Garrett Hampson sets sights on starting in center field for Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Playing center in Coors Field’s wide-open spaces requires speed, instincts, a sure glove, verve and confidence.

Garrett Hampson, who’s come up as an infielder, believes he meets all of those requirements.

“I’m excited about the outfield,” said Hampson, 26, who will be given every chance to secure the job in center. “I think I could be a really good outfielder. If I’m playing there every day, I think I can be one of the best outfielders out there. I really do.

“I’ll probably miss the infield if I’m just out there roaming the grass. But whatever it takes, I’m going to take pride in what I’m doing out there.”

Hampson certainly has elite speed (30 feet per second makes him the fastest Rockies player) and he can handle a bat (he’s the team’s best bunter, can hit the other way) — two reasons why manager Bud Black is so high on him.

“His tools play in the major leagues,” Black said. “You see some of the things that he’s done. (He’s) a good baserunner with stolen-base potential.”

Black also recalled the leaping catch Hampson made at the left-field wall in the second game of the 2020 season at Globe Life Field in Texas. Hampson robbed Shin-Soo Choo of a home run in the first inning, eliciting applause from Colorado starter Jon Gray.

“For that two-week window last year (when) he started playing, he got his batting average in over .300,” Black continued. “He was getting on base. Those flashes tell you (the talent) is in there. You get to know the guy and his heart, his desire, and it usually plays out. How’s it going to play out in 2020? That’s why we play.”

Hampson’s competition in center field will come from Sam Hilliard, and possibly Raimel Tapia. For Hampson to win the job, and hold on to it, he needs to become a more consistent offensive player.

Hampson played in 59 of Colorado’s 60 games last season, starting 43 either in the infield or the outfield. His slash line (.234/.287/.383) was not great, but he did slug five homers and steal six bases. However, his 32.6% strikeout rate was a red flag.

After a hot start, which coincided with the Rockies coming out of the gate strong, Hampson slumped. In his final 39 games (32 starts), Hampson slashed .202/.250/.323.

Ultimate optimist. Black remains optimistic Colorado’s starting pitchers, if they stay healthy, can defy the naysayers and make the team a contender.

Asked if the 2020 rotation can match the 2018 group that led the Rockies to the playoffs and nearly won the National League West title, Black answered: “I think it can be, I really do. That’s based on the track record of some of the guys who are in that clubhouse.”

That’s saying something. How good were Colorado starters in 2018? Their 4.17 ERA was the second-lowest in franchise history (the 2009 playoff team had a 4.10 ERA); the 84 quality starts were third-most in franchise history; and they struck out 883, sixth in the National League and by far the most in franchise history (the 2010 team had 779).

Checkup. Black said that early in camp, everyone is checking in healthy. The club continues to monitor potential closer Scott Oberg, but so far, so good.

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