Great bat, questionable glove. Will eventually have to move to first base. Duck-footed and lumbers. Attitude and make-up a huge concern.
All of those statements littered scouting reports on Nolan Arenado, who lost his luster as a highly touted MLB prospect after a "disappointing" 2012 season in Double-A. Arenado, according to some anonymous scouts, moped his way through the early and middle parts of the year after not being called up to the big club, resulting in a hit to his character.
That, for a lack of a better word, "stuff," made 2013 sort of a make-or-break season for Arenado. The 22-year-old California native responded in a big way.
Arenado began the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but the Rockies' decision to leave him off the opening day roster had no effect on him this time around. Arenado was unconscious in 18 games, using the PCL's extreme offensive environment to post a .364/.392/.667 line and force the hand of the brass of the Rockies, who were apparently fed up with Chris Nelson's lack of production at third base.
After midnight on April 28, the Rockies made the decision to designate Nelson for assignment and finally promote Arenado. The club seemed to be set on giving him time to adjust to major-league pitching by keeping him in the lineup every day, and it proved to be an excellent decision -- although, not necessarily because of how his bat turned out.
Arenado used the daily reps to not only put up an respectable early performance at the plate -- he went 10-for-31 with three homers in his first week with the Rockies -- but also refine his skills at third base. Arenado quickly began to make highlight-reel plays on an almost nightly basis, including this one against the Phillies on June 15:
Arenado's trend of defensive excellence went largely unnoticed aside from the flashy plays, but he was actually terrific from the moment he stepped on the field.
The bat was slow to come along, but again to their credit, the Rockies stuck with Arenado. The persistence paid off in August when the rookie put together a 10-game hitting streak and posted a .317/.340/.426 line, allowing him to move his season batting average out of the .230's and into the .270's.
When all was said and done, Arenado was the second-most valuable rookie in baseball at 3.9 rWAR, trailing only polarizing Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. The Rockies' rookie third baseman enjoyed a phenomenal defensive season any way you look at it; he certainly passed the eye test (as you can see above), had solid traditional stats (finished fourth in fielding percentage among NL third basemen and second in putouts, assists and double plays started), and advanced metrics showed he was a beast at the hot corner:
|Value||Rank among NL 3B|
|Total Zone Runs Saved||7||5|
And, of course, Arenado was awarded for his terrific defensive performance with a Gold Glove, becoming the first rookie to win the award since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
Grade with the Rockies: B+
It's clear that Arenado's defensive prowess more than made up for his pedestrian performance at the plate.
If his minor-league track record is any indication, it's not a matter of "if" as to whether or not Arenado is going to hit at this level. It's a matter of "when." And, "when" could be as soon as next season. But, even if it's not, nobody should panic. Arenado will be only 23 years old and has plenty of time left to figure it out. The Rockies can do their part in helping him achieve that by continuing to give him everyday reps and, like the rest of us, enjoy watching him pick it at third in the meantime.