SEATTLE – Luis Arraez was angry. He had been a Rochester Red Wing for three days and had taken part in three losses, the last a 10th-inning walkoff. So he was fuming in the visitors’ clubhouse in Charlotte when his manager, Joel Skinner, stopped by his locker.
Next thing he knew, he was crying.
“I called my mom [in Venezuela]. I said, ‘Mom, I’m going to the big leagues,’ and she was crying,” Arraez said Friday. “I cried a lot, too.”
His tears dried by the time he caught a cross-country flight and joined the Twins for a get-your-feet-wet road trip to Seattle and Anaheim. It’s unlikely he will get to play in Target Field next week, because Nelson Cruz, placed on the injured list Friday because of a sore left wrist, figures to be activated when the Twins return home — but then again, his rapid rise to the majors has had plenty of unexpected steps already.
The 22-year-old infielder wasn’t expecting to be placed on the Twins’ 40-man roster last winter, but the team feared losing him in the Rule 5 draft. He won the Midwest League batting title at Class A Cedar Rapids in 2016, and was leading the Southern League this month when he was promoted from Class AA Pensacola to AAA Rochester. Three games into his season at the highest minor league level, the Twins had a need, and Arraez got the call.
“He’s a really fun player. He’s got tremendous bat-to-ball skills from the left side. He’s just a talented guy with the bat in his hands,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Arraez, who has never posted an on-base percentage lower than .345. “It’s a very natural thing when he steps to the plate — what to do, how to handle pitches.”
It’s a talent his father taught him in Venezuela beginning when he was 3. His father strung a baseball from the ceiling, and Arraez would swing at it for hours, he said, trying to emulate his hero, longtime MLB outfielder Endy Chavez. Arraez, a second baseman for most of his career who can also play third base or shortstop, doesn’t have much power — just six home runs in six minor league seasons — but he hits a lot of doubles and has drawn nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He has hit better than .300 in each of his minor league seasons except 2018, when he batted .298.
Now he’ll get a chance to see if that hitting talent translates to the major leagues. Baldelli said he plans to use Arraez this weekend, to give his infielders a day off.
“I’m excited. I’m happy. I’ve been working for this,” he said.
Will he be nervous?
“A little nervous because it’s baseball and baseball is really hard,” Arraez said. “I enjoy every day, the game, because baseball is a beautiful sport.”
The Twins’ roster remake, caused by injuries to Mitch Garver and Nelson Cruz and the return of Miguel Sano, comes with a couple of side effects. It means more time in the outfield for Marwin Gonzalez, and less time in the infield for Willians Astudillo.
“We’re going to see Marwin all over the field, not just at third base,” where he filled in while Sano was on the injured list, Baldelli said. “Truthfully, I think it’s something he enjoys, something he’s been waiting for. For a guy that can do so many things, I don’t want to say it was boring, but playing one position, I don’t know if it’s as fulfilling for him.”
Gonzalez played first base on Thursday, and left field on Friday. Outfield starts will be more frequent, now that Jake Cave has been optioned to Rochester, because the Twins are carrying only three regular outfielders.
Astudillo, meanwhile, was behind the plate on Friday, and probably won’t play any other positions until Garver returns from an ankle sprain. He’s spent time in the outfield and at three infield positions this season, but “we can’t ask him to catch and then stick him at third and then catch the next night,” Baldelli said. “It’s not something that’s viable.”