In a year that was filled with hair pulling frustration, stress inducing losing streaks and a lack of competitive baseball in general, the 2015 season was a train wreck for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite the disastrous results, the Brewers were able to resurrect somewhat of a silver lining by exchanging some of their top players for prospects to bolster their farm system, something that it has been lacking for years. One talent showcases the rejuvenated field of prospects that the Brewers have to their name and it’s time for the average Brewers fan to become familiar with him. From an undrafted free agent signed in 2010 with just a miniscule $95,000 signing bonus to becoming the organization’s top prospect, Orlando Arcia leads the way of the new era of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The 6’0” shortstop brings a style of game that the Brewers organization simply has not possessed in recent memory. His combination of slick fielding ability and contact at the plate has propelled him up the prospect rankings of baseball writers across the nation. Baseball America tags Arcia as the eighth best prospect in the game, ahead of other highly touted talents such as Yoan Moncada, Jon Gray, Mark Appel and Raul Mondesi.
How rare is a top ten ranking from Baseball America? Put it in this perspective. Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy were never top ten prospects. To find the last top ten prospect that the Brewers controlled, one has to turn the calendar back to 2005, when Rickie Weeks was in the same spot as Arcia at the no. 8 slot. Other Brewers that received this prestigious honor from Baseball America were Prince Fielder, 2004 (No. 10), Ben Sheets, 2001 (No. 5), Tyrone Hill, 1993 (No. 10) and Greg Vaughn, 1990 (No. 9). It’s not too often that players like Arcia come around in a farm system.
Right out of the gates after his signing, Arcia made a name for himself, earning the honor of an All Star in his first season in the Brewers’ Dominican Summer League. However, the following spring, setback hit Arcia when he broke his ankle in spring training of 2012, ending his season.
Arcia’s injury seemed to hobble him as he was placed in class-A affiliate Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in Appleton in 2013. He struggled to find his beat, hitting a pedestrian .251 and not generating the contact he did in the Dominican Summer League. However, despite the questionable stats line, the Brewers showed their confidence in the shortstop and promoted him to High-A Brevard County.
During his time with the Brevard County Manatees, Arcia began to hit his stride and make a name for himself. In 127 games, he showed an increase in his approach at the plate, hitting .287 with 144 hits, 33 more than his year in Appleton. This increase in offensive capability was enough to reel in the attention of the baseball prospect world, as he shoved his way into the tail end of the top 100 prospects list and climbed all the way to no. 7 in the Brewers’ system ranking.
Arcia’s appealing performance in Brevard County was enough to keep him climbing the mountain of the minor league system, as he was placed on the Brewers’ double A affiliate, the Biloxi Shuckers in 2015. When he was called up, things were already stacking up against Arcia. He registered as the second-youngest player in the Southern League, putting him in a slight disadvantage against his competition immediately as play began. The beginning of the season was also a peculiar one for the Shuckers. Being an expansion minor league team, they had to have a place to play in Biloxi. The completion of construction on the team’s new MGM Park had to be pushed back into the start of the season, causing the team to play its first 54 games on the road.
However, Arcia did not let the excessive road trip get the best of him mentally. He continued his strong play from the year before in his first month with Biloxi, hitting an imposing .409/.468/.545. His red-hot first month of play was enough to boost him up prospect rankings all across the board from Baseball America (No. 8), FanGraphs (8), Minor League Ball (11), MLB.com (12), ESPN/Keith Law (17) and Baseball Prospectus (31).
“When you’re on the road like that, all you have to do is go to sleep, wake and play baseball, and that was big for Orlando,” said Biloxi hitting coach Sandy Guerrero. “It was fun to see how hot he was and how much fun he was having.”
Arcia’s strong start to the 2015 season was due in large part to his time spent in the Venezuelan Winter League during the offseason. In his time there, he discovered a new dimension to his game, as his power increased and his winter ended with seven home runs and 28 RBIs, offensive numbers that had never correlated with Arcia’s approach at the plate. Guerrero credited Arcia’s experience in South America as qualities that were irreplaceable.
“That’s where he started to read veteran pitchers,” said Guerrero, noting his increased ability of making consistent adjustments to different tactics used by his opponents.
“Before, he could do it at-bat to at-bat. Now, he does it pitch to pitch. Before he gets to the box, you can see his mind turning,” Guerrero continued. “That experience in winter ball, that’s where it started.”
Like any player that has had a blazing streak, it didn’t last forever and Arcia eventually slowed down. In June, he hit just .247 with a .628 OPS. His month-by-month extra-base hit count also got halved from 15 to seven. While continuing to do an above average job of avoiding strikeouts, Arcia’s walk rate took a slight dip from 9 percent down to 5.8 percent. Shuckers manager and now Brewers first base coach Carlos Subero noted how pitchers were adapting their approach to Arcia, but the determined hitter eventually caught on.
“When pitchers first saw him, they just saw a skinny kid and thought they could throw a bunch of fastballs past him,” said Subero. “Once he showed he could hit those, they gave him a bunch of breaking pitches. It took a while before he caught on, but he did.”
As the summer progressed, so did Arcia’s approach at the plate. Once August rolled around, his numbers began to soar once again. From Aug. 1 over the remaining 36 regular season games, Arcia boasted a stats line of .324/.356/.493 along with three home runs, two triples and 11 doubles. Arcia couldn’t have caught fire at a better time for Biloxi, as the Shuckers were headed for the Southern League Playoffs after winning the South Division title in the first half of the season.
Things did not slow down for Arcia in the postseason. In his first four postseason games, Arcia gathered multiple hits and RBIs, along with showcasing his power at the plate by homering in three consecutive games. His stellar bat helped send the Shuckers to the Southern League Championship against the Chattanooga Lookouts, a series in which they fell 3-2. However, Arcia’s magnificent play was enough to award him the Southern League Player of the Postseason by MiLB.com after going 12-for-30 (.300) with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in eight playoff games.
In the end, Arcia finished his 2015 Biloxi Shuckers campaign setting new watermarks in numerous offensive categories. His eight home runs, 69 RBIs, 37 doubles, seven triples, and 74 runs were all career highs. He also finished with a batting average over .300 (.307) for the first time as a professional player. Arcia also put forth an eye-catching 126 wRC+, meaning he generated 26 percent more runs than an average hitter would have in the same number of plate appearances. His speed was put to use as well, as he was able to steal 25 stolen bases. Combined with his ability to hit the ball in the gap on a consistent basis, Arcia is paving the way to being an extra-base hit machine. All together, Arcia’s strong showing throughout the course of the season was enough for him to win the honor of the Brewers’ 2015 Minor League Player of the Year.
So what’s next for Orlando Arcia? He is currently playing another season of winter ball down in Venezuela and not missing a beat. In the eight games played so far, Arcia has notched 12 hits including two doubles, formulating into a .375 average. Looking ahead to the upcoming season and considering how brilliant of a season he had last year with Biloxi, in all likelihood he will be promoted to the Brewers’ Triple A affiliate Colorado Springs following a spring training invite. Look for his offensive numbers to continue to extrapolate, as the Colorado Springs elevation above sea level should soundly accompany his ascending approach at the plate all across the board, from home runs to OPS. As we mentioned earlier, Arcia’s ability of generating walks took a slight toll midway through last season. While it is slightly concerning, it will be intriguing to see if Arcia can rejuvenate similar plate discipline that brought him major success last season. All in all, if all things go accordingly, it should be another career year for Arcia with the Sky Sox.
Arcia will surely continue to generate the buzz among the baseball prospect world as he plays out the 2016 campaign with the Sky Sox. That will transfer into excitement among Brewers fans, as they will begin to wonder why he isn’t immediately called up to the major leagues. Despite the success he and his teammates have the potential to create in Colorado Springs, there’s a high probability that the exact opposite is going to occur with the Brewers. In times like this, it is imperative for Brewers fans to remember to not rush the process. The Brewers are a ways away from playoff contention. Arcia is a very impressive player, but don’t get yourself wrong and think of him as a savior that has been sent down from the heavens and is going to singlehandedly deliver a world championship to Milwaukee. That’s not the scenario we currently find ourselves in. The plan is to build for the future, and that’s just what new General Manager David Stearns is doing. That task cannot be accomplished if the organization’s top prospect is not given the proper amount of time to bloom and prosper in the minor leagues.
Could we see a glimpse of Arcia at the major league level in 2016? Possibly. There’s a chance he could receive some garbage time action in the end of the season during meaningless games as a September call up, just to get his foot in the door. However, right now it seems as if Arcia’s trajectory has him landing a spot in the majors in 2017. It also seems as if that’s the target date for Brett Phillips, the major piece of the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade with Houston. Nonetheless, it is a must that the Brewers take their time with this one-of-a-kind talent. However bad the 2016 season may get for the Brewers, they cannot be forced into making the mistake of rushing and tainting the play that Arcia brings to the table.
Shadowed by his outburst at the plate last season is Arcia’s flash of leather from the shortstop position. He is one of the top fielders in all of minor league baseball, showing both a strong range and powerful arm, molding him in a well-rounded prospect and signifies why he is so highly touted. Look at this play Arcia makes in last year’s Futures All Star Game in Cincinnati. Using his speed to fly to the middle of the diamond, he extends and maneuvers a gorgeous play on a speedy ground ball up the middle, spins glove side and fires a bullet to first base to get the runner out by a step. It’s absurd how routine he makes it seem. Subero is one of many who praises his work in the field.
“Orlando, right now for me, could be the best defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues,” said Subero. “He’s going to win Major League Gold Gloves, I don’t doubt that one bit.”
Gone are the days of Derek Jeter dominating the no. 6 position. Players such as Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager are all making shockwaves in the league and leading the new crop of shortstops. When his talent in the field is paired with his ability to spray the ball to all fields at the plate, Arcia shows he has the potential of developing into a perennial All-Star. All three of those players express similar traits of both offense and defense, and it appears that Arcia is following in their steps.
“He’s also going to be special offensively,” Subero continued. “They’re all different hitters, but he has definitely worked his way into that group.”