When a player sits atop an organization’s top prospect list for an extended period of time, expectations are going to be created, whether they are realistic or not. Such was the case for Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop Orlando Arcia, who spent two years as the team’s #1 prospect and was considered a top 20 prospect across the entire MLB when he was called up for the first time last August.
After winning the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2015 following a stellar season with the AA Biloxi Shuckers, there were cries from some fans as well as the local beat writer for Arcia to skip AAA ball entirely and head directly to the big leagues to start the 2016 season. Milwaukee astutely assigned Arcia to AAA Colorado Springs instead, where some of the sheen wore off from his outstanding performance the year before. After posting an .800 OPS in Biloxi, Orlando’s OPS tumbled nearly 80 points to .723 in 440 plate appearances with the Sky Sox despite playing in one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in the minor leagues. His strikeout rate increased, his walk rate fell, and his demeanor was described as “disinterested” by some scouts who watched him play. Nonetheless, Milwaukee called up the young shortstop following last summer’s trade deadline to allow him to finish out the season at the big league level.
In the face of great suppositions about his future, ‘underwhelming’ would be an apt description of Arcia’s first trial in the major leagues. From his debut on August 2nd through the end of the season, the shortstop took 216 turns at the plate and could manage only a .219/.273/.358 slash line (66 OPS+). An anemic .267 BABIP can be attributed more largely to a poor batted-ball profile (24% soft contact, 25.3% hard) than it can be to simple bad luck. MLB pitchers exploited Arcia to the tune of a 14.5% swinging strike rate and 21.8% strikeout rate, nearly twice his K rate during his minor league career. He did slug 4 home runs and steal 8 bases, but he drew a free pass in only 6.9% of his plate appearances. Even his signature defense, which had always been his calling card throughout his time coming up, failed to live up to billing (-1 DRS, -2.8 UZR, +3.9 FRAA).
Though it feels like he’s been around the organization forever, Arcia is still just 22 years old so there is plenty of time for him to adjust to the challenges he encountered in The Show. He told the Journal Sentinel that he’s working on improving his two-strike approach and he’s been spending time with hitting coach Darnell Coles on a daily basis to fine-tune his swing mechanics. He remains confident in himself and his abilities, not allowing his struggles last season to affect his belief about whether or not he belongs in the major leagues. Given his minor league pedigree, Arcia should get a rather lengthy leash to prove he can hack it as the regular shortstop for the Brewers during the upcoming season.
The profile for Orlando will never be one with tremendous offensive upside. He has never walked much and doesn’t figure to be much of an on-base threat, so he’ll have to improve his contact rates and batting average in order to be a viable member of the lineup. He could be a 20+ stolen base threat and will probably top out around 8-12 home runs on an annual basis. So long as his glovework proves up to snuff, an OPS in the range of .700+ on a consistent basis should allow Arcia to be an above-average starter at the 6.
If Arcia cannot find his bat during the upcoming season and fails to lock down the starting job, the most logical decision would be to move the man he displaced, Jonathan Villar, back to shortstop. Villar has already done plenty to prove he’s a capable regular with the bat and accured +5 defensive runs saved at short last season. Hernan Perez is also able to play short, though he hasn’t been there much in recent seasons and he figures to bounce around the diamond in a super-utility role this season.
On the Farm
Slick-fielding Yadiel Rivera may be nearly as skilled with the glove at shortstop as Arcia, but he has never proven he can hit in the minors or majors...Mauricio Dubon, considered one of the club’s top 10 prospects, was acquired from Boston this past winter and should be the starter at AA...mid-minors players Wendell Rijo, Angel Ortega, and Luis Aviles have solid defense profiles, but haven’t shown much with the bat...Isan Diaz and Gilbert Lara are both considered to be good offensive prospects, but scouts think both will eventually have to move off shortstop.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs