Let's pretend we read that before the 2019 season began. First, the Twins are in the ALDS? Second, who is the rookie? Is it top prospect Royce Lewis? Alex Kiriloff? Trevor Larnach? Brusdar Graterol? nope. It is 22-year-old Venezuelan phenom Luis Arraez. Arraez ranked 15th in the Twins minor league system on MLB.com in 2018. In October 2019, he is the Twins starting second baseman and best hitter.
Arraez was called up in mid-May as the Twins faced depth issues due to injuries. He made an impression early, smacking a double in his first major league game. The 5'10 jitterbug stayed hot on the West Coast trip, going 7-for-15 in five games in Seattle and Los Angeles. Arraez finished May with a .375 average and 1.050 OPS. He launched his first home run in his fourth career game. He hit just six homers in 367 minor league contests.
Rocco Baldelli noticed not only the seasoned contact skills of Arraez, but also his discipline at the plate. Arraez walked five times and struck out just once in his 24 at-bats.
This was no fluke. Arraez appeared in 10 more games in June and hit .438 with a .982 OPS. These gaudy numbers included a five-game stretch where he went 11-for-20. While this was happening, Jonathan Schoop struggled mightily. Schoop hit .226 with a .622 OPS in June. The slugger hit as many homers in June and July combined (6) as he did in May.
Arraez found himself in the starting lineup almost every game leading up to the break. The versatile spark plug played nine games at second, nine games at third and three in left field. He finished the first half of the season with a .393 average in 84 at-bats. The rookie had struck out in just 8.4% of his appearances. Orioles' Hanser Alberto led MLB this season among qualified players, striking out in 9.1% of his at-bats. Arraez was turning the heads of Twins greats on Twitter:
By August, it was apparent that Arraez would play a critical role down the stretch. He was starting on a nightly basis but gave way to Schoop against left-handed pitching. Arraez is batting .274 with a .696 OPS against lefties, while Schoop enjoys a .277 average and .917 OPS against southpaws.
Arraez regressed a bit in August as his average dropped to .293 and OPS to .730 over 26 games. This was just an expected slump. Arraez broke back out in September, going 32-for-94 (.340) and slugging his fourth homer of the season to break a tie with Detroit on the night Minnesota clinched the AL Central:
In the penultimate game of his 2019 breakout campaign, Arraez collided with Willians Astudillo on a pop fly in Kansas City. Arraez was in tears while being carted off with an ankle injury. Less than one week away from his first postseason start, Arraez's season looks to be in serious jeopardy. Baldelli had encouraging news on his rookie's status in yesterday's press conference:
Although his rookie season may be over, this is the beginning of chapter one for Arraez. However, the Twins will miss his presence in big spots this October. In 49 high-leverage at-bats, Arraez is hitting .429 with a 1.012 OPS and nine RBIs. He is the rally starter for Baldelli's group, and his absence will send ripples through the lineup.
Luckily for Minnesota, they signed Jonathan Schoop this winter to play second base. Despite mostly struggling this year, Schoop showed signs of life in August, posting a 1.029 OPS and five homers. Schoop is also an upgrade on defense as Arraez is still raw in the field.
Still, there is no justification to say the Twins will not miss Arraez. To put into perspective the season the kid is having, Aaron Gleeman compared him to a few recognizable names:
In a larger perspective, it looks like the Twins have found their future second baseman. Arraez is the most traditional leadoff stud that you can think of. He hits for average, gets on base and controls the plate. Arraez is a catalyst and a nightmare for an opposing pitcher. With Eddie Rosario possibly moving this off-season, Max Kepler could slide into the four spot. Arraez has a .339 average and just four strikeouts in 15 games in the leadoff role this season.