Player on the rise: Nolan Arenado

Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado is reaching new heights in 2014 with the Colorado Rockies. (USA TODAY)

Nolan Arenado was once considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and most certainly the best Colorado Rockies prospect. After a subpar 2012 season and a few injury problems, those expectations were cooled entering 2013.

Last year, he started the season in triple-A but was quickly called up. He struggled out of the gate, hitting just .229 with four home runs through his first 120 at-bats, but he picked it up the last few months and hit .280 the rest of the way.

Still, the power numbers remained low for someone who hit at least 12 bombs during his three full seasons in the minors, where he recorded at least 400 plate appearances, and especially for someone hitting in Coors Field half of the time.

Another concern was Nolan Arenado’s number of strikeouts. While 72 punch-outs in 486 at-bats during his 2013 campaign aren’t considered disastrous in today’s game, it is a bit alarming for someone who never struck out more than 58 times during any full minor league season. In fact, he only struck out 190 times in 1,675 minor league at-bats. That’s once every 8.8 at-bats compared to once every 6.75 at-bats during his first year in the big leagues; and then you compare that to Carlos Gonzalez who strikes out almost every four at-bats.

You would think Nolan Arenado’s strikeout numbers might increase a bit once he reached the majors, but it is a bit concerning. When a young guy comes up and strikes out more often than he did in the minors, that means he’s being overmatched; but still, 72 strikeouts isn’t anything to lose sleep over.

Through just 134 at-bats in 2014, Arenado has only struck out 17 times, which puts him more in line with a strikeout per eight at-bats. Even better than that, he’s already hit six home runs in 2014, which puts him on pace to hit over 20.

Arenado turned 23 on April 16, so there is still room for this youngster to grow, but the early season success is encouraging. During his best minor league season, which came at high-A ball, he hit .298 with 20 home runs, 122 RBIs and a .340 OBP, striking out just 53 times in 517 at-bats while walking 47 times.

I’m not sure he’ll ever produce those numbers at the major league level, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see him post .290/22/90-type numbers over the course of a full season, especially hitting in Coors Field.

Through May 5, Arenado ranks in the top-five among all third baseman in average (.313), home runs (6), hits (42) and runs scored (20).

While his bat may be on the rise, his glove is already playing at an All Star level. During his rookie season in 2013, he won the Gold Glove award at third base, and he’s already posted several highlight reel plays during the 2014 season.

Arenado has been batting fifth lately behind Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, which is going to give him plenty of opportunities to rack up RBIs. This kid is a very good hitter, and an even better defender, and this could be the year baseball recognizes him as one of the best players in the game at the hot corner.

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