friedrich||Eastern Ky. U|
|72.||RF||Charles Blackmon||Georgia Tech|
|103.||RHP||Aaron Weatherford||Mississippi St U|
|137.||RHP||Phillip Hollingsworth||Western Michigan U|
|167.||3B||Christopher Dominguez||U of Louisville|
|Complete Rockies Draft results >|
"Then one day I called him out on the mound and asked him, 'Do you really want to pitch or do you really want to play a position?' He had been drafted a couple of times as a pitcher, so I told him to think about it overnight. He came back and said he wanted to play a position."
Blackmon soaked up all he could from Greer, a fellow left-handed hitter who studied the game well enough to forge out a long career and become one of the Rangers' honored players.
"I remember one day I came to him on how he approached hitting a left-handed pitcher," Blackmon said. "To simplify it a little bit, he said, 'You can't try to pull the ball all the time.' He suggested I open my stance up a little bit, just to get a better look at the ball out of his hand.
"I put the barrel on the ball, got a hit immediately. Then I listened to everything he had to say."
Blackmon, who not only had to adjust to hitting but had to learn to hit with wood, led his team with a .316 batting average. Greer gave Tech coach Danny Hall a report. Hall decided he had an outfielder.
In addition to his strong season, Blackmon earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second-team honors. All the on- and off-field honors came during a season that became heartbreaking when Tech pitcher Michael Hutts died on April 11 of what was ruled a drug overdose.
"The one thing the Georgia Tech team could take away from the season is we pulled together and started spending more time together away from the field," Blackmon said. "We developed a stronger relationship, more of a bond."
Blackmon concentrated on helping his club, so it wasn't until near the end of the season that he began thinking he was building a high-round future.
"I guess about halfway through the season I decided that I'm getting pretty good at this hitting thing, and it might work out for me," Blackmon said. "I kept playing well, and it was just at the very end that I realized I'd helped myself out and put together a season worthy of getting drafted."
The Rockies' Draft is full of players who gained baseball and life experience by staying in college.
Schmidt said the rookie-level Pioneer League is increasingly a league of college players, and that's part of the philosophy. But the Rockies are drafting not just to fill a low-level Minor League team. The bigger reason for going with college players is the Rockies have more information.
"I think we've scouted them a little more," Schmidt said. "We've watched them through college and got a better feel for what they're all about. They might not have the upside of some kids, but with the way we're set up it's the best way to go."
Drafting in the 25th position meant the hitters at the very top of the Draft were gone by the time the club chose, but the second-best left-handed pitcher, Eastern Kentucky's Christian Friedrich, had fallen to them. The Rockies ended up with seven pitchers in their first 11 picks.
The second pitcher, Mississippi State right-hander Aaron Weatherford, was a college closer and could move through the farm system quickly.
Colorado players also had a presence. Chandler Jacobsen, a first baseman from the University of South Carolina Aiken, is from Chatfield High in Littleton; Burns led Rocky Mountain High to consecutive Class 5A state tiles; and 39th-round pick Kyle Ottoson, a left-handed pitcher, played at Eaton High, just north of Greeley.
The team also paid attention to Major League bloodlines. University of Nevada Reno right-hander Rod Scurry is son of former Major Leaguer Rod Scurry. Ottoson is a cousin of Astros infielder Mark Loretta. Kemer Quirk, a 40th-round choice from Kansas City Rockhurst High, is son of Rockies bench coach Jamie Quirk. Dean Espy, a shortstop from Red Mountain High in Mesa, Ariz., is son of former Rockies hitting coach and current hitting coach at the team's Class A club in Modesto, Duane Espy.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.