Oswaldo Arcia Is Very Good (But He's Not Quite There Yet)
With the candles from his 23rd birthday cake still smoldering, Arcia’s exquisite power display in fewer than an entire season’s worth of baseball games has been a refreshing welcome to a fan base that has not had many legitimate offensive prospects to rally around since Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Historically, his power numbers at this age rank among some of the best Twins’ sluggers. So far, his career .451 slugging percentage prior to the age of 24 falls behind only Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Tom Brunansky. With just under a year until his next birthday, the left-handed Arcia is poised to jump over several of those hitters as he grows more comfortable with the league’s pitching.
There are some who feel that Arcia still has a few more improvements to make before he is considered a complete hitter.
Swing Hard In Case You Hit It
If you are reviewing his Fangraphs.com profile, the most obvious area in need of attention is his plate discipline.
After managing 23 walks in 378 plate appearances in 2013, Arcia has drawn two walks this season. It is because of this that his on-base percentage is very one-dimensional and reliant on his ability to hit safely. (With a batting average on balls in play at .391 this year, it will be hard to have a sustainable on-base percentage without mixing in a few walks.) Arcia has the tendency to expand the strike zone, trying to cover everything from 952 to 651 at times, which has led to strikeouts in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances. More than anything, when backed into a corner -- say, with a two-strike count -- Arcia comes out swinging which means hacking at pitches outside the strike zone.
Last season Arcia was a first-pitch monster. He batted .379/.400/.724 with three home runs and a double on the first pitch of his plate appearances. Pitchers threw him a hefty number of fastballs (57%) and stayed in the strike zone (49% zone%). As advance scouts and video preppers recognized this trait, opponents altered their approach in 2014. Now he rarely sees a fastball (43%) or pitches in the strike zone (41%) to start an at-bat. Rather than changing his game plan, Arcia has actually swung more in first-pitch counts this year while seeing fewer premium pitches to drive.
Pundits like to talk about guys who demonstrate “max effort” swings. Carlos Gomez, who swings out of his shoes on every pitch, personifies this idea. Even as he morphed into an offensive threat, Gomez’s swing rate, chase rate and contact rate all ranked well below average. Arcia falls into this camp as well. When Arcia commits, there is little indecision -- he is swinging for all or nothing.
Without sacrificing his powerful and aggressive swing, he needs to learn which pitches he can handle in what circumstances.
Mechanical Or Mental Adjustments?
It seems there is be a hole in his swing that teams can and will exploit.
During a recent Fox Sports North broadcast, former player and FSN analyst Roy Smalley pointed out that Arcia’s mechanics suffer from a hitch that is causing significant issues with his ability to handle pitches up in the zone. What Smalley highlighted was that Arcia’s hands started high...
...but dropped slightly above his waistline when he brings his bat to load (the position right before bringing the bat forward):
As the hands drop, his ability to make solid contact on high strikes decreases considerably. According to ESPN/trumedia, this year alone he has swung at 28 pitches up in the zone and missed on 15 of his swings and put the ball in play on just four swings. The example below from Sunday’s broadcast shows Arcia’s swing plane attempting to catch up to a high changeup:
From the lower vantage point Arcia needs to bring the bat up allowing for small impact zone.
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As Smalley championed during the game, Arcia does not necessarily have to change his swing -- he just needs to recognize pitches and understand his limitations. A high fastball is going to give him issues. Cheating for high fastballs is going to leave him susceptible to slow breaking balls. This goes back to improving his plate discipline. As pitchers shift their offerings and attack certain holes, Arcia will need to make adjustments.
There is no question Arcia has the makings to be one of the top offensive talents to emerge from the Twins system. As part of the development process, improving his plate discipline and protecting against his weaknesses should entrench him as a middle-of-the-order threat for years to come.