Despite limited expectations, Brewers top prospect shortstop Orlando Arcia’s bat was still underwhelming in 2016. In his 55-game first stint with the big club, Arcia managed just a .219/.273/.358 batting line and struck out in 21.8 percent of his plate appearances. Arcia’s down year shouldn’t be much of a concern. Besides the fact that he was a glove-first prospect from the beginning, Arcia was the sixth-youngest player in the National League last season, and growing pains thus were to be expected.
At just 22 in 2017, Arcia will still be a long way from his peak. But while it would be unfair to expect him to set the world on fire, Brewers fans should and will still expect growth. What would a successful season look for the shortstop as he looks to cement his place as one of the cornerstones of the rebuilding Milwaukee franchise?
If Arcia can just manage to perform well enough to keep a starting spot for the full season, he’ll accomplish a rare feat. Just 18 shortstops have appeared in 100 games at age 22 or younger since the 2000 season. Six of those have come in the past two seasons — Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Ketel Marte, Francisco Lindor, and Xander Bogaerts. Of the other 12, only one (Ruben Tejada) has failed to appear in an All-Star team. The dozen shortstop prodigies of the new millennium averaged a whopping 2.4 All-Star appearances in their careers. The full list by year, from Baseball-Reference:
Included on this list are some of the best bats in the history of the shortstop position, including Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. Arcia doesn’t need to reach anywhere near that level to find himself on a favorable path, which is good, becuase Arcia simply doesn’t possess that power. His models will be the defensive-minded shortstops on this list like J.J. Hardy (.711 OPS in 2005), Elvis Andrus (.708 OPS in 2011) and perhaps the ultimate pipe dream for Brewers fans pondering Arcia’s future, Rafael Furcal (.776 OPS).
Arcia was a quality contact hitter throughout his time in the minors, something he struggled with in his short time in the majors. If he can adjust to major league pitching and rediscover his contact hitting ways, an improvement over last year’s .631 OPS is inevitable. But that alone won’t be enough to make him a great hitter. He’ll have to find discipline like Furcal did (73 walks,
13.4 walk percentage) to jump into the next level that Brewers fans are hoping for.
But even if he doesn’t, there’s a lot to be optimistic about even among the players who had poor offensive seasons as 22-year-olds. Elvis Andrus has turned his speed and defense combination into an eight-year career as Texas’s starting shortstop and showed players with his skillset deserve patience by posting a career year in 2016. Cristian Guzman played in 11 seasons and appeared in two All-Star games in the 2000s, all despite managing double-digit home runs just once in a homer-happy era. Even Cesar Izturis, who only topped a .700 OPS once in 13 seasons, managed a long major league career on the merit of his excellent defense.
Brewers fans would be understandably disappointed if Arcia’s career winds up comparable to Izturis’s, even if that would be a player any minor league system should be proud to produce. But unless Arcia comes out and totally tanks in 2017, that should be considered a worst case scenario. Arcia is already a rare player, talented enough to take over at shortstop at just 22 years old. If he shows even the slightest of improvements at the plate in 2017, his future should be considered extremely bright.