MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Arenado following footsteps of his role models

Arenado following footsteps of his role models

You never really know where you're going to find a franchise centerpiece -- or even the game's best player.

Five center fielders already had been taken in the first round of the 2009 Draft when the Angels selected Mike Trout of Millville (N.J.) Senior High School with the 25th overall pick.

The Rockies also got lucky. Six left-side infielders were gone when Colorado, with the 59th overall choice in the second round, tabbed Nolan Arenado of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. The Rockies' first-round pick (No. 11 overall) had been lefty Tyler Matzek of Capistrano Valley High in nearby Mission Viejo.

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Drafting amateur baseball talent is an inexact science. For every hit, there is a swing-and-miss.

Over a five-year period starting in 2008, 53 percent of the 265 players chosen in the first round have made it to the Major Leagues. Of the 141 who have reached The Show, 25 -- 9.4 percent -- have a 5 or higher Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Only 12 (4.5 percent) are in double figures.

Getting there is difficult. Staying there and producing consistently are even more challenging.

That 2009 Draft was a gold mine for the Angels, who also claimed and signed Randal Grichuk, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin. Skaggs and Richards remain in Trout's company, while Grichuk and Corbin are potential All-Stars in St. Louis and Arizona, respectively.

As great as that haul was -- few in the 50-year history of the Draft measure up to it -- even Angels fans can lament the local kid who got away. Arenado grew up a few miles down Interstate 5 from Angel Stadium.

Chatting Cage: Nolan Arenado

A game rich in young talent has a band of youthful third basemen calling to mind the images of George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre.

Arenado didn't have the advance billing, but he is right up there with the Orioles' Manny Machado (No. 3 overall pick in 2010) and the Cubs' Kris Bryant (No. 2 overall, 2013) as emerging superstars at the position.

Arenado, who turns 25 on April 16, is coming off a mammoth 2015 season that was obscured somewhat by Colorado's struggles. He led the Majors in RBIs (130) and total bases (354), assembling a .287/.323/.575 slash line while earning his third straight National League Gold Glove Award.

Showing he wasn't a full product of Coors Field's well-known advantages, Arenado had a 124 OPS-plus, producing 22 of his NL-high 42 home runs on the road.

If the Rockies' rock summons memories of a younger Beltre, it's by design.

During Arenado's impressionable youth, Beltre was the Dodgers' charismatic third baseman before taking his artistic game to Seattle, Boston and, now, Texas.

Outlook: Arenado, 3B, COL

"I'm a huge fan of Adrian Beltre," Arenado said. "I've always looked up to him, being a third baseman. I love the way he plays the game, everything about him."

The first time he spoke with Beltre on the field, Arenado was thrilled beyond words.

"I don't think I was able to tell him how much he meant to me," Arenado said.

A quiet man around the media who comes alive behind closed clubhouse doors, Beltre has enriched every team he has graced in 18 seasons as a leader with few equals.

"One thing I can't do is hit like Adrian Beltre," Arenado said, grinning. "I don't think I'll be going down on one knee with my swing."

Born in Newport Beach, Arenado was introduced to the game by his father, Fernando, who provided him with another role model.

"My dad is from Cuba," Arenado said. "Roberto Clemente was one of his favorite players. My dad loved how he always played hard and played for his country. You hear so many great things about him, off the field and on the field, you want to be like Roberto Clemente. He set a very high standard."

Superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki also had a big hand in shaping Arenado before he was dealt last season to Toronto.

"[Tulowitzki] helped me in so many ways," Arenado said. "I was fortunate to play next to him and learn so much."

Respectful of the game and his good fortune, Arenado is now a terrific role model in the manner of those who helped shape him.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.