Nolan Arenado's Hot Bat, Elite Defense Make Him MLB's Latest Breakout Star

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterMay 7, 2014

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Unless you've been living under a rock of late, you're well aware that a Colorado Rockies player has been making all kinds of news and setting all sorts of records for his exploits with the bat. Here's the twist: In this case, it's someone other than Troy Tulowitzki.

While the Rockies shortstop, currently hitting well north of .400 on the season, has been busy bashing baseballs the past few weeks, it's Nolan Arenado, his partner on the left side of the infield, who's proved just as important to the club's recent success. He's started coming into his own as one of baseball's latest breakout stars in his first full big league campaign.

On Wednesday night, Arenado continued his impressive early-season run by extending his hitting streak to 27 straight games, which is both the longest in the majors this year and tied for the longest in Rockies' franchise history. Teammate Michael Cuddyer, currently on the disabled list, also had a 27-game run last season.

A night after waiting until his final at-bat—and a full count, no less—to get to 26 consecutive, Arenado took a much less dramatic route Wednesday by smacking a two-run double in the top of the first inning to put his team up 2-0 over the Texas Rangers in a game Colorado went on to win, 9-2. He wound up getting two more hits on the night, raising his average to a robust .324.

As Cuddyer told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post:

[Arenado's hitting streak has] been a lot of fun to watch. Baseball, more than any other sport, relies on confidence. If you have confidence, you have more than half the battle won. Then it's just going out there and playing. He's got that confidence now, not only that he belongs, but that he's an up-and-coming star.

During this stretch, which began on April 9, Arenado has gone 39-for-107, good for a .364 average. All in all, the third baseman is humming along with a .324/.346/.535 triple-slash line as well as 18 extra-base hits (six homers), 21 runs and 26 RBI in 36 games.

While Tulowitzki obviously has been the driving force behind the Rockies' resurgence to begin 2014, it's Arenado's breakout performance so far that has helped steer the club to its 22-14 record, putting it in a virtual tie for first place with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

A former top prospect who was drafted in the second round in 2009, Arenado—who made his debut a little more than a year ago and is only 23 years old—has been doing it with both his bat and his glove, too.

To be sure, he's been doing plenty of damage with the former, which is what's helped Arenado take his game to the next level in his second year. To that end, he's come up with a number of knocks in key spots already. Like so:

What's sparked this liftoff for Arenado? Well, for one, he's always made a lot of contact—he owns a walk rate of 4.5 percent and strikeout rate of 13.3 percent for his career—and that's the sort of approach that will play up at a hitter's haven like Coors Field.

Speaking of Coors, that's where Arenado has excelled most. While his batting average actually is much better on the road (.357) than at home (.292), Arenado's OPS at home is .936 compared to .827 away from Coors, where all six of his home runs have come. Keeping his production up on the road, like he did Wednesday in Texas, will be a big factor in whether Arenado can maintain this incredible start with the stick.

After hitting .267/.301/.405 as a rookie, Arenado's improved work with the wood has been a welcome aspect, but he's also already made himself into an outstanding defender in his short time in the majors.

In fact, Arenado—a former high school shortstop who has good range, reliable hands and a quick release—took home a Gold Glove in his first season. His 30 defensive runs saved (DRS) ranked as the fifth-most in baseball in 2013 and was behind only Manny Machado (35 DRS) of the Baltimore Orioles at the hot corner.

That glove work has continued in year two, as well, with Arenado making more than a few ridiculous plays and again rating as one of the best third basemen in the sport based on defensive metrics like DRS and ultimate zone rating (UZR).

Numbers aren't your thing? Well, then just enjoy some footage of Arenado's handiwork with the leather:

And one play where Arenado didn't even bother using any leather at all: 

To recap, Arenado is a 23-year-old in his first full major league season who is not only already one of the best defensive players at his position, if not in the entire sport, he's also riding a franchise-record 27-game hitting streak and is a huge part of his team's first-place position.

But wait! Arenado does have at least one flaw: He just so happens to be teammates with Tulowitzki, who might be the only player on the planet who's hotter right now.


Statistics come from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.