I love reading old scouting reports -- not to knock those who might have been wrong at the time but as a reminder that baseball (thankfully, for now) remains an inexact science.
Here’s one from Baseball America on Paul Goldschmidt before the 2011 season:
There’s no denying Goldschmidt’s legitimate power to all fields, and his supporters believe he has a swing path that will allow him to improve as a hitter. ... His defense right now is adequate, and he has the potential to be an average major league first baseman because he’s rangy for his size. His speed is well below average, so he’ll have to make it as a first baseman or DH.
Actually, that’s not a bad report for a player ranked just 11th in the Arizona system. It acknowledged his power and alluded to perhaps better defense than expected at first base.
Here’s one for Nolan Arenado the same year:
A shortstop in high school, Arenado has moved to third base as a pro and has a strong, accurate arm. He needs to improve his first-step quickness to develop better range, and he could end up at first base. He’s not athletic and has below-average speed. ... He’ll stay at third base for now, but he profiles as the eventual heir to Todd Helton at first base.
Well, I guess Arenado worked on that first-step quickness. And that inside-out stroke also mentioned in the report? He pulled 25 of his 37 home runs this year, with another nine going to center, after pulling 34 of 41 home runs in 2016.
Goldschmidt and Arenado were both interesting minor league prospects. Arenado was ranked as high as No. 20 by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2012 season, so he was viewed as more of a sure bet than Goldschmidt, but you wouldn’t have predicted this career path for either guy: superstar and MVP candidate. Either player could win the award this year.
The two stars will be on the national stage for Wednesday’s wild-card game between the Diamondbacks and Rockies, one reason this coin flip of a contest is so intriguing. Although both players are certainly appreciated by the baseball cognoscenti -- Goldschmidt has twice been MVP runner-up while Arenado has finished in the top 10 the past two seasons -- they have plied their abilities in some level of obscurity.
Sure, both are staples of the nightly highlight reels, but they also play a lot of their games after fans on the East Coast have gone to bed. And let’s face it: Unless you’re a Diamondbacks or Rockies fan, you haven’t watched a lot of Diamondbacks and Rockies games in recent years. Before this season, neither club had finished above .500 since 2011, when Arizona won the NL West in Goldschmidt’s rookie call-up season. So maybe we have admired these two from afar, but what we’ve really admired are the stat lines, an occasional “Did he just do that?” web gem from Arenado and an occasional clutch Goldy home run.
Goldschmidt did play in that one postseason back in 2011, hitting .438 with two home runs in a series loss to the Brewers. His career is most remarkable not for the power that was evident as a minor leaguer but because he has become one of the most well-rounded players in the majors. He turned himself into a Gold Glove first baseman. The guy with below-average speed became one of the smartest baserunners in the league. He’s 71-for-86 stealing bases the past three seasons. He’s 14th in steals since 2015 and sixth in value added overall on the bases, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Unfortunately, he probably isn't 100 percent right now. After crushing the ball in August, he missed some games in early September with elbow inflammation and has hit just .171 in September and October, with three home runs in 22 games. Manager Torey Lovullo says the elbow wasn’t a factor in Goldschmidt’s slump. It’s also not in Goldschmidt’s nature to use that as an excuse.
“I'm not concerned about it at all,” Lovullo said at his Monday media session. “I don't think he is either. I think that he's been grinding away at it. We know that it hasn't been as productive over the past couple weeks because he's such a catalyst for this team and this organization. When your superstar doesn't hit, it's recognizable.”
Lovullo wanted to make another point.
“I want to tell you something about Paul Goldschmidt,” he added. “I knew going in the last day that Paul Goldschmidt had to go 1-for-4 over two days to hit .300. I don't think he knew. Then I approached him about the idea a couple days ago, and what do you think he told me? Exactly what you'd expect. I could care less. I don't care about hitting .300. I want this team to win. I'll do everything I can possibly do to help this ballclub win a game, win today, and I'm looking forward to Wednesday.”
Arenado, meanwhile, will most certainly win his fifth Gold Glove in five seasons in the majors. He has 104 defensive runs saved over those five seasons, second in baseball to only Andrelton Simmons.
Arenado also reached 130 RBIs for the third straight season, and though playing in Coors Field certainly helped, his MVP case also rests on some clutch hitting in all ballparks. He hit .385 and slugged .801 with runners in scoring position and hit .340/.411/.681 in high-leverage situations, seventh in the majors among those with at least 50 such plate appearances.
Of course, while these two will be in the spotlight, the wild-card game often turns on what the manager does -- or doesn’t do. Last year, it was Buck Showalter failing to use stud closer Zach Britton in an 11-inning loss. Back in 2014, the Royals beat the A’s as managers Ned Yost and Bob Melvin played a game of boneheaded tag.
Or maybe the game will simply be about one starting pitcher dominating -- witness the shutouts by Madison Bumgarner in 2014 and 2016 and Jake Arrieta in 2015.
Zack Greinke will face Jon Gray, but both managers should have an all-hands approach. You don’t want the starting pitcher to let the game get away early.
Lovullo said he doesn’t intend to change his approach.
“We know what the stakes are. And in baseball, I think that we're all adrenaline junkies. We love those moments. We live for them. We prepare for them. We know how to navigate through them. I enjoy feeling pressure,” he said.
“So I feel like that entire clubhouse feels the exact same way. Emotionally, I think we'll be prepared. Will I change my strategy? Probably not. It's worked all year long here. We made it this far. For me to change and do something totally different, it's really not my style. But I can assure you that, if I do, it will have a strategy, there will be a reason for it.”
While Greinke has plenty of postseason experience, Gray had a 2.44 ERA over his final 11 starts. Gray said he started thinking about the Diamondbacks as soon as his team clinched on Saturday -- no doubt thinking about how he’s going to pitch to Goldschmidt or how to induce some ground balls in the direction of third base.