Just like his first season in the major leagues, Luis Arraez took on a new challenge and made it look easy.
Arraez was at the annual Diamond Awards on Thursday night at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel to accept Twins Most Outstanding Rookie honors. But that meant he had to speak, which can be a daunting task for someone using English as a second language in front of a crowd of 800.
Arraez knew the day was coming. He prepared his speech and practiced. Elvis Martinez, the Twins’ communications assistant and translator, was available to help him prepare or execute his speech, but Arraez was determined to make Martinez look more like a bodyguard than a translator.
So the Twins’ second baseman, wearing a black Hugo Boss suit, eased up to the microphone and read his acceptance speech off his smartphone without a hitch, thanking the Twins, thanking the fans and drawing applause at the end as Martinez stood by his side.
“It’s amazing,” Arraez said. “I feel a little scared, but I felt happy too because I can speak a little English and I think everybody understands me. So that’s why I don’t need Elvis anymore.”
After the speech, he sat next to co-host Dick Bremer and answered questions about an amazing rookie season during which he batted .334 in 92 games with a .399 on-base percentage. He joked about not using Martinez, then drew laughs from the audience when Bremer asked him how he was able to walk 36 times while striking out just 29 times after being promoted from the minors.
“I don’t like striking out,” Arraez said with a smile.
Arraez sounded delighted with himself as he spoke about his evening. His performance at the banquet, in a way, compared with his performance on the field in 2019 when he made his major league debut May 18 against Seattle: He was thrown a challenge and made it look easy. He hit .375 in 10 games before being sent back to Class AAA Rochester when Nelson Cruz returned from the injured list.
Even then, the Twins were plotting a way to get Arraez back up to the majors. He was recalled June 18 and never left.
All the tools
A .399 on-base percentage will keep a player in the majors, for sure. But the Twins also were impressed with how Arraez assimilated to the major leagues, on and off the field, faster than any young player in recent years.
“He’s also been one of those guys who, at every level he’s played at, he’s played with prospects who had more notoriety than him,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said, “and he’s outperformed most of them. He did the same thing when he got to the big leagues last year.
“A .399 on-base percentage over a meaningful number of plate appearances. When you go to look at our statistics and sort them — and we had one of the most prolific offenses in this franchise’s history — his name shows up at the top of the list in two categories: average and on-base percentage. That’s pretty remarkable, all things being equal. He’s done it his whole career.”
Speaking of rising to the top, there’s a good chance Arraez leads off for the 2020 BombaSquad, which could be a coveted role if you’re the type who prefers to jog around the bases as a teammate drives you in with a home run. The Twins slugged a major league-record 307 home runs last season and have added another basher in free agent Josh Donaldson. Arraez’s on-base skills would set up the order nicely.
“Ooh, it’s a strong lineup,” Arraez said. “We have a really good defense and my teammates are good people, too. And I want to hit 10 homers this year.”
“I want to stay the same but I think I have more power this year because I’ve been working on it,” he said. “Now I can pull the ball.”
Arraez said he’s lost 12 pounds during the offseason. Part of the weight loss was due to having his wisdom teeth removed and not wanting to eat. But he also worked out to assist in the drop. Twins outfielder Jake Cave saw Arraez on Friday, patted his midsection and said it looked like he had been doing core work.
Arraez also believes he has a better feel for how he’s going to be pitched and will look to jump on certain pitches. He struggled with inside pitches last season, but work with Nelson Cruz has closed that hole in his swing, adding to his confidence that he can turn on and drive more balls.
Keep in mind that Arraez hit six home runs in 367 minor league games before joining the Twins, then hit four bombas in 92 games.
“He brought that up to me, too,” new Twins hitting coach Edgar Varela said of Arraez’s desire to show a little more pop. “The running joke with him was, ‘You find a way to get on base. You have some big boys who are going to drive you in.’
“But he’s done a hell of a job in the weight room and getting stronger. And he has a knack for finding barrels and he’s an intelligent player.”
Based on his seamless transition to the majors and his developing skills as an orator — in English — hitting a few more homers seems possible.
“He’s adjusted and he’s overcome and he’s risen to the top,” Levine said. “I think you’re always hopeful that translates to the major leagues, but I don’t think any of us should be surprised that it did.”