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Tuesday Rockpile: Nolan Arenado and the AFL - What Does it Mean?

Nolan Arenado - how high is his ceiling?
Nolan Arenado - how high is his ceiling?

Nolan Arenado is no secret in these parts. Following strong seasons in the Pioneer League (Rookie, 2009), South Atlantic League (A, 2010), and California League (Hi-A, 2011), the 20-year-old third baseman got an invite to the Arizona Fall League, populated by top prospects and "guys" from all organizations, mostly from AA. There, as one of the youngest players in the league, Arenado has caught fire and performed among the best of the hitters in the AFL, even hitting cleanup in the AFL Rising Stars game - in a lineup with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

His performance has generated a nearly daily "Arenado Watch" here on Purple Row.  He furthered his batting line yesterday, reaching base three times and driving in two more runs. Arenado now leads the AFL in RBI (32), is second in batting average (.404), 4th in OPS (1.111), 5th in home runs (5th), 4th in slugging percentage (.688), 1st in hits (38), and 1st in total bases (68).

One could understand getting fans getting excited about the guy. First, to temper your expectations, there are several reasons to not write him in as an impact player soon. While the level of competition is much higher than the Cal League, the AFL doesn't have the top tier pitching prospects to match the hitters. The Rockies kept deserving candidates Chad Bettis and Drew Pomeranz out due to workload, and other organizations did the same.

Additionally, the Arizona Fall League is in...Arizona. The dry air and elevation inflate offensive numbers, and a line drive contact hitter will take advantage of that as much as anyone. Arenado is currently sitting on 94 at bats in the AFL as well, which is approximately 1/7th of a full MLB season. We are still talking a small sample.

But .404 is .404. And the AFL is really an extension of 2.5 strong minor league seasons. We can be excited. The kid is ridiculously talented. It's not like we are saying he's going to be better than Bryce Harper, BestProspectintheUniverse. It's not like we are comparing him to Albert Pujols, BestPlayerintheUniverse. I mean, what would you do if someone said something like that? What if it was someone with name recognition?

Nolan Arenado had one of the best 0-for-4s I've seen in a showcase event (the Rising Stars Game). On top of demonstrating that he has made big strides on defense at third, he made some loud contact and showed an exceptional approach at the plate. Arenado has an uncanny knack for getting his hands through the ball. I see some Pujols in him. I really do. If Arenado doesn't wind up being a well-above-average MLB hitter, I'll be surprised. Throw in potential average or better defense at third base and you have one of the top prospects in baseball. It wouldn't shock me if he ends up having a better career than (Bryce) Harper, not in the slightest.

Pujols? Harper? WOW. Those comments were made by Adam Foster of Project Prospect. While not totally in the prestige of Keith Law (ESPN), Jim Callis/John Manuel (Baseball America), Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), he isn't without resume. He has written for Baseball America, ESPN,, and This week, he compared his 2007 Top 100 prospect list and 2008 Top 100 prospect list to BA/BP/ESPN and came out pretty favorably.

I watched the Rising Stars Game. Foster is a bit generous in his definition of "loud contact" from Arenado. He did have a solid line drive up the middle with the sacks full snared by the shortstop, but his other at-bats resulted in weak ground balls to second base and a lazy fly ball to right field. He did make solid contact on foul balls, made contact on every swing and didn't swing at any pitches out of the zone. He wasn't tested defensively but converted every routine play. Go ahead, continue your crush on Arenado. Even you never thought to compare him to Pujols/Harper.


Summary of other Winter League players after the jump.

Winter League Watch

  • Tim Wheeler (OF) is hitting just .231 with a .731 OPS and just two home runs as the Rockies "Priority Player" in the AFL. After being the only 30 HR / 20 SB player in minor league baseball, Wheeler really appears to be running on fumes, both statistically and with my eyes. He did finish the AA season on a slow note, so exhaustion from the 636 PA in the Texas League wouldn't be surprising. While it is likely the AFL is exposing some issues with his swing, there is little we can deduce from his AFL campaign. I almost expected a flat showing from Wheeler after how he finished with the Drillers.
  • Ben Paulsen (1B) was a Texas League All-Star and AFL Rising Star, but that doesn't mean he has hit well. After hitting just .241/.295/.413 in AA Tulsa, he is now sitting at .247/.321/.315 in the AFL despite a nice spurt of late. In contrast to Wheeler, many scouts don't see Paulsen translating to the big league level, so his AFL showing certainly looks like further proof of that.
  • Rob Scahill, my favorite under the radar Rockies' prospect, has pitched very well in the AFL. He has allowed one run in seven innings, striking out eight and walking two. In the Rising Stars Game, he worked a perfect inning in relief, including being the only pitcher to retire Game MVP Nick Franklin. He reached 96mph and showed a good slider.
  • Joe Gardner has cooled after his exceptional start to the AFL. He has struck out 14 in 12 innings of work, but he also has walked 8 and allowed six runs. He has been scored upon in three of his last four outings. His arm slot has made accuracy a concern with him, but his stuff (mid-90's with tremendous sink) is fantastic when he finds the zone.
  • Parker Frazier has been roughed up in the AFL. In 16 innings of work, Frazier has allowed 12 runs on 23 hits. The right-hander was in A-ball last season, so the battering isn't especially surprising in Arizona.
  • Casey Weathers fired a high-90's fastball off Kansas City's Christian Colon's hand in the Rising Stars game and exited one batter later after getting an out. He has allowed four runs in eight innings while striking out ten...but as usual, walking eight.
  • Wilin Rosario is playing in a Dominican Winter League now, a league also populated by the likes of Brandon Belt, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogucevic and Brandon Allen. Through 60 at-bats, Rosario is currently 2nd in the league in home runs (5), 1st in RBI (22, six ahead of the next hitter), 3rd in slugging percentage (.633), and 4th in OPS (.961).
  • Eric Young Jr. is also now playing in the Dominican League starting this week, playing for the Braves, a team managed by Don Baylor.



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