Twins outfielder focused on being more selective hitter during Winter ball in Venezuela
By Jesse Sanchez
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The first pitch to Oswaldo Arcia from Mexico's Manny Barreda in the eighth inning on Friday was high and outside, and so far out of the strike zone that the Venezuelan outfielder didn't even flinch in the batter's box.
The next pitch was fastball on the inside part of the plate that Arcia swung at and missed.
Ball two was belt-high and just a tad inside.
Ball three was low and in.
Arcia has showed tons of raw power since signing out of Venezuela as a teenager in 2007, but now the Twins want their starting left fielder to be a complete player. That's part of the reason Arcia played Winter ball in his home country, and it's the main reason he is still suiting up for his Caribes de Anzoategui team in the Caribbean Series this week.
Arcia missed some time this winter with some back issues, but he says that's no longer a problem.
"I'm trying to be more selective at the plate. That's really the only thing the Twins emphasized," Arcia said in Spanish. "They stressed being more selective, but not to lose my aggressiveness in the batter's box. It's no secret that the Venezuelan league is good, and it's allowed me to see some good quality pitching."
Arcia's work in Venezuela appears to be paying off. He hit .270 with 30 strikeouts and 19 walks in 138 at-bats in 38 games for the Caribes during the regular season. Now consider that he struck out 127 times and walked only 31 times in 410 at-bats with Minnesota last season. Arcia also hit 20 homers and drove in 57 runs for the Twins.
"I've been working hard at that," Arcia said. "The season is really long, and you have to be prepared for it. I'm going to give 100 percent all of the time."
Arcia worked the count to 3-1 against Barrera on Friday and smashed what proved to be the game-winning two-run home run in Venezuela's 4-2 victory on a fastball near the middle of the plate. The home run came on the fifth pitch of the at-bat. Arcia beat his chest as he rounded the bases.
"He's shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching. He's struck out too much for anybody's liking, but he ought to be able to improve on those areas just on knowledge and things of that nature," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "But we need him to make those adjustments. He's capable of doing that and he wants to do that, which is just as important. It's not like we have to beg him to do anything. He'll listen. He's a competitive kid. I'd say he's one of the guys, just because of his maturity, he'll get better as he goes through this thing."
Arcia said a conversation with Twins manager Paul Molitor during Minnesota's FanFest was helpful. That's when he was told he'll be the club's everyday left fielder with the addition of veteran right fielder Torii Hunter.
"We talk about having control of your emotions in the batter's box, on the bases, on the mound, in the outfield and making the play," Molitor said. "I think he's an emotional guy -- that sometimes situations and things get away from him. Part of that is your judgment on when to try to make a play and when not to try to make a play. We all know there is a time to dive for a ball and a time when, okay, we'll give up the single, but I can't let this guy get a triple. But he's learning that. He works at it. He wants to be more than just a slugger."
Arcia played 100 games in right field for the Twins last season. He played 56 games in left field for the Twins in 2013.
"I know he had a difficult year defensively in right, and that's not normal for him. He's a better outfielder than he's shown up here," Ryan said. "Some of that might have been, I don't know if he got intimidated by that overhang or just had trouble reading it. So we think he'll be better in left just because of that fact alone. But he's starting to get his feet on the ground up here. We just have to remind ourselves he's just a kid still. He has outfield skills, and there's no reason he can't become a solid defender."
Arcia's progress will be on display soon. Twins pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 22 and position players report five days later.
"He's young, so we're just trying to make him into more of a ballplayer and not to make a cliché out of that, but there are a lot of things," Molitor said. "He needs to run the bases better. I think I got his attention the second half last year about that. We don't want him striking out 33 percent of the time, and we'll be patient with that guy. He's got a chance to be pretty good."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.