MINNEAPOLIS — Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Oswaldo Arcia is just 22 years old. At the plate, the Twins rookie rarely shows his age.
Just 21 games into his major league career, Arcia has already drawn comparisons to the late, great Kirby Puckett for a similar approach at the plate. Puckett rarely saw a pitch he didn’t like, and that’s been the case with Arcia. Through Monday, that aggressive approach has led to a .299 average with three homers and 12 RBI.
Not bad for a kid who just turned 22 last week.
“Right now he kind of looks like he’s in that Kirby Puckett type swing, ‘Thou shall not pass at an offering,'” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Arcia. “He does that very well. I’m not going to hold him back. He’s going to take some swings. He’s going to learn a little bit. He’s going to get beaten up by a few pitchers here and there, but he’s also going to hurt them a little bit, too.”
Hurting opposing pitchers is what Arcia has done throughout his professional baseball career. Between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain last year, Arcia hit a combined .320 with 17 homers and 98 RBI in 124 games en route to being named the Twins’ Minor League Player of the Year, the same honor won by the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer. He also ascended to No. 41 on Baseball America’s list of Top 100 prospects prior to the 2013 season.
After a brief stint with Triple-A Rochester, Arcia joined the Twins on April 15 for a game and later was called up for good on April 20. He hasn’t stopped smiling since.
“He’s a happy kid. He likes to play baseball,” Gardenhire said. “He’s excited to be here. I think he recognizes how lucky he is to have this opportunity. He also understands that baseball’s all about fun.”
Even as a 16-year-old kid in Venezuela, the Minnesota Twins saw something special in Arcia.
In fact, the Twins — along with several other teams — had their eyes on Arcia, a center fielder at the time, for several years prior to the July 2 signing period in 2007. While there are certainly risks in trying to project how a 16-year-old might translate to the big leagues, Minnesota knew at least one thing about Arcia: the kid could hit.
“Physically, you can project one thing but you’re not quite sure how it’s going to go,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ vice president of player personnel. “I think in this case, we were if you want to call it lucky or good. We based it makeup-wise on his aggressive, confident personality. . . . We based it on he had a good, solid frame with a chance to get strong, and that certainly turned out to be true.”
The money was too tough to pass up for Arcia, who said his family in Venezuela was poor. Radcliff wouldn’t disclose the actual amount of the signing bonus Arcia received from Minnesota but would say it was six figures.
That’s a lot of cash for a 16-year-old who had yet to step foot on a professional baseball field.
“That money was good. Plus I wanted to play baseball,” Arcia said through a translator. “It was exciting to become a professional baseball player, especially when I was 16. I’m more excited now that I’m in the big leagues.”
Arcia has never lacked confidence. It’s been evident during his brief tenure with the Twins as he’s shown he’s not afraid of major league pitching. At 16, Arcia was confident enough in his own abilities to leave home to pursue a career in professional baseball, something that would leave many teenagers homesick.
Helping ease Arcia’s transition to professional baseball was the fact that he’d spend his first season in the Dominican Republic, where he could speak his native language. As a 17-year-old, Arcia played 61 games in the Dominican Summer League, where he batted .293 with 36 RBI.
From there he progressed through the Twins’ minor league system — and hit at every level. In 2009 he spent 44 games in the Gulf Coast League. By the next season he was moved up to the Appalachian League. Then in 2011, Arcia propelled all the way to High-A Fort Myers, where he hit .263 with eight homers and 32 RBI in 59 games with the Miracle as a 20-year-old.
“As far as when he got over here, he’s always been one of the better hitters in our organization,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “He’s always been a middle-of-the-lineup guy and he’s always been one of the better hitting prospects of any league he’s played in. He’s always been about two years younger in any league he’s played in, so that’s all a pretty good recipe for success.”
Little did Arcia know then that he was just two years away from playing in the majors while at Single-A in 2011. But he always had the confidence that he would one day reach the big leagues.
“Since I was in the Dominican, I heard people say you’ve got to be five years in the minor leagues before you become a free agent or they put you on the roster,” Arcia said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the major leagues before I was 22.”
Sure enough, Arcia did just that. He was just 21 years old on April 15 when he made his major league debut, becoming the youngest Twins player to play since 2006 when Alexi Casilla played as a 21-year-old.
Arcia’s debut came less than six years from the day he signed with the Twins back in 2007, a trajectory quicker than most people expected.
“It’s hard when they’re 16 and 17 and coming from another country to kind of think and believe and try to allow for the fact that it’ll probably take a little longer than you hoped,” Radcliff said. “He’s going to hit, he’s going to have some power. He can play a defensive position. But you’re not quite sure how he’s going to handle it all. Oswaldo’s an example of a guy that’s carried himself all the way through.”
Now that Arcia has arrived in Minnesota, it appears as if he’s here to stay. Gardenhire has said that if Arcia is going to be up with the big club, he’s going to play more often than not. That leaves Minnesota’s manager in a tough spot, though, when he goes to fill out his lineup every day as Minnesota has five outfielders on the roster and not enough spots for them all to play.
But Arcia has earned his shot in the majors. He’s come a long way from a 16-year-old teenager in Venezuela to a 22-year-old hard-hitting rookie. Arcia has always been younger than the other players he’s played with and against, but none of that has seemed to matter.
For Arcia, his confidence has never wavered.
“Starting at about Fort Myers, it was kind of apparent that this guy not only has the aggressiveness and the confidence to succeed, he might be kind of a leader,” Radcliff said. “He might be the guy that can be a main guy on a team. That’s still got a chance to prove out. Heck, he’s settling in to be a major league player quicker than we thought. I think we’re excited about all the things he might be able to do with the bat and do as a player, but just as much so it looks like he’s a guy you think you can count on to be a clubhouse leader guy, which is a bonus.”