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Coming Soon To A Stadium Near You: Nolan Arenado

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Every Monday I will be taking an in-depth look at a player who could potentially get called up to the Majors this year, and could be useful to fantasy owners as a result. In some cases, it could a top prospect (like today's), and in other cases it could be a player in the minors who would benefit from an opportunity in the bigs, especially if an injury or trade occurs. Today's player is Colorado Rockies' 3B prospect Nolan Arenado.

The Basics

Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Position Now: 3B
Likely Position in the Future: 3B
Age at end of 2012 season: 21
On 40-man Roster: No

His History

Arenado was drafted out of a California high school in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, and signed for a bonus just shy of $1 million dollars. He signed early enough to appear in 54 games for the Rockies' Rookie level affiliate in Casper, Wyoming that year, where he posted a .300/.351/.404 slash line with 2 home runs. The Rockies sent him to their Low-A affiliate in Asheville for the 2010 season, and he continued to show promise while hitting. In Asheville (a known hitters' park), he hit .308/.338/.520 with 12 home runs in just 92 games (he missed a month due to a groin injury). After that season, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Arenado:

Defensively, his arm earned high marks in terms of both strength and accuracy. ...He's a below-average runner and projects as no more than acceptable at third base.

The biggest concern amongst many of the prospect experts at the time was his ability to stay at 3B defensively, and while it was thought that his bat would play even at 1B, his value would be higher if he could stay at 3B.

2011 was really a consolidation season for Arenado, as he was sent to Modesto in the California League. While the Cal League is known for being a hitters' league, Modesto itself has shown itself to be a pitchers' park within that league. As a result, his .298/.349/.387 line with 20 home runs actually looks slightly better to me than the numbers themselves reflect. In addition, he showed much better plate discipline to the tune of an 8.1% walk rate (up from 4.8% in 2010) and an improved strikeout rate of just 9.1% (down from 13%). The team even sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he won MVP honors after posting a .388/.423/.636 with 6 home runs in 29 games played.

The biggest difference from the 2010 season wasn't even on the offensive side of his game, as his defense was widely viewed to have improved dramatically. From John Sickels of Minor League Ball:

I also like his defense at third base, where he combines steadily-improving reliability with a strong arm and decent range.

What's Stopping Him From Being In the Majors Right Now?

Realistically, there are three things as of right now that I see keeping Arenado from the bigs.

1) He has not played above High-A.

Arenado finished up last season with the Rockies' High-A affiliate in the California League, and also a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He really should get more at bats against pitchers at either the AA or even the AAA level to really show that he is ready to face Major League pitching on a regular basis.

2) He is not on the 40-man roster.

This is a pretty common issue for prospects who finished up at lower levels, as teams are not required to add high school draftees to the 40-man roster until at least 4 seasons after they sign their first major league contract. In Arenado's case, he would not need to be added to the 40-man roster until 2014 if he is not brought up to the Majors, so there's not really any incentive to add him any earlier than need be. The Rockies' 40-man roster currently has 37 players on it, so there's not really a huge block to keep him off there either.

3) There's not really an incentive for the Rockies to start his service clock earlier than they need to.

While the team has the potential to compete this season, it doesn't really appear that they are likely to do so. Add in the fact that Arenado struggled in Spring Training and expected 3B Jordan Pacheco had a solid spring, and all of a sudden there really aren't a lot of reasons to bring him up that quickly.

What Could He Do When He Gets to the Majors?

To me, Arenado seems like he has the potential to be a high batting average, 20-25 home run power hitter at 3B long term. When I looked at his line drive %, HR/FB% and FB%, some of the names that jumped out at me from last year's performance were Aramis Ramirez (23%, 12%, 42%) and Chipper Jones (16%, 13%, 35%). While I don't think that he's going to necessarily turn into either of those players, I could very well see a season where we see numbers similar to those players in the near future. Add in that he will be playing half of his games in Colorado once he is there, and he could be there for a very long time.

When Does He Seem Likely to Arrive?

I imagine that he will be up at some point during the season, and most likely that will happen in September if it happens at all this year. If not, he would be my pick to be the Opening Day 3B for Colorado in 2013.