Nolan Arenado excelled defensively in his rookie season. The Colorado Rockies third baseman won a Gold Glove, and he had the numbers to back it up. The rifle-armed 22-year-old ranked second at his position in assists, fielding percentage, and Defensive Runs Saved. He ranked third in UZR.
At the plate, he wasn’t as good. The right-handed hitter had a .267/.301/.405 slash line, with 10 home runs. Discipline was an issue, as his 4.5 walk rate was one of the worst in the National League.
His track record suggests Arenado will always be an aggressive hitter. His minor-league walk rate ranged between 4.8 and 8.1, and his strikeout rate between 8.0 and 13.0. Despite his free-swinging ways, he’s shown plenty of potential on the offensive side of the ball. In four-plus seasons on the farm, he hit .299/.345/.473.
Arenado talked about his offensive approach during the 2013 season.
Arenado on his hitting approach: “I do a lot of preparation. I’m trying to be mentally prepared. I watch film, work on my swing — everything. In the cage, I’m focusing on where I want to be with my hands and my legs. I’m working on things and trying to find what I want. Once I’m in the game, I’m just taking my hacks and letting it go. I’m just focusing on trying to hit the ball hard.
“I’m trying to see the ball, no matter where it is in the zone. I’m reacting to wherever it’s at, and trying to make solid contact. If I see it in, I react there. Same if it’s out. I’m reacting to everything.
“If you think too much you get in trouble. That said, certain situations call for certain thinking. What do I want to do with this pitch? Do I want to move the runner over? Maybe it‘s simply ‘I need to drive the runner in.’ That stuff comes into play, but I mostly try not to over-think.”
On video and preparation: “I’m prepared when I step in there. A pitcher might change his approach, but I know what he throws. I watch video, so I know his pitches and what he likes to throw in certain counts. You can’t just focus on a specific pitch though, because you might not get that pitch.
“I like to watch film on myself. I look at how I’m swinging at pitches, what I’m doing wrong — maybe I’m too far out front, or something like that. I focus on my swing, on film, and from there I go off what the pitcher is throwing.”
On plate discipline and his walk and strikeout rates: “I have to go with what got me here. That’s a big thing. What I did in Triple-A got me here. There are obviously certain pitchers — these guys are really good — that are going to make you adjust, but I mostly need to stick with what I do.
“I think it is [possible to walk more without striking out more]. For me, I don’t know when that would be possible; I just need to really focus on not swinging at bad pitches. Sometimes having low strikeouts is good, but it can also be bad. If I’m swinging at bad pitches and putting them in play for outs… I could definitely be walking a lot more. There have been hitters… Todd Helton has walked more than he’s struck out in his career. It’s tough to do, but I think I can do it.”
On having caught in high school: “I was mostly a shortstop. I caught a little bit, but it wasn’t my primary position. Had I really worked at it, I think I could have been a pretty decent catcher. I mostly did it to get my draft status up coming out of high school. But that’s in the past. I’m a third baseman now, and I like third base.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.