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Nightengale’s Notebook: Heard of Luis Arráez? ‘Old-school’ Twins infielder is in line for a batting title

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It’s the most popular show on earth.

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And no one pays attention.

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Return to Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki.

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In a year with a league slugging average of .242, the lowest since 1968, and a .311 slugging percentage, there is a man in baseball who defies all odds.

My name is Luis Arraez, pronounced (a-TAKE OFF).

He’s a fielder for the Minnesota Twins, playing wherever they need to, all around the circle.

He also led the big leagues this week with a .362 batting percentage and a .442 batting percentage in the big leagues, vying to be the first player to hit over .350 in a full season since Josh Hamilton in 2010.

The most amazing score of all?

In the recently released totals, there were 55 players who received more All-Star votes than Arraes, and none of them, of course, were as high as his .346 before Saturday. Arraez was fourth among the American League basemen, with 307,0442 votes, not even a third of the Blue Jays’ total of 947,045 basemen Vladimir Guerrero.

“It’s funny how everyone complains about averages going down and then somebody hits .360,” Twins reliever Emilio Pagan told USA TODAY Sports, “and it’s like an afterthought. It’s a new era, everyone wants to see homers, hitting through the roof, but he does it a little differently. He is one of the best hitters in baseball and one of the most important guys on our roster.

“We need to see him at the All-Star Game. When you hit .350, .360, you deserve to be there.”

Luis Arraes celebrates a home run against Cleveland on June 21.
Luis Arraes celebrates a home run against Cleveland on June 21.

How can you have an All-Star Game without the best hitter in baseball?

“This guy is incredible,” says Twins catcher Gary Sanchez. “When he has a bad day, he still gets two hits. I don’t know if people talk about him because he’s a Gemini, but they should. He is one of the best strikers in the game.”

Arras had a .322 batting average over his first 300 career games, the fifth-highest since 1980. His strikeout percentage of 7.9% was the third-highest in baseball through Friday, with a league average of 22.2%. He has a walking speed of 11.2%. His .881 OPS was 176 points above the league average. He’s hitting .431 with runners in scoring position. He makes stunning contact 92.2% of the time he swings the bat.

His batsmanship is so superb that he can scatter the ball across all fields with ease that teams only moved 3.6% of the time he is at the plate, the third most of any left-handed hitter with at least 100 once appeared on the plate. .

“He hits like that all his life,” says Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, recalling how Arraes won the 2016 Midwest League title at the age of 19 when he hit .347 in the Class A Cedar Rapids. “He just rows. It’s a hell of a game, but with him he makes pitchers become great pitchers over and over and over and over again because he just keeps fouling them. So you either walk on it or throw the ball through the middle of the plate.”

He also happens to be one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, an absolute favorite in the Gemini club. When he got the chance to meet Ichiro Suzuki a week ago, he nearly fainted, having no idea that Ichiro even knew who he was. He still gets goosebumps when Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, also from Venezuela, talks to him or texts him. He was speechless when he was around twins Hall of Famers Tony Oliva and Carew.

“I couldn’t believe Ichiro wanted to meet me,” said Arraez, who is 5ft 10in and weighs 175lbs. “It was amazing. I’m so excited, so happy.

“Thank God for the opportunity.”

This is Arráez, a hard-working, independent player, married, with 4 and 2 year old daughters, who would love to be invited to the All-Star Game to celebrate this event with the whole family.

“It would be very special for me and I’m working really hard for it,” said Arraez, who signed a $40,000 deal from Venezuela in 2013. “I want to give this gift to my family, especially my daughters, Emma and Esther.”

The entire Twins team is lobbying for Arraes’ first All-Star appearance.

“He’s such a wonderful person, such a humble guy,” says Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco. “People have no idea what he does on and off the pitch. Just a great friend and a true professional.

“This guy needs to be on the all-star team so everyone can recognize him. One day, I’m telling you, this guy might hit .400.”

Arraes has been a hitting machine since bursting into the big leagues in 2019 with a .334 in 92 games, prompting Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona predict that he will win the championship title. A few years later, fully healthy, having spent seven weeks last winter working on his strength and conditioning with former teammate Nelson Cruz, he has become indispensable to the Twins.

“I can see the way he looks at the defensemen when he comes to the plate, judging how the guys are playing,” says Detroit Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart. “It looks like a very newbie, but there aren’t many guys who do it. He never tries to do too much with his ability to bat-on-ball with balls and punches.

“It makes life difficult for you because it ruins a lot of really good venues. We joke as catchers that we should just throw the first pitch down the middle and hope he hits somebody so you don’t waste 10, 12 pitches trying to get him out.”

You won’t find him hitting roulette home runs that light up the Statcast. He only had 13 off-base hits on Saturday and never had more than 25 in a single season.

“Not many people give him credit because what he does is not exactly sexy,” says Barnhart. But he’s an old school player. This is the biggest compliment I can give a guy. He’s just a special talent, as tough and open as anyone in the big leagues.”

Let the big boys have their home runs and strike outs. Arraes will take his base hits and walks and do all the little things that help the team win night after night.

“Everyone is looking for home runs,” Arraez says, “but you know, it’s not me. I just hit the line and try to get a lot of hits. I just want to get to base and score points.”

Oh, he ever gets to the base. He has a .385 career percentage on base. Gwynn had a career .388 percentage on base. Carew was at .393. Ichiro finished with 0.355% on base.

Yes, you talk about thin air when it comes to pure punching skills.

“If you want a balanced lineup,” says Twins shortstop Carlos Correa, “you need guys like him. Every squad needs a guy like that. We’re in a game right now with a lot of homers and walks, but this guy hits base 46% of the time. And it’s not just about luck, he works and works at it, and makes it look so easy when he enters the game.

“People talk about all these different stats, but when you hit .360 I don’t care about any other stats, he should be an All-Star. When people see the All-Star next to his name at halftime, you’ll see people start talking about him more.”

Infielders Carlos Correa and Luis Arraes played a key role for the Twins in their pursuit of the division title.
Infielders Carlos Correa and Luis Arraes played a key role for the Twins in their pursuit of the division title.

Let’s be honest, if Arráez played in New York or Los Angeles, he would be a cult hero.

National attention will come to Arraes if the Twins continue to win. A year ago, they lost 89 games, taking 20 games without a No. 1 spot, but went into the weekend tied with Cleveland for a No. 1 spot in the AL Central.

The twins, who drastically changed their roster over the winter, ditched Josh Donaldson, who is so hated at the club, and signed Correa to a three-year, $105.3 million contract, one of the biggest surprises in baseball.

“We have changed a lot of our squad, becoming a completely different team,” Baldelli said, “and trusting in the fact that we are going to bring in good players and good club guys. The guys we brought in, mixed with the good players we had, worked really well together, both on the field and personally.

“We invited guys who fucking win. They are here to win. That’s all they talk about. That’s all they think about it. This club has such good management.”

Correa, who signed a three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins with a two-year opt-out option, is drawing a lot of attention for the club’s change of direction. Of course, he can leave at the end of the season. No one has the kind of financial backing this season where he could be the next $300 million player. However, there is not a single person in the Twins club who is not in awe of Correa’s ability to communicate with everyone and constantly give advice and guidance to his teammates.

“He’s amazing, just a very handsome teammate, a special leader,” says Arraes. “He does so much for all of us.”

Says Urshela: “He is definitely the leader of our team. He knows so much about baseball, how to prepare the guys for the situation, and always tries to maintain everyone’s confidence. He does everything for us.”

Correa is open to talking to everyone, even telling his teammates about the infamous Houston Astros scandal, believing that many other teams are cheating too, but admits they went too far.

“There are some things in his past that he would like to change,” says Pagan, who was acquired with San Diego Padres’ Chris Paddack ahead of the opening. “Getting to know him now was wonderful. He is just an amazing person. He has contributed greatly to the success of this organization.”

It could be expected that…


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