The first thing you need to know about Orlando Arcia is that he's an outstanding defender at shortstop. If you follow Minor League Baseball or the Brewers, you likely know this already. In this piece, I'll primarily focus on Arcia's bat, but in reality, Arcia is mostly interesting because his glove is so good.
One can argue that Arcia is the best defensive shortstop prospect in the Minors. Most would still take the Indians' Francisco Lindor, but the gap is small. If you want to know more about Arcia's defense, that link provides a comprehensive breakdown. Here's a summary of the key reasons why his glove work stands out:
• Opposing Florida State League managers raved about Arcia's defense in 2014. One insisted he was Major League-ready defensively at age 19. Others used descriptors such as "superb" and "outstanding."
• Joe Ayrault, Arcia's manager last season at Brevard County: "He's what I call a two-out defender. When the game's on the line, two outs, you want the ball hit to him. He makes all the routine plays, then he makes the exciting plays as well."
• Among the things that make Arcia stand out: plus range and a plus arm, strong instincts, fantastic hands, advanced footwork and consistent performance.
• More from Ayrault: "He's one of those guys, if something crazy happens, he could go to the big leagues and fill in right now. … One of our sayings here is, 'Does he pass the eye test? When he gets called up, does he do all the things you expect a Major League guy to do making plays?' He's a guy who will pass the eye test over there in Major League camp. He'll definitely impress some people this spring."
So, Arcia is outstanding defensively, and he's ready to be outstanding in the Major Leagues, at least in one aspect of the game.
The reason Arcia is in Double-A is largely that his offense lags behind his status as a future Gold Glove candidate.
In his first full Minor League season in 2013, Arcia hit just .251 in 120 games at Class A Wisconsin. He made a lot of contact but showed minimal power and hardly drew any walks.
In 2014, he improved dramatically with Brevard County, hitting .289 with 29 doubles. There wasn't much over-the-fence power -- four homers -- but his batting average on balls in play rose from .268 in Class A to .326 in Class A Advanced. That rise could be driven by luck, but Arcia did hit more balls in the air and hit them with more authority -- evidenced by the doubles -- so there was likely real improvement for Arcia last year.
It's still too early to determine whether Arcia has taken another step this April, but he's making that case with his production in Double-A. Through 19 games, the 20-year-old is hitting .387 with a .984 OPS. He has seven walks and just eight strikeouts to go with six extra-base hits.
Arcia is very much a feel hitter at this point, relying more on his athleticism than a polished mechanical base. He starts with his hands held high and his weight almost entirely on his back foot. His stance is narrow and tall. He starts his swing with a mild leg kick, bringing his hands in a long circle back and around to his right shoulder, a position from which he launches into an aggressive hack.
The infielder isn't afraid to hit from his front foot. When he stays back, he's capable of driving balls into either gap, as evidenced by this double embedded below.
Even from his front foot, though, Arcia has a knack for making hard contact. Here's an example on a sacrifice fly:
Arcia is aggressive with his swing, but in the 14 plate appearances I watched on MiLB.TV before writing this piece, he seemed to have a good feel for the strike zone. This was corroborated by Biloxi manager Carlos Subero, who spoke with MiLB.com last week following Arcia's first Double-A home run.
"What he did tonight and what he's done all year is lay off breaking balls that are not strikes and put himself in good hitting counts," Subero said. "Pitchers just aren't giving him good pitches early, but there's no chase in Orlando right now."
When I watched him, even if he did chase questionable pitches, he showed an ability to get barrel to ball and at least foul off pitches on the periphery of the zone. He took 21 swings in that sample, and whiffed on just three of them.
Contact seems to be the priority for Arcia. He notably changes his approach with two strikes, even going so far as to drop his hands when he gets into two-strike counts, presumably to improve his chances of making contact.
If Arcia can maintain above-average offensive production, Milwaukee might have a budding superstar on its hands. If Arcia falls short of that, his glove should still make him an everyday player with a career similar to someone like Royal (and ex-Brewer) Alcides Escobar. The timetable is dependent on more than Arcia at this point, since Jean Segura is just 25 and having a mild bounceback month of April after a poor 2014.
Astros OF Preston Tucker, Triple-A Fresno: So impressive is Tucker's offensive track record, he's earned the moniker "Bam Bam" from his Astros' teammates and coaches. A career .296 hitter, Tucker has above-average power, evidenced by 24 homers in 2014 between Double-A and Triple-A. He's limited to an outfield corner defensively, so he's going to have to slug to earn an everyday role in the Majors, especially if he's going to stick with the Astros, who are deep in the outfield. He's making his case this year, leading the Minor Leagues with eight home runs while posting a 1.031 OPS.
White Sox OF Adam Engel, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem: Engel is one of the Minors' most athletic players, boasting plus speed and promising strength. Those tools have made him an outstanding defender in center, but he's struggled with contact issues and had yet to perform offensively as a professional prior to 2015. The 23-year-old Louisville product is showing signs of offensive life this year, though. Engel had a pair of three-hit games last week and is hitting .308 with six extra-base hits so far. After striking out 113 times in 103 games last year, Engel has struck out just nine times in 17 games this season. Some in the Chicago system thought Engel really benefitted from playing in the Australian Baseball League this winter. It's too early to determine whether Engel has figured things out in the Carolina League -- and he's a bit old for his level -- but he's off to the kind of start that warrants a watchful eye going forward.
...And one not
Red Sox LHP Henry Owens, Triple-A Pawtucket: Owens has struggled to find the strike zone in the early going, walking 14 batters in his first 16 innings through three starts. He's done this before, walking 14 batters over 15 2/3 frames during a three-start stretch last May. Owens rebounded from that wild stretch and will probably be fine in a few starts now, too. Keeping a 6-foot-6 frame mechanically in check is a tall task and an area where Owens will probably improve with age. For now, though, Owens has some work to do to get his strikeout-to-walk ratio out of the decimals.