2015 was the year in which Trevor Story announced himself as a prospect with a major league future. Sure, Story had been ranked as the top prospect in the rookie level Pioneer League by Baseball America after 2011. He was also rated on top 100 lists by various publications prior to 2013 (the highest ranking was no. 34 on the Baseball Prospectus list) after putting up a 138 wRC+ in Low-A Asheville as a 19 year-old. Still, 2015 was the first season the now 23 year-old shortstop showed he can hit well against high level pitching and that the promise he showed early on is coming much closer to actual big league production.
After hitting very well in his first two professional seasons and collecting the aforementioned accolades, Story struggled to an extent in 2013 with High-A Modesto, and then again in 2014 with Double-A Tulsa. To be sure, an 83 wRC+ in High-A at 20 and a 98 wRC+ in Double-A at 21 is only minor cause for concern (especially since Story tore the cover off the ball in a repeat at Modesto in 2014 to the tune of a 164 wRC+ to earn the Double-A promotion), but nonetheless it was great to see Story figure out higher level pitching in 2015.
Starting off 2015 in Double-A New Britain, Story hit .281/.373/.523 (155 wRC+) with 36 extra base hits in 300 plate appearances against pitchers that were on average 2.5 years older than him, all while lowering his strikeout rate from 34.6 percent in Tulsa the year prior to 24.3 percent in New Britain -- all the while maintaining a 11.7 percent walk rate. That performance earned Story a promotion to the Triple-A Isotopes in July. Oh yeah: He was also selected for the USA roster in the 2015 Futures Game, going 1-2 with an RBI double.
After his promotion to Triple-A, hitting against players that were on average 4.7 years older, Story showed the pop that makes him a rarity for a shortstop prospect. His .277/.324/.504 line (115 wRC+) with 34 extra base hits in 275 plate appearances was great, as was the fact that his strikeout rate remained relatively flat (24.7%), though his walk rate dipped well below his previous good showing there (just 5.8% in Triple-A). With his performance in 2015, Story has provided a modicum of solace for Rockies fans despondent over the loss of their major league shortstop mainstay.
Story's recent performance wasn't enough for MLB.com to put him on their top 100 list, though he did rate 11th on Colorado's farm on their mid-season update:
Story has the best bat speed in the Rockies system, which helps him deliver solid pop. His power tool is greater than his hit tool right now, but he has started to make changes to his approach, cutting down on his aggressiveness at the plate some, giving him the chance to be an average hitter as well. Story will continue to see most of his time defensively at shortstop, where he shows flashes of solid skills but needs to work on his consistency. He's played a good amount of third, and he started mixing in some second base in Double-A and in the AFL. He will get playing time at all three spots moving forward.
Story's versatility should help him to get to the big leagues. At the very least, he could be a very valuable offensive-minded utilityman in the future.
Another scouting report from Baseball Prospectus's Al Skorupa on Story labeled him as a second division MLB shortstop (50 OFP) after seeing him play multiple times in Double-A this year. Probably the most relevant tool that will dictate Story's major league future will be his hit tool -- can he make enough contact at the major league level to make his power potential a differentiating asset? Skorupa slapped a 40 (below average for MLB) on that tool (emphasis mine):
Plus bat speed. Even stance; loads hands deep leading to somewhat stiff lead; leg kick, creates good lag with upper body; patient with hands; quick hands explode through the zone but sometimes moves hands back and up slightly after load; minor hitch; correctable. Line drive swing plane; will at times sell out, drop his back side and uppercut. Generally selective hitter but inconsistent approach; will work the count and look for pitches he can drive, goal at the plate is extra base hits. Will hit outside pitches the other way but mostly works to pull side. Will chase in hitter's counts; doesn't recognize spin well; vulnerable to soft and spin away when he becomes too pull oriented. Vulnerable to fastballs on his hands. Good amount of swing and miss in the zone because he takes big cuts; two strike approach lacking.
There's obviously some great traits there, particularly the bat speed, but the swing plane and susceptibility to off-speed pitching temper the enthusiasm somewhat and shed some light as to why Story, a likely MLB contributor with a pretty clear path to a starting job, isn't held in higher regard by prospect hounds.
With that said, scouts have indicated that Story's a potential five-tool shortstop at the major league level (though most of that talk occurred at lower levels), and Story has certainly shown flashes of that potential. Story's low Triple-A walk rate is concerning (and atypical considering his 10% career walk rate), as is his minor league career 27% strikeout rate, but Story's 2015 demonstrated that he intends to take the major league shortstop role by the horns.
I ranked Story eighth on my list as an average defender at short with the potential to provide power and speed offensively and who is near to the big leagues. The Rockies added Story to the 40-man roster after the 2015 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and I fully expect him to see the majors at some point in the 2016 Rockies season. I actually do think that Story would be well served gaining some more experience playing every day in Albuquerque. And if I'm the Rockies front office, I'd be paying attention in particular to his plate discipline at that level. If that exposure goes according to plan, Story should be a decent MLB starter for the Rockies.