Arenado stocks Rockies' hot-corner needs

May, 18, 2013
5/18/13
10:00
PM ET
CHICAGO -- As Anna McDonald noted, there are plenty of reasons to question why anyone would move Troy Tulowitzki from shortstop anytime soon. Despite his checkered injury history, only one of Tulo’s injuries came while fielding. The Yankees have done pretty well for themselves with Derek Jeter at short despite the Captain’s repeatedly low ranking via just about every fielding metric available -- but Tulo’s a fine shortstop.

But, perhaps most fundamentally, any logical impetus to shift Tulo over to third base would trip over a true blue-chip stumbling block: top Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado. After years of anticipation for Colorado fans looking forward to his arrival, Arenado is showing that the future of third base in Denver might already be his.

“Everything’s going good so far. I’m enjoying my time. It’s nice being up. It’s a blessing from God, and I’m very fortunate to be here,” Arenado said earlier this week in Wrigley Field.

Arenado’s arrival was big and splashy. At a time when pitchers have made most of the early headlines, Arenado ripped three home runs in his first seven games. Inevitably, though, the league started adjusting, and he’s hit .170/.200/.508 in the two weeks since.

“They’re throwing different pitches in different counts,” Arenado said. “It’s an adjustment, but I believe when I’m feeling alright, I’ll be alright,” he said with a smile.

[+] EnlargeNolan Arenado
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsColorado rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado is taking advantage both of big-league scouting reports and advice from neighbor Troy Tulowitzki.
If Arenado comes across as confident, that’s because he’s earned the right. A top prospect from the moment he was selected out of a California high school in 2009, Arenado’s just 22 and in his fifth season as a pro. He was the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2011 without having first advanced beyond Class-A ball. And in terms of his gifts, there’s no doubt he’ll stick at the hot corner. He was involved in 36 double plays at Double-A Tulsa last season with an eye-popping range factor of 3.40 plays per game; Mike Moustakas led the majors last season with a 2.95 RF/G and 41 double plays. Not that Range Factor’s the final word; like more recent defensive metrics, it’s suggestive, not definitive, and the data simply echoes what observers have been saying about Arenado’s glove work.

Rockies infield coach Stu Cole reflected, “I’ve had both of those guys. I had Tulo earlier in his career just after he got drafted. I had Nolan in the Arizona Fall League couple of years ago. I’ll tell you what: This guy made some exciting plays. You just knew once this guy was ready to go to the big leagues and be consistent with what he’s able to do, he was going to make some plays. To have those two guys on the left side, it’s nothing but a plus. You’ve good gloves over there, good arms, and both those guys are going to save a lot of hits for us.”

Cole is one of several familiar faces helping make sure that Arenado settles in. “Stu helps me out big time,” Arenado said. “He always tells me where to go and where to play. It also helps being on major league fields -- they’re really nice, so you’re really fortunate on hops. Starting double plays, Josh Rutledge, I trust him, I’ve been playing with him for a while. I’ve been playing a while with a lot of these guys. As far as positioning, we’re always going hitter by hitter and making adjustments.”

One of the concerns about Arenado as he came up was that he was trying to do too much in the field, something that will have to change as he settles in alongside Tulo on the left side. As Cole noted, “Both of those guys are in that mode of trying to get every ball that’s hit their way. I think Nolan just has that instinct of breaking to the ball whenever it’s hit in his direction.”

“A lot of balls that are going to be hit short, where Tulo might have had to come up and make a one-handed grab, now Nolan’s going to be there to get to some of those balls. In the past, we might have had a few third basemen who wouldn’t have been able to get to some of those balls. I think that’s going to take some pressure off Tulo,” Cole said.

Arenado takes it as a challenge to be part of an effective team with Tulo. “We always communicate about where we need to play,” Arenado said. “I know if he’s playing left, I can still move over a little to the right, because we know we can still cover the hole. We’re definitely good and have a lot of range, so we’re able to split it out in different ways. It’s been fun.”

To have those two guys on the left side, it's nothing but a plus. You've good gloves over there, good arms, and both those guys are going to save a lot of hits for us.

-- Rockies infield coach Stu Cole,
on Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki
“Communication between those two guys, that’s something that’s going to get better down the road: Nolan’s going to know where Tulo’s playing, and Tulo’s going to know that there are balls Nolan’s going to get to when he’s coming in," Cole predicted. "Those things will only get better, because two guys will be able to complement each other.”

One of the other advantages is that at the big league level, Arenado plays with the advantage of better data and scouting info, as well as the benefit of playing alongside one of the best players in baseball at short.

Of the Rockies’ deployment of advanced metrics on defense, Cole said, “That’s something we’ve been using pretty much all season. We use the scouting reports to position these guys, and that’s something Nolan’s still getting used to, but he’s adjusted to it well. He’s not only asking questions, he’s also paying attention, looking into the dugout to see if there’s a place he needs to be moved to and making sure he’s in the right spot. He’s a great student of the game.”

Which is where Arenado has plenty of additional homework to look forward to as he adjusts to pitchers who are already developing a big league book on him.

“There’s a lot more stuff going on up here,” Arenado said. “It’s a lot better in terms of scouting reports. In the minors, it’s still word of mouth: This is what this guy has. But here, we get to see a lot of film of all the different pitchers. We had no video projection screen in the minors and no video of anybody, but here you get everything.”

And here again, he’s getting the benefit of his new teammates. “Tulo and CarGo [left fielder Carlos Gonzalez] add a lot of insight about hitting,” Arenado said. “They’ve seen a lot of these pitchers, but it’s the first time I’m facing them -- they give me a lot of insight from their experience.”

With that sort of assistance on top of his talent, Arenado’s a big part of the Rockies’ future. And now that the future is now, that should leave them well covered for years to come -- at third base and at shortstop.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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