This spring, Colorado Rockies third base prospect Nolan Arenado came close to winning a spot on the team's 25-man, Opening Day roster.
With just three days to go until the start of the season, Arenado was informed he would be optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
From a scout's point of view, it is always best for a player to finish his development prior to being exposed to potential frustration at the Major League level. That is particularly true for position players. His time will come. Maybe soon.
Arenado is the type of hitter that fans stay in their seats to watch at the plate. He has that certain "something" that makes him special. That "something" is a loud and consistent gap-hitting bat.
I have scouted a considerable number of Arenado's games. I saw him in two All-Star Futures Games, in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, and two Spring Trainings. On each occasion, his bat opened my eyes. And lots of other eyes as well.
The right-handed-hitting Arenado attended El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. In 2009, he hit a whopping .517 with 5 home runs, 14 doubles and a triple. He had a .615 on-base percentage. As the team's best hitter, he hit at the top of the order to get more at-bats. In high school he caught some, but he played mainly at shortstop. His physique fits better at third base.
The Rockies selected Arenado in the 2nd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Arenado began his professional career at age 18, playing for Casper in the Pioneer Rookie League. He went to the plate 225 times in 54 games and hit an even .300. It was a very solid beginning. He struck out only 18 times, sending a message that he is a no-nonsense hitter with a plan at the plate. It was the foreshadowing of one of Arenado's most prominent and outstanding qualities -- contact hitting. He puts the bat on the ball, and he doesn't get himself out swinging at pitches he can't handle. He looks for pitches he can drive. His bat control is a major part of his impressive hitting mechanics.
In 2010, Arenado played at Class A Asheville, where he improved to a .308 batting average in 400 plate appearances. He had 41 doubles among his 115 hits. His bat was heating up.
The following season he was promoted once again. This time he went to High-A Modesto in the California League. He didn't disappoint, hitting .298 in 583 plate appearances, the most of his career. He added a little more pop in the California air, hitting 20 home runs, 32 doubles and three triples. He had an eye-popping 122 RBIs.
At midseason, Arenado was invited to participate for the United States team in the All-Star Futures Game. He smacked a double in two plate appearances and drove in a run.
At the end of the season, I got a much longer look at Arenado. He was assigned to the Salt River club in the Arizona Fall League.
I still hear people talk about the sound the ball made coming off Arenado's bat that fall. After hitting .388 with six home runs, 12 doubles and 33 RBIs, Arenado won the Joe Black Most Valuable Player Award. He had a fantastic season. His defense at third base was almost as good as his offense. He showed himself to be a complete baseball player -- a scout's prototypical multi-tooled athlete.
Last season was a bit of a personal trial for Arenado. While he went to the plate 573 times playing for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League, he was challenged by his organization to make some adjustments to his overall approach to the game. He finished the season hitting .285, his lowest as a professional. He still showed his barrel of the bat hitting stroke, registering 12 home runs and 36 doubles.
During that season, Arenado likely learned a great deal about himself and the requirements of being a professional player.
Arenado is the type of hitter that makes adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. He knows how to hit.
At 6-feet-1 and 205 well-proportioned pounds, Arenado has adjusted in his life before. At one point he was heavier. He made up his mind to lose weight and become more agile and fluid as a third baseman. His lighter frame has offered him positive results. He moves well at his position.
With a very level swing plane, Arenado is a lethal line-drive hitter. That's not to say he can't hit his share of home runs. While he doesn't generate much loft, those line drives find their way out of the ballpark in a hurry. Using very strong hands, wrists and forearms, he generates bat speed with strength through the ball. That's a solid foundation for an emerging impact hitter.
Defensively, Arenado is a much better fielder than some have indicated. I have seen him reach balls to both sides with good range and reaction. His arm is extremely strong and accurate from third base. I quantify his defense as a tad above average.
Arenado has limited running speed, at best. That said, his gap power is so great he will have little trouble running out doubles. He may scuffle a bit going from first to third on a base hit, or from second to home as well. Usable running speed is not among his tools.
Given the altitude and huge gaps of Coors Field, Arenado projects to be an ideal, natural hitter in his future home park. Ultimately, I believe he will be a force to be reckoned with as a run producer in the middle of the Rockies batting order.
Not yet a part of the Rockies' 40-man roster, MLB.com ranks Arenado as the No. 1 Rockies prospect.
His call to Denver may come soon. Just not at the beginning of this season.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less