Is Nolan Arenado the Rockies’ Best Third-Base Option?

Nolan Arenado‘s development has been a roller coaster ride. From prospect with major helium, to disappointment with maturity issues, the third baseman lost his luster this off-season.

With four home runs in his first 17 at bats this spring, Arenado is all the rage again as he attempts to wrangle the third base job away from the combo of Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco.

Of course arbitration clocks, service time and other internal decisions will be a part of the decision making process, but what about the production? Will 150 game of Nolan Arenado have more on field value than Nelson/Pacheco? I’m not so sure.

Below are select quotes from 2010 after scouting him as a member of the Asheville Tourists in the midst of a breakthrough season which saw him post a .308/.338/.520 triple slash line, 37 percent better than the league average.

He consistently drove the baseball hard into the gaps throughout the series leading to multiple extra base hits and a couple of fly balls which reached the warning track. As he adds pull side power, his home run totals should really take off.

Never cheated, his approach was to hammer the first fastball over the plate and he was successful more often than not.

Arenado has quite a bit of work to do to project as an average third baseman, but he has time, and makeup on his side.

In 2011, Arenado posted an impressive slash line of .298/.349/.487 in the California League, including 20 home runs and a minor-league leading 122 runs batted in. In an extreme hitters environment, Arenado’s totals were only eight percent better than league average.

A .388/.423/.636 showing in the Arizona Fall League left many believing Arenado would jump from High-A to Colorado as the organization dealt Ian Stewart and signed aging veteran Casey Blake to keep the position warm.

Arenado was assigned to Double-A to begin the 2012 season and sandwiched a strong April and August/September with three sub par months (May through July). His .285/.337/.428 triple slash line was met with a shrug, but a 110 wRC+means Arenado was better when compared to the league than in 2011.

Beyond offense, Arenado has also improved his physique and defensive ability to the point where he projects to stick long term.

While Arenado was in Double-A, the Casey Blake experiment flopped and the Rockies turned to Pacheco and Nelson at third base. In turn, the position produced at an above average rate, resulting in a .302/.344/.427 slash line.

The numbers were fueled by a .351 BABIP. Plus, both the areas of power (42 doubles, 8 home runs) and walks (36) were lacking, leaving regression a real possibility.

On defense, Rockies third basemen combined to be 30 runs below average, negating much of whatever value the position held.

This isn’t to say the 21-year old won’t become a better option than whatever the Rockies piecemeal together in 2013. He will. I’m just not sure Arenado is better now. And if he’s not clearly the superior option, then why rush arbitration clocks, service time and the opportunity to develop further in Triple-A?

Colorado Rockies third basemen displayed strong hitting skills, doubles power, low walk totals and questionable defense in 2012. Sound familiar? It should. Nolan Arenado is the same type of player.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

14 Responses to “Is Nolan Arenado the Rockies’ Best Third-Base Option?”

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  1. Guy says:

    so essentially, no?

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  2. Stuck in a Slump says:

    I agree that Arenado needs to prove that he can at least handle AAA for a while before the Rockies give him a legit shot to stick at the MLB level. This also has the additional bonus of delaying his arbitration clock. However, I do think that Arenado will handle AAA just fine, and I do think that given a little more time that he can end up being an all-star 3B. At 21, he’s still incredibly young, and those doubles should end up becoming HR’s as he continues to develop. I would be surprised if he wasn’t playing every day by the end of the ASB with the Rockies.

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  3. commenter #1 says:

    you’d be surprised at the large contingent of rockies fans thinking that he’s completely ready and don’t see his performance in 2012 as a negative in any way

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    • Matt says:

      I’m pretty sure that Insert Team’s fans are routinely overly optimistic about Insert Team’s top prospect. People seem to see a guy in AA as one step from having just made his 5th straight All-Star Game at the MLB level. We fans have seemingly not learned about the extremely high attrition rate of prospects.

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    • Stuck in a slump says:

      Nevermind the fact that he posted a better wRC+ in the next highest level, because fewer homers in a less friendly hitting environment means he sucks.

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      • commenter #1 says:

        1) Who said he sucks?
        2) I’m not sure 2 points of wRC+ is really a statistically significant difference. For somebody as hyped as he was, performing ~10% better than league average isn’t really an accomplishment, and interpreting stagnation as not improving is as valid as interpreting stagnation as not declining.

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        • Stuck in a Slump says:

          Is it really stagnation when he went from a hitter’s paradise to a much more difficult league, and the league was still ~10% worse than him? The fact of the matter was that regardless as to how impressive his 2011 campaign was, he the league was only ~8% worse than him, and he’s still so young that it doesn’t really matter yet, you can take his small steps without issue because he has plenty of time left to mature as a player and he’s still better than the league despite being so much younger than league average, he was 20/21 last year in the Texas League, which was the fourth youngest of the 46 qualified hitter seasons for the league last year, he was in the youngest 8.6% of the league. If you expand this out even further to a mere 150 PA’s, there were three 21 year olds younger than him, and no new players younger than them. By that standard, there were 108 players in the league, meaning he was in the youngest 6.5% of the league, but the league was STILL 10% worse than him.

          Interpreting a move to a more advanced league and improving your place among hitters from the previous league as stagnation is about as valid as saying that Arenado sucks.

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  4. Ender says:

    Last year people wanted him up and I mostly agreed with your entire post. This year I think he has reached the point where he is probably ready. I’d keep him down for service clock reasons etc but as long as he is raking to start the season I’d bring him up at some point.

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  5. Vince says:

    First time I’ve ever seen anyone suggest that 50 extra-base hits indicates a lack of power.

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    • Tomcat says:

      Tony Gwynn was a first ballot HOF with a per 670PA average of 36-2b 6-3B 9-HR and had a 132OPS+.

      I still see Arenado as having a batting profile somewhere in the vein of Freese, Michael Young, Aramis Ramirez and Jeff Cirillo. Doubles power into late 20s maybe some HR power then.A 110-125OPS+ 3B with decent Defense so a 2-4 win player, not a face of the franchise type but the type player you need to make a decent team good.

      The Rockies need to hold off burning a year of eligibility to find if they are decent.

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  6. JD says:

    If the Rockies were prospects for the playoffs, maybe I would agree. But Nelson isn’t the future and Pacheco doesn’t have the glove or power. Play him now and he’ll be more ready next year, because he is the future. Same with Rosario and Rutledge last year and some pitchers this year.

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  7. jdbolick says:

    Of course he is. Pacheco is a bench player and Nelson is going to crater if he wins the job. 2011 was much closer to Nelson’s true ability than 2012. Among all players with 300+ plate appearances, he ranked 8th in BABIP. Like Ruggiano (who ranked 2nd), he’s going to drop back to that ~.260 level and woe to anyone who expects more.

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  8. supershredder says:

    I found this article a little confusing. The evidence seems to suggest the Rockies should either call Arenado up once service time won’t be an issue or just anoint him the starter out of spring training. But you seem to be saying you’d rather have Pacheco and Nelson all season instead of Arenando. So you’d rather trust 2 guys to combine to match the projected numbers of 1 guy and expect neither of the 2 guys to regress at all?

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  9. ron says:

    Having him at AAA is going to tell us only that he cannot perform. His numbers at Colorado Springs in the hitter friendly PCL are going to be inflated. He should stay down to make sure his service clock isn’t running because the Rockies have very little chance in the NL West this year. If they don’t bring him up that will give Nelson and Pacheco a chance to maybe continue their lucky success and maybe become trade assets come July.

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