Wouldn’t it be better if every rookie debuted like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper? Major League Baseball would always have this exciting new crop of game-breaking superstars and we fantasy baseball owners would never have to worry about whether a strong debut was just a fluke performance. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works and when we look at some youngster’s successful rookie campaign, we still have to sift through a variety of things to determine whether he’s worth the attention next year or not. So goes life for those whose interest has been piqued by Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. On the surface, there’s not much that excites a fantasy owner about a .267-10-52 batting line for a corner infielder, especially coming from someone playing half his games in Coors Field. But considering the 22-year old produced that line after basically making the jump straight from Double-A ball (he played just 18 games at Triple-A to open 2013), he deserves another look as he enters 2014 with the job in-hand.
As far as the basics go with Arenado, it’s pretty simple. He had a very quick ascension through the Rockies system, looking extremely dominant in both Rookie and Low-A ball. His plate discipline appeared solid as his walk rate, though never anything to write home about, wasn’t completely awful while he maintained an excellent strikeout rate, never jumping higher than 13-percent. But he also showed developing power potential and when he moved to High-A and smacked 20 home runs while maintaining both his walk and strikeout rates, people quickly took notice.
However, as Arenado continued to move up in level, his power numbers declined. From a .200-plus ISO in Rookie and Low-A ball to a .193 mark in High-A to a .143 in Double-A. Yes, his 18-game stint in Triple-A produced a .303 ISO but let’s say it all together — small sample size. The .143 ISO he produced at the Major League level last season seemed much more in line with his progression.
It’s definitely understanding to see a player’s power number diminish as the level of competition he faces increases, but it’s also reassuring to see his plate discipline number maintained at every level. As a first-time major leaguer, you sort of expect a bit of over-anxiousness at the plate so seeing a swing rate of 56.4-percent (10-percent higher than league average) isn’t all that uncommon. But the fact that he posted above-average contact rates and limited his whiffs, certainly gives hope to stronger hitting performances in the future. Does it mean we’ll see more power out of him? Not necessarily.
As of right now his ceiling looks more like that of David Freese than of say Ryan Zimmerman, but obviously, given his age and the effect of playing half his games in Colorado could change that. There’s really not enough data to tell us which side of the fence he’ll land on. What we do know is that there’s a tremendous amount of potential here. With some improved selectivity at the plate, if he can maintain that delicious 23.8-percent line drive rate, turn some of those ground balls into fly balls and get just a little bit of help in the BABIP department, he’s got the potential to be a .280-20-75 guy. The numbers aren’t eye-popping by any means and it may take him another season or two to get there, but at least there’s promise. And if you were able to catch some of his defensive highlights from last season, you’ll know that he should be locked into the job for some time.
He looks like he could be a decent mid-round pick who won’t exactly lead you to a fantasy championship on his own, but could just be a solid staple in your lineup about whom you never need to worry — just a cog in the machine that leads you to the Promised Land.
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