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Orlando Arcia is still figuring out how to hit

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He’s still as young as a typical MLB-ready prospect - and learning on the fly.

Orlando Arcia Learning How to Hit a Baseball
Maybe we have yet to see anything like Orlando Arcia’s best.
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Arcia too quickly graduated from ‘Brewers Top Prospect and Primary Hype Generator’ to ‘Grizzled Vet whose Weaknesses Many People Generally Accept as Permanent Reality.’ Many well-read Brewers fans have already jumped aboard the Keston Hiura bandwagon; fair, given his own pedigree as the 9th overall pick in 2017 and the minor league slash line backing it up. Hiura might be the new Most Exciting Prospect on the roster — but many have understandably dulled their expectations for his neighbor on the other side of second base who has graduated from prospect status. But he’s yet to approach the ceiling.

Orlando Arcia deserves more than the just-pencil-him-in-at-8-and-anything-offensively-is-a-bonus treatment. It wasn’t long ago he was nearly cracking top 10 prospect lists spanning the entirety of the league. He ranked #12 overall for MLB.com in 2015 and the same for Baseball Prospectus in 2016. Number 11 for Minor League Ball in 2016.

Arcia’s biggest plus as noted on every pre-MLB debut piece of web content is his defense. He’s a natural in every way: range, coordination, arm strength and accuracy. Elite defense more easily transitions to the pros and Arcia has undoubtedly met the expectation.

His projected offensive output was murkier given his approach which leaned free-swinging. His minor league slash rates, while unextraordinary by minor league phenom standards, are nothing to scoff at for a wiry 18-21 year old kid. After a stellar 2015 in AA with an .800 OPS and a batting average on the right side of .300, the prognosticators were glowing.

A solid contact hitter, Arcia has very good reflexes and an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. His eye-hand coordination is above average and he recognizes pitches quickly and responds accordingly using patience and selectivity. Bernie Pleskoff, MLB.com (2015)

Every scout I spoke to about Arcia over the course of the 2015 season used the word improved, or some variation on it, and more than one source called him the most improved offensive player they saw. He has always had solid bat control and the ability to make contact, but he incorporated more of his lower half, and the added strength now allows him to make quality contact to all parts of the field. The swing path is more conducive to line drives, but there’s enough loft and extension for him to hit a handful of homers and put the ball into the opposite-field gap. Baseball Prospectus (2016)

Arcia’s MLB bat has been serviceable overall, but he’s yet to consistently back up these optimistic projections. He followed a solid first full season in 2017 with something of a dud in 2018. The league adjusted to the 23-year-old and he couldn’t adjust back.

So far in 2019 Arcia is showing signs of a bounceback to 2017 production and he’s dialed back the aggressiveness at the plate:

Orlando Arcia plate discipline by year

Year BB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
Year BB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2016 6.9% 37.9% 70.4% 52.8%
2017 6.6% 38.0% 73.7% 54.0%
2018 4.1% 38.4% 70.5% 52.6%
2019 9.0% 30.3% 63.3% 44.8%
Orlando Arcia plate discipline by year Stats courtesy of FanGraphs

He is swinging less. His walk rate sits at a career high. He’s swinger at fewer strikes, which isn’t necessarily a good thing—but he’s swinging at 8% less pitches out of the strike zone (the average major leaguer swings at 67.8% of strikes, so Arcia’s just below average here). Simply taking less pitches does not indicate plate discipline, but it does indicate a conscious adjustment that never happened in 2018. If he can improve his selectivity at the plate and refine the approach to swing at fewer balls only (and maybe...put on 15 pounds of Rickie Weeks muscle?), he may mature his way out of the bottom third of the order within the next couple seasons.

When Arcia was called up in 2016, John Sickels at Minor League Ball wrote:

He’s ready for the majors defensively, but in the short run some troubles with the bat should be anticipated. In the medium and long terms he should settle in as something like a .260-.280 hitter with doubles power.

Sickels’ first sentence was prescient. If his second projection holds and Arcia makes his more disciplined approach a habit, put him in the “elite” category over his prime years.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference