Rockies' Arenado posting stats reminiscent of predecessor
By Andrew Pentis / Special to MLB.com | May 3, 2012 6:00 AM ET
Imagine that the last person who flourished in your job has returned to the office and is challenging you, one small task at a time, to reach his former level of performance.
Now picture yourself in cleats, and you'll know how Rockies farmhand Nolan Arenado feels.
Colorado's No. 1 prospect -- and baseball's No. 22 overall -- had the luxury (not the burden as the rest of us might see it) of fielding Spring Training grounders hit by the Rockies most recognizable third baseman ever. For nine seasons, starting in 1993, Vinny Castilla played the same position as Arenado, in the same city Arenado hopes to soon call home.
"To work through the ball, always moving my body to first base," Arenado said when asked what Castilla, now a special assistant in the organization, told him about handling the hot corner. "Always move toward the bag instead of staying still."
Castilla's advice to Arenado is fitting. The Minor Leaguer has been in constant motion since he went from shortstop at El Toro High in Lake Forest, Calif., to second-round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. The evidence lies is his 162-game career average in the Minors, mixed in here with two others':
"For me, it's always about driving down through the ball. If I work through the ball, I'll be OK. I have to get back to it," said Arenado, who sounds completely unaware that he's batting .307 so far this season for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. "My top-hand [helps] me drive the ball with back-spin."
Staying through the ball? Top hand? Back-spin? Tulsa hitting coach Kevin Riggs helps us break down Arenado's mechanics.
"The thing with Nolan is sometimes he gets tilted with his upper body, in the lead arm, his left arm. His bottom hand will be dominating the swing. Obviously, as a hitter, we need to use both levers equally," Riggs explained. "When his top hand stays on the bat longer -- before relase -- that's when he's going to really get through the ball, drive the ball and get that backspin. A lot of guys think they create that with their bottom hand -- and that's obviously one side of it -- but if that top hand isn't working as well, you're going to lose your barrel and fly some balls to the off-side. ... That being said, this guy, his barrel stays through the hitting zone as long as anybody I've ever seen, so he's going to have some good results and is going to find some hits even when he's not going well. Numbers-wise, they are good, but he's not hitting the ball as well as he would like."
So Player A(renado) has been successful -- the numbers comprising his four years split among Class A Casper and Asheville, Class A Advanced Modesto and Tulsa -- if not in his own eyes. Ready for the identity of Player B to be revealed? He's Castilla, who declined MiLB.com's interview request through the Rockies, saying that the appropriate time to talk about Arenado as a player will be when he's reached the Majors (another subtle challenge to his underling?). After all, Castilla once forged the path from (Atlanta Braves) prospect to Rox stalwart, smacking 239 of his 320 career homers for Colorado. Those are big cleats to fill.
"Vinny is a great man -- he's really helped me in becoming a third baseman," Arenado said. "I'm just trying to work hard and, with his help and the Rockies' help, one day hopefully I could play as good as he did."
Might Arenado be better than his predecessor? A question worth asking.
"My comparison with the swing would be Edgar Martinez," Riggs said of Player C in our example. "But Vinny is a good comparison; Vinny could turn the high fastball around -- he could hit the high fastball as well as anybody -- and Nolan is the kind of guy that's going to hit, hit for power and drive in runs."
The day when he does all of those things in the Majors may not be far away. One scout who saw Arenado during Spring Training is most impressed by his completeness as a player. A typical Minor Leaguer at his age (Arenado turned 21 last month), the scout argued, has at least one glaring weakness remaining in his game. Arenado, who has only made one fielding error over his past 24 games, does not.
"I'm just going to try to control me," the third baseman said, warding off any more juxtapositions, even those warranted. "Once I get that call, hopefully sooner than later, I'll help the big league club out because I know I can. I know I can play up there."
No. 100 prospect Oscar Taveras can hit, that's for sure. But can the Cardinals' corner outfielder hit for power? That extra tool -- of the vaunted five -- is often the difference between being merely good instead of great at the plate. Taveras, 19, is looking more like the latter. The left-handed hitter has seven home runs in 24 Texas League games (he had eight all of last year) or one every 14 at-bats so far in 2012 (he had one every 39 at-bats in 2011).
No. 47 prospect Gary Brown posted .336/.407/.519 in 131 games at Class A Advanced San Jose last season, so the sight of his April numbers -- .227/.333/.284 -- at Double-A Richmond is more than surprising. And it's not because he's a slow starter: The 24th overall pick in the 2010 Draft compiled a .333/.418/.427 during the first month of 2011. Still, the Giants are not alarmed. "When you have 500 at-bats," like Brown did in the Cal League in 2011, player development director Fred Stanley argued, "success is no fluke." Stanley also said Brown's slide can be traced to two Eastern League factors: The weather is bad, and the pitching is not. Fellow San Francisco farmhand Francisco Peguero (No. 97) has had similar struggles a level up in the Giants' system at PCL Fresno, where the weather is warmer and runs tend to be more plentiful.
Memo from Mayo
In "Scout's View" of his latest Prospect Watch notebook, set to appear online Friday, Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo spoke with a scout about a Mobile BayBears roster that has featured eight of the D-backs' Top 20 Prospects so far this season. Of left-handed starter Tyler Skaggs, ranked third among Arizona's bounty, the scout said, "He probably has the best curve in Minor League baseball." For more of Mayo's analysis, visit MLB.com's Prospects Central.
Prospect Tweet Worth Re-tweeting: "Ketchup water can ruin a meal real quick. I want to gag every time I see it drip on my food. #RememberToShake" -- Altoona Curve catcher Tony Sanchez (@Tony26Montana).
Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.