Twins Daily 2019 Awards: Rookie of the Year
Image courtesy of Finn PearsonSince our site started handing out awards five years ago, the picks for top rookie have been Miguel Sano (2015), Max Kepler (2016), Trevor Hildenberger (2017), and Mitch Garver (2018). While Hildenberger has faded, the other three were key contributors to a 101-win team this year, with each ranking among Minnesota's top five position players in WAR. Arraez was just behind that pack, at No. 7.
Sano, Kepler, and Garver are now foundational building blocks for the Twins going forward, and now the latest TD Rookie of the Year is poised to join this esteemed core.
PROVING IT ON THE FIELD
In some ways, Arraez is similar to our pick from a year ago. Not in terms of being a late bloomer – Garver was 27 by the time he broke through as a full-time big-leaguer, while Arraez is now firmly entrenched as a 22-year-old – but in terms of being slept on.
Both players were somewhat overlooked on the prospect scene, due to ostensible limitations that capped their ceilings. For Garver, it was defensive shortcomings behind the plate, and middling potential with the bat. He dented this narrative as a rookie, and fully obliterated it as a sophomore. For Arraez, it's always been a lack of power and prototypical physical tools overshadowing his undeniably impressive production at every level.
Following a spectacular debut in the big leagues, there's no more doubting the viability of Arraez's game.
A DISCIPLINED HITTING MACHINE
He's always been tough to peg. In our preseason prospect rankings, Arraez didn't make the Top 20 cut, falling into the Honorable Mentions; as Seth put it: "Luis Arraez gets his own category. While he isn’t a great athlete, doesn’t have great speed or power and profiles as maybe a second baseman, Arraez can flat-out hit. He has hit at every level."
We weren't alone in our uncertainty on Arraez. He never appeared in a prominent national ranking, even after batting well above .300 at almost every stop in the minors. While Arraez's bat-to-ball skills and advanced discipline were always plain to see, the diminutive 5-foot-7 infielder packed little punch with the bat. Typically what you see with such players is pitchers at the highest levels attacking them and accentuating their weaknesses.
Nevertheless, the intrigue was clear, and it prompted Minnesota to add him to the 40-man roster last winter rather than expose him to the Rule 5 draft. And from the moment Arraez arrived in Minnesota in mid-May, after batting .344 through 41 games at Double-A and Triple-A, it was clear he's no novelty act.
Bringing keen discipline to an aggressive slugging lineup full of established big-leaguers, the rookie second baseman quickly carved out his niche, immediately dazzling with his tremendous strike zone control and ability to spray line drives everywhere. He batted .375 with five walks and one strikeout through 10 games, went back to Rochester at the start of June in a roster crunch, and then was back for good two weeks later. Arraez returned with an eight-game hitting streak out of the gates, including a four-knock effort in Kansas City, and that was that. He was an everyday player the rest of the way, supplanting Jonathan Schoop at second base in a season where Schoop hit 23 homers.
Among players with 300+ plate appearances, Arraez finished first on the Twins in batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.399). In fact, he ranked third and ninth among all MLB players with 300+ PA in those categories, respectively. As a 22-year-old.
Among Twins hitters, Arraez swung at the third-fewest pitches outside the zone, but made the highest percentage of contact on non-strikes. In the rare instances where he chased, he got the bat on it. His astonishing 2.8% whiff rate was the lowest on the team (beating even La Tortuga), and in all the majors.
Betraying the notions of pitcher adjustments and regression to the mean, Arraez just kept on raking. He batted .438 in June, .321 in July, .293 in August, and .340 in September. He kept chugging all the way up until suffering a scary ankle injury in the season's second-to-last game, when he went down in a heap after colliding with Astudillo on an infield fly ball.
Seeing Arraez carted off the field, tears in his eyes, was uniquely traumatizing to watch because he had ingratiated himself to the fan base so deeply with his infectious energy, amusing quirks, and consistently outstanding play.
At that moment, there seemed to be almost zero chance he would be able to aid the club's postseason run, but in borderline miraculous fashion, Arraez got right enough in one week to start all three ALDS games. Granted, like many of his teammates, the second baseman appeared hobbled and at far less than 100%, but simply making it back onto the field is one of those things that strengthens the budding bonds of comradery.
Rocco Baldelli mostly stuck with this plan of leading off Kepler and Garver this year, but Arraez sure has the look of a No. 1 hitter in the lineup. It seems likely he'll be there and starting at second base on Opening Day next year.
It's also conceivable he could shift to third base, where he made 15 starts as a rookie, with Sano sliding across the diamond – if not next year then at some point. But one thing is for sure: Arraez is locked in.
As you can see by checking out the individual ballots below, Arraez was a unanimous No. 1 selection. Zack Littell was the clear-cut second choice with his 2.68 ERA in 29 appearances, including 0.88 in his last 27. Ryne Harper's inspiring first-half placed him third. Other deserving recipients of votes included Devin Smeltzer, Cody Stashak and Randy Dobnak, who all had encouraging showings on the pitching staff but didn't amass large enough samples.
Here’s a look at the ballots from our 18 voters.
Seth Stohs: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Randy Dobnak
Nick Nelson: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Devin Smeltzer
John Bonnes: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Devin Smeltzer
Tom Froemming: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Ryne Harper, 3) Zack Littell
Cody Christie: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Ryne Harper, 3) Zack Littell
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Devin Smeltzer, 3) Randy Dobnak
Steve Lein: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Devin Smeltzer, 3) Randy Dobnak
S.D. Buhr: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Randy Dobnak
Matt Braun: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Cody Stashak, 3) Zack Littell
Cooper Carlson: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Cody Stashak
Andrew Thares: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Ryne Harper, 3) Randy Dobnak
JD Cameron: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Devin Smeltzer, 3) Cody Stashak
Matt Lenz: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Ryne Harper
Nash Walker: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Devin Smeltzer, 3) Cody Stashak
Patrick Wozniak: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Zack Littell, 3) Ryne Harper
Thieres Rabelo: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Ryne Harper, 3) Willians Astudillo
Sabir Aden: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Willians Astudillo, 3) Ryne Harper
AJ Condon: 1) Luis Arraez, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Cody Stashak
Luis Arraez: 54
Zack Littell: 17
Ryne Harper: 12
Devin Smeltzer: 10
Cody Stashak: 6
Randy Dobnak: 6
Willians Astudillo: 3
How would your ballot look? Leave a comment and make your case.
Previous Twins Daily Rookie of the Year Winners
2015: Miguel Sano
2016: Max Kepler
2017: Trevor Hildenberger
2018: Mitch Garver
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