Luis Arraez, the sweet-swinging Twins utility man, wants fans to know two things about him as he chases his first American League batting title.
First, despite what you may have seen in a just-released Twins video, Arraez doesn’t take his bat to bed and sleep in his uniform. The video’s conceit stems from that old baseball adage, “he can hit falling out of bed” – as in, a hitter so talented he could seemingly stagger to the plate half-asleep and still lace line drives. That’s Arraez, 25, who enters the All-Star break leading the majors in batting (.338) and on-base percentage (.411)
Second, on the road Arraez keeps a smaller version of his game bat in his hotel room to practice his swing. He says he spends 10 to 20 minutes a day on it, aiming at the top of a tee without a ball to keep his eyes sharp.
“I never sleep with my bat,” Arraez said. “I just take it to the hotel and do my routine every day.”
Arraez’s diligence, work ethic and true-to-himself approach are earning him respect throughout baseball – at least, among those who have seen him play. Nationally, Arraez remains an unknown among a wide swath of fans who never watch the Twins and couldn’t find Minnesota on a map.
That may change if left-handed-batting Arraez does anything noteworthy in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. He and center field starter Byron Buxton will represent the AL Central-leading Twins, both for the first time.
MLB opponents are well aware of Arraez’s uncanny ability to put bat to ball. In a homer-happy era where strikeouts are accepted as part of the deal, Arraez is a throwback; a contact hitter to all fields who rarely swings and misses.
Since debuting with the Twins in 2019, Arraez has struck out only 8.9 percent of the time, the lowest rate of anyone in Major League Baseball with at least 1,000 plate appearances, per FanGraphs. A memorable at-bat against hard throwing New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz on July 16, 2019, when Arraez replaced an injured Jonathan Schoop with an 0-2 count and worked out an 11-pitch walk, offered an early glimpse of his marvelous eye and bat control.
Word quickly spread. When current Twins teammate Gary Sanchez caught for the Yankees, he took a novel approach to trying to get him out – as in, he barely tried.
“We only played them twice a year, so we didn’t face him a lot,” Sanchez said through Twins interpreter Elvis Martinez. “But I knew he always put a good swing on the ball and didn’t chase bad pitches. He fights all his at-bats to the end, so I didn’t want him to get 10 pitches out of my starting pitcher when I was catching, then get the hit anyway. So I just asked for fastballs down the middle.”
Because Arraez hits the ball to all fields, most teams barely shift against him. Over the weekend the White Sox played him straightaway in the outfield and positioned infielders close to their traditional positions. No sticking the second baseman in short right field and swinging the shortstop around to the other side of second.
“One of the keys to getting outs these days is putting defenders right where guys hit them,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “Some are pretty reliable where they’re going to hit the ball most of the time, and some are not. He’s not. When you’ve got to cover twice as much territory, more balls are going to fall.”
Twins shortstop Carlos Correa played against Arraez enough with the Astros to appreciate his ability.
“The thing I like the most is, he understands who he is and he doesn’t get away from it,” Correa said. “His work in the (batting) cage is very consistent. He’s trying to work line drives all over the field, not trying to go deep or lift the ball. It’s a good recipe for success in this game, nowadays especially the way pitchers are throwing. He’s trying to hit it where nobody’s at. He’s got the bat control where he can hit line drives wherever he wants to hit them. He’s a pretty special talent.”
Some observers say Arraez reminds them of former batting champions Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn, all left-handed hitters. Others hesitate to go there. A major-league scout who watched Gwynn frequently said Arraez needs a few more years of similar production before he’d consider Arraez in Gwynn’s class. Boggs, whom I covered for a decade at newspapers in New England and greater New York, and Carew were more accomplished fielders than Arraez, who shuttles between first base, second, third and left field. Carew also stole bases in his prime; Arraez doesn’t.
Soon-to-be Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Kaat, in town last Saturday to have his number 36 retired by the Twins, says he sees a lot of similarities to Carew, including the way Arraez shifts around in the batter’s box. But Carew’s longtime pal Tony Oliva, the three-time AL batting champion and another Hall inductee, likens Arraez instead to Cesar Tovar, the versatile 1960s and ‘70s Twins star who once played all nine positions in a game.
“He can do anything he wants with the bat,” Oliva said of Arraez. “If he wants to hit the ball to the opposite field, he can do it any time he wants. If he wants to pull, he can pull. He’s a very smart guy, smart hitter.
“I like his approach. He’s not in much of a hurry. He’s got everything under control. And 90 percent of the time he hits the ball, he hits it right on the nose. You do that, you can go a long way.”
So why isn’t Arraez a major star yet? Several reasons.
Not enough power
Arraez only has five home runs, albeit a career high. Nine players have 20 in the American League alone, including Buxton.
Batting average is so 20th century
In an era of launch angles and batted ball distance, who cares about singles? For years, analytics savants deemphasized batting average as a measure of hitting prowess, relying on newer stats like OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and weighted on-base average (wOBA). Maybe they’re right, but lots of casual fans still appreciate the familiar stats. And with the defensive shifting taking away so many hits, batting .300 is more of an accomplishment than ever.
Little national exposure
According to ESPN the Twins haven’t been on Sunday Night Baseball this season after one appearance in 2021 and none in 2020. None of the most-read national baseball writers live in the Twin Cities, and most people outside of Minnesota pay zero attention to what happens here. Why should they? It’s hard to get worked up over a club that’s lost 18 consecutive playoff games, exited postseason quickly in 2019 and 2020 and struggled to lead baseball’s weakest division at the All-Star break.
Remember: It took the Astros winning the World Series in 2017 (plus the sign-stealing scandal that followed) for fans to learn about Jose Altuve, Correa and George Springer. If Arraez helps the Twins knock off a marquee team in postseason – you know the one (yes the Yankees) – he’ll get his props.
Compared to the NBA, MLB does a lousy job promoting its stars. Until lately the Twins haven’t done much to put Arraez’s name out there. Getting fans at Target Field to “Rise For Arraez” when he bats, a play on his last name, seems easy to incorporate, though it rips off Yankees superstar Aaron Judge’s “All Rise” catchphrase. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time the Twins imported a concept from somewhere else. Ever see the Target Mascot Race?
Arraez said he’s taking a group of eight to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game, including his wife and two young daughters. He just wants to have fun and enjoy the experience. He’s not sweating his lack of notoriety, and neither are his Twins teammates. As second baseman Jorge Polanco said the other day, “People will know him soon.”