Luis Arráez: Hitting Machine
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA TodayHis love for baseball started when he was three years old, and by that time the diamond was at his house, his backyard in his native Venezuela.
"I remember that it was a big backyard and that was where my neighbor, my nephew and I played every day during my childhood," Arráez said.
Luis's dad was responsible for his first steps in baseball. “My dad always told me to bat right-handed, but I did the opposite," Arráez said.
Arráez has been capable of hitting the ball at all of the levels where he has played, but better than that is the fact that it is fun to watch him play. Yes, maybe because he has the Caribbean flavor in his veins, or maybe because he really enjoys playing, no matter the reason. The thing here is that Arráez makes this game more fun to watch.
Luis decided to take baseball as a "serious business" when he was just a kid.
"I was barely eight years old when I started playing Little League, and then after that I went to Baseball Championship in Cumana, Venezuela," Arráez said. "When I was nine years old I traveled for the very first time to represent Venezuela in a Little League championship in Cuba".
That trip to Cuba marked a before-and-after in Arráez's sporting life and allowed him to gain even more strength and confidence.
“Arráez has always been a good hitter. Luis has always had the same swing, the same desire to play. He is a hitting machine,” said Franklin Perez, one of the Detroit Tigers' top prospects and Arráez's childhood friend.
Pérez was with Arráez in 2007 when they represented Venezuela in a tournament. The South American country was the undefeated champion of that tournament, and although more than 12 years have passed, the friendship between Pérez and Arráez endures: "Arráez is a very humble person. He has a good heart, one of the best teammates I've ever had in baseball."
Franklin and Luis have never been on the same team in professional baseball, but they always keep in touch and have had the opportunity to face each other in Class A, “It was a tremendous experience to face him. He gave me a lot of battles. He is a very good hitter, and it is very difficult to strike him out because he makes very good contact."
Arráez's career as a professional began when he signed with Navegates del Magallanes at the age of 15. "I signed with Magallanes when I was 15 years old. After a National Championship, Ismael Ochoa took me to the Félix Olivo's Academy, and then I got the contract with Magallanes.”.
The process of signing with a US team was quite complicated for Arráez, who confessed he was about to give up, "I signed in November, 2014. It was somewhat difficult. I spent two months in the city of Bejuma (former headquarters of the Twins in Venezuela), and after that they told me there was no money for me."
But although the situation was not the best, life smiled at the young Venezuelan ... "When I arrived at my house, I found José León (Twins scout) who asked me to sign."
The rest is history. Arráez made the jump to the professional level in the Dominican Summer League in 2013. About the challenges in his first pro years, Arráez said "It was quite easy for me to move to the Dominican Republic. I was mentally and physically ready for that".
And that was true, because in his first year he had an average of .348 in 31 games. That performance in the DSL helped him to get to the US in his second year as a professional.
He spent the 2015 season at the Gulf Coast League where he hit .309 in 57 games. In 2016, he had one of the most spectacular seasons. He played with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and won the Midwest League batting title with an impressive .347 average in 114 games.
In 2017, a knee injury took him out of action for a year. The Venezuelan had to undergo surgery and go through a tedious recovery process. Fortunately, he returned in 2018 when he hit .310 with the Fort Myers Miracle before being promoted to AA. He ended the 2018 season batting .310 between Class-A Ft. Myers and Double-A Chattanooga.
His lack of power is perhaps what has kept him away from a better position in the rankings of Twins prospects (currently #17), but it is more than obvious that it doesn't affect him at all. He has found the best way to respond with extraordinary contact and plate discipline during all his years as a professional. For that reason, Minnesota decided to reward him by including him on the 40-man roster at the end of November, 2018.
His defensive skills are good enough to keep him on the Twins roster. Although in the minor leagues he has played mostly as a second baseman, he likes the idea of playing in different positions. "I like to play second base because it is easier,“ said Arráez with a smile,"but it does not bother me to play as a shortstop, I also like to play third base.”
Being open to playing several positions could be key for his career.
Offensively, Luis' talent is undeniable. When it comes to hitting, he says there is no great secret behind his success, just a lot of work and dedication, "I always arrive early at the stadium to work on my swing. I love to do the tee drills, and most of the time, I do three rounds. I also work with the hitting coach on a flip drill section. That’s something that helps me a lot, and it makes my hands faster. I do it by putting some weight on the bat, and then I start doing my regular swing. That's what I always do to prepare before each game."
A star that also shines in Venezuela
Luis' success in baseball is not only summarized by his spectacular performances in the minor leagues. Arráez has been able to respond to the confidence of the Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuela Winter League. With Magallanes, Arraez is a kind of a superstar. In three seasons with Magallanes (one of the teams with the longest traditions in Venezuela), Arráez has an average of .324 with 116 hits, 44 R, and 32 RBI's. Luis finished in second place on the ballot for the Rookie of the Year Award (2015-2016) with 198 points.
Arráez in the Majors...
Arráez has played 15 games with the Twins, and he has an impressive average of .436 in 39 at-bats. While it is true that Rocco Baldelli and the Twins front office called Arráez up after the injury of Ehire Adrianza, it is also true that Luis is putting up incredible numbers in an attempt to stay on the big team roster. For now, we don't know what decision the Twins brass will make regarding Luis, but for sure, all the fans in Twins Territory will continue supporting Arráez on his wonderful journey.
Follow Mariana Guzman on Twitter, along with her second Twitter account, Twins Latinos.
- Parker Hageman, luckylager, birdwatcher and 7 others like this