Seeing Nolan Arenado take the field for the Sky Sox brings back the fresh memories of a debate held 14 months ago, when the start third baseman was last in Colorado Springs.
It was in late April of 2013 that the Rockies called up Arenado after he had played just 18 games in Triple-A.
This was too soon, many argued. Sure, Arenado’s talent was beyond dispute. He was a second-round draft pick, the top prospect in the organization and, at the time, was batting .364 with a .667 slugging percentage over a tiny Pacific Coast League sample.
Still, he hadn’t been in this league long enough to experience the kind of failure that would require an adjustment. He was also fresh off a lackluster season in Double-A in which he slugged just .428 with 56 RBIs in 134 games. Those aren’t bad numbers, to be sure, but they are also not necessarily predictive of superstardom (though Troy Tulowitzki slugged .473 with the Drillers and Todd Helton slugged .486 in Double-A – so Arenado’s number wasn’t that far off).
The other issue to consider was Arenado’s reputation as being somewhat immature. The Rockies, of course, should have had more insight into this than anyone else, so maybe they knew it was something to either disregard or something they felt he had quickly outgrown.
With all this taken into account, the Rockies called up Arenado after just three weeks with the Sky Sox to open the 2013 season and he made his big-league debut on April 28.
Looking back now, it was such an obvious choice.
Arenado finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting. He won a gold glove at third base. His 3.9 wins above replacement – according to Baseball-Reference.com figures – ranked behind only Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez among Rockies position players and place him behind just David Wright and Juan Uribe among National League third basemen.
Perhaps most important, that season gave Arenado some big-league experience heading into 2014, as season he started two weeks before turning 23.
He came into this season carrying the look of a veteran and continued to play elite defense while adding an advanced bat. He was batting .305 with six home runs and 17 doubles when he went down with a broken hand after 49 games. He also put together a 28-game hitting streak.
Now, Arenado is back with the Sky Sox on a rehab assignment. Through the first four innings he had already gone 2-for-3 with a double and a highlight-reel stab of a line drive at third base.
On a night in which the Sky Sox are honoring Star Wars, it’s perhaps most fitting to say the Nolan Arenado we saw last year was like the Luke Skywalker from Episode 4. The one who arrived on Saturday was the Return of the Jedi version.
The Rockies obviously saw the potential of this, or they wouldn’t have called him up so quickly. After all, most teams wait until they are sure with a prospect of his caliber, rather than putting them at risk of the confusing, sometimes detrimental process of yo-yoing back and forth between the majors and minors.
Arenado was ready, even if we didn’t know it then. Seeing him again makes that fact all the more clear.