Realigned Rockies Outfield Takes Advantage of Skills and Athleticism
In the course of a 12-year big-league career, Pete Incaviglia was given the opportunity to start in center field 15 times – 10 games in 1989 and five more in 1990.
“That’s when I realized how much I wish I was faster,” Incaviglia explained with a chuckle. “There’s a lot of ground to cover, but you get such a true read on the baseball.”
Truth be told, center field, other than the fact there is a lot of open space, is the most forgiving of the three outfield positions.
“You get a true read of the ball off the bat, and you get a feel for the pitch selection and the (expected) pitch location so it allows you to have that jump when the ball comes off the bat,” he said.
With that in mind, don’t read too much into the decisions the Rockies have made on their outfield alignment. Charlie Blackmon is moving from center field to right field. Ian Desmond is moving from first base to center field. David Dahl is going to take over in left field.
It's not a knock on any of the three players involved. It’s designed to strengthen the Rockies outfield alignment.
"In our park, I like right for Charlie," Black said. "Making this change, he's probably more comfortable in right. He played more right in the Minors. David might have a little bit more range in left. Left field needs range in our park. We went through it a little bit, and those are some of the things we're thinking."
Consider the following:
n Dahl, a former first-round draft choice, is the hope for the Rockies future. He has the strongest arm and is arguably the fastest of the three. So why put him in left field, which has a reputation for being the home for outfielders with a defensive deficiency?
Because left-field at Coors Field is different than anywhere else. It covers more ground than any outfield in MLB, which puts an emphasis on speed to cut balls off down the line and in the left-center gap.
"It's pretty tough in left -- the ball comes off the bat a little different, especially at Coors, where the ball carries," said Dahl. "You have to take good angles. … You just have to get some work in out there and get some work in during BP and drills and everything."
When the late Don Baylor managed the Rockies, in the pre-humidor days, he picked up a move by then Cubs manager Jim Riggleman, who would bunch his left fielder toward center with the idea that if the ball hit down the line is a double, regardless, but by bunching the moving the left fielder more toward center it could cut down on those bloopers that fall in over shortstop that frustrate pitchers.
n Desmond is 33, but he is still in prime physical condition. He has excellent instincts and when he was moved from shortstop, his original position, to the outfield with the Rangers in 2016, he quickly adapted to center field, only to be moved to left field his first year with the Rockies and then first base last year. Now he is back in center.
"It's humbling to be able to do this at 33 years old," said Desmond. "God blessed me with the ability to get faster and maintain strength and all that stuff at 33. We'll see what happens."
Desmond's arm isn’t as strong as Dahl or Blackmon, but then center field puts less a premium on arm strength than the other two spots.
n Blackmon came up a right fielder but quickly moved to center. Moving him back to right field lessns the physical demand because it means less ground to cover, but it also puts an emphasis on his arm because of opportunities to throw out runners.
"The right-field arm is probably more important than the center-field arm, especially in Coors Field," Blackmon said. "The center fielder is so far from the infield, it's hard to throw guys out. It'll come into play a lot more in right field. I'm aware of that, so I'm gonna try to throw real good."
The other plus are Blackmon's on-field instincts because of the high right field wall with the old-fashioned scoreboard.
The ball can take strange direction when it hits off that scoreboard, putting an emphasis on the right fielder being able to anticipate.
There also is a chance to deke runners, which was a specialty of Larry Walker in his days patrolling right field at Coors. With a high fly ball, Walker could camp on the warning track, pounding his glove in anticipation of catching the ball. As often as not, the ball was headed for the scoreboard, but Walker’s deke would force a runner on first or second to hang back and tag up, instead of taking off on contract.
With Blackmon’s instincts and athleticism, he should be a perfect fit to exploit the nuances of right field at Coors.
The bonus for the Rockies is the athleticism of all three outfielders – any of which can play center field or left field, and Dahl and Blackmon both projecting well in right field. It gives manager Bud Black the opportunity to juggle positioning if a need arises and gives him more flexibility on days one of the regular needs a breather.