The 2022 season was sour for everyone involved with the Minnesota Twins. From injuries in key positions to a disappointing second half, it felt like nothing good came from the most recent campaign.
That is unless your name was Luis Arraez, of course.
Everything came together this season for Arraez. Consistent playing time and a hot first start raised him into the national spotlight. Arraez slashed .338/.411/.445 with 150 wRC+ during the first half of the season en route to his first career All-Star selection.
Arraez returned to earth a bit in the second half but still finished the season with a nice slash line of .316/.375/.420 with a 131 wRC+. The season ended with Arraez earning his first career batting title.
Arraez’s final slash line earned him some major hardware for the first time in his career. Arraez already has an All-Star appearance and a batting title. Last week, Arraez earned his first-ever Silver Slugger award, which the league gives to the best hitter at each position. This season, he was honored as the junior circuit’s best platoon hitter. Even more impressive for Arraez? He has been this good of a hitter as a player with basically no positional home on his team.
Arraez has been a mainstay on the Twins since making his big league debut with the club in 2019. He is one of the best pure hitters in baseball, Minnesota’s best pure hitter since Joe Mauer. It has allowed Arraez to keep hitting his way into the lineup, even if he has never been able to find a long-term position. Even after his excellent season, what happens to Arraez in 2023?
Coming into 2022, Arraez entered the season platooning as Minnesota’s super-utility player. This was the second season in a row where he has been in this kind of role. Arraez got plenty of at-bats as a spot starter at second and third base and in the corner outfield spots. He added first base to his positional repertoire this season after injuries to Miguel Sanó and Alex Kirilloff. Playing 65 games at first was the most out of any defensive position this season.
The biggest advantage for Arraez has always been the first option to step into the lineup if someone goes down with an injury. However, the Twins expect to have everyone back to start the season. Jorge Polanco is back at second. Kirilloff and José Miranda are options at first base. Miranda and Gio Urshela are third-base options as well. Kirilloff, Max Kepler, and Trevor Larnach should occupy the corner outfield spots. The point is that there’s a bit of a log jam for playing time on the Twins roster between proven veterans and prospects who the Twins hope are part of their young core.
This is a unique problem for the Twins. How often do you have a guy who won the batting title, is a recent AL All-Star, and Silver Slugger winner go back to being just a platoon player? Though it likely won’t be an issue for Arraez. It’s still not a good look to send one of your best hitters to the bench. However, what is hurting Arraez’s ability to find a positional home has been his glove.
Arraez is a great hitter, but his fielding has been too limited in the past to warrant a permanent spot. The issue for Arraez isn’t so much that he can’t field. His .987 career fielding percentage is good for a player with experience at first, second, and third base, along with left field.
But Arraez’s underlying numbers are an issue. He can make the plays in front of him, but his glove suffers because he lacks range. Different fielding stats can mean different things to everyone. However, Arraez is below-average in his career range numbers.
There is a virtue in consistently making the plays like Arraez has. For the Twins, though, their pitching staff could use that extra help in the field with guys who can help prevent as many runs as possible.
One way for Arraez to earn himself a permanent spot in the Twins lineup is for someone to leave the picture. Carlos Correa’s potential exit could put Jorge Polanco at shortstop again and Arraez back at second base. That would likely be more of a short-term move until Royce Lewis returns from injury, and then the Twins would be back in the same spot.
Polanco also could potentially depart. Since he is under a relatively team-friendly deal, that one also seems unlikely unless the Twins have some kind of trade in the works. Miranda and Kirilloff don’t appear to be going anywhere, either.
Arraez might stay in that platoon role because of depth. Sometimes being the potential odd man out never becomes a problem because of possible injuries. Considering the Twins had a rash of injuries last year, it would make sense to have Arraez on hand and be ready to fill in, as he has done before. It’s unlikely as many guys wind up on the shelf as last season, but Minnesota may be more cautious because of it.
Given all of those guys in front of him, it seems like Arraez is returning to his super-utility role in 2023. It’s a good problem for the Twins. They get to decide between a proven hitter in Arraez and their young prospects. However, it still looks awkward that one of your top hitters doesn’t have a permanent home in the lineup every night.
Arraez is Minnesota’s best pure hitter and one of the best pure hitters in baseball. His “see ball, hit ball” ability makes him a great bat for the Twins to balance out the more boom-or-bust hitters. Minnesota needs to find some kind of home for Arraez other than a fill-in guy. Even though his defense has questions, he’s earned the right as a hitter to be an everyday starter.