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Casey Blake Joins Rockies’ Crowd at Third

Casey Blake is reportedly joining the Rockies on a non-guaranteed, one-year deal worth up to $3 million. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like too much money — and the Rockies are a perpetual contender in a weak division — so blocking a cheaper prospect might not be of the utmost concern. It’s a small, short deal that fills a need.

What is notable about the move, though, is the motley crew of infielders that the team is collecting at third base. With Arizona Fall League MVP Nolan Arenado yet to taste a day of Double-A ball, the Rockies need stopgap players to help bide the time until Arenado is ready. Blake is the final piece in a four-headed monster at the position.

Incumbent Ian Stewart is gone, and in his place are a few new faces. DJ LeMahieu came over in the deal that sent Stewart packing, but his minor league statistics don’t show any power or patience. He only once cracked a .100 ISO in a full season, and his best walk rate was 7.1% in A-ball. But he doesn’t strike out, and he can play a little second or third, so he could make for a fine backup infielder.

You could drop the same moniker on Jordan Pacheco, as well. He only once showed above-average power in the minor leagues, and that was in A-ball. One time, he walked at an 11.7% rate, but that was in high-A. As he’s progressed through the system, his power and plate patience have waned. In triple-A last year he had a .099 ISO, walked 7.3% of the time, struck out 11.7% of the time and stole two bases. LeMahieu had a .079 ISO, walked 5.7% of the time, struck out 10.9% of the time and stole five bases. Both are right-handed. Maybe one will work out.

Should we add former shortstop Chris Nelson to the list? If Jonathan Herrera takes second base, with occasional help from Eric Young Jr., then Nelson might play some third. Nelson is another right-hander, but — unlike the others — he actually has some power (.218 triple-A ISO, .196 in double-A in 2009). Until last season, he walked at an average rate too. He does strike out more than LeMahieu and Pachecho, but he still should remain better-than-league-average in that category.

The fact remains that none of these three options so far is a lock to even put up the .257/.317/.387 line that the average National League third baseman reached in 2011. Nelson might have the best shot, but he might be needed elsewhere.

Enter Blake. The 38-year-old was at his worst season last year and only had 239 plate appearances. His was an injury riddled year, yet he still managed a .252/.342/.371 in those limited at-bats — which pretty much duplicated an average third baseman’s production. His upside in Colorado would be if he produced a league-average strikeout rate (20.4% career), league-average power (.178 career, but down recently) and slightly above-average patience (8.7% career, but up recently). His three-year UZR average is close to plus-10, so he won’t give it all back with the glove.

Blake didn’t get regular playing time until he was 30, and that’s a shame. Most years, he’s been a decent third baseman — last year was the first time he failed to produce surplus value. But the late debut means that he seemingly became a brittle older dude quicker than most players.

Now, at the tail-end of his career, Blake now is most useful on a short-term contract with a team that has decent backup options and a long-term prospect on the way. And that suits the Rockies just fine.