Arenado ready to finish what he started this spring
In second full camp with Rox, third-base candidate prepared to take next step
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies third-base prospect Nolan Arenado is looking forward to the Ides of March and beyond.
Arenado, a much-watched prospect who spent last season at Double-A Tulsa, started Spring Training blazing, with four home runs and a .412 batting average through his first seven Cactus League games. The start had folks dreaming, and even screaming, for the 21-year-old to be in purple pinstripes when the season begins on April 1 at Milwaukee.
In the last three games, however, Arenado is 1-for-9, which has dropped his average to a still-impressive .308. That's certainly good enough for fans to dream. More importantly, Arenado feels he is in the position to hope and work toward trying to earn a roster spot.
When the Rockies return to Cactus League action against the Reds on Friday night in Goodyear, it'll begin the final two-week push that often proves which players are just the bright stories in the early days of a long spring and which are true candidates to break camp with the big club. To make the team, Arenado must prove he can give competitive and successful at-bats against Major League pitchers who are no longer merely building their arms, but sharpening their pitches for the regular season.
Arenado said he is sharpening, too.
"Even my timing is not fully down," Arenado said. "So it's nice to feel this way, even though it's not the season yet. When the season comes, I'll be feeling better. There's no question that I'm more than ready.
"From where I'm at right now, it's a good sign. I've never felt this way early in Spring Training. It's nice. I'm more than ready and more than capable to be ready for what's been thrown at me."
Arenado, who turns 22 on April 16, must beat out Chris Nelson, who won a competition for the starting third-base job last year and managed a .301 batting average, despite having his year interrupted twice by trips to the disabled list. Nelson, who hits with a leg kick that often requires several at-bats to get going in the spring, is hitting .217 with no homers and three RBIs -- but he's 3-for-8 in his last three games.
Arenado's mission will be to concentrate day-to-day without worrying about chasing anyone or living up to the early-camp publicity.
Last spring, Arenado had his moments early but finished with a .192 average in big league camp. At Tulsa, he finished with a .285 average, 12 homers and 56 RBIs, with far more consistency at the end of the season than at any other point. But at one point, chief baseball officer Dan O'Dowd said Arenado had not achieved the maturity necessary to garner a big league callup, even though Colorado was on its way to the worst record in franchise history at 64-98.
Even if he deserves to make it, the Rockies will have to decide whether to put Arenado in the Majors in the beginning, or delay the callup to avoid starting his clock toward arbitration and free agency. With so much out of his control, Arenado's maturity is already being tested while he tries to impress manager Walt Weiss and the big league coaches and club officials.
"I try not to think about it," Arenado said. "I try not to put pressure on me where, 'I've got to get hits. I've got to do this.' I've already shown I can do it. I've just got to hit the ball hard and play hard and show what I can do.
"The whole question for them was had I matured. I've matured. I'm ready. This is an opportunity. Being with these older guys, they push me to another level. I want to perform, and they help me out. The intensity level is better up here. I like being surrounded with players of this caliber."
Weiss is keeping a level-headed approach to Arenado's situation.
"Spring is tricky," Weiss said. "You don't want to make judgments, particularly early in the spring. But the last two weeks of the spring, we've got to start to zero in on some things and start to make some decisions. We'll take everything into account, but we'll look at those last couple weeks closely."
All Arenado can do is perform, and keep his mind uncluttered.
"I try to hang out with some of the guys on the team, but definitely my family helps me," said Arenado, a second-round pick by Colorado in 2009 out of El Toro (Calif.) High School. "They always keep me in check. My brothers -- I have an older brother and a younger brother -- plus a cousin. My mom and dad remind me that there are more bad feelings than good in baseball. They want me to have success, but they don't want me to get ahead of myself."
Even with the warnings and the pressures, Arenado is fearlessly embracing the Ides of March.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.