When Todd Helton retired after the 2013 season, it marked a passing of the torch as the face of the Rockies franchise. As timing would have it, there was a rookie third baseman on that 2013 squad ready to take that torch in Nolan Arenado.
Since 2015, Arenado has been unquestionably the face of the Rockies, and led the team to its first playoff berth in nearly a decade last season. He will have to be at his best at the hot corner once again in 2018 if the team wants to make the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Yeah, it’s this guy:
Arenado is certainly the best defensive third baseman in baseball and one of the best at the plate as well. The three-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove Award winner has finished top five in NL MVP voting in each of the past two seasons.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Arenado has hit .297/.353/.577 with 120 home runs and yes, I know RBIs are mostly meaningless and team dependent, but when a guy has nearly 400 of them — 393 to be exact — in three seasons, it’s a noteworthy accomplishment. Breaking it down to specifically 2017, Arenado hit .309/.373/.586 with 37 home runs and an NL-best 43 doubles.
Where Arenado really shines is with his glove. In each of his five seasons in the big leagues he has posted at least 16 Defensive Runs Saved and won a Gold Glove. He had 20 DRS in 2017, matching his 2016 total. Realistically, if Arenado is healthy you can probably just give him that sixth Gold Glove right now.
Arenado sat out just six games in 2017 and has not started only 15 games since the start of 2015. If his track record of health keeps up, expect something similar this season. Of the six games Arenado did not start at third base last season, utility man Pat Valaika got the start in five of them, with Alexi Amarista getting a single start at third. Valaika is likely the off day fill in for Arenado once again in 2018.
If Arenado were to miss any kind of extended time in 2018, the Rockies would likely insert rookie Ryan McMahon at third base for a stretch, opening some reps at first base for Ian Desmond.
On the Farm
A pair of top 10 PuRPs play third base, both of whom are rather far away from the big leagues, what with Arenado holding the position down for at least the next two seasons. No. 7 PuRP Colton Welker played at Low-A Asheville in 2017, hitting .350/.401/.500 with six home runs in 67 games.
The Rockies also took Ryan Vilade, the No. 8 PuRP, with their second-round pick in the 2017 draft. Vilade played shortstop in Grand Junction in his pro debut, hitting .308/.438/.496 in 30 games, but was officially drafted as a third baseman. Neither he nor Welker will factor in to the Rockies’ plans this season, but they provide a decent insurance plan if Arenado leaves via free agency after 2019.
If Catastrophe Strikes
For the record, losing Arenado for anything more than a few weeks counts as a catastrophe for the Rockies. They are realistically going nowhere without him. Should something disastrous happen in Spring Training, Mike Moustakas, an All-Star in his own right, is still a free agent. If Moustakas comes off the board and the Rockies need to bring in an outside option at third base, someone like Yunel Escobar or Brett Lawrie would be among the options.
For the past three seasons, the Rockies have had arguably the best third base situation in baseball, and things look to be no different in 2018, mostly because Nolan Arenado is some kind of special player.