Nolan Arenado Spends Offseason Getting Defensive
PHOENIX, ARIZ. — Nolan Arenado was one of the best hitters in the low Class A South Atlantic League last year. His success at the plate was no surprise, as the Rockies spent their second-round pick on Arenado when he came out of high school in 2009.
Arenado showed scouts he could hit and hit for power. There was just one major question that scouts had when they saw him: Where is he going to play?
A high school shortstop, Arenado had become a 6-foot-1, 223-pound third baseman on a path towards the other side of the diamond. Arenado had a strong arm, but he was heavy, he wasn't quick and his range wasn't helping him get to many balls. Arenado hit .308/.338/.520 in 92 games with Asheville, but some scouts saw a future first baseman.
Arenado, 20, heard those same whispers and made fielding and conditioning top priorities.
"This offseason was really big on defense," Arenado said. "I worked on footwork, lateral movement, stuff like that. The defense this year has been better because I worked hard this offseason to get there. I had a lot of people telling me I probably would move to first and stuff like that, but I don't want to move to first. I think I'm proving my point this year that I'm going to stay at third and I think the Rockies are really proud of how I'm playing this year. I had people telling me you're probably going to move to first, you need to work on quickness, and I took it to heart."
And who better to learn from about becoming a better defensive infielder than Troy Tulowitzki? The Rockies big league shortstop invited Arenado and Double-A Tulsa outfielder Tim Wheeler to train with him and his trainer over the winter. They would lift weights, hit and run sprints, with Tulowitzki giving Arenado personal instruction on how to handle the leather along the way.
"He would say, 'Get lower,' " Arenado said. "(He taught me) how to move, get to the ball, get the glove down."
Arenado also hired his own trainer and nutritionist to help him get leaner. High-repetition, high-volume squats, lateral movements with bands and other work designed to increase his quickness more so than his maximum strength were part of the program to help him.
His off-season work certainly hasn't hurt him at the plate—he's hitting .308/.353/.484 in 348 plate appearances for high Class A Modesto—but it's helped him become not just a guy who could stay at third base but one who could even be above-average at the position with more progress.
After committing 15 errors in 81 games at third base last year, Arenado has nine errors in 79 games at the hot corner this year. Those numbers aren't always the most telling when it comes to evaluating a prospect's (or any player's) defense, but those who have followed Arenado since he signed say the progress is real.
"I think you need to have lateral movement; that's a huge part at third base," Arenado said. "You have to be able to move side to side and be quick with it. You can't take your time to go get the ball. You go down and you've got to go get it. Lately it's been working out, and I think that's a huge thing. Just getting low and getting more toward the ground to where you can have more movement and see the ball better."