When was the last time the Rockies employed a true offensive threat at third base? While Chris Nelson was decent last year, posting a 105 wRC+, we really have to go back to 2007. That was the last year Garrett Atkins provided the team with strong production at the hot corner. But today, the team made a pair of moves that included designating Nelson for assignment and calling up one time hot prospect Nolan Arenado. It’s almost a guarantee that by the time this article is published, he has already been scooped up in every league he could possibly earn value in. Keeper leagues? Long gone. So rather then debate whether he is worth an add, let’s instead discuss how we should expect him to perform this season.
As I am typing this, FAAB just ran in LABR mixed and he went for a whopping $36. I bid an embarrassing $7. So he’s quite the hot property indeed. Back in 2011 during his first full season in the minors, Arenado hit 26 homers and batted .315. He combined good power with a fantastic contact rate, a rare pairing that suggested big things for the 20-year-old. Fantasy owners were drooling at the possibilities he would eventually be afforded calling Coors Field home for half his games.
Then 2012 happened. The excellent contact rate remained, but his power disappeared. Based on that performance, he suddenly looked like a slightly better version of Jordan Pacheco. That’s obviously not what the Rockies or fantasy owners were hoping for. Spring training 2013 rolled around and once again Arenado flashed some of the skills that made him so exciting back in 2011. Whether it was just a hot couple of weeks or something actually clicked, the performance carried over into his Triple-A debut. While the 3 homers aren’t overly impressive, the addition of 11 doubles that resulted in a .303 ISO was. He also hit .364, which was supported by a high-but-not-outrageous .368 BABIP.
Given his former top prospect status and performance in the lower minors, it’s looking like maybe last season was the fluke after all. The lack of walks is a concern, but more from a real baseball perspective at the moment than for fantasy owners. In fact, if he could nudge it up just a bit, his skill set looks awfully similar to the team’s last good third baseman who was mentioned in the intro — Garrett Atkins. The biggest difference between the two is that Atkins didn’t hit enough fly balls to contribute in home runs early on. That all changed in 2006 though when he suddenly became a fly ball hitter and a power breakout followed.
Fortunately, Arenado has been much friendlier toward worms in the minors, consistently posting ground ball rates below the league average. With his ability to make contact, he shouldn’t require a HR/FB rate much above the league average to sock 20-25 balls out of the park over a full season. He’s going to hit for average as well, or at the very least be neutral in the category. Once again, just like Atkins. Hopefully, Arenado’s ability to hit a baseball better than 99.9% of the world doesn’t last just four years like it did for Atkins.
Due to Arenado’s low walk rate, his value will be higher in leagues that count batting average versus those that use on base percentage. That said, throw any hitter into the Rockies starting lineup and fantasy owners’ eyes widen, and for good reason. Now if that hitter has not only excellent contact skills, but also promising power potential, he’s someone I want on my fantasy team. And since I’m feeling generous, I will even open up my magical projection spreadsheet and calculate what we can expect for his batting average and home run total, given a full season’s worth of at-bats.
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