Spending time in the short-season Northwest League may not have been how Christian Arroyo envisioned his 2014 campaign playing out, but the 19-year-old shortstop is making the most his stay.
After opening the year with Class A Augusta and hitting just .203 in 31 games, Arroyo seemed far removed from a 2013 debut in which he was named the Arizona League's Most Valuable Player. But since joining Salem-Keizer at the start of short-season play, the former first-rounder is back on top, leading his team with a .324 average and 26 RBIs thanks to a red-hot month of July.
"I'm seeing the ball well and I've been working on some stuff in the batting cage," Arroyo said. "I'm just becoming more consistent with my swing. I've stopped pressing and I'm not trying to do too much, just trying to let my abilities take over."
The 25th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, Arroyo is living up to his $1.8 million signing bonus. He strung together a 12-game hitting streak from July 17-29, going 22-for-49 during that span. He leads all shortstops in the league with a .977 fielding percentage, committing just four errors in 173 chances through 35 games played.
"He's been outstanding for us," said Volcanoes manager Gary Davenport. "He had kind of a slow start, but once his finger and wrist started healing, he just caught fire. He had a huge month, and I'd really be surprised if he doesn't get Player of the Month."
Coming to Salem-Keizer after recovering from a left thumb sprain that sidelined him in Augusta, Arroyo initially struggled to get in a groove at the plate. He came away with just one hit in his first 14 at-bats.
Finding the solution became even more difficult when Arroyo was out for seven days after taking a ball off his hand during pregame batting practice. Battling the injury while also battling opposing pitchers proved challenging for Arroyo, who totaled just seven hits in 38 June at-bats (.184).
"It was a mixture of mental and physical mistakes," Arroyo said. "Physically, there were some things with my swing, and I kept throwing my front shoulder out. I was flying open a little bit and trying to hit home runs."
A new month brought new results for Arroyo, who wasted little time getting back on track. Against the Vancouver Canadians on July 1, the Florida native went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. That production didn't stop as Arroyo notched seven hits in 11 at-bats through three July games, equaling his hit total for all of June.
Rated as the No. 13 prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization, Arroyo has eight games in which he has gotten three or more hits -- all of which have come since July 1.
"I just changed my mentality at the plate and worked on staying inside the ball and not trying to do too much," Arroyo said. "I realize I'm not a home run guy. I'm a doubles guy. But if you hit doubles and you hit them far enough, they'll go."
As Arroyo has gotten hot, so too have the Volcanoes. Through the first two series of the second half of the season, Arroyo hit .461 (12-for-26) with 11 RBIs. During that span, Salem-Keizer shot into first place in the Northwest League with a 6-2 record.
"The biggest thing is to win. Baseball is a game where if your numbers are good, you're obviously going to be happy, but it's also cool to be winning," Arroyo said. "We're kind of hitting our groove as a team, and I'm just trying to help the team win any way I can."
Ask those around him, and it's clear that Arroyo is a vital part of the team's second-half success.
"He's definitely been our big RBI producer of late. With our success in the second half, you have to look right at him for most of that," Davenport said.
Arroyo's success has been recognized by those outside the Giants organization as well, as he was named the starting shortstop for the South Division in next week's 2014 Northwest League All-Star Game.
"He has fun playing the game, which is huge," Davenport said. "Some guys who are the top pick, they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. He goes out and just plays and doesn't worry about all of the hype. It's amazing for his age that he is as mature as he has shown."
Running wild across the border: Having played in 45 games this season for Vancouver, center fielder Roemon Fields is tearing up the basepaths. Through July 30, Fields has accumulated 33 stolen bases, leading the Northwest League by a wide margin. He is 14 steals ahead of Austin Cousino of Everett, who ranks second in the league with 33 stolen bases.
Bullpen brilliance: After an abysmal end to the first half, the Volcanoes' bullpen has been superb through the first nine games of the second half. From July 1 through July 21, Salem-Keizer's relief corps went 3-7 with nine blown saves. Since the second half of the season started July 22, however, the 'pen has allowed just four earned runs in 27 innings, struck out 31 hitters and converted all four save opportunities.
AquaSox rolling: Winning only 11 of their 38 games in the season's first half, the Everett AquaSox are taking full advantage of the clean slate that came with the start of the second half. Everett is 6-3, placing them three games ahead of the remaining teams in the North Division, which are all in a logjam at 3-6. The AquaSox scored just 60 runs in 18 June games. In the first nine games of the second half of the season, however, Everett has 46 runs and is outscoring its opponents by 14.