The Nolan Arenado trade is official. He is gone off the Colorado Rockies and they will have to replace him some way. Of course, they can replace him but unless they have some massive wild card hidden in their sleeve, they will not be able to replace his production.
While the trade did bring some third-base prospects from the St. Louis Cardinals, none are ready for the majors and frankly, the Rockies’ lack of MLB depth before the Arenado trade will take an even bigger hit now. However, they do have three players that could take over for Arenado at third base on Opening Day.
Colton Welker, 23, is the highest-ranking Rockies third base prospect. Overall, the 4th round pick by the Rockies in 2016 is the 7th best prospect in their system. He has seen some action in Spring Training games for the Rockies in each of the last four seasons with more extensive action in the last two. In those, he has played really well as in 19 and 16 at-bats, he has hit .526 and .438 with OPS’s of 1.428 and 1.128.
However, those numbers in Spring Training 2020 are the last time that he played since the minor league season was canceled. The highest level he had played at prior was Double-A Hartford when he hit .252/.313/.408 with 10 home runs and 53 RBI in 98 games in 2019.
Will he be able to make the jump from Double-A to the majors? Considering the state of the Rockies roster, he’ll almost certainly be seeing action at the majors in some capacity in 2021 but will he be the Opening Day third baseman? As of now, it seems unlikely but another strong showing in Spring Training may help turn the tides in his favor.
For the Rockies, the biggest silver lining of the Nolan Arenado trade is that their former #1 prospect, Brendan Rodgers, will get plenty of playing time to show whether or not he truly belongs in the major leagues.
The Rockies top prospect who was once ranked as high as #10 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list is naturally a shortstop but with Trevor Story being on the Rockies still, Rodgers will obviously have to play elsewhere. He has played second base as his main secondary position but he has had some time at third base in the minors.
In 2020, he only played in seven games before hitting the IL for the rest of the season due to another shoulder injury. If all goes well, he should be ready for Spring Training in a few weeks. Assuming that he is healthy, though, he likely won’t be at third base. Why? He’ll likely be at second base, replacing this guy.
Along with Josh Fuentes (who is at the top of the depth chart at first base), Ryan McMahon is a natural third baseman. However, considering the Rockies depth at first base and at second, McMahon is the one that is the obvious leader among everyone else to take over for Arenado at third.
However, McMahon will have to step up in more ways than one in 2021. On top of likely being the Opening Day third baseman, his bat will have to develop more than it has in each of the last two seasons. Chief among the things that will need work is his 40 percent strikeout rate. In each of the last two seasons, he was among the top 10 in total strikeouts in the NL as he has combined to strikeout 226 times in the 193 games that he has played since the start of 2019.
He has also only had an OPS+ of 85 while hitting .241. If the small sample size at third base that McMahon had at third base when Arenado ended the season on the injured list is any indication of how he will be in the future, the Rockies won’t have much of a drop off in defense as he has 3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in those 14 games. Arenado, by comparison, had 15 in 48 games in 2020.
McMahon isn’t likely to keep his nearly 35 DRS pace but even if he can do 40 percent of that pace, that will put him at 14 per season. Arenado averaged 15 DRS per season from 2013 through 2019.
If McMahon steps up his offensive game, Rodgers establishes himself at second base, and Fuentes plays as he did in 2020, the Rockies infield will look in better shape than it does the day after the Arenado trade was made official…but that’s a lot of “if’s.”