Rockies' Nolan Arenado confident he can become a star

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Nolan Arenado won't turn 24 until April and he has already collected plenty of accolades, including two Gold Gloves.

The Colorado Rockies third baseman thinks he can become a star. Many agree, including his manager. But there was a Hall of Famer this week who wanted to make sure Arenado stayed grounded.

''I saw Dave Winfield and he said, `My third year, I thought I had it figured out. But I didn't.' And he's one of the greatest hitters of all time,'' Arenado said Friday. ''So I'm definitely going to listen to him.''

Arenado has a history of looking up to his elders, from Todd Helton as a rookie to Troy Tulowitzki last year. But Arenado has plenty of confidence, as he should.

As a 22-year-old rookie in 2013, he dazzled on the field with his range, a strong and accurate arm and the tendency to make sensational plays. Not long after being criticized in the minors for being too heavy, he became the first major league rookie third baseman in 46 years to win a Gold Glove.

Then his bat, which lagged as a rookie, woke up in his second year. Arenado had a 28-game hitting streak and was at .305 with six homers and 28 RBIs when he broke his left middle finger on a headfirst slide in Atlanta on May 23.

''Mentally, it was devastating for me,'' Arenado said.'' And I know I hurt the team a little bit. I just wanted to be there for the guys. And not being able to be there kind of stunk.''

Arenado's season and the Rockies' fortunes were never the same. Colorado, 27-23 a day after he got hurt, finished 66-96 amid an avalanche of injuries.

With Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez out, Arenado returned in July and was moved to the heart of the order while playing through stingers in his hand. He still finished hitting .287 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs in what he called a ''weird year'' that helped him mature.

''I don't know how much further he can go defensively. I don't know if it's possible,'' manager Walt Weiss said. ''But we saw him offensively hit in the middle of the order, especially the second half of the season.

''You know how I feel about Nolan. This is a guy that loves to practice, loves to play, has a passion every time he puts on a uniform. I think he's a star in the making.''

Declaring himself 100 percent before the Rockies' first full squad workout Friday morning, Arenado feels it's time to continue his ascent. He believes it's realistic he can join Tulowitzki and Gonzalez on the list of the game's top players.

''I try not to talk about it because I've got to go out there and show it. But I believe I can play at a level they've been playing at,'' Arenado said. ''I'm still growing.''

Weiss said the ''youthful at-bats'' of his rookie year dwindled in 2014. He was better aware of situations and smarter at the plate.

If he can make another jump this season and remain one of baseball's top fielders, the Rockies may surprise.

''I think it's good to be the underdog,'' Arenado said. ''But we're not even the underdog. We're not even talked about. We're nobody. But that's OK. We don't need that bright light, that pressure.

''If we stay healthy, we're going to do some damage.''

NOTES: Weiss said all players were present for the first full squad meeting and workout. Most players have been in town for at least a couple weeks. . Weiss said his message to the players focused on having the right mentality throughout camp. ''I'm excited about this group,'' he said. . Colorado's first Cactus League game is Wednesday against Arizona.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.