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Story aims to parlay '17 lessons into '18 stardom

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- The Rockies' 2017 season ended with shortstop Trevor Story on deck without a chance to display a bat that was on fire. The final swing of Story's season was a good one -- an opposite-field homer off the D-backs' Archie Bradley in the eighth inning of an 11-8 loss in the National League Wild Card Game.

Story's 2-for-4 performance in the postseason contest followed a 23-game tear to end the regular season: hits in all but four of the games, a .302 batting average, five home runs, eight doubles, two triples and 18 RBIs. Story's numbers over 145 games were problematic with a .239 average and an NL-leading 191 strikeouts to go along with 24 home runs. But the ending of Story's second Major League season may have been a beginning.

DENVER -- The Rockies' 2017 season ended with shortstop Trevor Story on deck without a chance to display a bat that was on fire. The final swing of Story's season was a good one -- an opposite-field homer off the D-backs' Archie Bradley in the eighth inning of an 11-8 loss in the National League Wild Card Game.

Story's 2-for-4 performance in the postseason contest followed a 23-game tear to end the regular season: hits in all but four of the games, a .302 batting average, five home runs, eight doubles, two triples and 18 RBIs. Story's numbers over 145 games were problematic with a .239 average and an NL-leading 191 strikeouts to go along with 24 home runs. But the ending of Story's second Major League season may have been a beginning.

"I told him after the last game that whatever we worked on toward the end of the year, don't forget that," Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said. "Write it down, whatever it is, so you know going into the offseason this is what you've got to work on."

Video: NL WC: Story cranks a homer to go back to back in 8th

Story, 25, could move toward stardom in 2018 if he internalizes the lessons from the struggles of last season's first five months and the achievements of the final month. Story is picking the brains of Arenado and leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon -- teammates who have demonstrated how to address weaknesses and grow as Major Leaguers.

The visuals are different. Arenado can do damage on pitches Story most likely would not swing at, while Blackmon is a lefty batter with less of a stride. But Story doesn't want their swings.

"I love to talk with Nolan and Chuck about hitting all the time," Story said. "It doesn't necessarily have to look the same, but your thoughts and your actions can be thinking the same thing. It just produces a different personal look."

Story won the Rockies' shortstop job with a standout spring in 2016. He homered twice in his debut and seven times in his first six games, tying Dave Kingman (1972) and Albert Pujols ('01) for the NL rookie record for homers at the All-Star break with 21. Before sustaining a season-ending left thumb ligament injury on July 30, Story set an NL rookie shortstop record with 27 homers. He finished with a solid .272 batting average, despite 130 strikeouts.

Video: ATL@COL: Story launches a 456-foot homer

Early last season, Story tinkered with mechanics to reduce head movement. He talked to Blackmon and other teammates but struggled until he found his comfort zone. Once Story left mechanics behind, he became cerebral and flourished.

"Later in the year, we had another talk, which I think is more important in the sense that we talked about what's your mentality, what are your goals, what are you thinking in the box? What's your approach?" Blackmon said. "All those things that I've been able to learn through lots and lots of experience, well, he's trying to shorten that learning curve, make an adjustment quicker."

What's possible? A random/not-so-random comparison of Story's 242-game career with significant Rockies at the same point is instructive:

Story: .253/.322/.504, 51 HR, 154 RBIs
Todd Helton: .300/.370/.515, 40 HR, 141 RBIs
Matt Holliday: .300/.357/.498, 32 HR, 141 RBIs
Troy Tulowitzki: .271/.343/.424, 28 HR, 128 RBIs
Clint Barmes: .255/.297/.385, 19 HR, 114 RBIs
Charlie Blackmon: .293/.330/.441, 23 HR, 89 RBIs
Nolan Arenado: .279/.316/.453, 28 HR, 113 RBIs

Story outhomered and drove in more runs than them all, with only Helton slugging higher. Story is low on the average and on-base scales. Barmes was the only member of this group who didn't become an All-Star, but he ended up with a long career as a winning player because of his defense. Keep in mind, many Rockies personnel felt Story deserved to be a Rawlings Gold Glove Award finalist in 2017.

"This could be an incredible opportunity for growth for Trevor Story, unbelievable," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said. "That's where there should be pride for him. There should be pride for me and for us around him that his professionalism -- that he handled his struggles like a professional. And that the other parts of his job, that are very important, especially at a very important defensive position, did not suffer."

However, Story has to strike a difficult offensive balance. It's easy to say shorten up and be content with putting balls in play; however, 22 of his 51 career homers, plus 16 doubles and two triples, have come with two strikes.

Two-strike pitches outside, sometimes off the plate, often lead to a trip back to the dugout. The first of these Statcast™ charts shows the two-strike pitches Story has whiffed on or fouled off.

The second shows barrels and solid contact on the same pitch, same situation:

And often when Story slumps, he is fouling off fat pitches early in counts. Compare the pitches he has fouled off before two strikes with the ones he has barreled up with two strikes:

It all paints a picture of a hitter that could make slight adjustments in pitch selection and know pitchers' tendencies better. Those adjustments could lead to a big year of solid contact, as long as Story isn't paralyzed by the fear of striking out.

"Obviously, the strikeouts are something that I'm going to work on, but I'll never be scared to strike out just because I feel I can do damage," Story said. "I feel like I can be better situationally. It all comes down to the mindset for me. I was starting to get more consistently where I want to be the last month, really.

"You're only as good as the pitches you swing at. That's the mindset that I like to take. It's a lot easier said than done."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Trevor Story