20-year-old Nolan Arenado was picked in the second round of the 2009 draft and hopes were high right off of the bat. Many reports said that he could play either third base or catcher as a pro instead of his high school position, shortstop. They also said that Arenado had raw power with solid contact skills. One thing that the scouting reports could not have predicted was that this young man would be playing for a starting job at third base for a major league team during spring training 2012.
A few different events needed to occur for the opportunity to arise for this future star.
First, he had to put together one of the best minor league seasons in 2011 while we witnessed Ian Stewart fall apart at the seams. In 2011, Nolan had a minor league high 122 runs batted in.
Even more impressive than how many runs he batted in was Arenado's patience. He had never struck out a lot and always had a low walk rate. In the past year, Arenado's walks almost equaled his strikeouts to the tune of 47 walks to 53 strikeouts.
One argument many will have about these numbers are that they happened at A+ ball. While this is true, all scouting reports agree that his ability to square up a baseball and his confidence in two-strike situations will carry over to each level of professional baseball.
While Arenado was tearing up the minor leagues, another player who once had a promising future was seeing his career fall apart.
Ian Stewart was supposed to be the power hitting answer in Colorado that can take advantage of the thin air in the Rockies. Over 136 plate appearances in 2011, Ian Stewart managed to have a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -0.6, put up a batting average of .156 and here is the best one—zero home runs.
I do not see a guy who's only strength is power getting very far with those numbers. Luckily for Arenado, Stewart was traded to the Cubs and will provide no more threat.
A platoon of Jordan Pacheco, Jonathan Herrera and Chris Nelson will likely be holding the hot corner warm for Arenado until he is ready, but I do not see any of these players as the long term solution at third base.
Also, Arenado was able to prove his abilities in the Arizona Fall League, the proving ground for many prospects to show if they are ready for the majors or if they are destined to never take that next step. Not only did Arenado prove his talent, he was named the most valuable player of the league.
Among top prospects such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Wil Myers, Anthony Gose, Mike Olt and many others, Arenado reigned supreme. He accomplished this task with a .388 batting average, 12 doubles, six home runs and 33 runs batted in.
If Arenado goes to spring training in 2012 and puts up big numbers like he has been, it is going to be hard for the Rockies to keep him down for long. I see Arenado making his leap to the big leagues at some point in 2012, hopefully earlier rather than later.
Best Outcome: Nolan Arenado could become one of the most consistent players in all of baseball. Hitting 25+ home runs a year with a high average and low strikeout rate, he could be a very difficult out for any pitcher. Arenado makes the all star game consistently and leads the Rockies to the playoffs with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez eight times in the next 10 years. Arenado becomes the Rockies' all-time home run leader by the end of his career.
Worst Outcome: Nolan Arenado has all of the tools and drive to become a star at the next level, but there has been many times where even though everything seems right, it just does not work. Arenado makes the big leagues but never really reaches his true potential. He has a few 20 home run seasons, but the starting pitchers of the National League West bring his batting average down. Still has an average career, but never really blossoms.
How Nolan Arenado Takes the Rockies to the Next Level
Led by Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, the Colorado Rockies already boast a strong offense with a nice mix of power, average and speed. In 2011, the Rockies were a top-10 offensive team in runs, batting average and walks. The Rockies landed at the number 12 spot in home runs. This ranking should be higher playing in the thin air of Colorado.
The way it looks right now, Arenado should be able to put up solid numbers right away in the majors. The biggest hurdle that he will have to overcome is the immaculate starting pitching he'll face within his division. On a daily basis he will need to face the likes of Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Matt Cain, Daniel Hudson and Madison Bumgarner. With Arenado's patience and solid contact skills, I see him overcoming this obstacle with positive results.
Arenado has also started preparing for the majors with current major league players. He has joined Tulowitzki, Jason Giambi and Dexter Fowler in Vegas to do winter workouts as reported in this article. His work ethic and drive look to be another factor that proves Arenado has what it takes to be a star in the majors.
Plugging Arenado into the middle of the Rockies line-up should put their offense in the top-5 across many categories and help the Rockies battle the great rotations in the NL West.
Speaking of NL West rotations, the Rockies bring to the table a young, talented staff that only looks to get better as they mature. With players like Jhoulys Chacin, Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio and Chad Bettis, the Rockies should be able to put together a top rotation over the next decade.
2012 might not be the year that the Rockies take over the National League West, but with a budding star like Nolan Arenado making his way to the majors and a young starting rotation with one of the highest ceilings in the major leagues, the Rockies should compete and have a top team for the next 10 years.