Are They Legit Part II: Is Trevor Story Legit?

Posted: 04/14/2016 by levcohen in Baseball

I realize I haven’t done an NHL first round playoff preview yet. Blame the NHL for such a quick turnaround from the end of the season to the start of the playoffs. I’ll try to get a preview out before anyone plays a game two, but no promises. At least this is just the first round. Anyway, tonight I’m going ahead with the second part of the three-part series of reactions to super-good super-early baseball performances. Last time, I discussed Astros’ first baseman Tyler White, who with just two hits over the past two games is now hitting a measly .483. Now it’s on to Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story, whose numbers would be even better had the Rockies not added height to their fences this offseason; he just missed out on two homers, settling for triples instead.

Trevor Story, SS, COL: Entering today, Trevor Story was second only to White in WAR at .8. Story went 1-for-4 with a walk and three strikeouts today, a pretty inconsequential showing that I’m going to ignore for simplicity’s sake (some stats sites update only on a once-a-night basis, not after the completion of every game). I also don’t want to have to say “before today” every time I bring up a stat, so let’s just pretend today hasn’t happened yet. Story has played just eight games. He has seven homers and two triples. Yes, unlike White, Story’s first-week hype is almost entirely a result of his power. He blasted six homers in his first four games and another one two nights later. His slugging percentage is 1.057. And lest you think that Denver’s thin air is the only reason Story’s hit so well, consider that his four homers in the opening series against the Diamondbacks came on the road. He has two homers against Zack Greinke, the man who posted a mind-blowing 1.66 ERA last year. He has one against Shelby Miller, who cost the Diamondbacks first overall pick Dansby Swanson and valuable outfielder Ender Inciarte in a trade and who had a 3.02 ERA last year. He hit one against Patrick Corbin, who has great stuff and a career 3.75 ERA. Basically, Story’s been really impressive. Oh, and by the way, he’s a shortstop.

Like White, Story is a rookie. Also like White, Story wasn’t a top prospect, and he wasn’t even a top prospect on his own team. Most preseason prospect rankings had Story in the 7-13 range among Rockies prospects. Oh, before I’m done with White, here’s one more similarity: the Rockies, like the Astros, have another more well-regarded prospect at the same position in shortstop Brendan Rodgers, the third pick in last year’s draft. That’s not to say that Story has come out of nowhere. He was a first round pick in 2011, and entering 2013 he was a consensus top-100 prospect and Baseballprospectus’s #34 prospect. Then came the 2013 season, when he hit just .233/.305/.394 and struck out 183 times. He rebounded a bit in 2014 and then had 70 extra base hits last year, but he had lost his shine, at least according to the prospect-rankers. One thing is clear: this type of power isn’t sustainable. Now, nobody can hit a homer every day, but I don’t think Story will ever be a 35-40 homer hitter. His 20 homers last year were the most he’s hit in a single season, and I think mid-high 20s is about as good as it’s going to get. Luckily, Story’s a shortstop, a position where even 20 homers is well above-average.

You might think that, as a power-hitting shortstop, Story’s biggest problem is his defense. You’d be wrong. Now, the guy’s never going to win a gold glove, but he’s also not going to be forced to third base as a result of lackluster fielding. He has fine range and good arm strength, and the 23-year-old is more than athletic enough to stay at the position. While not particularly fast, Story also proved to be a good base-stealer at the minor league level, with 96 SB’s and just 13 CS’s in five seasons. So he’s powerful, helpful on the base paths, and decent defensively. What’s the catch? Well, in a word: strikeouts. I said before that he had 183 strikeouts in 2013, but he also had 121 in 2012 (A ball), 144 in 2014 (three levels), and 141 last year (two levels). A strikeout rate in the 25-30% range at the minor league level is certainly a red flag, and Story had already struck out 12 times in eight games before K-ing three more times today. He can probably improve that strikeout rate a little, but he’s going to be near the top of the league in strikeouts. But the top six in baseball in K-rate last year were all productive players in some aspect, with all six adding at least 1 WAR and Chris Davis (first in K-rate) and Kris Bryant (third) both ending the year in the top 15 in WAR. What those guys do, though, is walk. Will Story walk? He’s walked just once in his first eight games, but he had no trouble drawing BBs in the minors. He walked at a 10%+ rate at most of his stops in minor league baseball, although his 5.8% walk rate in AAA last year is a bit concerning.

With Story, I don’t think the question is whether he’s a MLB-caliber player. He certainly is, at least as a utility player and probably as a starter. Instead, the question is: can he be an above-average, All-Star shortstop? I think the answer to that question hinges on the walks. Story’s baseline is league-average defense, good baserunning, and a .250/.290/.440-ish line with 20 homers. That’s starter-caliber but not All-Star caliber. If he walks more like he did in the minors and cut down on the strikeouts a little bit, he could have a ceiling around .275/.350/.500 with 25 homers. Story was once considered Troy Tulowitzki’s heir apparent, and those numbers would validate that original expectation and place him near the top echelon (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager) of the stellar young shortstops who seem set to dominate baseball for years to come.

Verdict: With a track record of solid all-around play at shortstop and the ability to play second and third base, Trevor Story is a lock to have a nice career in the bigs. If he can draw more walks and hit for average to go along with his above-average power, he will be considered one of the best shortstops in the NL and just a step below the cream of the crop. I think he’ll settle into a .260/.325/.470 player who provides good but sub-elite value.

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