More Fun At The Hot Corner With Nolan Arenado
Third base has been hit-and-miss in 2013, with Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado and Kyle Seager among the obvious hits, and Pablo Sandoval, Brett Lawrie and Mike Moustakas among the glaring misses.
Carpenter, Seager, Lawrie and Moustakas have all recently been discussed in great detail here at The Dynasty Guru, and I’m about to add one more third base question mark to the mix: the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado.
Arenado entered the season as Colorado’s No. 1 prospect (and No. 52 overall), according to Baseball America, ahead of outfielder David Dahl and shortstop Trevor Story. Drafted in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, Arenado breezed through the minors from the get-go, carrying a .300 BA with 17 extra-base hits in his Pioneer League debut and following it up with a .308/.338/.520 slash in the Low-A South Atlantic League as a 19-year old.
The best was yet to come, however, as Arenado hit .298/.349/.487 with 20 home runs and 32 doubles in the High-A California league the following season. After finding immediate success at such a young age, some speculated that Arenado could make the leap to Colorado as quickly as 2012, but he struggled to the tune of .192/.222/.346 in the spring and played out the entire season in Double-A, hitting .285/.337/.428 with 12 home runs and 36 doubles.
With a noticeable drop-off in power, Arenado quieted some of his critics the next spring with four home runs in 19 games, but it wasn’t enough to beat out Chris Nelson (sigh) and he missed out on the Opening Day roster for the second straight year. Arenado was then promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs and proceeded to beat the bejesus out of the ball—hitting .364/.392/.667 with three home runs and 11 doubles in 18 games—before getting the call on Apr. 29. Nelson, in a corresponding move, was designated for assignment. Hallelujah!
That brings us to the present, where Arenado is hitting .271/.304/.419 with 10 home runs and 25 doubles in 449 plate appearances as Colorado’s everyday third baseman. Arenado can really flash the leather, and that’s why you’ll see the 22-year old so high up the FanGraphs WAR leaderboard—he’s ninth at third base with 3.1 fWAR, behind Seager.
Remaining true to his minor league game, Arenado has sprayed the ball to all fields with a line-drive oriented swing (23.6 percent line drive rate; 35.1 percent fly ball rate). Arenado’s quick and compact swing that leads to rockets in the gaps and not towering fly balls is why most scouts won’t project better than average power numbers, and his 10 home runs in 114 games is right in line with that thinking. That thinking is reinforced again—even with the help of Coors Field—when you look at the batted ball distance leaderboards, where Arenado’s 279.54 feet ranks similarly to Allen Craig (280.53), Seager (280.20) and Ben Zobrist (279.90). Expecting a 20-home run season year in and year out is probably not in the cards, but, at 22, he still has plenty of time to develop more power.
Something that Arenado continues to excel at is a strong contact rate. His batting average was always a plus in the minor leagues and that’s carried over to the major leagues, where he’s hitting .318/.340/.461 in 163 PAs in the second half. His contact rates are all above league average and he’s striking out just 12.9 percent of the time (along with a 4.5 percent walk rate). His low walk rate throughout his minor league career gives me pause, but all the scouting reports suggest he can and will sustain a strong BA (he does have a career .345 OBP in the minors, for what it’s worth).
The jury is still out on Arenado, but he’s someone to watch carefully as the season draws to a close. He’s on pace for about 52 runs and 55 RBIs, but keep in mind he’s only been around for 114 games. I expect Arenado to become a middle-of-the-order run producer with the potential for 15-18 home runs in addition to 70+ runs and RBIs as soon as 2014. In the long haul, I expect peak power numbers similar to Sandoval in his good years (20-25 home runs), as both players have very similar batted ball profiles and contact rates. You can probably acquire Arenado for next to nothing, and he makes for a very strong corner infield play next year.