MINNEAPOLIS -- Teams don't deploy infield shifts against Luis Arraez, because frankly, it's likely to be an exercise in futility.
Since earning his first callup to the Major Leagues on May 18, the 22-year-old has showed an uncanny feel for the strike zone and bat-to-ball ability far beyond his years. His knack for finding gaps in the defense has been his calling card throughout his career, ever since he grew up as a young player in Venezuela watching the similarly light-hitting Endy Chavez.
Two years ago, Arraez hit .335/.382/.445 as a 19-year-old while playing for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League, and the fans in Valencia, Venezuela, recognized Arraez's ability to spray the ball to all fields by giving him the nickname "La Regadera" -- "The Sprinkler."
Arraez will wear that nickname on the back of his jersey during Players' Weekend this season from Aug. 23-25, as announced by MLB and the MLB Players Association on Tuesday.
"Just the fans down there, because I used to obviously hit a lot and spray the ball all over the field," Arraez said. "It was mostly the fans."
Major League pitching has done nothing to abate the relentless spray of baseballs from Arraez this season, who has taken Minneapolis by storm in reaching base in 41 of his 45 games with a plate appearance as a rookie in 2019. He entered Tuesday hitting .356/.429/.444 and was the second-fastest player in club history to 50 hits -- trailing only Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
In fact, though Miguel Sano got the heroics with his walk-off homer on Monday, it was Arraez that set up the win by sprinkling a pair of singles to left field. His two-out, bases-loaded single off Braves starter Mike Soroka in the fourth inning gave the Twins the lead and was the club's first bases-loaded hit since July 14. Arraez's two-out single in the ninth inning gave Sano the chance to win the game.
"I don't think he's affected by the pressure of being here or anything that goes along with it," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Regardless of what game we are playing, who we are playing, when were are playing it. I think he is good to go. He's a pretty relaxed, even-keeled, cool customer. He's a ballplayer."
Arraez had originally been called up for a temporary stint with the Twins due to significant injury attrition on the roster, but he returned on June 18 and he has simply provided too much value for the Twins to send him back to the Minors. According to FanGraphs, Arraez has been worth 1.4 WAR in only 47 games -- ahead of established players like Marwin Gonzalez, Eddie Rosario, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron.
Because of that, Arraez has essentially wrested control of an everyday role on the Twins, with his ability to spray the ball working effectively to complement the power potential everywhere else in the lineup.
He has started all but three of the Twins' games since the beginning of July, and the Twins have even moved him into the outfield at times -- where he had minimal experience entering the season -- to keep his bat in the lineup.
“I think to trust a young player who has essentially never been out there before in Major League games, especially important games towards the end of the year, I think it says a lot about the trust that we have in him and the trust that we have in him as a person and as a player and as a contributor to this team,” Baldelli said.
Wade, Astudillo to begin conditioning
LaMonte Wade Jr. took fly balls in the outfield and Willians Astudillo took early batting practice before Tuesday night's game against the Braves, and both players are expected to soon head to Florida for an extended period of conditioning to get back into game shape.
"You can run guys through workouts up here early in the day and get a good workout in and get all of your rehab in, but being down in Florida and really sweating it out, it's challenging down there and it really kind of gets you into shape at a different level," Baldelli said.
Astudillo has been on the 10-day injured list since June 27 with a left oblique strain, but he has remained with the club through his extended absence from the field. Wade Jr. was placed on the injured list on July 7 after dislocating his right thumb when he crashed into the outfield wall.
"I think [Wade is] getting there to where he can work through some things and he can take part in a lot of baseball activity," Baldelli said. "It's encouraging. Him, along with Astudillo, are going to soon be down in Florida, sweating it out and getting back into game shape. We'll start down there before we're going to decide where they're going to play their games and when."