Arraez's 'Shake' is a sign he's locked in

April 9th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Surely, you've heard of the Soto Shuffle by now. But how about the Arraez Shake?

He doesn't call it that. There isn't actually an official name for what Twins utility man Luis Arraez does at the plate when he takes a close pitch that he knows to be a ball. Heck, the act doesn't even have a clearly defined form. But, at this point, pitchers around the American League Central likely know it all too well.

Sometimes, it's a vigorous shake of the head, making sure to show the pitcher that Arraez knows he missed the zone. Other times, it's a more subtle gesture. On occasion, when he feels particularly strongly that the pitch is out of the zone, he'll actually yell out loud, "No! No! No! No!" At times, when an umpire calls out where the pitch missed, Arraez will change the shaking of his head into a nod of agreement.

Here's what it all means: Arraez knows the strike zone better than you do. He has so much confidence in that ability and gets so deeply focused at the plate that sometimes, he just can't stop those visceral reactions from slipping out.

"It gives me confidence," Arraez said. "I try to follow the ball until the end to recognize the pitch, know if it’s a strike or a ball. It’s my mechanism and it works for me."

When Arraez approaches the plate, he thinks of the upcoming at-bat as a fight -- him against the pitcher, one on one.

Perhaps that's why nothing about his batting stance is easy or relaxed. When he's in the left-handed batter's box, he crouches, low to the ground. Both elbows are held high, and his chin tucks behind his front shoulder, the bottom of his face partially obscured as the anticipation for the pitch builds.

He's like a spring, ready to violently uncoil with a quick slash of his hands at the ball.

When he doesn't swing, all that buildup needs to go somewhere. When the pitch misses the zone and it isn't particularly close, Arraez doesn't bother dignifying it with a response. Sometimes, his back leg will kick out. At times, he'll suddenly straighten up. Maybe he'll stay in his crouch, staring into space, gradually releasing the buildup.

But when the pitch is close, but he knows it's out of the zone? He makes sure everyone knows it -- that he's won the battle on this pitch.

"No! No! No! No! No!"

"When I say, 'No, no, no,' too hard, I start to talk to the umpire and say, 'Hey, sorry, my bad,'" Arraez said. "But I've got to keep doing it because I stay focused. If I don't do it like that, when I don't shake my head, I start thinking too much. Then, maybe, I strike out too much."

Arraez is listed as 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and he only turned 24 on Friday. But nobody is immune from the vocal youngster's self-umpiring at the plate.

Whether you're Shane Bieber or Kyle Funkhouser, expect to hear Arraez's voice. Doesn't matter if it's an at-bat against a non-roster pitcher in Spring Training or against Zack Greinke in the playoffs -- expect Arraez to shake his head at your pitches for the whole world to see.

"I think he can definitely get in your head," pitcher Taylor Rogers said. "That’s competition, right? It’s a type of trash talk, a mental game in itself. That’s the way he plays, and that’s the type of guy you want to be your teammate. Definitely probably think it’s annoying if you’re on the other side of the ball, but since he’s our teammate, we like it."

"For a pitcher, it's tough when you see a guy like that," José Berríos added. "You say, 'Oh, we've got trouble. He's locked in. He knows what's coming.' When you've got a guy like that on your team, you enjoy it. They make you stay focused on the game, pitch-by-pitch, because he's always got something new.

Arraez thinks he first started doing his shake as a Minor Leaguer in 2017. When asked about Soto's famous shuffle, he claims that he's been doing such things longer than the Nationals megastar. And, like Soto, he does it not only because it helps him lock in, but also as a way of getting into others' heads, too.

"I try to distract the pitcher and the umpire," Arraez said.

It's not a means of disrespect, and anyone that has been around Arraez quickly grows to learn that. When he's not on the field, he's a polite, hardworking, excitable young man who never had the elite athleticism, prospect pedigree or hype to justify anything but putting his head down and grinding.

"He's a gentleman when he has to be," Nelson Cruz said. "He's cocky when he has to be cocky. He's being himself. That makes him a better player, when you can be around and just be you."

Arraez understands that some opposing pitchers may not like it. Heck, he gets it. But he's not going to stop for anybody -- because his foremost duty is to be the best version of himself, and vocalizing his knowledge of the strike zone helps him do that.

"I always have believed that as long as nothing is aimed at the opposition, these guys should be able to have a good time when they step on the field," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "And it's not even necessarily having a good time, because Luis, I think, I don't know where these things come from."

Arraez has grown more comfortable as a big leaguer entering his third season in the Major Leagues. He's started to show off more of his personality by bat flipping walks, striking poses on the basepaths and getting hyped up as he runs the basepaths following his (rare) home runs.

But the Arraez Shake? That's been with him the whole way.

It's tough to argue with the results. He's a career .333/.394/.436 hitter, has finally seized the leadoff role he's eyed throughout his tenure with the Twins, and has drawn comparisons to Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn for his uncanny contact ability and command of the strike zone.

If all that head shaking and shouting help Arraez achieve those results, the Twins are more than happy to watch. He enjoys those theatrics, too -- and he doesn't care who sees it.

"He turns into like a little energetic hitting machine when he's out there, and he almost loses himself, he's so locked into what's going on with the at-bat and in that sort of hitting zone that he finds," Baldelli said. "But when he's at his best, he's in that kind of state, and we fully encourage our guys to find that spot. And Luis, of course, finds that spot a lot.

"And again, that's when he's at his best."