A period of adjustment is almost expected each time a prospect moves up in baseball’s minor leagues, encountering more advanced and savvier opponents, a reason why even the most promising players can take years to reach the majors.
Christian Arroyo, the Giants’ top hitting prospect, has steadily graduated to a new level every year since being drafted out of high school in 2013 and is now with the River Cats in Triple A, where feeling comfortable appears to have taken him no time at all.
Arroyo, 21, leads the Pacific Coast League in batting average at .479. Through his first 12 career games in Triple A, the infielder was 23 for 48 with a three home runs and four doubles.
In his first at-bat Tuesday, Arroyo tapped his cleats with his bat, settled into the box and deliberately took the first pitch from Salt Lake’s Daniel Wright with a relaxed lift of his left foot. He took two more pitches, a strike and a ball. Then he lined an outside fastball the other way over the right-field wall and into the Sacramento bullpen for a home run.
“I’ve been seeing pitches over the plate, a lot of breaking balls over the plate,” Arroyo said after the River Cats’ 8-2 loss. “But later in counts you’ll see a lot of guys will try to sneak that fastball over the outside corner.
“Usually it’s a pitch you don’t really do too much damage with. In that particular count, though, I was kind of looking for something over the plate and just got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Arroyo went hitless in his final three at-bats, which included one slicing fly ball to right that was dropped and ruled a two-base error. Still, his impressive numbers, including hitting safely in his first 12 games, have not gone unnoticed 90 miles west.
Obviously it’s an honor to hear something like that, especially from a guy like (Giants manager Bruce) Bochy. But for me, I’m in Sacramento now and I have a job here that I need to do. I can’t really get caught up in that stuff. When it’s that time, it’ll happen.
River Cats infielder Christian Arroyo, on the Giants’ praise of his play and possibility of being called up
With the Giants off to a slow start, zealous fans who were already curious about Arroyo have taken to clamoring for his call-up, positing him as a possible solution for the major league team’s deficiencies in left field.
The latter part is unlikely. Arroyo, who’s widely viewed as the Giants’ third baseman of the future, has not played outfield in the minors.
But with his torrid start and versatility on the infield – he has played shortstop, third and second – Arroyo has positioned himself as a viable option for the Giants. Asked about Arroyo last weekend, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the Mercury News of San Jose: “This kid is knocking on the door now. If anything happens, we have somebody ready.”
“For me, it’s one of those things you can’t control,” Arroyo said Tuesday. “Obviously it’s an honor to hear something like that, especially from a guy like Bochy. But for me, I’m in Sacramento now and I have a job here that I need to do. I can’t really get caught up in that stuff. When it’s that time, it’ll happen.”
While keeping up his startling numbers could force the issue, Arroyo’s job is to continue honing the approach that has bred his early success in Triple A. In the lower levels, Arroyo was often facing live but unrefined arms. At Triple A, he’ll see more pitchers who’ll try to set him up in counts and catchers with experience calling major-league games.
“You’ll see relievers that can throw breaking balls in beginnings of counts (and) that throw 96 miles per hour,” Arroyo said. “So I think it’s big to kind of learn how to hunt pitches and get in good hitter’s counts, and not swing at pitches that you’re going to get yourself out.
“Now, granted, it’s baseball, so that’s going to happen. But I think limiting the swinging at pitches that you can’t really do damage with kind of helps with everything. So for me, it’s just going in with a mindset of, ‘Get a good pitch to do some damage with.’ ”
Arroyo hit .274 with 29 walks and 72 strikeouts last season at Double-A Richmond. He said he was too aggressive at times and is working on being more “selective-aggressive.”
“He has a really good approach, he doesn’t try to do too much,” River Cats hitting coach Damon Minor said. “Older pitchers here can try to make you swing at what they want you to hit. He’s doing a good job of laying off of that. And when he gets in hitter’s counts, he’s not missing his pitch right now.”
Most pitchers in the PCL are older than Arroyo, the league’s eighth-youngest player as of Opening Day, per Baseball America. Two weeks into working with Arroyo, Sacramento manager Dave Brundage said: “I see him making an effort to be a good teammate, I see him maturing. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Arroyo says he didn’t expect this start to his first Triple-A experience, but stopped short of calling himself “surprised.” Nor did teammate Ryder Jones, who was drafted one round after Arroyo in 2013 and has roomed with Arroyo at several stops in the minors.
“He can flat-out hit,” Jones said. “Obviously it’s going to be tough to hit .450 on the year. But he’s gotten off to an unbelievable start.”