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April 29, 2013
The Situation: Rockies infielder Chris Nelson could not duplicate the success he experienced in 2012, posting a .242/.282/.318 line in 22 games this year, and the club designated him for assignment over the weekend. Nelson’s departure opened the door for Arenado, ranked third on the Rockies Top 10 list by Baseball Prospectus over the offseason, to make his major-league debut on Sunday.
Background: Drafted in the second round in 2009, Arenado raked at every stop through his first three years in the minor leagues. His professional debut in the Pioneer League was a rousing success, with an even .300 batting average and 17 extra-base hits in just 54 games. Pushed to the Low-A South Atlantic League as a 19-year-old in 2010, Arenado responded with a performance worthy of top-prospect praise, highlighted by a .308/.338/.520 line in 92 games. Promoted another level in 2011, Arenado hit .298 with 32 doubles and 20 home runs in the High-A California League. The jump to Double-A in 2012 proved a little difficult for him, as he “struggled” to the tune of a .285 batting average, 36 doubles, and 12 home runs. Through 18 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs this season, he was hitting .364/.392/.667.
Scouting Report: Arenado has consistently been known as a quality hitter. He has a simple, compact swing that allows him to get the bat to the ball quickly and consistently and spray line drives to all fields. Due to his line-drive-oriented swing, Arenado’s power ceiling has always come into question. He doesn’t generate much loft and may top out with only 10-15 home runs a year on top of his 30-plus-double potential. Arenado is a solid defender at third base, where he has the hands and arm strength to stick at the position. With only modest reactions and below-average speed, his range is fringy, but it should be enough to get by at third long term. His overall profile may not be that of the protypical third baseman, but with the potential to hit .280-.290 with average power, Arenado should be a quality big-league player for a long time.
Immediate Big-League Future: Currently battling with the Diamondbacks at the top of the National League West, the Rockies didn’t hesitate to create an opportunity for Arenado in order to improve their third-base production. With Nelson out of the way and no other third baseman with the upside of Arenado in the system, the everyday job appears to be his for the taking. Though there will be some growing pains against more advanced pitching, Arenado should lock down the job without much trouble. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Arenado’s call-up is one the fantasy community has been awaiting since early 2012. There was some speculation that he could break camp with the club last season, but his .192/.222/.346 spring line squashed those rumors, as did his modest minor-league season. Speculation ran high again this spring, especially as Arenado popped four homers in 19 Cactus League games, but he didn’t break camp with Colorado. It took unspectacular hitting (.213 TAv) and continued poor defense (-10.9 FRAA in 211 MLB games) from Nelson, coupled with Arenado’s hot Triple-A start, to give fantasy owners and Rockies fans what they wanted.
Arenado becomes an intriguing option in most formats, but especially in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues. Coors Field alone puts him on everyone’s radar, with his top-prospect status adding to the excitement. Arenado profiles as a high-batting-average, modest-power guy—think Martin Prado-level production—and joins the NL’s highest-scoring squad, which should put him in a favorable position to generate RBIs and score runs early on. However, those in 10-team leagues need to be careful about cutting an established bat for the shiny new toy. If you use larger rosters and have an obvious spot, then take a shot, but don’t do something foolish like cutting the aforementioned Prado because he is hitting .208 so far.
Arenado should be rostered in every other format based on potential alone, and he’s worth 50-55 percent of a free agency budget. —Paul Sporer
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark