Let’s pause for one second on Luis Arraez’s ninth inning plate appearance against the New York Mets on Tuesday.
With one out and the Minnesota Twins down 3-2, Jonathan Schoop fouled off a 98 mph fastball from Mets closer Edwin Diaz and swung and missed at another 98 mph delivery. Then he clutched his ribcage and was removed from the game with a mild abdominal strain.
In came Arraez, already down 0-2 in the count.
Diaz, the Mets closer, is what the baseball cognoscenti call “effectively wild.” His fastball sits at 98-99 mph, can touch 100 and he throws it scattershot around the strike zone. It works well enough that he earned an All-Star bid last season, and the Mets absorbed the Robinson Cano contract from the Seattle Mariners to get him — and dealt away old friend Anthony Swarzak as part of that package, by the way.
Given the situation, the plate appearance should have been over in an instant. It’s almost not worth the time it takes for the hitter to get ready, walk up to the plate and then walk back. But Arraez turned the at-bat into an encore. He fouled off the first three pitches he saw, took the next two, fouled the next one off and took another to work a full count.
Then he fouled off a 92 mph slider, the first off-speed pitch he saw, and then took a 99 mph fastball to draw a walk.
“He has some things that very few people in the world have. I don’t know how many people in the entire world could have the at-bat that he had last night. I mean that. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic here,” said Rocco Baldelli, effusive in his praise of the 22-year-old rookie.
“It’s not that surprising, because he’s had that at-bat against other people many times over. But the specifics of what happened in the game and how it played out, they were pretty cool.”
Arraez is slashing .385/.450/.510 this season, and has been used primarily as a utility man, so he’s used to unique situations. But this one stands out given the count and where it took place in the game, which the Mets ultimately won despite Arraez’s efforts.
“It’s obviously extremely difficult, but the manager trusted me,” Arraez said after the game, adding that he took a couple swings in the cage during the seventh inning before heading back to the dugout looking for an opportunity to pinch hit.
“I watched a couple of videos of him before the game in the video room, and then it happened that tonight, I got that chance. I think that it was a good at-bat.”
The plate appearance was illustrative of the season Arraez has had. He hasn’t cooled off since being called up on May 18, and has performed in any situation the Twins have put him in.
With Jorge Polanco at short, Jonathan Schoop at second and Miguel Sano at third, plus one of the best outfields in baseball, there isn’t much room for Arraez currently. And as far as utility men go, Marwin Gonzalez has played all over and hit well, while Ehire Adrianza is having a career year.
But in a year things could change. Schoop, 27, is on a one-year, $7.5 million prove-it deal. While he’s two years removed from being an All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles, he struggled last season after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and likely won’t be retained by the Twins next year — either because he gets a large offer or because he looked like the player he was in Wisconsin. He’s hitting .182/.250/.455 in the last seven days, which may be injury related, but his .258/.308/.468 line means he isn’t where he was in his final full season in Baltimore.
Arraez may slot in as the second baseman next season. Or he could replace Adrianza as the utilityman. Or be traded. The obvious downside to trading him is that he is under team control for the foreseeable future, Adrianza is 29 and they could try him as the second baseman next year knowing they have Gonzalez as their utilityman for one more year.
Baldelli has pointed to his minor league stats as an indicator that his current performance is not a fluke. Arraez, who signed as a 17 year old out of Venezuela, has hit .331/.385/.414 across six minor league seasons. He tore his ACL in 2017 and only played three games in Fort Myers that year, but was still added to the 40-man roster a year later.
“We’re talking about a guy who’s a .330 career hitter since the day he signed. I don’t believe this is anything that’s a flash in the pan,” said Baldelli. “He forces the pitcher to make really good pitches. He’s not a tall guy, he’s crouched over pretty good, he sees the ball really well, he doesn’t expand very, very often and he finds ways to get the barrel on the ball.
“That’s just the kind of hitter that is going to spray line drives all over the field regardless of whatever level he’s at. That’s who he is as a player to his core and what he’s going to bring to the table whether he’s hot or hitting whatever he is now or not, that’s the kind of at-bats that’s he’s going to have.”
Arraez was not listed as a top-10 prospect this season. He wasn’t projected to be an impact hitter like Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff. But he’s taken advantage of his opportunity with the Twins, and forced them to think of a role for him going forward despite having a playoff-ready roster this season.