Tag Archives: Nolan Arenado

Rockies still believe in Nolan Arenado

A funny thing happened on Nolan Arenado’s express trip to the big leagues. The train suddenly turned into a local.

A second-round draft pick out of California’s El Toro High School in 2009 and the Rockies’ much-hyped third baseman-to-be, Arenado watched as Double-A Tulsa teammate Josh Rutledge, a third-round pick out of the University of Alabama a year later, roared past him.

Arenado finished 2012 with a respectable .285 batting average, but his 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in were a serious comedown from his 20 and 122 in the same number of games at high Class A Modesto the year before.

Rutledge was hitting .306 with 13 homers and 35 RBI from the shortstop position when the Rocks called him up to fill in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki. Rutledge hit .274 with 8 homers and 37 RBI for the parent club. Even with Tulo healthy again, Rutledge is expected to make the Rockies again, this time as a second baseman.

Arenado will also be in big league camp by the time position players are required to report on Saturday. Of Baseball America’s top 10 Rockies prospects, four are non-roster invitees to the major league camp — Arenado, outfielder Kyle Parker and pitchers Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis.

“I personally still think he definitely is that candidate,” Jeff Bridich, the Rockies’ senior director of player development, said on KOA when I asked him about Arenado.

“I think he’s talented enough and deep-down inside confident enough, athletic enough and skilled enough, to be our everyday third baseman in the future. He holds that decision inside of him, and I think that’s a lesson that he learned (last) year.¬†That Double-A level is tough. It’s where the cream starts to separate itself. I think he was expecting big things out of himself — I know he was — and when faced with some adversity, just was unsure and didn’t know how to handle it.

“The crime would be if he doesn’t learn from that and apply it this year. Really, I think he’s just got to get back to being himself on that baseball diamond, being himself every day in terms of how he prepares and playing the game for the love of the game, which is really how he came into this organization out of high school. He was a very energetic, excitable, talented young man. He put a lot of pressure and stress on himself last year, and I’m very, very confident that he learned from that experience and will apply it well this year.”

The decision to invite Arenado to big league camp despite his disappointing 2012 season indicates the Rocks believe he might be ready to join the parent club sometime this season. For such players, the organization tries to get the “wow factor” of being around big leaguers out of the way in the spring.

“You usually make the decisions guy to guy,” Bridich said. “There’s a method to the madness. I would say that when certain players have done certain things that make you think that they could impact the big league club at some point during the season, you want to get them acclimated to not only the other big league players that might factor into that team that year, but the coaching staff as well. Kind of get that wow factor of being around the big league environment, get that kind of over and done with in spring training as best you can.”

This is also the case with Bettis, a second-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2010 who was expected to be on a fast track to the majors last season after an impressive 2011 campaign at Modesto, when he went 12-5 with a 3.34 earned-run average. But Bettis suffered a shoulder injury last spring and ended up sitting out the season.

“We were hopeful that Chad would be pitching for us, at least starting for us last year in Tulsa, and where he ended up, who knows, but he was beset by injury at the end of the spring training,” Bridich said.

“So his situation is really health first. I think he’s past it. He pitched for us in instructional league the first, second week in October, towards the end of our camp. I know he feels like he’s past the injury and is feeling strong. So first things first with him — getting back on the mound, getting his arm strength and body strength and muscle memory and all that kind of stuff back, and we’ll see what happens.”

The big league invite to Anderson, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2011 out of the University of Oregon, suggests the Rocks think the left-hander could rise through the ranks rapidly.

“Tyler Anderson is obviously a talented kid who has also battled some injury stuff. Fortunately for him, it hasn’t been his arm. But (we’re) looking forward for him to put in a good full season of professional baseball. When I talked about that wow factor and kind of getting that out of the way, I think Tyler definitely fits into that type of category with this spring training invite.”

After last season’s disastrous decision to bring in veteran Jeremy Guthrie, who freaked out trying to pitch at Coors Field, Rockies management has been reminded that it requires a certain mindset to pitch here. So I asked Bridich how the organization goes about diagnosing that intangible quality in pitchers.

“It’s no surprise to anybody that there are challenges here, pitching at altitude,” he said. “I think that we have seen in the past that a variety of different types of pitchers can pitch well here. It’s not just one specific mold. But what really is telling is what’s inside of the guy — that fearlessness and the confidence that he can pitch anywhere, it really doesn’t matter, and that if he’s pitching in Colorado, it’s no different in his mind than pitching in Dodger Stadium or out east at sea level. It’s one of the toughest things to scout, because you can’t see what’s inside that player. But oftentimes, it’s the most important.”

Another top prospect to get a non-roster invite to big league camp this year is Kyle Parker, the former Clemson quarterback. The Rocks have gone one for two on football/baseball players lately. They also drafted Russell Wilson, who went back to football after a couple of unremarkable seasons in the minor leagues and became a rookie star with the Seattle Seahawks. Parker made the opposite call.

“Kyle is a very good athlete, a very powerful athlete, and I think last year he dealt with some unfortunate and unlucky injury circumstances,” Bridich said, referring to Parker’s 2012 season in Modesto. “He got hit with a pitch first game of the season and he broke his wrist and then towards the end of the season he kind of repeated history there, so he lost some time in the playoffs. In between all of that, he put together a very impressive offensive season and defensive season as well.

“He improved in many, many phases of his game last year. He used to have kind of a split personality between football and baseball, growing up and all the way through college. Now he doesn’t have that. He’s dedicated himself fully to baseball. He is a hard worker to begin with. He’s got work ethic; that is not a question at all.

“Really, it’s about paying attention now to some of the finer points of playing baseball and having some of that baseball experience under his belt that he didn’t have previously because he was spending a lot of time on the football field.”

Of the four, only Arenado has a full season at the Double-A level, which would seem to make him the most likely to wear a Rockies uniform sometime this season. But the invites suggest the organization thinks that any of the four could surprise and earn a promotion earlier than expected.


A little early to panic: Thoughts on the Rockies’ first series

On Twitter, the modern version of Morse code, RIGHT NOW is all that really matters. Thus, from the first weekend of baseball’s new season, we get:

* Trading Jason Hammel was a huge mistake by the Rockies because he had the best start of his career in his Orioles debut, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

* The Red Sox stink again, just like last fall when they blew a sure playoff berth. Shows what the experts know.

* The Mets are awesome.

* The Rockies’ roster is a joke, what was Dan O’Dowd thinking, and Jim Tracy still overmanages.

Slight exaggerations, granted, but I did receive these tweets, verbatim, after the Rocks lost two out of three in Houston:

“Offense overrated.”

“So far, Rockies are who critics thought they were.”

After three games. Out of 162. So let’s take a step back and remember a few things. Last year, the Rocks came out of the gate 11-2 and finished April at 17-8. They were under .500 by the end of May (25-29) on their way to a desultory 73-win season.

This is where the level-headed writer is supposed to urge fans to wait for a statistically significant sample size, but in two of the past five seasons, there has been no such thing for the Rockies.

In 2010, they had a .554 winning percentage, on pace for 90 wins, through 148 games, which seems like a pretty good sample size. Then they lost 13 of their last 14 to finish 83-79 (.512). So a team that looked good for much of the season turned out to be mediocre.

In 2007, as you may recall, exactly the opposite happened. The Rocks had a .514 winning percentage through 148 games, barely above average, then won 13 out of 14 (14 out of 15 if you count the one-game playoff with San Diego; 21 out of 22 if you could the NLDS and NLCS), to finish the regular season 89-73. So a team that looked mediocre for much of the season turned out to be pretty good.

All of which is to say sometimes you can’t tell with the Rockies even when you’ve watched them all summer. So one weekend in April is probably not enough basis for any significant conclusions. But let’s knock down a few misconceptions anyway:

* Jamie Moyer is not the No. 2 starter, even though he pitched the second game. You might think this wouldn’t need to be explained to anyone paying even casual attention, but apparently it does. Moyer, who throws nothing but junk because he’s . . . well, because he’s 49 years old . . .¬† was inserted in the rotation between hard throwers Jeremy Guthrie and Juan Nicasio in hopes he would serve as a change of pace. It may have worked, although not for him. After hitting against him Saturday, the Astros were largely lost against Nicasio’s heat Sunday. Starting Moyer in Houston also gives him one less start at altitude, where one winces at the prospects.

In any case, Moyer is the fifth starter, and a temporary one at that. The first four starters are Guthrie, Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Jhoulys Chacin. When Jorge De La Rosa is ready to return from Tommy John surgery — early June, the Rocks hope — he’ll take the fifth spot and Moyer’s grand Reminiscence Tour will be over.

Moyer made the club only because four younger candidates for the temporary fifth starter role — Guillermo Moscoso, Tyler Chatwood, Josh Outman and Alex White — failed to win the job in the spring. That’s disappointing, but if any of them starts pitching well, either in the minor leagues or from the bullpen, he can take Moyer’s spot any time.

* The fact that Pomeranz is not yet on the 25-man roster does not prove Rockies management is demented. Pomeranz, the fifth pick of the 2010 draft and the central prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, pitched 101 innings in the minors last year and 18.1 in the majors. That’s . . . give me a minute to warm up the calculator — 119.1 innings pitched. Crunching the numbers on young pitchers who have run into arm trouble, the Rocks conclude that one red flag is a big jump in innings pitched from one year to the next.

If Pomeranz is as good as he looks — his minor league ERA last year was 1.78 — he would pitch 200 innings or more as a regular member of the rotation. The Rocks don’t want that. In fact, they don’t want him to pitch many more than 150. How to do that?

Well, treat him like a fifth starter, even though he’ll probably be their ace in short order. Skip him the first time around, since a day off allows them to go with four starters twice through the rotation. His scheduled start at Double A Tulsa is to keep him on schedule, but it should be a short one. I’m still suggesting you get tickets for Sunday, April 15, his first scheduled start of the season at Coors Field.

* The reason Jonathan Herrera is on the roster is not that he’s friends with Carlos Gonzalez. He, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr. may seem like way too many of the same sort of ineffectual player, but there’s one big difference: Rockies management doesn’t want to see either Nelson or Young playing shortstop or second base if it’s not an emergency. That means Herrera is the only defensive replacement for Troy Tulowitzki or Marco Scutaro that doesn’t make the brass cringe. Rockies fans love to hate Herrera because he doesn’t hit much, but inasmuch as the Rocks have committed four errors in three games, all by infielders and one costing them Sunday’s game, they probably want more defense, not less.

* Yes, admittedly, third base is still a black hole. While studly prospect Nolan Arenado begins the season at Tulsa (batting .533 through four games with an OPS of 1.344) the Rocks hope that either Nelson or Jordan Pacheco proves capable of being a placeholder. Each made a costly throwing error in Houston, Pacheco’s arguably costing them Sunday’s game, and they were a combined 1-for-11 at the plate.

If it makes you feel any better, Ian Stewart committed one of those sleepy Ian Stewart errors — dropping a ball as he transferred it from his glove to his hand — for the Cubs, although he is 2-for-8 with a run scored and an RBI through three games in Chicago.

But, hey, that ship has sailed. Stewart hit .156 last season and after eight years in the organization, the Rocks moved on, exchanging him for outfielder Tyler Colvin, another former first-round pick in need of a fresh start. One of three things is going to happen at the hot corner:

1. Nelson or Pacheco takes hold of the position, hits enough to stay in the lineup and learns how to throw to first.

2. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, call up Brandon Wood from Triple A Colorado Springs, who is 4-for-14 through four games (.286) and hasn’t made an error yet.

3. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, notice Arenado is batting over .500, figure he’ll be old enough to drink legally any day (his 21st birthday is a week from today), throw caution to the wind and call him up.

Even while losing the series in Houston, the Rocks saw some encouraging signs. Guthrie and Nicasio both gave them quality starts, pitching seven innings apiece. Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario hit a towering home run in his first start, confirming the power he demonstrated in spring training. The bats haven’t heated up yet, but newcomer Michael Cuddyer had five hits in his first series in purple and black.

But the main point I want to make is it’s only three games. The Yankees are 0-3. So are the Red Sox. The Orioles are 3-0, which is the biggest tell of all. So do what the Rocks did last night. Put the Houston series in the rearview and enjoy today’s home Opening Day.