Arraez ‘looking Forward’ To Twins’ Utility Role (www.mlb.com)

MINNEAPOLIS —

loved patrolling the outfield as a Little League player. It’s a totally different stage in the big leagues, of course, but if it comes to that, Arraez is more than ready to get back out there.

Of the Twins’ position players, the 23-year-old Arraez faces the most uncertainty as a result of the signing of Andrelton Simmons to a one-year, $10.5 million contract last month. Once the club’s everyday second baseman, Arraez is now a utility player, expected to bounce around between second, third, shortstop and left field.

He doesn’t seem too bothered by it.

“I’m really happy to be here, to be back, and I’m really happy for the acquisition,” Arraez said. “[Simmons is] a good acquisition. He’s a good addition to our team. I’m happy about that, and really, nothing has changed.”

Arraez said he hasn’t yet spoken with manager Rocco Baldelli specifically about what kind of split he should expect in playing time between the various positions, and he also isn’t sure how his time will be divided between working with the infielders and with the outfielders this Spring Training.

But looking around the Twins’ roster, it seems more likely that the brunt of Arraez’s early opportunities in the regular season could come at third base or in left field. Josh Donaldson is ramping up from a mostly lost season due to calf injuries and the Twins could opt to take things easier on him, while it remains to be seen whether the club is ready to hand the Opening Day left field job to star prospect Alex Kirilloff.

There shouldn’t be any shortage of opportunity, and that’s something Baldelli assured Arraez when the pair connected in the wake of Simmons’ signing. Not only does Donaldson’s injury history come into play, but newly minted second baseman Jorge Polanco played through injury last season and is coming off ankle surgery in consecutive offseasons. Former utility player Marwin Gonzalez ranked seventh and fifth on the team in plate appearances, respectively, in 2019 and ’20.

Plus, it’s in the Twins’ best interest to have Arraez’s bat in the lineup often, considering his career .331/.390/.429 batting line and that he has the lowest whiff rate in the Majors (7.9 percent) among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances over the last two seasons.

“Whatever [Baldelli is] going to need me this year [for], I’m going to be ready,” Arraez said. “I’m going to be 100 percent and I know I can play left field, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

There’s no question that Arraez is comfortable at second, short and third, but his numbers in left field weren’t pretty in his first taste of the position as a professional in 2019, when he learned it on the fly in the wake of injuries around the roster. He was worth minus-3 Outs Above Average in limited action that year, per Statcast.

Arraez is still eager to continue his development. The departed Eddie Rosario and Gonzalez were both helpful to him in 2019 as native Spanish speakers who could play the outfield, and he also cited coaches Tony Diaz and Tommy Watkins and center fielder Byron Buxton as helpful influences. Gonzalez’s example should continue to serve Arraez well as the younger Venezuelan takes over the super-utility role.

“Marwin is a living example for me,” Arraez said. “He plays all of those positions like it’s natural. Obviously, it is. In all of those positions, he works really hard at his craft, and it shows. He’s someone that I keep in contact with, and I try to pick his brain and learn from him. He’s someone that I look forward to learning from from afar about playing all of those different positions.”

That development process has already begun, as Arraez was among a handful of early reports to Twins camp in Fort Myers, Fla., ahead of the full-squad workout date on Tuesday because he’s based there with his wife and two daughters. He’s been hard at work since December to strengthen his problematic knees with a weightlifting program designed to fortify the joints and ligaments, and he’s confident that added durability will help him be whatever the team needs — wherever the team needs him.

“‘Whatever you need me to do, I’m going to be ready,'” Baldelli remembered Arraez saying. “‘Any time I’m in the lineup, wherever I’m playing, I’m happy. You know that. I’m going to be ready to go.’ So it makes things easier on the staff and on the organization when you have guys with that kind of character who are willing to do anything to win.”

“I don’t think it’s going to affect me at all,” Arraez said. “I’m looking forward to coming to camp and just work really hard on my craft and getting better every day, and my job is going to be my job. At the end of the day, whatever it’s going to be, I’m just looking forward to working hard.”

Source link