He’s an on-base machine.
He’s one of the best bat-to-ball hitters in the game.
He’s a callback to baseball’s slugging stars of yesteryear.
He’s your dad’s favorite Twin.
He’s Luis Arraez.
Since bursting onto the scene in the summer of 2019, few Twins hitters have been more beloved than the 24-year-old. But with a spotty track record with injuries, a lack of clear defensive fit, and a slew of prospects on the rise, it’s fair to ask: What is Arraez’s long-term role on the Minnesota Twins?
While he has his warts, it’s important to note that Arraez clearly belongs in the major leagues. It’s certainly not a question of whether he can be an effective player.
The Sports Dad Eye Test™ and statistical data tell you the same story in very different languages: Luis Arraez is a hitter.
He grinds out at-bats with the best hitters in the game, evident by the fact that he leads all of baseball with just an 8% swing-and-miss rate when swinging with two strikes. As Sports Dad might say, it’s hard to strike someone out when the guy won’t miss.
That has led to a career strikeout rate of 8.2%, well below league average, and it’s even just below his career walk rate of 8.6%.
That keen eye at the plate makes him the best fit as a traditional leadoff hitter.
And, generally speaking, he’s done a great job when leading off an inning, whether that be the first frame or later on. In those instances, Arraez is batting a whopping .378, good for second-best in all of baseball according to Inside Edge.
Good on-base numbers and a low strikeout rate to start an inning fit the mold of a traditional leadoff hitter. However, Arraez lacks the pop that other elite leadoff guys boast. George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Brandon Lowe have all found much greater success from the leadoff spot thanks to their ability to put one over the fence from time to time. Not surprisingly, all of their respective teams are firmly in the playoff hunt.
Arraez’s .400 career slugging percentage certainly isn’t ugly, but it limits the ceiling as far as how much damage he can do without relying on the hitters around him.
A plethora of other internal options haven’t made Arraez’s leadoff case any easier. Not only does he have competition from other Twins players such as Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler, but three of the team’s top 10 prospects are high-OBP threats and knocking on the door.
The latter two are especially close in Arraez’s rearview mirror. Martin made his pro debut Double-A, partially due to the limits of the COVID-19 pandemic last year but also because he’s a highly-regarded college bat who shouldn’t need extensive seasoning in the minors if all goes to plan. He already has a .424 on-base percentage while playing the same positions as Arraez and some shortstop. While many evaluators don’t believe Martin will ultimately stick around at the keystone position, it’s still more than what Arraez brings to the table defensively.
Miranda has mostly played second and third for the Saints, with a little bit of first mixed in. His bat, however, is better than Lewis and Martin’s. In 30 games at Triple-A, he has an unbelievable .350/.413/.650 slash line. If both Martin and Miranda carry their success into their eventual MLB promotion, it’s going to be very difficult to leave them on the bench in order to fit Arraez into the lineup.
Add them to the growing list of other offensive building blocks such as Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, and Byron Buxton (pending an extension), and Arraez gets pinched pretty hard.
The best bet could be for him to spot-start in the field every now and then while platooning the designated hitter spot with someone along the lines of Miguel Sano or Brent Rooker. For what it’s worth, Arraez’s half of a platoon would be ideal based on his strong numbers against right-handed pitchers (.319 batting average, 113 wRC+).
Sure, it’s hard to get really excited about the prospect of making one of the team’s current best hitters half of a platoon. But the silver lining would be the fact that more exciting young players are pushing him to that spot if things go as planned, which they rarely do. If these big breaks for prospects really end up happening, Sports Dads should just be happy that Arraez is still finding ways to contribute to a new dynamic, young core.