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Milwaukee Brewers 2019 preview by position: Shortstop

For years, Orlando Arcia was seen as “the shortstop of the future.” But after three listless MLB seasons, how much longer will he be “shortstop of the present?”

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Arcia can be a truly dazzling player. His range at shortstop, his athleticism, his incredible throwing arm, his flair for the dramatic, and that big, bright grin. So often, he makes baseball look exactly like what it’s supposed to be — a game that is tons and tons of fun. I mean, how many players share a scoop of ice cream with a fan in the middle of a contest?

For most of last year, though, Orlando Arcia was a truly maddening player. In the history of the Milwaukee Brewers/Seattle Pilots franchise, there have been 386 instances of a player taking at least 350 trips to the plate in a given season. Only two of those 386 player seasons — Pat Listach in 1995 (39 wRC+) and Tim Johnson in 1973 (40 wRC+) — have been worse performances than Orlando Arcia at the plate in 2018. In 366 plate appearances last season, Arcia cobbled together a putrid 54 wRC+, the third-worst total in the big leagues among players with at least 350 PA. Only Chris Davis (46 wRC+) and Chris Owings (51 wRC+) were less productive as batters.

It’s one thing to be a defense-first player, which has been Arcia’s reputation even dating back to his days as a well-regarded prospect. But it is something else when you are making a legitimate case for yourself as the worst hitter in baseball. And when you aren’t hitting, the mistakes you make in the field become that much more glaring. Arcia was charged with the 12th-most (tied) total errors in baseball last season with 15, including the eighth-most (tied) throwing errors with nine. While his defensive metrics like DRS (+4) and FRAA (+3.8) still showed solid glovework overall, they viewed him as less valuable in the field than in 2017. In terms of WAR, both Fangraphs (-0.4) and Baseball-Reference (-0.1) rated Arcia as a below-replacement level contributor last season, while Baseball Prospectus (+0.4) had him rated barely above that.

Arcia’s overall play was so poor that the Brewers demoted him to Triple-A twice. First, he lost his job to Tyler Saladino in late May, only to be recalled a few days later after Saladino’s severe ankle injury. He was sent down again for a more lengthy stint in Colorado Springs on July 1st, when his batting line read .197/.231/.251. This time, he would not end up returning again until nearly four weeks later. The acquisitions of Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop should have meant that Arcia would serve as a bench piece and late-inning defensive replacement for the rest of the season, but Schoop’s own ineptitude with the bat opened up another opportunity for Arcia to seize some playing time. Fortunately, this time he was up to the task.

Arcia got into 49 games and accrued 154 plate appearances down the stretch and finally started doing something useful with the bat, hitting .290/.320/.386 for an 89 wRC+. Then, somehow, he became Milwaukee’s best hitter in the playoffs. He posted an .875 OPS in the three-game sweep of Colorado, and then battered Dodger pitching to the tune of a .360/.385/.600 slash during the seven-game series loss. In 10 playoff games, Arcia hit as many home runs — three — as he did in 119 regular season games.

Unfortunately, though, there isn’t much to suggest that Arcia’s strong performance with the bat down the stretch and into the postseason was the result of any positive major changes in approach. He did turn some more ground balls into line drives during the second half, but his 26.1% rate of hard contact was one of the lowest totals in the big leagues. He struck out at about the same high-ish rate (24.1% versus 23.4%) and walked even fewer times (4.2% versus 3.9%). Arcia is one of the most frequent offenders in baseball when it comes to chasing pitches outside the strike zone (38.3% in 2018) as well as swinging-strike rate (14.4%). The most notable difference between his two halves was simply his batting average on balls in play — .253 before the All-Star break, and a whopping .376 afterwards. When looking at the overall picture of Arcia as a hitter, it seems pretty plain: he got lucky.

Orlando Arcia’s defensive contributions have been good and, at times, great during his three seasons playing in the Menomonee Valley. But he has yet to demonstrate that he can adjust to big league pitching nor has he shown that he can be even an average hitter at the game’s highest level. At 24, he’s obviously still very young and has time yet to figure things out for his career. With his ability at the six, Arcia doesn’t need to hit very much to provide positive value for his team. But he does need to be a lot closer to the 86 wRC+ he posted in 2017 than the 65 and 54 wRC+ marks he’s put up in his other two seasons.

The leash that Arcia has in Milwaukee may be starting to run short, though, as a fully-healthy Mauricio Dubon is fully recovered from his torn ACL and will begin the season as the everyday shortstop in Triple-A San Antonio. Dubon is a player that the organization is very high on both offensively and defensively, and should Arcia struggle again during the season’s early going, don’t be surprised to see Dubon come up and get the opportunity to take over. Tyler Saladino still remains in the mix, as well, and Hernan Perez has also played plenty of shortstop during his four seasons in Milwaukee. Plus, Cory Spangenberg has been taking some reps there this spring in preparation for a super-utility role.

In the Minors

Dubon is obviously the organization’s most advanced shortstop prospect and barring another unforeseen injury, he should see time with the Milwaukee Nine this coming season. After him, Jake Hager, Nate Orf, and Blake Allemand can provide some shortstop depth, though all three profile more as utility players than regulars at the six. Further on down in the minors one will find Luis Aviles, Jr, Korry Howell, and 2018 first-rounder Brice Turang.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus