Is Nolan Arenado Ready to be the Next Face of the Colorado Rockies?
- Updated: August 8, 2015
Nolan Arenado might just be the next face of the Colorado Rockies, but it’s safe to assume that he has no idea.
When Arenado was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, he was selected two picks after Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and four picks before Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis, surrounded by a number of players no one has heard from since. Arenado was taken out of high school to play the hot corner and play it well. It was just a matter of his bat translating at the next level.
Just before getting his call up to the majors in 2013, Arenado ranked as a borderline top-50 prospect in baseball, but the top guy in the Rockies system. That first year in the big leagues, he played over 130 games, receiving nearly 500 at-bats. After adjusting for playing his home games in Coors Field, Arenado’s offensive output that first year was well below average, but he won his first Gold Glove as the best defensive third baseman in the National League.
The next year, everything took a step up in his game. He hit better and for more power, he drew more walks in fewer plate appearances, and he won his second straight Gold Glove award. The future seemed bright for Arenado at third base and in Colorado.
This was an easy conclusion to draw considering the players he had around him in the Rockies lineup. In 2013, as Arenado was learning the ropes, six regulars finished with an OPS+ above 100 for Colorado: Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and Charlie Blackmon. 100 is the baseline average for OPS+ after adjusting for ballpark. These guys were all above average, some extensively so.
In 2014, as Arenado grew and joined the group himself, all of Justin Morneau, Tulowitzki, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs and Blackmon finished with an OPS+ above 100. Tulowitzki, with a mark of 172, was especially great when on the field but missed a number of games.
Despite this hitting prowess though, the Rockies were a subpar team. They lost 88 times in 2013, and another 96 times last year. In the latter season, they allowed over 800 runs, the only team in baseball to reach that dubious milestone. It was obvious that Colorado wouldn’t be able to become a winning ballclub from the mound despite spending numerous high draft picks on pitchers over the years. It would have to out-slug and out-hit opponents instead, while playing smart baseball on defense and on the base paths. What wasn’t so obvious, even last season, was the group they would be attempting to win with.
In 2015, Colorado once again finds itself in the basement. It already has more than 60 losses, with very little reliable pitching. The team also has few recognizable faces. Tulowitzki is gone, traded to the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Carlos Gonzalez is a shell of himself, incapable of staying on the field. The same goes for Corey Dickerson, Justin Morneau and newcomer Jose Reyes. Other than the leap taken by second baseman DJ LeMahieu and a solid year from Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies have been playing with fill-ins. Almost by default, the team has been turned over to Arenado, whether or not he is aware of the transition.
After Tulowitzki was dealt away, Arenado was quoted in the Denver Post as saying, “I don’t know any of these dudes we got. But I think if we were going to trade Tulo, I would think it would be for an ace, an established veteran pitcher. Obviously we are starting to rebuild from the ground up.”
The quote reeked of ignorance. Of course this team is rebuilding — dealing for an ‘established veteran pitcher’ would have been beyond foolish considering where the team currently stands. But it also spoke to Arenado’s unawareness that Colorado is probably becoming his team as the next wave of talent rises to the top of the organization.
He is having a great year in 2015, the best of his three career seasons by far. He is slugging over .550 and has almost topped his home run total from his previous two seasons combined. His .280 isolated power ranks second in the league, trailing only MVP-favorite Bryce Harper. Arenado made his first All-Star game and seems likely to win a third consecutive Gold Glove. He has already been worth more than four wins above replacement with nearly two months still remaining in the season.
There is no denying his talent, but his quote after the Tulowitzki deal still seems relevant. How does such an integral part of a team’s roster not understand the position his team is in? Does that speak to a lack of game awareness or leadership capabilities? Was it just something said in anger after a teammate was sent packing and serves as no point of reference?
For Colorado’s sake, it better figure out fast what Arenado’s mindset is. This young man, just 24 years old, is physically ready to be the face of the franchise. But if he’s not mentally ready, that could mean a number of long summers are still in store for the Rockies. They already have the uphill climb of attempting to win with what seems to be a permanent pitching problem. They don’t need anything more to worry about.