Mackey: The day Oswaldo Arcia first demanded the Twins' attention
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MINNEAPOLIS -- On a drizzly Saturday morning in early March, 2012, Minnesota Twins players and coaches piled into two buses for the 90-minute trip north from Fort Myers to Bradenton.
In addition to the 1 p.m. spring training game at McKechnie Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- in which Rule-5 pick Terry Doyle got rocked, essentially sealing his roster fate that day -- the schedule also called for a 10 a.m. B-game down the street at Pirate City, the Pirates' brand new practice facility.
The central goal of this B-game was for Scott Baker to test out his off-and-on tender right elbow against lesser competition, as B-games feature mostly second-tier players and/or minor leaguers.
Things went rather horribly for Baker, who -- in addition to not entering the game until the third inning due to needing more time to warm up -- appeared to be easing the ball toward home plate at less than full velocity.
Baker got shelled by a mostly nondescript Pirates lineup. The damage was so bad that two innings were stopped before the third out was recorded -- a fairly normal occurrence in B-games to keep pitch counts under control, but an obvious bad sign for Baker. After the game, Baker said "I stunk... It is 10:30 (in the morning). ... And it's a 'B'-game. You try to create adrenaline, but it is what it is."
Later, we all found out Baker was on the road to Tommy John surgery, and that B-game will be remembered as the initial red flag.
But that same game also may have served as a launching pad for a different player.
A 20-year-old Oswaldo Arcia.
At the time, Arcia hadn't played an inning above High-A, and he had yet to emerge on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, nor was he as highly touted nationally as fellow Twins minor league outfielders Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks. The Twins knew they had a talented, raw player on their hands, so they invited him to major league camp to take some hacks.
And boy, did he take a hack at Pirate City.
Facing right-hander Chris Leroux -- who, in the season prior, posted a 2.88 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings for the Pirates -- the left-handed hitting Arcia drove an outer-half fastball high in the air over the chain-link fence in left-center field.
But this was no cheap, wind-aided opposite-field home run. For one, the fence was somewhere between 15 and 20 feet high. And not only did the ball cross over the 370-foot marker of this 15-to-20-foot-high fence, but it landed on top of a canopy some few dozen feet beyond the fence.
The Twins' dugout buzzed as Arcia rounded the bases. Manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson looked at each other with wide eyes. General manager Terry Ryan was in attendance alongside assistant GM Rob Antony and several MLB scouts.
A 20-year-old kid with that kind of power to opposite field? Talk about demanding some attention.
"He's just so damn strong," Gardenhire said Saturday, adding, "I just liked the way he stood up there and took some whacks back then."
Arcia was sent down the road to minor league camp later that month after the home run in Bradenton, and he went on to hit .320/.388/.539 with 61 extra-base hits and 98 RBIs between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain.
Gardenhire and other Twins higher-ups were very interested to see how Arcia would look this spring, but he was hampered by an intercostal strain that limited him to just five games in March. The injury eliminated any chance of Arcia breaking camp on the 25-man roster.
"I was really looking forward to seeing him swing the bat during spring training, see how he did," Gardenhire said. "Maybe see how far he was away. Obviously he got going really nice there towards the end... and got hot quick (in Triple-A), which boded well for him to get a chance to come up here. ...
"But I've liked him. I told Terry Ryan a few years ago that he was my favorite hitter to watch down in the minor leagues when I went down there because of the way he was aggressive and got after the ball."
Arcia could be heard pounding on the door at Target Field with the same bat he used to hit .394/.474/.727 in his first 10 games for Rochester in April. Through the first six weeks of the season, he has been one of the Twins' best hitters.
It's entirely possible those are the only 10 games he'll ever play for the Red Wings.