Mike Schmidt’s Heir Apparent Is Nolan Arenado, Says Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt’s Heir Apparent Is Nolan Arenado, Says Mike Schmidt

Only one player at any position — Andrelton Simmons, the Los Angeles Angels’ shortstop — has more defensive wins above replacement since 2013 than Arenado. He actually has more Gold Gloves than service time: five Gold Gloves, 4.155 years of major league service. No other infielder has ever won Gold Gloves in each of his first five seasons.

“It’s going to be tough to get it back,” said San Diego’s Chase Headley, the last National League Gold Glove winner at third base before Arenado.

Arenado said he was flattered by Schmidt’s praise, but was not even sure he was the majors’ best active third baseman. Not with Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Jose Ramirez, Anthony Rendon and Justin Turner around.

“The reason why I train and get better is I don’t really look at myself as the No. 1 guy,” Arenado said. “I know I can play with any of those guys, but there’s some good ones, and you’ve got to keep up. I don’t want to get passed by any of those guys. When you win a Gold Glove, you don’t want to give that up ever again.”

Arenado grew up rooting for the Dodgers, and one of his favorite players was Adrian Beltre, another third baseman Schmidt praised. But Arenado played shortstop at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., and switched to third when a travel ball coach told him he had a strong arm and good hands — but bad feet. He would not need as much range at third, and would be more appealing there to scouts.

The Rockies chose Arenado in the second round of the 2009 draft, and he quickly rose through their farm system. Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman and Yankees catcher Austin Romine, who both played with Arenado at El Toro, expected as much. Chapman said he had “never met somebody that wants it more” than Arenado, and Romine said the game consumed him.

“He ate, slept, breathed baseball,” Romine said. “You could tell that was his life.”

To hear Arenado tell it, though, he arrived in the minors far too slow to be considered a strong defender. He knew he had to eat better and be lighter on his feet. In 2011, with the Modesto Nuts of the Class A California League, Arenado said, he chafed at the grueling practice schedule of Manager Jerry Weinstein.


Arenade’s teammate, Trevor Story, said Arenado had the best hand-eye coordination he had ever seen.

Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

“We would have a lot of arguments; I’d get really upset with him,” Arenado said. “It’d be like, we just played a night game in Bakersfield, and we’d get home to Modesto at like 2 or 3, and then early work at 1, and I’d be like, ‘Dude, give me a break — one time!’ But he pushed me to a level I never thought I could get to. I never thought my body could take it, or mentally I could take it. But I could.”

Weinstein is a Rockies mainstay who still wears old-fashioned stirrups for spring training workouts. His memory of that season is the exact opposite; as Weinstein remembers it, he had to rein in Arenado from working too much. In a rare bad game that season, Weinstein said, Arenado was worn out from playing Wiffle ball all night with his buddies.

“The No. 1 thing is he’s got a tremendous passion and love affair for the game,” Weinstein said. “That’s big. When you come to work every day and you really like being there, it’s not work.”

Arenado tried to make work fun, Weinstein said, by insisting that his final ground ball of every session be a chopper he would field behind his back. He wanted to grab it, whirl 360 degrees and fire a strike to first. Now, that play is a signature Arenado’s highlight, along with his true throws — to second or first — after backhanding a ball in foul ground behind the bag.

Nolan Arenado | 2016 Gold Glove Highlights ᴴᴰ Video by Sports Productions

“He’s got this uncanny nose for the ball,” Weinstein said. “He really reads the contact zone extremely well, and he’s got a tremendous internal clock.”

Arenado is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, taller and heavier than Donaldson, Ramirez, Rendon and Turner. Because of his size, Arenado said, he always wants to be moving his feet. He remembers being slow, he said, and never wants to feel that way again. He once tried to play like Beltre, another five-time Gold Glove winner with an odd but effective strategy of minimal foot movement. But that was not his style.

“Aggressive, intense about it, and I want the ball,” Arenado said, describing his technique. “I’ve made some errors to lose games before, but even after that, I’m like, ‘I still want this ball. I promise you, I’m going to make this play.’”

Third base suits him well because it is so instinctual, he said. The shortstop is the captain of most infields, but not in Colorado, where Arenado pursues every ball near him unless he is called off. If the Rockies use an exaggerated infield shift, it is Arenado — not shortstop Trevor Story — who stays on the left side.


Arenado started out as a shortstop but moved to third because he was considered too slow. A former coach said Arenado has “this uncanny nose for the ball.”

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

“I feel like I have a lot of range as well, but Nolan’s on another level,” Story said. “His range is ridiculous. His hand-eye is the best I’ve ever seen, even random stuff outside of baseball: Ping-Pong, basketball, golf. He’s really good at everything.”

Before most games, the Rockies’ infield coach, Stu Cole, hits 10 to 15 grounders right at Arenado, and the same number to his forehand and backhand, with throws then going to first or second. Arenado’s greatest asset, Cole said, is his ability to spring in any direction at any time.

“Nolan starts in more of an upright position and just kind of works himself down a little bit as the ball’s being pitched,” Cole said. “But the main thing is he’s already getting set to go to the left, to the right, forward, backwards, already anticipating moving while he’s getting set, before the ball is even put in play.”

It all adds up to a peerless third baseman, certainly now and maybe ever. Brooks Robinson won the most Gold Gloves — 16 in a row, from 1960 through 1975 — but Weinstein, who is 74 years old, said Arenado ranked right with him.

To explain his prized pupil’s heartbeat, Weinstein reached back even further into baseball lore.

“In Cooperstown they have a slide show, and they have Rogers Hornsby, and a voice-over says, ‘Ain’t much to being a ballplayer if you’re a ballplayer,’” Weinstein said. “He’s a ballplayer, and that’s probably the highest compliment you can give.”

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