Last season, Luis Arraez hit .334, showing an extraordinary feel for contact, a disciplined approach, and the uncanny ability to find open spaces in the defense where he could turn batted balls into hits. However, the weakness that kept him from becoming a higher-profile prospect during his time in the minors leagues remained clear: Arraez doesn’t hit for power. In the year of the turbocharged aeroball, Arraez hit only four homers in 366 plate appearances with the parent club.
The Statcast numbers state the case even more clearly. Arraez’s average exit velocity was in the bottom sixth of the league, among all batters with at least 250 plate appearances, but even that understates the extent to which he was underpowered. There were 320 players with at least those 250 plate appearances. Arraez ranked 288th in Barrel rate, meaning he made less of the highest-value contact than 90 percent of the league, and he ranked 308th in Hard Hit rate.
In no game last season did Arraez have three different balls Statcast counted as Hard Hit, meaning they left his bat at 95 miles per hour or faster. He only had six batted balls, all season, that registered at 100 miles per hour or harder. While Arraez clustered his batted balls in the optimal launch-angle band better than all but three other hitters in the game, and while he hits to all fields so well that teams can’t easily align defenses against him, his lack of power made it hard to guess how well he could sustain the high batting average so vital to his overall profile.
That’s why Sunday’s game was a huge breakthrough. Arraez had two hits, just as he did in Friday night’s opener. This time, though, he did it with more hard contact, even on his outs. In the first inning, Arraez spanked a line drive into left field, a clean single in front of left fielder Eloy Jiménez, at 100.5 miles per hour. In the second, he lifted a liner slightly higher, and although he hit it more softly, he landed a single that left the bat at 83.9 miles per hour, down the left-field line.
In the fourth, Gio Gonzalez threw Arraez a high fastball, and Arraez got under it. He hit it so hard, though, that Luis Robert had to run the ball down on the warning track, slightly to the left of dead center. The ball left the bat at 100.4 miles per hour. After a groundout in the seventh inning, Arraez faced Kelvin Herrera in the final frame of the Twins’ blowout win. Herrera threw him a sinker up and in, and Arraez got under it again. He flew out lazily to center field, partially because of the 45-degree launch angle. Still, the exit velocity on that batted ball was 96.3 miles per hour.
Arraez’s swing gets on plane with the incoming pitch extremely well, at least on pitches down in the zone. He’ll continue to square up the ball and hit the ball on valuable trajectories, though he has an adjustment yet to make when it comes to handling high fastballs. However, his data from Sunday demonstrates that Arraez has the potential to hit for more power than he has thus far. He can also continue to run a high BABIP, because of his ability to hit the ball this hard. Showing this capacity will force outfielders to play him at normal depth, rather than pinch in and try to start stealing the flared singles he’s been dropping between infielders and outfielders since reaching the big leagues. He’s shown an unbelievable knack for making the field seem larger than it is, and impossible to defend. If he can sustain this uptick in pop off the bat while making contact and spraying the ball as consistently as he has, Arraez can still improve slightly as a hitter. Given how good he already is, that’s no small thing.