Tuesday Rockpile: Nolan Arenado for Opening Day 3B?

Nolan Arenado is congratulated after hitting his first home run in a Rockies uniform. - USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies have not had a top 100 position player prospect legitimately knocking on the big league door in spring training since Dexter Fowler in 2009. He made the ultimately successful surprise jump from AA to the starting line-up. Should Nolan Arenado be next?

Few sounds are sweeter than the crack of a bat in February, but one thing certainly is: the unmistakable thwack of a pitch redirected at high velocity for a home run from one of your team's top prospects in early spring, particularly one whose power is criticized.

Nolan Arenado came into camp in 2012 as the hottest name in Salt River. He had demolished the Arizona Fall League in that same stadium just months prior, and many hoped he would hit his way onto the big league roster. The youngster struggled with the expectations and floundered. Yesterday, in just his fourth at-bat of this spring, he did what he could not a year ago. Pinch-hitting for Chris Nelson, Arenado launched a no-doubt home run off Rangers prospect Neil Ramirez.

As I wrote on New Year's Day, no position player in the Rockies organization has the potential for a bigger impact on the Rockies 2013 record than Nolan Arenado. The position-mate he pinch-hit for yesterday, Chris Nelson, did hit .301/.352/.458 in a bit of a breakout in 2012, but he was also a butcher on defense, rating as one of the worst infielders in MLB by any statistical measure.

As for 2013, both ZiPS and PECOTA agree: Nolan Arenado would be the Rockies best third baseman for the upcoming season, projecting as at least twice as valuable as Nelson. This even ignores the undeniably higher ceiling Arenado could provide.

The question could get deafening in coming weeks if Arenado can repeat his Monday performance: should the Rockies' starting third baseman on April 1 in Milwaukee?

In a word: nojustdon'teventhinkaboutit.

The reasons not to push the 21-year-old dwarf the benefits of going with the likely superior player. Arenado is fresh off a season wherein he suffered a lengthy confidence deficiency. Nelson is out of options and would have to be traded from a position of no leverage. Nelson could increase his trade value if he can show his August and September of last year were legitimate, especially if he exhibits increased comfort at the hot corner. Arenado could gain confidence in the Pacific Coast League, earning his big league ticket while confident and hungry.

Most importantly, though, any extra wins Arenado would provide in 2013, particularly in April, provide very little longterm benefit. The Rockies are a consensus last-place team, and even a magical season is unlikely to vault Colorado to within a few games of contention. Arenado could be under Rockies control through 2019 if he spends 3-4 weeks in AAA, and the Rockies could avoid Super 2 status after 2015 if his callup comes after mid-June. The wait could have very large longterm benefits.

Would the next month of Spring Training games change my mind? Likely not. Arenado is just 21 - we can wait a little, even if his spring stats might scream otherwise. I remember all too well another hotshot third baseman hitting .396/.434/.792 with five home runs in Cactus League action. That guy was 20, and he's...not around anymore.

Don't be fooled by small sample size puffery against young/cold/inexperienced arms of spring. There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and the worst of all, spring training statistics. What is evident on February 26 should be just as evident on March 31, and that is the Rockies should continue to exercise patience with this young third baseman.

Links

With retirement looming, Rockies star Todd Helton reflects on life and baseball - Yahoo! Sports RIRF linked this later in the Rockpile yesterday, but do make sure you read this spotlight on Helton. A particularly apt interpretation of what Helton must feel from TIm Brown:

And then, damn, second place in the NL West becomes third, then fourth, then you lose 98 games - ninety-eight - and you're in last place and the manager just freakin' quits. It's like managers don't quit except in Colorado, because sometimes it seems just hopeless.

Weiss likes Young-Fowler speed atop lineup | Rockies.com: News - I think we all do, but the challenge with EY is finding a place for him to play in the field.

Young Rockies to lean on Michael Cuddyer on field, in clubhouse | Rockies.com: News You can indeed buy chemistry through magic. I picture Cuddyer showing up to Spring Training with a rubber ear in his pocket, just like Andy Stitzer.

Troy Tulowitzki shines on defense in Rockies' win over Rangers - The Denver Post This is good.

Carlos Gonzalez wants to turn back Rockies' clock to winning ways - The Denver Post This is obvious, but it does give us a quote that is hopefully accurate.

"I remember when we were playing at Dodger Stadium late in the season. They were a pretty good
team trying to reach the playoffs. And with runners in scoring position, they walk me intentionally. I missed (the protection). Managers made decisions to not go after me, and then when they did I tried to do too much." - Carlos Gonzalez, via Troy Renck

Q&A: Jordan Pacheco, Rockies’ Mr. Versatile | FanGraphs Baseball Usually branding yourself as a utility player is a good way to affix low glass ceiling on your career. That's fine by Mr. Pacheco, who is happy to have a career.

Baseball Prospectus | Baseball Therapy: Can't Buy Me Chemistry? Russell Carleton looks for statistical evidence from chemistry, specifically stemming from teams with consistent rosters vs teams with high turnover.

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