Garbage time. Every athlete fears it, for if you are playing during garbage time you are likely not high on your team’s depth chart. The only fans that hang around are your parents. Your friends will tell you they stayed, but they caught your at-bat while toasting your team’s large victory or washing away your embarrassing defeat at the local pub. So why is garbage time relevant to the Colorado Rockies?
Flashing back to a weekend double header as a kid, we had just beaten our first opponent 16-0 and were feeling confident. Our ecstasy would be short lived as our second opponent proceeded to show us that their name, Warning Track Power, was not just a name, but the way they played. As we received a 16-0 beat down, I remember two things vividly. First, I was so glad I played first base; having to watch our outfielders cover every blade of grass as they chased hit after hit made even me tired. Second, I’ll never forget watching one of my teammates, one many could consider a scrub, get his first at-bat of the season. He dribbled a ball back towards the mound, an easy play for any pitcher. Refusing to accept the easy out, he barreled down the line as if he had rocketed a ball to the gap in left-center. He was thrown out by a step, but on his way back to our dugout our coach praised his hustle. The next weekend came and he had found himself a spot as a starter. He’d go on to start every game that season.
For the Colorado Rockies, September is garbage time. Aside from Michael Cuddyer who is vying for the NL Batting Crown, there isn’t much left for the Rockies to claim. Enter Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson. Blackmon and Dickerson are top prospects in the Rockies system. They have spent flickers of time playing for the Rockies, and have had opportunities to prove themselves. Dickerson created a buzz belting 32 homers for Single-A Asheville in 2011. Blackmon, the popular outfielder and top prospect who couldn’t find a spot to play with Cuddyer, Gonzalez, and Fowler covering Coors Field, has seen several call-ups over the past few years. Neither Dickerson nor Blackmon has been able to sure a spot on Colorado’s every day roster.
For Blackmon and Dickerson, the Rox mid-season collapse has opened a door of opportunity. The Rox are now playing in games that mean nothing in the scheme of October. In essence, the Rox have three weeks worth of garbage time. With nagging injuries to Fowler and Gonzalez, Colorado should be shutting them down to heal and prepare for the 2014 season. Meanwhile, you provide Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson chances to play every day Major League Baseball.
The majority of big league prospects need big league experience to measure their worth. For every Yasiel Puig, there are thousands of prospects who never pan out. Puig is also rare in the fact that in his first opportunity to shine, he succeeded. For the majority, the road to the Majors is long and arduous. Forged in failure and trips up and down the farm system, many never realize their dreams of playing every day for a Major League team.
What Blackmon and Dickerson have is a unique opportunity. For the Rox it is a win-win opportunity. Let Blackmon and Dickerson get out there and play. Watch them adjust, watch them struggle, and see what they’ve got. It is hard to gauge a career in the big leagues based upon spotty series appearances. Give them three weeks of baseball to display their game. At worst, you realize what you don’t have and can start moving on in your farm system. At best, you find yourself a useful commodity either on your roster or on someone else’s. You increase your team’s value either directly or indirectly via the trade market.
And if I’m Walt Weiss, I’m watching every one of my guys to see who still busts out of the box on routine grounders or chases down a foul ball into the first few rows of the stands. You know the ones who lead by example and not just saying the right thing in the clubhouse. Those who do will be the ones the team is built around in 2014.