An early-season slump and Charlie Blackmon might've gotten a quick hook from the starting center field job he was handed on Opening Day.
After all, the Colorado Rockies weren't short on center field candidates, and all of them out-hit Blackmon (13-for-55 in spring training) during the spring competition—Corey Dickerson was 22-for-64; Drew Stubbs was 17-for-48; Brandon Barnes was 20-for-56; Tim Wheeler was 15-for-39 with four homers.
Fortunately for the 27-year-old Blackmon, his struggles didn't occur until he had done more than enough to solidify his spot in the Colorado Rockies' starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
During his current 9-for-41 slide with no extra-base hits, Blackmon has seen his numbers "plummet" to a pace that should still be considered worthy of his first All-Star selection. That's not easy to do, but he had built up a nice cushion that could easily mask a rough patch.
After hitting his ninth homer of the season on May 11, Blackmon ended the day with a .352/.385/.614 slash line and eight stolen bases. At the quarter mark of the season, he was on pace for 204 hits, 36 homers, 36 doubles, 32 stolen bases, 116 runs batted in and 132 runs scored.
In other words, Blackmon was on an MVP-caliber pace.
While that pace was unsustainable and has fallen off considerably, it's not hard to take a close look at what Blackmon has done and the type of player he has become and not take him seriously as a breakout MLB star.
The Rockies' second-round pick in the 2008 draft, Blackmon's path to the majors was a bumpy one thanks to multiple injuries that interrupted several consecutive seasons. But what he has done in 2014 isn't entirely new.
If we go back to his last 180 plate appearances of 2013, Blackmon had already shown signs of becoming a productive everyday player.
With an .895 OPS, five homers, 13 doubles and four stolen bases over that span, it's understandable why the Rockies gave the job to Blackmon despite a poor spring. They already had an idea that he was a pretty good ball player.
"[Blackmon] certainly showed flashes of it last year," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss earlier this month. "The last part of the year when he was getting consistent playing time. We knew the power was in there."
Did they know he was this good, though? That's highly doubtful.
Despite his strong overall numbers last season, Blackmon's 49-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio during his big league stint had to be alarming for a player who wasn't young enough to expect too much improvement from. That lack of plate discipline was an indicator that big league pitchers would be able to attack his weaknesses and keep him from maintaining long-term success.
Weiss had faith, though, that Blackmon would be able to improve in that area and become the type of hitter that could set the table at the top of the Rockies' lineup.
"We had our exit meeting at the end of the year, and one of the things I talked to Charlie about was really focusing on taking leadoff at-bats and really setting the tone for the lineup," Weiss said earlier this season. "Much like everything else, Charlie embraced it, puts a lot of time into in and works at it. He figures it out."
At least thus far, Weiss was right. Blackmon's made the adjustments and figured it out by drawing 10 walks while striking out just 21 times in 202 plate appearances.
“They’re making adjustments and I’m trying to make adjustments to them,” said Blackmon. “They’re starting to pitch me a little differently than they did at the beginning of the year, so it’s a cat-and-mouse game. Everybody’s constantly adjusting.”
Your move, MLB pitchers.