The Colorado Rockies have one of baseball’s best line-ups, like they have since…forever. They seem to develop good, young hitters, and it always helps to play at Coors Field, the ballpark with the highest run factor, according to espn.com. This year won’t be any different, as they feature a great bunch: two MVP candidates, a couple of veteran sluggers, and young talent. And among this young talent, is third baseman Nolan Arenado, who could heavily impact Colorado’s success this year.
Not too long ago, Arenado achieved the honors of MVP of the Arizona Fall League in a race against current stars Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. This happened after a season at (A+), where he hit .298 with 20 home runs, and an amazing 122 RBI in 134 games. That season transformed his future from a blip on the prospect radar, to being ranked forty-second on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list in 2012. He became Colorado’s top-ranked prospect in 2013 in a list compiled by Marc Hulet of fangraphs.com, gaining remarks on bat speed, good contact, and improved defense. However, questions have always remained regarding his ceiling for power. Hulet predicted, at his prime, he could possibly hit 15-20 home runs per season. But you know what they say about Coors Field: the thin air does amazing things.
This season, Arenado projects to hit somewhere near the middle of the order, behind sluggers Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, a prime spot for RBI opportunities since “Cargo” and “Cuddy” get pitched around frequently. And behind him are power bats in Justin Morneau and Wilin Rosario, meaning pitchers will most likely aim to get Arenado out before leaving men on base for later hitters. Even if Arenado hits behind Rosario, he still has protection in Morneau behind him. This is a perfect scenario for Nolan to come out in his sophomore season with high impact.
Nolan doesn’t walk much (4.5% of AB), but he also is third on Colorado for striking out the least, at 14.0%, which means that 80% of AB, the ball is in play. If he can raise his .296 BABIP, or average of balls batted in play, then it will significantly raise his batting average above the .267 he had his rookie year. If he can hit effectively, let’s say, .280 or higher this year, he will create several more run scoring opportunities for Colorado. With his spot in the line-up there will be many opportunities for him to have at bats with runners on base. Therefore, an increase in his batting average will also raise his dismal wRC+ of 79, where he creates 79% of scored runs of the average MLB hitter.
If Nolan has a big year, it can also help out the hitters in front of him. In most situations, a pitcher will attack the strike zone more frequently to a batter if a known slugger is behind the current batter. This would involve throwing a higher percentage of fastballs. This benefits teams with deep offensive power, because a pitcher has more pronounced hitters to worry about. Using the projected line-up Colorado could use, if Arenado develops into an above average hitter, then those in front of him will see a higher percentage of strikes and fastballs. This means Rosario and Cuddyer would have better pitches to swing away at. This bodes well for Colorado because Rosario is Colorado’s best fastball hitter, and Cuddyer is a great hitter in his own right, winning the batting crown in the NL in 2013.
And as much as Arenado can affect his teammates by hitting will, it works the other way as well. Developing his swing in the middle of a stacked order is comparable to being a role-player on Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. You will always play against the opponent’s worst defender, and you will have an open lane more so than not. In Nolan’s case, he will be seeing good pitches to hit, which is the safest way to develop confidence. And a confident Arenado, is a more confident Rockies club: a club that might need confidence more than any other team in order to make the playoffs.
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