Luis Arraez had played his second summer with the Twins organization in 2015 in Fort Myers, Fla., with the Gulf Coast League rookie team. He played in 57 games and produced a .309 average with no power.
The Venezuelan was a month short of his 19th birthday when the Twins opened minor league spring training in March 2016. Annually, in early April, more than 100 players are assigned to the four full-season affiliates, with another 50-plus retained as participants in extended spring training.
That’s where the largest number of players with the Arraez background spend a couple of months, before heading off to the advanced rookie team in Elizabethton, Tenn.; staying with the GCL Twins; or getting released.
“We were having the final roster meetings and Ramon Borrego repeated what he had been saying,” Jake Mauer said this week. “Ramon was Luis’ manager with the Gulf Coast team and said, ‘There’s no sense in having Arraez stick around here for two more months. He’s a hitter. We have to get him out and start competing.’ ”
This required Arraez to be assigned to Class A Cedar Rapids. Mauer was the Kernels manager and spent the summer of 2016 enjoying the rewards of Borrego’s lobbying.
Once in a while, you see a teenager tear up the Midwest League. Mike Trout in 2009, also for Cedar Rapids (then an Angels farm club), comes to mind. Mostly, it’s a league of players 20-plus, so it was eye-opening when the 19-year-old Arraez won the Midwest batting title at .347.
“What you found out about Luis right away was how well he knows himself as a hitter,” said Mauer, the older brother of a three-time AL batting champion named Joe.
Arraez (pronounced ah-RIZE) opened the 2016 Kernels’ season competing for playing time at second base. He played in three of the first seven games, with one hit. Then, in the eighth game, he went 3-for-4, with the first of three home runs for the season, and he was off and hitting.
“The question was where he was going to fit defensively,” Mauer said. “Was it going to be second base or multiple positions? As he’s showed now with the Twins, Luis can do both: Be your everyday second baseman and play where he’s needed, including left field.
“He’s a fun teammate, one of the most popular players in our clubhouse, but he’s also a very cerebral player. Luis is a step ahead. He anticipates situations in the field, and what pitchers are trying to do to get him out.”
Doug Mientkiewicz, after an outstanding two-year run as manager at the Twins’ Class AA Chattanooga affiliate, was back with the Fort Myers Miracle for the 2017 season. And he was excited to have Arraez at the top of his lineup.
“He was just a ball of energy, bouncing around everywhere, couldn’t wait for the season to start,” Mientkiewicz said. “And then in our third game, he was trying to beat out a hit, lunged and tore his ACL.”
Arraez missed the rest of that season, and the first two weeks of 2018.
“What I remember is two days later, Arraez found me in the clubhouse, and with that torn ACL, he apologized for letting down the team and me,” Mientkiewicz said.
“I couldn’t believe that. I remember saying to my coaches, ‘This kid is what you want in a Twin. All-out, team-first.’ ”
Mientkiewicz said this Friday, two years after being fired as a minor league manager by the current Twins administration, and after two seasons as the Class AAA Toledo manager for the woebegone Detroit Tigers.
After all that, he’s still a Luis Arraez man. “Who isn’t?” Mientkiewicz said.
Arraez showed up with the Twins on May 18, when Nelson Cruz went on the injured list, and batted .375 in 10 games. He went back to Class AAA Rochester for 2½ weeks, returned to stay on June 18, and carried a .339 average into this weekend’s closing series at Kansas City.
And this is what the stocky, lefthanded hitter has meant to the Twins:
A strength of this team has been its depth in position players — and needed with the run of injuries. Yet, if Luis Arraez had not showed up in late spring, come from the mist for most of us, the Twins would not be a deep team.
They would not have an excess of infielders, they would not have a hitting machine to move to left field when necessary, they would not have an extra-tough out in the midst of big-swinging home run/strikeout producers.
They would not have a rookie who, when he swung at a pitch over his head to strike out three weeks ago, everyone watching — “including the people in the dugout,” manager Rocco Baldelli admitted — was shocked.
Arraez has been both a shocking addition to the Twins lineup, and to a degree, its savior.