Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 3/7/13
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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