The Colorado Rockies promoted third baseman Nolan Arenado to the major league roster this past weekend. One of the premier hot corner prospects in baseball, Arenado has the skills to be a long-term fixture in the Coors Field lineup. He is our subject for today's Prospect of the Day.
Arenado was drafted by the Rockies in the second round in 2009, from high school in El Toro, California. At the time, he was seen as an excellent hitter but scouts weren't sure that he had the range or hands to remain at third base, which created enough doubt to keep him out of the first round. He signed without much trouble for $625,000 and went to Casper in the Pioneer League for his pro debut, where he hit .300/.351/.404, not showing big home run power but doing a good job making contact.
A groin injury limited Arenado to 92 games for Asheville in the South Atlantic League in 2010, but he performed quite well in those 92 games with a .308/.338/.520 mark with 41 doubles. His glovework was still doubted, but he tapped into his power more readily and continued to make solid contact, fanning just 52 times in 373 at-bats.
2011 was a breakout season: .298/.349/.487 with 20 homers, 122 RBI with a 47/53 BB/K ratio in 517 at-bats for Modesto in the California League. He followed this up by winning the MVP Award in the Arizona Fall League. Although the Cal League environment was ideally-suited for his talents, the general consensus was that his home run increase was not just a statistical illusion. He also made huge strides on defense, showing the range and arm strength to handle third base along with improved reliability, erasing doubts about his ability to fit positionally at the hot spot.
2012 presented more challenges. He got off to a decent start for Double-A Tulsa, but the Rockies were not impressed with his attitude or frustration at not being promoted, with Rockies GM Dan O'dowd making a public comment about Arenado's maturity level. He immediately pitched into a deep slump following O'Dowd's comment (.165/.252/.272 in July), but rallied to finish the season on a strong note. His overall .285/.337/.428 line with 12 homers looked disappointing on the surface, but he did hit 36 doubles and still made solid contact. His defense continued to improve as well.
Most importantly, Arenado's 2012 line was actually better than what he did in 2011 when league/park context is considered. His wRC+ actually improved slightly in '12 compared to '11, going from 108 to 110. He was off to an excellent start in '13 (.364/.392/.667 for Triple-A Colorado Springs) and there have been no more complaints about his attitude.
Arenado is a 6-1, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 16, 1991. Although he doesn't have a classic home run stroke, he drives the ball to all fields and is very adept at making contact. He should continue to hit for high batting averages with moderate power, and his home run output should gradually increase as he matures. Although he's not a walk magnet, he has a feel for the strike zone and usually doesn't chase unhittable pitches. One negative is his lack of running speed: he is no threat to steal, and tends to hit into quite a few double plays.
His defense has improved dramatically over the last three years. His range was previously rated as below average, but he's made tremendous improvements with his footwork and lateral mobility, to the point where his glove is now one of his best assets.