Two-time Gold Glove winner seeks improvement in third MLB season
By Thomas Harding
DENVER -- In a 2015 when the Rockies have already made some changes but need to make more to improve, third baseman Nolan Arenado is putting the onus on himself.
If he achieves, watch out.
Arenado won a Rawlings Gold Glove Award as a rookie in 2013, then repeated in 2014. In addition, he improved his batting average (.267 to .287), on-base percentage (.301 to .328), slugging percentage (.405 to .500), home runs (10 to 18) and RBIs (52 to 61) despite playing in 22 fewer games. According to baseball stat analyst Jeff Zimmerman's Baseball Heat Maps website, in 2014 he hit the ball an average of 199 feet on balls not bunted, which was 15 feet farther than 2013 and raised his ranking in the Majors from 172nd to 37th.
Still, he demands more of himself, in hopes of being a cog for improvement for a team that finished last in the National League West his rookie year and next-to-last last season.
"I've got to get better, personally," Arenado said. "I've got to be a better leader, a better player overall, fix my game, make sure I come in healthy and be strong."
Arenado's 2014 mirrored the Rockies in one respect -- he showed what was possible when healthy, but injuries derailed the season. Arenado compiled hits in a club-record 28 straight games from April 9 to May 8. The Rockies were 26-23 when Arenado suffered a mallet fracture of his left middle finger on May 23, but went 10-27 with Arenado missing. He also missed the dying days of the season with a chest contusion and early-onset pneumonia.
But Arenado is looking for ways to make sure he is a positive force. In a year of such production, Arenado settled in on one transgression. On July 25, a frustrated Arenado didn't sprint to first base after hitting an infield dribbler. Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton had time to fumble the ball, pick it up and throw him out at first base. The incident earned Arenado an immediate benching.
The next night, Arenado went 3-for-5 with a home run. But he admits he's still working on his reactions to adversity.
"I do some things I shouldn't do," Arenado said. "But it's for the emotion and the love for this game. I want to be good at it. I want to help the team win. Sometimes it drives you crazy. But sometimes it works in your favor and makes you better. When things go bad, I need to learn to handle it a little better. I got a little better but I've got a lot of room for improvement."
Arenado joins veterans Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Morneau as part of a productive offensive nucleus that the club feels is capable of a leap this season, provided deals (some of which may disrupt the nucleus) can be made to improve the pitching.
"When people come in to play Colorado, I want my name to be popping in their heads," Arenado said. "I want to be a dude."