Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Second Base
Image courtesy of David Dermer-USA TODAY SportsProjected Starter: Luis Arraez
Likely Backup: Ehire Adrianza
Depth: Marwin Gonzalez, Willians Astudillo
Prospects: Travis Blankenhorn, Nick Gordon
Arraez's rookie season was a smorgasbord of remarkable moments and accomplishments. He arrived in Minnesota as a 22-year-old with little experience above Double-A, and proceeded to lead the American League in batting average (.334) after the date of his call-up (May 18th). He showed amazing plate discipline and contact skills, striking out at the lowest rate in the majors while walking at a solid clip to buoy an outstanding on-base percentage. He held his own defensively at second base in spite of a limited physical toolset, and he even went out and played a capable left field now and then for good measure.
Despite his greenness and lack of prestige, Arraez performed brilliantly, both when it counted and when the count was against him:
- In "Late & Close" situations, he slashed .346/.404/.442. (MLB average: .237/.320/.404.)
- In "High Leverage" situations, he slashed .429/.481/.531. (MLB average: .253/.327/.432.)
- In ABs where he fell behind 0-2 against opposing pitchers, he slashed .286/.314/.327. (League average: .165/.197/.267.)
Needless to say, second base belongs to him going forward, and that's something to feel good about. He probably won't hit .334 perpetually, but his approach at the plate is conducive to steadily remaining in the three hundreds. Sure enough, all five projection systems on FanGraphs having him batting between .309 and .312 this season, with an OBP in the .370 range. That'll play anywhere in the order, but it'd be surprising if Arraez doesn't hit near the top.
He doesn't run that well, nor does he produce a ton of pop, but he's a very functional piece in this Twins lineup, which offers plentiful power and speed elsewhere. Defensively he will probably never be a true standout but he's adequate, with the chance to grow some more.
Still 22 on Opening Day and under team control through 2025, Arraez has suddenly turned into a heck of an asset for the Twins.
It was only 92 games. Arraez's first season in the majors was about as convincing as it gets, but the fact remains: it's a small sample and he hardly has the bona fides to back it up.
It's true that Arraez's .334/.399/.439 slash as a rookie is almost eerily consistent with his .331/.385/.414 line in the minors, but there was always a valid skepticism around his ability to translate that production to the highest level, thus explaining his absence from the national prospect radar (and even our own Top 20 list) ahead of his debut.
Arraez is not unathletic. No one in the big leagues is. But he doesn't possess the physical gifts of a Schoop or Jorge Polanco. The stubby 5-foot-10 second baseman isn't a burner, doesn't have a big arm, and isn't a musclebound specimen like those surrounding him in the infield.
So he has to make up for it in other ways. He excels in the mental aspects of the game, with a sophisticated understanding of the strike zone and stunning level of confidence for his age. His technique enables him to get the bat on the ball almost anywhere in the zone, producing a 2.8% swinging strike rate that was the league's lowest.
This isn't to say he was making especially hard contact, however. As the Statcast data reflects, Arraez ranked near the bottom of all MLB hitters when it comes to exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and expected slugging percentage.
Maintaining his level of production will require Arraez to keep making the absolute most of his skill set, while fending off counter-adjustments from the best pitchers and scouting departments in the world. One thing we can probably expect in his first full season is a heavier dose of pitches on the inside part of the plate, where he was clearly less effective.
As long as he keeps laying off non-strikes, while connecting on everything in the zone, Arraez has a fairly high floor. But we might've very well seen his ceiling as a rookie. It's awfully difficult to routinely prop an MLB batting average well above .300, especially when you're more reliant on batted-ball placement than propulsion. Arraez's game is essentially dependent on this.
Then again, he's 22. At the same age, Brian Dozier was a light hitter in A-ball, mustering a .349 slugging percentage. If Arraez muscles up and adds a bit more power while aging into his mid-20s, all bets are off.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Arraez is locked in. Seeing how well he can back up his sensational rookie season will of course be the most interesting and important story to track this year, but I'm also curious to see how things shake out with Nick Gordon. The combination of Polanco and Arraez, both controllable through 2025, presents a seemingly impenetrable middle-infield barrier for the former fifth overall draft pick, who is 24 and made a case for his readiness with an .800 OPS in Triple-A last year.
A prolonged absence, or total unraveling, from Arraez is essentially Gordon's only path to a major-league opportunity with this organization. That's nice insurance to have in place, I suppose, but the Twins do already have Gonzalez and Adrianza available and are without starting positions in the majors. I feel a little bad for Gordon, whose diminished stock doesn't erase an outstanding pedigree and solid record of minor-league production through Triple-A.
Which is all a long way of saying that the meteoric rise of Arraez has fundamentally reshaped Minnesota's outlook at second base, creating an abundance of depth that is actually a tiny bit problematic. (Gordon's 40-man roster spot could soon come under scrutiny.)
A good problem to have, as they say.
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: First Base
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
- Mike Frasier Law, mikelink45, ToddlerHarmon and 2 others like this