The Milwaukee Brewers have had some type of competition at each of the first three positions that we have previewed so far for 2018. That is not the case at shortstop. When Orlando Arcia was first called up to the big leagues in the summer of 2016, he was arguably the most-hyped Brewers prospect since Ryan Braun debuted back in 2007. The wiry shortstop began his career as a relatively anonymous international signee out of Venezuela back in 2010 but it didn’t take long until he began drawing notice within the organization. By the beginning of the 2015 season he had started appearing on national top-100 prospect lists, and after a stellar campaign that year at Biloxi, he was considered by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as one of the top-10 prospects in all of baseball entering 2016.
Arcia’s initial big league trial didn’t go quite as well as hoped, as he could manage only a .219/.273/.358 slash (64 wRC+) across 55 games during August and September of 2016. Things perked up last year during his first full season in the big leagues, however. Arcia got off to a bit of a slow start but his bat began to catch fire in the middle of May and he rode a nearly two-month hot streak into the All-Star break. He cooled down a bit as the summer wore on, but ultimately ended the season with a much-improved .277/.324/.407 batting line while accumulating 548 plate appearances, though that still checked in at a below-average 85 wRC+. Orlando slugged a surprising 15 home runs (perhaps aided by the juiced ball) and stole 14 bases.
Peripherally, not a whole lot was different from 2016 to 2017 for Arcia. His walk rate essentially remained static at 6.9%, but he did cut his strikeout rate by about three points down to 18.9%. A five percent boost in hard contact helped his BABIP rise from .267 to .317, but he hit for less power overall (.139 ISO dropped down to .130). Arcia is an aggressive - and perhaps a bit undisciplined - hitter, and it shows in his approach at the plate. He swung at 38.7% of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone last season, the 11th-highest total among qualified MLB hitters. He was also among league leaders in another dubious category - swinging strike rate. Arcia swung-and-missed 13% of the time last season, nearly three points worse than the league average.
For what Arcia may lack with the bat, he’s certainly shown he’s capable of making up for with his glove. With outstanding range and a plus arm, Arcia often made the difficult plays look like second nature - although he did experience a few mental lapses on routine plays, but that should be cleaned up as he becomes more seasoned at the big league level. On the whole, Arcia registered +6 Defensive Runs Saved, fifth-most among qualified MLB shortstops, and +6.8 Fielding Runs Above Average, which was the fourth-highest total among shortstops.
So long as Arcia can maintain - or improve upon - his already excellent glovework, he should have quite a high floor as a player. Even when accounting for his below-average bat (the league-average shortstop posted an 88 wRC+ in 2017), Baseball-Reference valued his contributions last year at 2.6 WAR, while Baseball Prospectus gave him 3.4 wins above replacement player.
In order for Milwaukee’s 23 year old shortstop to take the next step as a ball player, he’ll need to refine his approach at the plate and become more of an on-base threat. Given that he’s never walked at higher than a 7.7% clip at any level of full season ball, though, that seems like a lot to ask of Arcia. Last season was also the first at any level of pro ball that he’s cracked the double-digit home run threshold, too, so it’s tough to gauge whether he will be able to maintain that type of power going forward. More long balls than ever were hit league wide last season, and with a mandate being discussed that would require all 30 teams to install humidors in order to standardize baseball storage by 2019, home runs may not continue flying out of the park at quite the same rate. For what it’s worth, Arcia had only one full month in 2017 where he posted a wRC+ of greater than 100 - June, when he checked in with a 116 mark. In the season’s other five months, his offensive output fluctuated between 61 wRC+ and 93 wRC+.
Even if Arcia isn’t able to become more patient and his offensive contributions remain at about the same level going forward, his ability in the field should help to make him a consistent threat to produce 3-4 WAR per season. That’s probably about as much as we should reasonably hope for out of Orlando in 2018, which would still be extremely valuable, of course. Arcia is a very good player, right now in his current form.
Arcia’s primary backup at shortstop figures to be Eric Sogard, who is also competing for more regular playing time over at second base. Prior to last season, Sogard has never brought much to the plate offensively, but he’s steady with the glove all around the infield. He’s played 667.2 MLB innings at the six and has been valued at -2 DRS, which isn’t anything that is of great detriment to the team. Hernan Perez is also capable of manning shortstop if need be, and has made 10 appearances (six starts) at the position over the last two seasons.
In the Minors
Mauricio Dubon was mentioned in the second base preview, and he also fits in here as the most MLB-ready shortstop capable player Milwaukee has in the minors. With Isan Diaz no longer in the org, upper-level shortstop prospect depth is a bit lacking after that. Angel Ortega is more of a slick-fielding, light-hitting type, and he spent most of last season manning the six in AA. Further on down the ladder, Jean Carmona enjoyed a solid DOSL debut after signing as an international free agent in the summer of 2016.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference
Will Orlando Arcia win multiple Gold Gloves in his career?
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