As Trevor Story has torched opponent's pitching this spring, almost all of the conversation has been centered on whether or not the Rockies should name him the opening day shortstop and risk losing a possible year of future control for him. This article is not about that at all, and if you wish to discuss that please feel free to here, or here, or here. Instead I want to focus on probably the more important question, and that is, just how good is Trevor Story going to be?
I shocked a few people in the Purple Row staff's bold predictions when I predicted that Story would outproduce Troy Tulowitzki this year. Now that prediction is two-fold. First, I think Story is going to have a good year for the Rockies and will be a legit National League Rookie of the year candidate, and I'm not alone. Secondly, I have very little confidence in Tulowitzki's ability to stay healthy for a full season.
Now to clarify something in my prediction, I'm not expecting Story to have a better career than Tulowitzki. Tulowitki has had some amazing seasons that would be very hard for any player to match. However, he also has a nasty track record of injuries and extended recovery times that justify being pessimistic about his future years. Combined with the fact that he's now 31 years of age, an age in the post-steroid era more normally associated with declining numbers, and this prediction doesn't see all that bold. In 2015, Tulo showed some real signs of decline. While some of the early season struggles could be blamed on recovering from previous injury, his second half was actually even worse. This makes me a lot more confident that in 2016 Trevor Story will be the more valuable player.
Still, in order to beat even a partial season of a declining Tulowitzki, Story is going to need to have a very good year which I think he's quite capable of.
Right now, Story might be one of the most underrated prospects, not just for the Rockies, but in all of baseball. Ranked as about the tenth best prospect in the Rockies system by most industry experts and nowhere to be found in more of the top shortstop rankings, Story was bypassed by even another Rockies shortstop prospect, Brendan Rodgers. However, since spring training began, Story has recaptured the attention of baseball with his outstanding performance.
It wasn't that long ago that Story was in the upper echelon of prospect. Prior to the 2012 season, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus ranked him the best prospect in the system, ahead of David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, Tyler Matzek, and Chad Bettis. And before the 2013 season, Story was ranked as the Rockies second best prospect behind Nolan Arenado and was in almost every top 100 prospect list and seen as one of the top ten shortstop prospects in baseball. However, a rough 2013 season in Modesto took much of the shine off of a prospect that had been drafted as supplemental first rounder. Since then, Story has had a nonlinear progression to the majors, often struggling after a promotion before figuring things out and proceeding to dominate the competition before his next promotion.
He never regained the prospect ranking heights as he has been stuck around tenth in Rockies prospect ranking ever since 2013, but that's also an accomplishment. As the Rockies have continued to bombard their farm system with talent, Story made enough positive strides each season to maintain his ranking while other prospects continued to plummet down the rankings.
Despite not being ranked highly when compared to many of the top shortstop prospects that have arrived in the majors over the last year, an interesting thing happens when evaluators study Story on his own. He starts to really stand out. This is what Dan Farnsworth at Fangraphs had to say about Story back in February.
I have to admit I don’t get how Story can be thought of as less than a future major league starter. Even if you think he won’t hit for a high average and the strikeouts come back with a vengeance, he has enough power and patience to get on base at least at an average clip. His power is mostly to his pull side only, but he has a decent swing that could allow him to hit drives to all fields with only slight adjustments. Throw in an average arm and the ability to play the infield, and Story is still a very valuable asset.
What's shocking about that paragraph is that he wasn't talking about Story's ceiling as a prospect, but his floor. Story's floor at this point is seen as MLB average. Last season, looking at shortstops who had at least 500 plate appearances, the median shortstop earned 1.7 fWAR only 0.6 behind Tulowitzki's 2.3 fWAR.
Farnsworth also rated Story as still having a possible 60 future rating, and it's easy to see why with his performance this spring. Story has average to above average tools across the board, which can be slightly misleading. Positional tools like fielding and arm are compared to other shortstop and Story grades out there favorably. However, tools like hit, speed, and power are usually compared to all position players. Because shortstops are generally a fairly light-hitting bunch, that means a shortstop like Story with above average power can really stand out.
If it seems like Story has been a Rockies prospect forever (since 2011). He has. However, because he was drafted out of high school, he's just now entering his age 23 season. Story should have his prime years ahead of him. Additionally, he has also maintained a great rack record of durability and health, with his only injury coming from a pitch that hit him on the hand and broke it.
Even if Story struggles at some point in his debut season, the lessons and skills that he has learned making adjustments in his minor league career should serve him well. With a floor of a MLB quality shortstop and a ceiling of a star, don't be surprised to look back at the end of the season and see that Trevor Story has outperformed Troy Tulowitzki.