ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Teammates, manager praise Colorado rookie for his prowess with the bat
DENVER – The everyday third baseman for the Colorado Rockies didn’t exactly take the direct route to the hot corner.
In a sense, Jordan Pacheco could almost be forgiven for having an identity crisis in what has been – in many ways – a circuitous career path with hubs at La Cueva, Isotopes Park and, now, Coors Field.
But here, at the end of the rainbow, flexibility can sometimes be a wondrous quality.
“That’s the first thing I took into consideration when I came here,” Pacheco said.
The former La Cueva High and University of New Mexico standout is enjoying some prosperous days in the summer of 2012.
It took him five professional seasons to reach baseball’s pinnacle. It didn’t quite happen the way he may have envisioned, but he has achieved lofty status this season as the Rox regular – and rookie – third baseman.
This wasn’t always the plan. Pacheco, 26, was drafted as a middle infielder out of New Mexico in 2007, and converted to catcher the next year.
This summer, he’s been primarily a corner infielder. And he is becoming an effective one, at that.
Through Tuesday, Pacheco was hitting .305, with 33 RBIs, in 92 games.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” veteran Colorado infielder Jason Giambi said. “He knows he can handle the bat, and he can go to all fields, and I think that makes him confident. He’s really caught on to the whole concept of a quality at-bat, and he’s being rewarded for it.”
More importantly, Pacheco has begun to shore up his one glaring weakness – his defense – and is evolving into a fully functioning major league third baseman.
“The biggest strides he’s made is on defense,” Colorado manager Jim Tracy said. “He hasn’t been Brooks Robinson since April, but he’s a whole lot better than what he was.”
The Rockies knew – and know – that Pacheco can hit. He’s earned high praise for his ability to spray the ball from pole to pole, and Tracy calls him a “terrific bat-to-ball guy. I like sensible aggression.”
But Pacheco’s acumen as a third baseman was under scrutiny. His ability to play multiple positions supplemented his offensive capabilities and made him indispensable to the organization. He hit .339 in the spring, and earned his way onto the Opening Day roster.
Developing the instincts needed to handle the demands of third base on a day-to-day basis were another matter entirely. The Rockies didn’t take issue so much with his fielding or throwing, but rather his acuity in making the type of snap decisions that third basemen are regularly required to make.
Just eight games into the season, Pacheco was demoted April 15 to Triple-A Colorado Springs, mostly to work out the defensive kinks.
For his part, Pacheco, a 2004 La Cueva graduate, handled the demotion to Colorado Springs in stride.
“You can take it two ways,” he said. “You can take it as a challenge or a blessing to prove yourself, or you can get down and not put your work in. I don’t know if (it lit a) fire. I just knew I had some things to work on. And the organization knew I needed to get some more reps.”
Whatever kinks existed, Pacheco apparently ironed them out in a hurry. He batted .433 in 17 games with the Sky Sox, cleaned things up on defense and was promoted back to Colorado on May 5.
“He’s a quick learner,” said Rockies teammate Christian Friedrich, a close friend of Pacheco’s and a frequent teammate as both ascended through the minors. “To me, I’ve been impressed at how he’s been reading the ball. It’s been unbelievable.”
Pacheco was a ninth-round pick of the Rockies in the 2007 draft. That draft was notable for producing two major leaguers from the metro area. Moriarty pitcher Matt Moore was the first pick of the eighth round that year and is in the starting rotation for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pacheco’s first taste with the Rockies came in September, and he impressed, with 14 RBIs in 21 games.
“Getting that opportunity and doing something with it, I gained some confidence with that, knowing I could play at this level,” Pacheco said.
He carried that mojo into the offseason and then back into spring training. He is a bit of a renaissance man with the Rockies. Just last weekend, he had starts at both third base and first base, and Colorado can plug him in behind the plate in a pinch.
“Having that catching tool in my back pocket,” he said, “that’s something a lot of guys don’t have. I think everyone that goes to spring training thinks they can make the club. You just have to find a way to separate yourself. When you get to this level, everyone puts in the extra time and does all the intangibles, so you have to find something you can do on a consistent basis.”
About the only thing Pacheco doesn’t do consistently is hit with power. But Tracy said he won’t press Pacheco to find another speed with the bat.
Pacheco wasn’t privy to Tracy’s comments, but almost right on cue he went out the next afternoon and belted a go-ahead, two-run home run off Miami’s Josh Johnson in a 3-2 Colorado victory.
“You never worry about him at the plate,” Friedrich said. “He’s a professional hitter, is what he is. He’s ready every day, ready to do whatever is asked of him. He doesn’t take anything personally. He just goes about his job.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal