Defensive whiz Arenado hopes to improve offense in '14
Rockies Gold Glove 3B focusing on patience at the plate in second big league season
DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado's goal in 2014 is to provide the expected.
Last year as a rookie, his play was delightfully unexpected. Before the Rockies called Arenado up from Triple-A Colorado Springs on April 28, the buzz was about his bat. He was hitting .364 at the time of the callup, and he had a .299 batting average in 432 Minor League games. Defensively, the report on Arenado was that he had tremendous range but at times overreached and created mistakes.
All Arenado did was become the first rookie third baseman in National League history and second in Major League history to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award. Frank Malzone won with the Red Sox in 1957.
In 2014, Arenado, who turns 23 on April 16, hopes to prove defense isn't all he does.
"I want to be an impact hitter," Arenado said at Rockies Fest on Saturday. "I want to be a guy that's in the lineup and he's an impact. I want people to be like, 'Arenado's coming up.' Yes, I want to help the team win but definitely want to be a guy that has an impact and helps the team, big-time."
Arenado's offensive performance indicates potential, but there were areas to improve.
He finished with a .267 batting average, 10 home runs, 29 doubles and 52 RBIs. The 23 walks and .301 on-base percentage in 514 plate appearances indicate a lack of patience. But his swinging did not lead to many strikeouts -- 72. Over a 162-game season, that number translates to 88. The only player in the projected 2014 regular lineup whose career 162-game strikeout average is lower is second baseman DJ LeMahieu at 86.
So Arenado is making contact. He posted a .296 batting average on balls put in play, but his overall and BABIP averages and power numbers could increase if his contact becomes more solid. For example, teammate Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title with a .331 average and had a .382 BABIP.
The key is trimming some of the over-eagerness that marred too many at-bats.
"Nolan has impeccable hand-eye coordination and he's probably going to be a low-strikeout guy, but slowing down his at-bats is the next step," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
Arenado said at times he would shorten his stroke early in counts in an effort to put the ball in play. But from his spot in the order -- usually sixth or seventh, which is behind Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Cuddyer and new first baseman Justin Morneau -- more hard-hit balls will mean more RBIs. The Rockies hope increased production from Arenado's spot will translate into a deeper lineup and possibly improvement for a team that has finished last in the NL West the last two years.
"Sometimes I got caught out in front on my front foot," Arenado said. "That hurt me driving the ball. That [prevented] me from getting on base. I'm working on staying back, driving through the baseball. I'll take my hacks. Watching guys like Tulo, CarGo, Cuddy -- they take their hacks. They don't have any regrets. That's something I need to do."
The Rockies believe Arenado could develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter if his power develops.
Arenado hit 20 home runs at Class A Advanced Modesto in 2011 but didn't manage more than 12 at any other Minor League stop. But the story of a hitter whose power doesn't kick in until he establishes himself in the Majors is one the Rockies have lived before.
Todd Helton, who retired at the end of last season after a 17-season career that saw him hit 369 home runs, managed just 26 -- never more than 16 in a season -- in 276 Minor League games before he debuted in 1997. Current Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday also never hit more than 16 homers in any of his Minor League seasons before debuting with the Rockies in 2004.
Arenado had a similar contact-based approach through the Minors, and he also has the potential to grow into his power.
"I'm a third baseman, and while I may not be the prototypical guy that just hits bombs all the time," Arenado said. "I believe I'll end up being a power guy someday. I expect to be a power guy now. I expect to drive the ball.
"Everyone says, 'You haven't gotten your 'man muscle yet.' I'm weighing 215, 216. I've talked to guys like CarGo and Tulo, and they hit home runs when they were my age, but they felt the older they got, they were stronger. More importantly, they felt they could handle certain situations. I got some experience last year, and I believe it's going to help me."
Weiss said, "If you look at a lot of guys, they put on 10-15 pounds in the second half of the career, and I think that'll be the case with Nolan. But I don't think size has as much to do with it as Nolan's athletic ability."
Arenado insists he will not abandon the glovework that led to the acclaim he received last season. He just wants to add the offensive dimension.
"The day of the award I was happy about it and I celebrated, but then I just went back to work," Arenado said. "I don't want to be a one-hit-wonder guy. I want to make sure that people say, 'You don't want to lay down bunts, because he's ready.'
"I'm always working on my defense. But going into this offseason, the offense wasn't where I'd like it, so I started hitting a little bit earlier than usual."