Story's focus? Being 'the best player I can be'

February 16th, 2021

DENVER -- The desert sun of Scottsdale, Ariz., called Rockies shortstop , but unexpected snow and single-digit temperatures in the Dallas area didn’t allow a trip.

Still, Story, 28, reported enjoying Monday night in a “super-relaxed” state with his wife, Mallie -- despite no power at his home.

“We've got the fire going and hoping the power comes back,” Story said. “But we’re good.”

The Rockies’ winter has been icy, thanks to the arctic blast of the trade of star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals. With the fan base shivering and win projections dropping, might the Rockies trade Story before this season, his final one prior to free agency?

That’s not for Story to say, so until he’s told otherwise, he has turned his attention to building an inspirational fire that ignites the Rockies.

Never mind that the Dodgers and Padres have spent the offseason accumulating arms designed to push the Rockies and the rest of the National League West into a deep freeze. Never mind that unless the Rockies contend, every day Story is in uniform is a day for trade speculation to grow.

Stated publicly at the press conference following the Arenado trade, and privately in every conversation, the Rockies believe their pitching will come together, long-awaited production from organization products will arrive and there will be a beautiful, Story-led ending. There is even internal hope that the Rockies can keep Story off the free-agent market, although there is no hint of progressed talks and no expectation in the baseball world that such a contract extension will happen.

Story -- chosen the best among a loaded group of MLB Network’s Top 10 Shortstops Right Now -- is warming to that task, even while acknowledging the trade uncertainty.

“There’s no need for me to worry about will I be traded or anything that is out of my control,” said Story, who brightened a rough Rockies 2020 with a .289 batting average, an .874 OPS, 11 home runs, four triples, 13 doubles and 15 steals in 59 games. “That’s wasted energy. I like to put my energy into my friends, my family, ways to make myself a better baseball player and a better leader for this team right now.”

After the Arenado trade broke the internet, Story said the veterans began an effort to put the Rockies back together. The generation of that effort tells a story.

The group texts, Story said, came from relief pitcher Scott Oberg, who missed the end of 2019 and all of 2020 because of a blood clotting problem; outfielder Ian Desmond, who elected not to play in '20 while focusing on making a difference in his hometown of Sarasota, Fla.; and Story himself. That’s two who weren’t around for the rough 26-34 shortened last season, and one who isn’t expected to be here through this one.

Add outfielder Charlie Blackmon, whom Story calls “our rock,” and Story said the Rockies are going to take the internal defiance against outside criticism and run with it.

Embrace the starting rotation. Gain inspiration from Oberg and reigning NL Comeback Player of the Year Daniel Bard. Believe in homegrown third baseman Ryan McMahon, reliever Yency Almonte, utility player Garrett Hampson and outfielder Raimel Tapia. Let longtime infield prospect Brendan Rodgers show the snippets of low production and shoulder injuries of the last two seasons will lead to something.

“People have certainly written us off,” Story said. “Our guys see that. We’re a really competitive bunch and a tight-knit crew. Some teams may overlook us, and we may look at that as an edge for our team.”

All that said, Story said he and the team will miss Arenado’s edge. While the public saw some of it in Arenado’s anger at the front office and a desire to be dealt after the team went south after its 2018 postseason run, Story noted (not that Rockies fans need to be reminded) that Arenado brought a winning approach that he’ll carry.

“I can't lie,” Story said. “It's gonna hurt, not having Nolan in the lineup and having his presence there in the locker room and his leadership.”

But Story, alarmed at how the clubhouse suddenly went rudderless during the ’19 season, has been shedding his quiet nature to impact the team off the field. He’s also continued a relentless drive to hone his skills.

That showed up not long after the ’20 season.

“We actually met with him two weeks after the season ended,” Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “He was like, ‘What can I do to get better?’ That’s in his DNA.”

Story has targeted his performance against fastballs as an improvement area.

After slugging better than .500 in every previous season against fastballs, he finished last season at .490. The shorter season meant far fewer opportunities, but still there was frustration. If he hits those pitches early in the count, he’s in less danger of chasing breaking balls in put-away counts.

While he slugged fastballs at a .593 clip as a rookie in 2016, that was when pitchers were getting to know him. Even then, he whiffed on 25% of those. For 2021, his benchmark is 2018 -- .574 slugging percentage and an 18% whiff rate against fastballs.

“I feel like ’18 was my best year in that sense,” Story said. “If I got my pitch, I didn’t miss it.”

Story promises not to let a day pass nonchalantly.

“This is my last year on my contract, and I’m looking to enjoy it,” Story said. “I owe it to my fans, to my teammates, first and foremost, to be the best player and leader I can be. That’s where my energy is going to go, all my focus.”