State of the Position: The future is bright at 3B with Nolan Arenado

Dustin Bradford

The next spot on the diamond profiled in our "State of the Position" series is one that will hopefully be occupied by its incumbent starter for a long time.

The Rockies have had a lot of talent come through the organization to man the hot corner in recent years, but each of those players -- Garrett Atkins, Ian Stewart and the like -- eventually flamed out after solid beginnings to their careers. The Rockies got another unbelievable season from a young third baseman in 2013, though it ended up that way sort of unconventionally. Either way, it leaves the team with high hopes at the position entering the 2014 season and beyond.

Incumbent starter

Nolan Arenado came up through the minors with a fair amount of hype, particularly after he blew the doors after the Arizona Fall League following a tremendous 2011 season in the California League. Expectations were tempered a bit when Arenado "struggled" in Double-A in 2012, but the California native put those concerns to rest when he was called up to the big leagues in late-April of last season and proceeded to have one of the greatest defensive seasons Rockies fans have seen from an individual player.

Arenado left a lot to be desired offensively -- particularly for a guy who was considered throughout his time in the minors to be better at the plate than in the field -- by finishing the season with a .267/.301/.405 line. However, thanks to his defense, he compiled 3.9 rWAR, which ranks fourth on the Rockies all-time single season list among third basemen.

If the 22-year-old Gold Glove winner can improve offensively, which is a completely reasonable suggestion, he has a chance to be one of the best third basemen in the league for a long time.

MLB-quality depth

With Jonathan Herrera having been traded to the Red Sox, DJ LeMahieu has a slight edge over Ryan Wheeler in terms of players with the most big-league experience at third base behind Arenado. LeMahieu seems to be the front-runner to start at second base, but that doesn't mean he won't be in line for some reps at third if Arenado needs a breather. Wheeler is in the mix for one of the final roster spots but is certainly no guarantee to break camp with the Rockies.

Paul Janish is getting some reps at third base and is also in the mix for the Opening Day roster, largely because he's a good defender at shortstop and the Rockies need insurance for Troy Tulowitzki. Jordan Pacheco has actually played more third base than LeMahieu and Wheeler combined, but it appears that his future as a big-leaguer will come behind the plate, and for good reason; Pacheco is 15 runs below average at third in his career.

On the farm

Rosell Herrera is on the 40-man roster, but he hasn't played a game above Low-A. He'll probably start the year at Modesto, which is still a long way from the big leagues. He's a shortstop, but seems destined for a move to the hot corner, which could force the Rockies' hand if he lives up to his billing as a prospect.

Down another level will be Ryan McMahon, who hit .321/.402/.583 as an 18-year-old at Grand Junction to propel himself onto the radar of prospect hounds everywhere. He's even further away than Herrera, but a strong season at Asheville will put McMahon in the same conversation as his High-A counterpart.

Who's available in the event of a catastrophe?

If each of Arenado, LeMahieu/Josh Rutledge, Wheeler, Pacheco and Janish get injured, at that point -- and only at that point -- the Rockies would have to look outside the organization. They likely wouldn't find much; third base isn't exactly flowing with decent available options at the hot corner. Alberto Callaspo and Donnie Murphy are the best of a very limited pool of guys the Rockies would be in a realistic position to get. Chase Headley rumors will likely persist all season unless he gets an extension from the Padres, but based on recent history, Colorado certainly won't be involved in those talks.

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