Pacheco displays rare versatility for sophomore
Budding star hit .309 as a rookie, played behind the dish and at the corners in 2012
PEORIA, Ariz. -- If there's one trend the Rockies hope to see continue in 2013, it's the increasing versatility on their roster. And when you're looking for the poster child for the Rockies' versatility, look no further than Jordan Pacheco.
For the second consecutive spring, Pacheco comes to class toting three gloves in his locker, as he feels at home playing first base to third by way of home plate. He played 132 games for the Rockies in 2012, a constant presence whose .309 average was the fifth highest in the National League and tops among rookies.
"He consistently throws out good at-bats," manager Walt Weiss said. "Situational at-bats are right up his alley. They play right into his strength. When he has to come up and move the ball to the big part of the field or give you that situational at-bat, he's right in his element."
While "versatile" may have been the word that best described Pacheco at the start of last season, by the end of the campaign, it had been replaced by "professional," most often paired with "hitter." Pacheco showed he could handle any challenge with the bat, consistently finding holes across the diamond to drop another double. His dependability put him on the short list, with the likes of Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, for the club's most valuable player candidates.
Pacheco came to his first Spring Training in 2011 as a catcher and opened eyes with his bat, hitting .286 in 16 games as a 25-year-old prospect. The next year, he won a spot on the club in part as a result of a .339 batting average in 23 Cactus League games, and when veteran third baseman Casey Blake didn't pan out at third, Pacheco was in the mix to handle duties at the hot corner.
He ended up playing 82 games at third, 43 at first and five behind the dish. When Todd Helton's injury called for Pacheco to shift his emphasis from third to first, Chris Nelson proved a steady answer at third, finishing the season hitting .301 and making 68 of his 86 starts at third.
"With his versatility -- being able to catch, play some first base, and third as well -- it's going to really help him and possibly help out the ballclub," third-base and infield coach Stu Cole said of Pacheco. "Him being able to still go out there and take his ground balls at those positions, it's just going to keep him ready and prepared for what we decide we're going to do with him later on."
The question marks that could induce panic and discomfort among many players have come to be second nature to Pacheco, who has developed enough faith in himself to count on seeing his name in the lineup on an everyday basis, contributing with both his bat and glove.
"I know what they expect out of me, but I still have to go out there and perform and show them I can help this ballclub," Pacheco said. "We didn't win too many games last year. I want to be a part of a winning ballclub and show them I can help out."
Pacheco was raking at a .438 clip (7-for-16) coming into Monday's game against the Mariners, while playing three games each at first and catcher and two at designated hitter. It wouldn't be unreasonable to treat Pacheco as No. 2 on the depth chart at first, behind Todd Helton.
"[They've told me to] keep an open mind about everything and be ready to play every day," Pacheco said. "Wherever they need me, hopefully I can help."
It's an interesting plan for the league's No. 5 hitter, but with more than 500 plate appearances in 2012, Pacheco's confidence continues to increase. He'll need to maintain that confidence as opposing pitchers start focusing on him after he's landed squarely on the radar of NL clubs through an eye-opening rookie campaign.
"As an individual, you always want to get better and you always want to get to that next level and get better," Pacheco said. "I guess you have a better understanding of what they're going to do to you and how they're going to approach you."
At this rate, don't look for Pacheco to make any more trips south on I-25 to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He went down for three weeks in mid-April last year when the Rockies wanted to give him a chance to hone his third-base skills without the pressure of performing under the big league spotlight. Cole -- then the Sky Sox's manager -- worked with him every day to get him prepared for a starting job in the Rockies' infield, and once Pacheco left the Springs, he never looked back.
"It went well for him," Cole said. "He came down with a good attitude, and the kid loves to work. That was the main thing for us trying to get him to accept what we were going to do with him. He did his work, he got better, and it showed when he came back up to the big leagues and he played third base."
Pacheco is likely to be joined by no less than a half dozen multiposition players on the Opening Day roster, including starters Josh Rutledge (second base/shortstop), Chris Nelson (third base/second base) and Michael Cuddyer (right field/first base), along with Eric Young (outfield/second base), DJ LeMahieu (second base/third base/shortstop) and Tyler Colvin (outfield/first base).
"A lot of guys got experience," Pacheco said of the depth the Rockies developed among position players in 2012. "They know what they can do, they know what roles they can fill. If somebody gets hurt, we know we got some depth.
"The great thing about our lineup is one through nine, somebody can have a [good] day, and that's all you need. That usually wins it."
With runners in scoring positions, Pacheco hit .325 and his 46 RBIs trailed only Gonzalez and Colvin, making Pacheco frequently the one who got it done.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.