With the Minnesota Twins mired in a third straight slog of a season, it’s more than tempting to look for a silver lining in the storm. Sure, help is on the way, but the team is, for now, far from contention in even the tepid AL Central. They have substantial obstacles to reasserting themselves as a good team, on both a micro and a macro level, both structurally and on a lesser level.

Coming into the season, Twins fans probably expected–should, logically, have expected–that Aaron Hicks would be the signal man, the forward thrust of the prospect surge that will, in due time, buoy them back to the top tier of the league. The front office, after all, traded two incumbent center fielders for pitching prospects over the winter, and plugged Hicks into the void. Hicks is 23, and clearly, those in charge felt that he had little left to learn in the minor leagues, and that he deserved both the opportunity and the challenge of playing every say in the Majors.

Hicks has failed to meet that expectation. He’s struggled almost without interruption, and while there remains hope for him, he’s been a disappointment.

Oswaldo Arcia has assumed Hicks’s mantle. He has become the tip of the prospect spear for Minnesota. He’ll never be the star, never the savior, but he has a chance to be the dove after the flood. He mashed his way to the parent club, and despite a couple prolonged slumps, he’s proved himself there.

What he has done as a 22-year-old is impressive, and although his statistical profile offers cause to tap the brakes before speeding into a lovefest with his future, Arcia is, for me, an everyday corner outfielder, one capable of usurping Hicks altogether as the third guy in an outfield with elite prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. I want to talk about what Arcia is, what I think he will be, and what his limited performance data in MLB can tell us.

I attended Oswaldo Arcia’s big-league debut this April, at Target Field. His physicality made a quick impression with me. I had heard a bit about him, but mostly about his hit tool and limited explosion or athleticism. Yet, Arcia (who stands six feet and weighs 220 pounds, per Baseball-Reference) seemed like a guy with strength on his side, and who could generate real bat speed.

And he did, and he can. Although over-the-fence power didn’t show up in spades for him in the minor leagues (134 doubles and triples on his way up the chain, only 63 homers), it was probably always there. It’s certainly there now. There’s not a ton of lift in Arcia’s swing, but there’s plenty of violence, and the ball will fly so long as he continues to barrel it with hard swings. He’s also learning to go for the jugular sometimes, clearing his hips sooner and letting the bat fly a bit. As a result, he already has 20 home runs between Triple-A and the Majors this year, a career-high figure, and 10 (against 13 doubles and two triples) with the Twins alone.

I also saw the hit tool, right away. He might never hit .300, but Arcia should be an easy .270 hitter. He delivers the bat to the ball quickly. The length in his swing, though not inconsiderable, comes inside the hitting zone, not in his load phase. Strikeouts might be a problem due to his approach, but will never be so because he will be overwhelmed by stuff.

Arcia didn’t play the whole game, on that first frigid night of his career. His final impression with me, though, came when he got his first look at a left-handed pitcher in the big leagues.

It was a key situation, runners on base and two outs. Arcia batted against Michael Roth, a rookie in his own right who relies on deception in a major way. His delivery is such that the ball seems, and probably seems very much to left-handed batters, to come right off his shoulder. He does not throw hard, so mostly, he’s trying to fool batters into swinging late and reaching for pitches moving off the plate.

Arcia simply didn’t let him do so. Roth’s first pitch was a slider meant to slide off the outside corner, but Arcia didn’t let it get there. His swing allows him to contact the ball well out in front of home plate even when squaring it or even hitting the ball the other way, and he got wood to rawhide before the ball could get away from the sweet spot.

Mike Trout ran down the resulting line drive to end the inning, but what Arcia showed with that swing stuck with me, and Arcia has kept right on going.

Oswaldo Arcia, Platoon Splits, 2013

V RHP1815119.320.216113
V LHP90302.411.136122

Now, those are radical numbers. Those are numbers you only get before the violent variance of small initial samples begins to relent and things smooth out.

That said, I don’t think those stats are a lie. I think they’re simply an exaggeration, a truth told a bit too loudly. Arcia really can and will mash right-handed pitching. That’s very real. I’m not sure his strikeout or walk rates will stay as high as they are in his first 181 plate appearances against righties, but the overall level of production is right.

Those goofy stats against southpaws tell a more interesting story. The picture they paint is of a guy who employs extreme aggressiveness to counteract an inability to recognize pitches early or to control the strike zone well when facing same-handed pitching. His power takes a hit, but only because he’s using more of an opposite-field approach. Arcia is starting his swing sooner, but not overrotating his hips, and is looking to hit the ball hard to whichever part of the field the proffered pitch suggests.

He’s swinging and missing a lot right now. He’s chasing way too often. An adjustment is necessary, but he’s young yet. Arcia is going to hit lefties, with moderate power, throughout his prime. He just isn’t going to draw a lot of walks or make a ton of contact in those at-bats.

Lineup balance is as important as it’s ever been. Every team has relievers who can shred a string of right- or left-handed batters with vicious sliders and good velocity, even if they lack any command. The Twins have Joe Mauer in place, but with Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier apparently now medium-term fixtures and Buxton and Sano on the way, they needed another lefty hitter who can keep opposing managers honest and force opposing starters to use their whole arsenal. Oswaldo Arcia is the first reinforcement to reach the front lines, joining Mauer. More is coming.

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