All things considered, Chris Nelson did a decent enough job at third base for the Colorado Rockies in 2012, hitting over .300 at the plate with a .810 OPS and nine homers in 377 PA, even if (and I’m being nice here) he left a little something do be desired as far as his glove goes.
But as well as he did, or might continue to do at the plate in the near future, Nelson knows – along with the Rockies – that he’s simply keeping the seat warm for the heir apparent, Nolan Arenado. That conclusion isn’t so much a matter of if as it is a matter of when – Arenado will arrive at the big leagues at some point soon, even if it’s not the immediate future.
Although, that’s what many thought the then 20-year old would do last year, after he’d tore through A ball as a 19-year old. Yes, he would have almost certainly been rushed if he made the league as a 20-year old in 2012, but luckily for the Rockies, the learning curve of AA slowed the super-prospect’s hype train, and gave the franchise a reason to keep him down on the farm.
But he eventually figured out AA too – all it took was a little time, a bad slump (.524 OPS in July), and some rumblings of a perceived attitude problem with failure to kick his season back into gear. Arenado finished the season on a tear, hitting .366 over his last 30 games, with four homers and 13 doubles over 123 at-bats.
The run even garnered him some attention as a potential September call-up, though that never quite materialized.
2013 could be a different story.
Sure, Arenado is a very long shot to come out of Spring Training with a roster spot on the Rockies. He has a non-roster invite to camp, and is expected to start in the minors. That said, he’s likely going to be honing his stuff in the PCL, which is a notoriously hitter-friendly league, and one that Arenado is likely going to smash.
It’s also a league that he probably won’t stay very long in. Nelson did not need a full season in Colorado Springs before the team decided that he’d be ready, and as long as Arenado does not slip up next year, he could be looking at a mid-season call-up to the big leagues as a 22-year old. Both Steamer and Bill James have him projected at around 380 PA next year, suggesting that he could arrive as early as June 1st.
There’ll likely be a learning curve then, too. But if Arenado can do in the big leagues what he has shown in the minors in terms of making adjustments, his low-strikeout approach at the plate, combined with his power could be enough to supplant Nelson, and give the Rockies their third baseman of the future.
Arenado’s brief struggles at AA bought the Rockies some time for their top prospect to develop. In 2013, that extra time might allow him to make that much more of an impact when he finally arrives.