Since his arrival to the majors as the Brewers’ top prospect in 2016, Orlando Arcia has been a man of two faces. While flashing leather in the field, he’s been little more than a flash in the pan at the plate. Now a third of the way into his third full season, he’s beginning to demonstrate that his recent wave of success could be the sea change everyone has been waiting for.
In August 2016, fans were calling for the arrival of Orlando Arcia. By August of 2018, they were calling for his head.
Although he arrived to significant fanfare, his promising 2017 season got pushed to the shadows by a 2018 that proved to be the worst of his professional career. And despite consistently gracing highlight reels with his defensive wizardry, the kid once heralded for his selective eye, contact skills, and gap-pounding prowess left many wondering if the scouting reports were simply wrong.
While explanations could be far-ranging and further-reaching, it seems most likely that it was not one, but a combination of factors leading to the depths of inconsistency that left even the biggest believers questioning Arcia’s lofty prospectus and potential.
During his pro career, the Milwaukee Brewers as an organization saw considerable upheaval throughout their ranks. Since signing as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2010, Arcia has directly worked with at least seven different hitting coaches between rookie ball and the majors—all of whom have taken direction from four different major league hitting coaches in nine years—not to mention the Dominican Summer League and Venezuelan Winter League.
Beyond Arcia, this would also be indicative as to why general manager David Stearns is so quick to part with even high-ceiling prospects from the previous administration—system instability is absolutely a thing.
Compared to legacy organizations like the Cubs and Cardinals, who both have had the luxury of stable, long-term minor league affiliates particularly in Des Moines and Memphis, respectively, the number and seeming quality of top prospects the Brewers are able to churn out pale in comparison—see Mark Rogers, Jed Bradley, Taylor Jungmann, Trent Grisham, etc.
While the Brewers have had some success with Brandon Woodruff and Jimmy Nelson (who took the better part of four years to truly develop—unsurprisingly after the most recent front office regime change), the last time top-10 position players who went all the way through the Brewers’ farm system made a significant impact at the major league level was 2010—Jonathan Lucroy and Lorenzo Cain.
Despite glaring difficulties, Arcia maintained a relatively consistent profile throughout his minor league tenure—a batting average around .285, an OBP hovering near .350 and light to modest power most assumed would improve, if only slightly, as he neared the green arches of Miller Park.
Since arriving to the majors, though, it’s hard to write off organizational shifts as impetus for inconsistency. For three years he was under the tutelage of Darnell Coles and, in that time, produced a 15-14 first full season with 56 runs and 53 RBI from the bottom of the order. Unfortunately, he followed it with a season that caused him to bounce back and forth between the majors and Triple-A, totaling as many home runs as his jersey number (3) and an on-base percentage (.268) lower than the previous year’s batting average (.277).
And strangely enough, even with strong statistical indicators that outline what seems to have transpired on the field (which we’ll address shortly), the brilliant Bernie Pleskoff may have hit the nail on the head with one of the last scouting reports he dropped before Arcia hit the majors, saying “Arcia’s hitting continues to improve with personal maturity and developmental repetition.”
Even with developmental repetition clearly being a factor, personal maturity is a hard element to gauge, especially when stealing a spoonful of ice cream could easily be interpreted as both immaturity and a full-grown man having fun getting paid a half-million dollars to play a kid’s game. But it does underscore the point that he’s still just 24 years old with just over two years of accrued service time. Even the god-like Mike Trout floundered in his first go as a major-leaguer, slashing .220/.281/.390 before going on to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.
While that may not be an apt comparison, saying nothing of overstating the obvious, it does show that even the greatest generational talents take some time to adjust.
So where does it leave former top prospects who aren’t Trout and in a Brewers system that has clearly been flawed for nearly a decade, if not longer? And is it simply the recent opening of the contention window expediting rising expectations for the young shortstop?
Even with the odds against him, if the statistics are any indicator, he is trending in the right direction. Better yet, the stroke he found late last season appears to be carrying over into 2019.
Despite struggling for a majority of 2018, entering the final month with a traditional slash line of .212/.245/.273, Arcia made a significant turn. From the start of September through the end of the regular season, he bumped his line to .329/.360/.443, a trend that continued into the postseason (.333/.353/.606) and included three home runs in 10 games. Now, a third of the way into 2019, he may not be lighting the world on fire, but is more akin to 2017, slashing .275/.363/.363 in May after a slow start that still included four home runs.
What’s more, the underlying numbers support this trajectory. His launch angle, hard hit percentage and isolated power are nearly identical to his 2017 season, but both his walk and barreled ball rates have improved. His plate discipline is developing as well: Arcia has massively cut down swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (38.3 O-Swing% in 2017, 30.6 in 2019) and trimmed his overall swinging strike rate in the process.
While there’s no guarantee he will capitalize on every avenue of improvement, it does seem that, given David Stearns’ aptitude for cutting bait with slow or stunted progress, the front office is willing to give him the opportunity to continue for the time being—and have plenty of reason to when he’s ranked seventh in Defensive Runs Saved at the position since his first full season.
There’s no denying that Arcia has always and will always be considered a defense-first shortstop, nor that the sluggers that have filled out the position in recent years certainly don’t help his case by comparison. But if there is hope to be had, it’s that Arcia does have pedigree, history and undoubted talent to pair with his developing maturity and experience.
While he may never be a high-average, high on-base, 20+ home run hitter, there’s certainly something to be said for a guy who is pacing to hit 16 home runs, score 60 runs and drive in the same from the bottom of the order, especially when surrounded by World Series winners, MVPs, generational talents, upside players and more.
With Arcia set to enter both arbitration and his baseball prime over the next few years, there’s no reason the fans or front office should offer him anything but patience. With any luck, he could equal his ability to create runs as often as he saves them, and in a small market that can’t afford to pay for top notch talent (or big names) at every position, he could turn into some of the best value on the field and finally prove that patience is a virtue.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.