Brewers glove-savvy SS Arcia looks to make bigger impact at plate

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell has plenty of decisions to make this spring training. Who will play at second base? How will the playing time be divvied up among the outfielders? Who will be the backup catcher? Just how will the rotation and bullpen look? Can Ryan Braun play first base?

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But one position Counsell doesn’t have to worry about is shortstop, where 23-year-old Orlando Arcia is set to man the position once again.

Arcia made his major-league debut in August 2016 and has been Milwaukee’s shortstop ever since.

While still learning and progressing, Arcia, who won a Gold Glove in the minor leagues, has proven himself to be a more-than-capable defender from the get-go in the majors.

“For players like Orlando, you get to a certain point where your instincts — he’s such an instinctual player for me, but it’s hard to be instinctual when you’re learning everything,” said Counsell. “So you get to that point where the instincts are allowed to take over, it’s really a sign of comfort, almost. And he impacted us defensively, that was the biggest thing.”

In 2017, his first full season in the majors, Arcia led National League shortstops in such traditional statistics as assists, putouts and double plays, but also advanced stats such as Total Zone Runs and Range Factor. And no one was even close on the latter two.

Arcia had 17 Total Zone Runs last season; the DodgersCorey Seager was next in the NL with 10. Arcia topped NL shortstops with a range factor per nine innings of 4.85. Colorado’s Trevor Story was second at 4.55. Only Texas’ Elvis Andrus (24 TZR and 4.86 RF/9) had better numbers.

They don’t measure highlight-reel plays, but certainly Arcia would rank near or at the top thanks to an array of plays on the ground …

… and in the air …

“He makes hard things look easy,” Counsell said. “I more often find myself not saying, wow, what range there. It’s more like, that was a really hard play that nobody will take about that he made look really easy. That’s really what he’s best at.”

But Counsell also says there’s another facet of Arcia’s game which impresses him the most.

“His accuracy on relay throws was very impactful,” remarked Counsell. “Those outs we got at the plate are game-changing plays. Of the great plays, I’d point to the relay throws as the highlights of that stuff.”

While his defense is already impactful and could soon earn him a major-league Gold Glove, as with most young players, Arcia is still learning at the plate.

Not that he had bad season hitting in 2017, hitting .277 with 15 home runs. He’s shown potential in the minors to hit at an even better clip. As one of the youngest players in Double-A at age 20, Arcia batted .307 in 2015 for Biloxi.

The biggest issue, though, is plate discipline. He’s never walked much in his professional career, with walk percentages of 5.4 percent in 2015, 6.6 percent in Triple-A, 6.9 percent with the Brewers in 2016 and 6.6 percent last season. For comparison’s sake, Neil Walker (18.8 percent), Eric Sogard (15.1), Eric Thames (13.6) and Domingo Santana (12.0) were the Brewers’ best in walk percentage in 2017. Travis Shaw was at 9.9 percent, Ryan Braun 9.9 and Jonathan Villar 6.9. Only Manny Pina (5.6) and Hernan Perez (4.4) had worse walk percentages among regular players.

“It’s about experience, really,” Counsell said. “This ball-strike discernment is where his growth is going to happen. He’ll get better as he sees big-league pitches.”

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns