With the Nationals in town this week, it was a natural that a member of the media would ask Ian Desmond, who came up in the organization, if the 2015 season when Bryce Harper won the NL MVP was the most impressive he had seen in his big-league career.
“For a second, I had to say yes, but then I had to realize that Trevor (Story) has basically for every year he has been in the big leagues set the standard for shortstops,” said Desmond.
Originally a shortstop himself, Desmond can truly appreciate what he has seen from Story, both in the field and at the plate.
“The more you see him you realize he has an opportunity to be extremely elite,” said Desmond. “He has a desire to become a leader, and he does it his own way. I can’t say enough good stuff about him. He’s definitely my favorite player to watch in the big leagues.”
Desmond isn’t alone. In his fourth big-league season, Story continues to build off his previous experience, climbing the ladder of big-league respect in subtle ways, like manager Bud Black inserting him into the No. 2 slot in the lineup for Wednesday’s 9-5 victory against the Nationals.
It was a true team effort, but there was Story, leading the team. He led off a four-run third inning with a triple to left-center field, and after Charlie Blackmon’s home run in the fourth put the Rockies up 5-3, Story followed with a double, tagged and went to third on a Daniel Murphy fly ball to center, and scored on Nolan Arenado’s single.
It was the type of response manager Bud Black was looking for when reworking the lineup with the return of the left-handed-hitting Daniel Murphy to the active roster. Blackmon remained in the leadoff spot, but Story went into the No. 2 hole, where Murphy hit in the first two games of the season before breaking the tip of his left index finger and going on the injured list.
Wednesday, Murphy, like Blackmon a left-handed hitter, slipped into the three-hole, and Nolan Arenado moved down a spot to hit fourth, ahead of the left-handed bat of David Dahl.
“I’m seeing better at-bats, quality at-bats over the couple of years I have been here,” said Bud Black, in his third year as the Rockies manager. “It is important for Trevor to command the strike zone. You don’t see that happen overnight and he’s doing a really good job.
“You could see him hitting second moving forward. With Murphy back, I think strategically the left, right, left, right helps us with bullpen moves.”
It also puts Arenado back in the cleanup spot, after looking at him during the spring as a possible No. 2 hitter and using him primarily in the No. 3 slot during the regular season. With impact hitters to put ahead of Arenado in the lineup, the cleanup spot will provide him more RBI opportunities, like on Wednesday when he drove in runs with a sacrifice fly and single.
“Nolan is a run producer,” said Black. “He needs to hit with guys on base. With our best hitters at the top of order, in all likelihood he will come up to bat with guys on. His at-bats have proved to be (the best) over time when he can knock guys in via the base hit, the home run, the double. And I think Nolan likes hitting fourth or third.”
Story? It doesn’t matter to him. He did hit second some as a rookie, when former Rockies manager Walt Weiss wanted him to be protected in the lineup, but the last two years the moments hitting No. 2 have been minimal.
Besides, he may be being 6-foot-2 and tip the scales at 214 pounds, but in addition to a productive hitter, he is one of the game’s better base stealers, an ability the Rockies can take advantage of by having him higher in the lineup.
“He is really strong, and the strength has hidden how fluid he is,” Desmond said of Story's speed. “He is so smooth people don’t’ realize how quick he is. He is not a small guy that catches everybody’s attention because he is speedy. He is a big guy who is doing it graceful. He puts people to sleep with his gracefulness.”
Story, however, is putting up the type of numbers that seem to finally be waking up the baseball world.
“Look at what he did his rookie year, and he didn’t even play the whole year,” said Desmond. “He hit 27 bombs. He set a (National League) record (for a rookie shortstop).”
And that was in a season in which he was sidelined the final two months because of a torn ligament in his left thumb.
“The second year he scuffled, but he still played great defensive and still was extremely productive,” said Desmond, referring to the fact that despite hitting .239, Story led NL shortstops with 81 RBI and was second with 23 home runs.
And then came 2018, Story’s coming out season that saw him earn his first All-Star selection and first Silver Slugger. Oh, and Story hit a home run in his first All-Star at-bat.
“Last year you saw things that have never been seen before, 30-something home runs, the doubles, stolen bases,” Desmond said. “He has the opportunity to be an extremely elite player.”
The numbers show the completeness of Story’s ability. A year ago, with 37 home runs, 42 doubles and 27 stolen bases he became the first shortstop to have at least 30 home runs, 40 doubles and 20 stolen bases in a season. He also hit a career-high .291.
“Not only does he hit the ball all over the field, but he does it with authority, and when he gets on base, he’s not staying a first base,” said Desmond, “and last year he posted (157) games. As someone who did that for a short period of time, I know how valuable that is for a team.
“It is about the way he takes care of his body. The way he prepares and performs he deserves more recognition than he did. In time people will realize he is one of the best players out there.”
Right now, Story may be the Rockies' secret. But he ability isn’t allowing them to hide it very well.