The True Story: Rockies' Trevor Story cools off, but future is bright
Minutes after Trevor Story’s first major league game, at Chase Field in Arizona on April 4, his teammates Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez loaded him into a laundry cart and wheeled him into the showers in the visitors’ clubhouse. The rest of the Rockies were waiting there, ready to douse him with every liquid they could find: shampoo, conditioner, Listerine. This is what happens when you are the sixth player ever to hit two home runs in your debut. “Ten seconds of just getting smoked,” Story says. “My eyes were killing me.”
By the next day, they were fine. He hit another homer, and then four in his next four games. Story was the biggest ... well, narrative in baseball. Back in Denver, the relatively anonymous minor league shortstop—one who had peaked, back in 2013, at No. 96 on Baseball America’s list of the game’s top 100 prospects—had become a star, and he began to enjoy stardom’s perks. During his first week in Colorado, when he was still living in a hotel, he took his girlfriend out to dinner at the Cherry Cricket, an old Denver burger joint. When his server brought the check, Story saw that he had been given a discount of 27 dollars; his number is 27.
“It took off something like half the bill!” says the generally laconic Story, with real excitement.
“That’s good burgers,” confirms Jeff Bridich, the Rockies’ general manager.
When Story finished his third series and ninth game in the majors, on April 14, he was batting .333 with those seven homers and two more shots that just barely missed clearing the fence—they ended up as triples—as well as 13 RBIs and a robust OPS of 1.332. Could that sort of historic production possibly last?
Spoiler alert: Of course it couldn’t. Over his next three series and nine games, through Sunday, he hit .167 with one homer, one RBI and a .564 OPS. His overall numbers are still more than respectable, especially for a rookie—he boasts a .649 slugging percentage and 117 OPS+, his 50 total bases are tied for fifth-most in baseball, and only Bryce Harper has hit more homers than he has. But the shortstop’s return to earth has led to an obvious question: What’s the true Story?
Another spoiler alert: somewhere in the middle.
When I spoke with the 23-year-old Story in the Rockies’ dugout on April 12, his explanation for his historic start was simple, both in delivery and theme. “I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to do anything spectacular,” he said. “I’m just trying to go up there and get a good pitch to hit. I think I've done that, and I haven’t missed 'em so far.”
Still, even the most stoic of players would have trouble maintaining the sort of plate discipline that produced a streak like Story’s, as the pressure to keep it going mounted and opposing pitchers simultaneously began keying in on him. Though his first nine games, according to statistics kept by FanGraphs, Story swung at more than 50% of the pitches he saw in a contest twice. Over his next nine games, he did it five times. On April 23, a night on which he went 1 for 4, he swung at 17 of the 27 pitches the Dodgers threw to him.
This is not the first stretch of Story’s professional career in which he has gotten overeager. After two successful minor league seasons, the 45th pick in the 2011 draft showed up to spring training in '13 looking like a different player, one who wanted only to hit home runs. “It was just ridiculous,” Bridich said. “Everything was big. Big leg kick. Everything was collapsing, everything was uphill.” In 131 games in high A ball that year, Story batted .233 with 12 homers, a .700 OPS and 183 strikeouts in 130 games.
In the past, clubs might have begun to give up on a player with numbers like those, but Colorado stuck with him. Bridich, then the Rockies’ senior director of player development, was among the members of the organization who sat with Story and watched video of how he used to be, in high school and during his first few seasons. “Stay within yourself,” Bridich told him. “Be who you are.” The next year, Story’s OPS jumped to .841. The following season, which he spent mostly in Triple A, his OPS was .863, and he hit 20 homers and stole 23 bases.
There is little doubt that the Rockies are currently imparting to Story a similar message as they did in 2013. Story is a naturally aggressive hitter, and one who will always strike out a lot: He did so 630 times in 537 minor league games, and his 31 strikeouts this season are a National League high. The key, for him, will be his selectivity beneath the whiffs—not only to swing at predominately hitters’ pitches, but also to swing in such a way that when he does make contact with them, he can drive them.
When Story hits a ball square, he does it very hard. According to StatCast, he has already produced 10 shots that left his bat with an exit velocity of more than 105 mph, the same number as Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the 13th most in baseball. But while Story is unlikely to hit seven home runs in a six-game stretch ever again, if he puts a renewed focus on being even incrementally more selective at the plate—on again swinging at good pitches to hit—there should be many more burger discounts and celebratory dousings during a long big-league future.