Something strange happened on Tuesday night at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins, one of baseball’s best teams, sent out a lineup intent on breaking the home run record and didn’t look quite right because of the absence of a 22-year-old singles hitter few had paid attention to until two months ago.
Something stranger happened with one out in the bottom of the ninth, with the bases empty and Jonathan Schoop at the plate. Schoop swung and missed, then grabbed his ribs, and was removed from the game, leading to the best show of the night.
Luis Arraez went to the plate with an 0-2 count to face 99 mph fastballs from Mets closer Edwin Diaz. He fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then drew a walk while hearing the night’s loudest cheers.
The Twins would strand him on third and lose 3-2, but in eight pitches, Arraez demonstrated how he has risen so quickly and, perhaps, so permanently.
While Twins Nation breathlessly awaits the acquisition of a pitcher who may contribute 25 innings while in a Twins uniform, the team has already added a player who could alter their present, 2020 and long-term plans.
“I see me when I came up in 2015,” Eddie Rosario said. “He’s a smart player, a smart hitter.”
It would be wrong to suggest that Schoop has been placed on the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” injured list. Schoop hit a homer earlier in the evening and has produced power this season.
Schoop has done his job, but Arraez energizes the entire team. Here’s how his rise affects the Twins in terms of …
1. Trades: This spring, the Twins signed shortstop Jorge Polanco to a five-year extension, meaning he’s locked up through 2025. Royce Lewis, the organization’s top prospect, currently plays shortstop.
Schoop has contributed at second this season but isn’t long for the organization. Another former top prospect, Nick Gordon, isn’t lighting up Class AAA. Wander Javier, another shortstop prospect, is talented but has been slowed by injuries. And he’s only 20.
If Arraez is good enough to take over as the regular second-baseman this year or next, the Twins will have tremendous middle-infield depth from which to deal.
2. The 2019 season: There is always an air of mystery surrounding a player when he first arrives in the big leagues. It took Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter years to learn how to hit major league pitching.
Arraez has made it look simple. He’s hit .300 everywhere he’s played, regardless of level or location of play, and he immediately proved he can handle big-league velocity and pressure.
He spent the most important series of the season, in Cleveland, batting in the middle of the order and has started games at four different positions. And now he’s likely to take over second base for a couple of weeks, at least.
3. The future: Arraez should become the Twins’ starting second baseman and leadoff hitter next year.
“I think he’s proving himself to be a very valuable major league piece,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get regular at-bats in a major league lineup for a long time. His ability to get on base and manipulate the bat head, his hand-eye coordination, it’s exceptional. Even at the major league level when compared to some of the best guys out there.”
He’s leading the team in hitting and on-base percentage and is second to Mitch Garver in slugging percentage.
Some day, Arraez will slump, but it’s hard to see someone with his bat speed and approach failing over time. At 22, he is proving that production matters more than potential, and the Twins should be altering their trading plans and future lineups to reflect Arraez’s emergence.
“Over this period of time, when we’ve had guys that have been banged up, and guys that have been out, we’re looking to a 22-year-old guy to come in and get the job done,” Baldelli said. “And he is beyond getting the job done.”