Oswaldo Arcia digs into the batter’s box without much fear.
The Twins’ free-swinging outfielder has seen major league pitchers adjust to him since his debut on April 15, but he’s made the appropriate adjustments in return. The left-handed Arcia isn’t afraid to face some of the league’s top left-handed pitching. Such was the case last week when Arcia lined a base hit on the first pitch he saw from Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia.
When Arcia steps up to the plate, you sometimes forget he’s just a 22-year-old rookie.
“If you ask him, he doesn’t feel like a rookie. I’m sure of that,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “He probably thinks we waited too long to get him up here. He’s got some confidence in his ability — without arrogance, I should say.”
Through Sunday, Arcia is near the top of many offensive categories when it comes to American League rookies. His six home runs are just one shy of teammate Aaron Hicks, who has seven homers in 61 games. Arcia has driven in 25 runs, the most of any AL rookie (as are his 11 doubles). He’s getting on base at a .347 clip, second behind Boston’s Jose Iglesias. Arcia is also slugging .451, third behind only Iglesias and Seattle’s Nick Franklin.
As AL rookie batters go, Arcia has been among the best for the first half of the season. He didn’t originally make the Twins’ 25-man roster out of spring due in part to an injury that limited him in spring training. But he was called up for his debut on April 15, a stint that lasted just a game before he was sent back to Triple-A Rochester.
Just five days later, though, he was back in the majors and saw extended playing time until late May, when he was optioned back to Rochester. Minnesota again recalled him on June 11, and he’s been a fixture in the Twins’ lineup and outfielder ever since. Since his most recent call-up, Arcia is batting .314 with 11 RBI, two home runs and seven walks.
During his first stint, Arcia batted just .255 in 30 games. After spending a brief time in the minors, he’s looked like a different player since his return.
“It feels better being here the second time,” Arcia said last week through his translator, bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar. “I went down to Rochester and tried to see more pitches, because I was swinging early when I was here, swinging in a lot of early counts. I really worked hard down there on taking more pitches and seeing more pitches.”
Arcia has indeed been more patient at the plate, but he’s not afraid to take his swings. That aggressive approach is something that Arcia’s manager has grown to love.
“He basically has no fear,” said Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire. “He’s going to go up there and take his hacks. He’s not one of those kids that gets too up and down emotionally. If he strikes out or makes a mistake, he understands what he did. He goes about his business. I like the fact that he doesn’t get too high and too low right now.
“He’s just up there having a good time. He loves to play the game. You can tell it. He’s an aggressive kid, and that’s what we want him to continue to be.”
While he’s settled in offensively as a rookie, Arcia continues to be a work in progress defensively. A right fielder by trade, Arcia has been asked to play more left field this year with Minnesota. That will especially be the case now that left fielder Josh Willingham is out for 4-to-6 weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Arcia has spent his last eight games in left field, a position he’s still learning. He’s putting in the work during batting practice and getting extra reads in left field. The work has paid off at times — he’s turned in a number of nice plays in left — but there are other plays he hasn’t been able to make. Still, the Twins like Arcia’s arm in either left or right field.
“It takes work, and he has to go out there,” Gardenhire said. “He’s putting forth an effort. He goes out and shags. He’s worked on his arm. … He’s made a good effort to make himself a better player. That’s been kind of fun to watch.”
There’s plenty of baseball left to be played, but Arcia made a case for himself during the first half of the year to at least be mentioned in the American League Rookie of the Year race. The Twins haven’t had a player earn that honor since Marty Cordova did so in 1995. He followed the likes of Chuck Knoblauch (1991), John Castino (1979), Rod Carew (1967) and Tony Oliva (1964) as others who won the award with Minnesota.
Many people mention Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as Minnesota’s top two prospects, but Arcia was not far behind many people’s lists of the Twins’ best prospects. Though still young, Arcia has been with Minnesota since 2008, making this his sixth season in professional baseball.
Perhaps that’s why this rookie doesn’t look like one.
“He’s 22 years old. I thought he’s responded quite well here in the short amount of time he’s been up here,” Ryan said. “He isn’t afraid of much. … He’s a threat. I think every time he goes up there, you might see something good happen. …
“There’s not much not to like out of the kid. I just think he’s doing a nice job of holding his own.”