Arenado's offensive surge paired with dazzling defense
Third baseman's 22-game stretch tied for third-best hitting streak in Rockies history
DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado can hit. That's never been a question.
What has become apparent in the last 53 weeks -- since he arrived in the big leagues -- is that Arenado can field and throw, too. That's no longer a question.
But it was a question -- a big one -- when Arenado was working his way through the Minor Leagues.
"I don't know what the word was on him [in the Minors], because I wasn't here at that time," said second-year Rockies manager Walt Weiss. "What I know is this guy makes highlight plays it seems like every night."
Weiss isn't the only one paying attention. Last year underscored how much attention Arenado has received.
Arenado spent the first four weeks of last season with Triple-A Colorado Springs. He still was voted the National League Gold Glove Award winner at third base. Arenado is the only rookie to win that award other than onetime Boston third baseman Frank Malzone, back in 1957, the first year the award was handed out.
"That says a lot," Weiss said. "Being a rookie, the odds are against you winning the Gold Glove, and then to have missed the first month of the season -- that's impressive."
Here's the amusing part. While Arenado was winning that Gold Glove last year, he was having an OK offensive season (.267, 10 home runs, 52 RBIs in 133 games). But this year, he's reaffirming what the scouts talked about when he was in the Minors.
With a seventh-inning single in the Rockies' 10-3 victory against the Mets at Coors Field on Friday night, Arenado extended his hitting streak to 22 games, matching Vinny Castilla (1997) for the third longest in franchise history. He has hit .352 during the streak, raising his average for the season to .309.
"So far, so good," Arenado said. "Plus we're winning [18-13, a game back of the Giants in the NL West]. That makes it 100 times better."
Even better is watching Arenado's ballet in the field. He had the crowd of 42,040 oohing and aahing in the eighth, when he crossed third base as he fielded a Chris Young grounder, jumped in the air, twisted and threw Young out at first base in a play that has become his trademark.
"I've never seen anyone with that accurate of an arm when he is on the move," Weiss said. "Whether he's going left or right, the throw is at the first baseman's chest."
Does the name Derek Jeter ring a bell?
It does for Arenado.
"I work on that throw all the time," he said. "When I was a kid, I watched Derek Jeter make that jump throw. It is something I work on all the time, so when the time comes, I am ready. It's for times when you can't get your feet set."
It hasn't been easy. Arenado agrees with the assessment that his defense was a concern in the Minors.
"I didn't have a good feel for it," he said. "Every day in the Minor Leagues, I'd work on it. Jerry Weinstein [Arenado's manager at Class A Modesto] helped me with different angles, and Scott Fletcher [former Rockies infield instructor and current big league coach with Atlanta] helped a lot. I did a lot of agility work in the offseason, things to help me with my footwork."
The hard work has paid off.
It's not just plays toward the bag, either. Arenado has shown extreme movement to his left. So extreme, in fact, it caused some problems for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last year, because he wasn't used to third basemen getting to the ground balls Arenado does, much less making the play. And it took Tulowitzki some time to come to grips with the need for him to adjust his defensive approach.
"You don't see third basemen go that far to the left," Weiss said. "At times, he is making throws from the true shortstop spot. It requires adjustments from the shortstop. But once they get on the same page, it's a lot more fun, because the two of you cover so much ground."
It hasn't been easy to master that. That, however, just makes it that much more rewarding for Arenado.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.