A few years ago, the book on Colorado Rockies’ prospect Nolan Arenado was that he was a bat-first prospect who may have to eventually move away from third base.
Fast-forward to 2014 and 22-year-old Nolan Arenado already has some hardware: the first NL third base Gold Glove ever won by a rookie. It’s a testament to his dedication and work ethic that he was able to quickly go from a minus defender… to this.
Hold up hold up, this is Fantasy CPR, right?! Why am I reading about defense? Didn’t this guy put up .267-10-52 in just under 500 AB last year? There’s no relevant fantasy stat for defense!
Wrong. The stat you’re looking for is the one with the abbreviation “G.” Nothing can mess up a young player’s development like being yo-yo’d in and out of the lineup (“Testify!”, says Brandon Belt.) Arenado’s defense is so good he could hit .200 for two months and still not be benched. But don’t worry, he’s not going to hit .200 — not even close.
Arenado is already a great contact hitter, posting a well above average rate of 82.2% last year. His K rate (14%) was exceptional as well, ranking fifth among all eligible third basemen. Though his walk rate was merely 4.5 percent we can expect to see this number rise since he has been significantly better in the minors (8.1 in 2011, 6.8 in 2012).
He was a bit of a hacker in his rookie season, swinging at 41% of pitches outside of the strike zone — one of the worst such rates in the majors. Thanks to his hand-eye coordination he made contact in over 69 percent of those swings, which was well above the major league average of 63.2%, but it’s not going to generate good hard contact.
A year ago, Arenado had dedicated his off-season to working on his defense and we all saw how that one turned out. This off-season was focused on hitting. He took videos of his batting cage sessions and sent them to Troy Tulowitzki, who in turn is tutoring him on his swing and mental approach. This is the same Troy Tulowitzki who swung at only 24.6% of pitches out of the zone. Arenado could, and probably will, learn a few things. Hopefully those things don’t involve DL stints like his buddy, Tulowitzki.
Am I saying that Arenado is going to be this year’s Jean Segura — the guy who comes out of nowhere and wins your league for you? Hardly. What I’m saying is that Arenado is a rare combination of excellent pedigree, a high floor, sizable upside, and a discount price tag.
In this post-Trout era fantasy owners have no patience for prospects that don’t immediately set the world on fire. Arenado still has to grow into his “man muscle” (his hilarious words, not mine) and his swing needs more loft to be a home run slugger, but he hits line drives 24 percent of the time, rarely strikes out, and has rock-solid job security. There’s also the matter of his home field, which in case this is the first thing you’ve ever read about baseball, is really, really good for hitting baseballs and making them go far.
I could easily see Arenado — who is being drafted in the middle of the 17th round in 12-team mixed leagues — put up a .285/18/75/75 line with the RBI and run totals fluctuating based on where in the order he hits (I’ve heard second, but also I’ve heard seventh). Those numbers could also hinge on whether Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can be in the lineup at the same time for more than three days.
In a year where every third base option not named Miguel Cabrera is either injury-prone, old or unproven, it’s great to have a solid value play at the end of your draft. Your worst case scenario is you start Nolan Arenado at Coors and against lefties (.846 OPS in 2013), find a platoon partner, and still get to swell with pride when you see this kind of thing.