MINNEAPOLIS -- When Oswaldo Arcia made his debut for the Minnesota Twins just under a month ago, the onus was on him to prove his mettle. "Get your swings in," manager Ron Gardenhire told the then 21-year-old, essentially assuring him he could hit his way into more playing time.
Flash forward to today, and -- day trip to Rochester aside -- Arcia's getting his swings in up in the big leagues, and the onus is on Gardenhire to keep Arcia in the lineup while keeping his other veterans happy about their playing time.
It can't be easy.
But now not only is Arcia forcing his way into the lineup on a daily basis, but he probably merits hitting higher than the lower-third of the lineup, based solely on his batting line of .313/.353/.547 (entering Friday). Especially when that's framed up against the peers whom he's presently forcing out of the batting order on a daily basis.
More on that later.
"He's not afraid," both Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan have said. This is about the highest compliment either man pays a young player.
But it shows in the numbers. Entering play Friday, the left-handed swinging Arcia has a .900 OPS. That splits out to .898 versus righties and .904 versus lefties.
For a left-handed hitter -- much less one who is 22-years-old -- to not have large splits is incredible.
And it appears to be something that Arcia has improved on during his meteoric rise to the big leagues. In 2012, Arcia's OPS versus lefties was .781. In 2011, .741. In other words, like basically every other challenge he has faced as a pro ballplayer, Arcia not only overcame, but absolutely destroyed what was in his way. He's also terrorized pitchers older than himself, thanks to stats which can now be found on Baseball Reference.
Though part of that is an Arcia thing, but yet not an Arcia thing at all: He's been among the youngest players at just about every level he's played. According to Baseball Reference, he only took 14 plate appearances against younger pitchers the past two seasons.
What's in his way now -- or at least in the relatively near future -- is finding a way to establish permanent residency in Minneapolis. And while the move won't be necessitated all that soon -- Darin Mastroianni is still a ways off from being activated -- it also isn't clear what the corresponding move will be when that time comes.
Arcia can't handle center. That's the one object in his way that he won't be able to bowl over like he has every other. "I like him in a corner," Gardenhire said. "I'll just leave it at that."
Activating Mastroianni and demoting Aaron Hicks seems like a reasonable move -- at least if Hicks doesn't show a bit more life with the bat -- but it leaves the team without a natural backup in center. But it might be less worrisome given Gardenhire's recent tendency not only let Wilkin Ramirez have spot duty in center, but start out there. Still, Ramirez in center for extended periods of time -- especially given this staff's propensity for balls in play -- is a recipe for disaster.
The Twins could also designate Ramirez for assignment, and keep an outfield of Josh Willingham, Chris Parmelee, Mastroianni, Hicks, and Arcia. That move may ring unpopular, as Ramirez not only acts as a translator for some of the Twins Spanish-speaking players, but he also seems to set an example for those teammates as well.
But sometimes the right move and the popular move aren't always the same move, even if the Twins value cohesion and clubhouse chemistry more than most organizations.
And maybe the simplest move would be to send Parmelee to Triple-A. Parmelee has nothing left to prove after scorching the International League to the tune of .338/.457/.645, but hasn't recorded a hit since last Friday (0 for last 15) when he homered in Cleveland. Parmelee has even less defensive flexibility when considering how many options the Twins could plug and play at first base.
In the interim, it's probably fair to say that not only should Arcia continue to play every day, he should probably hit higher in the order than seventh like he did in the series opener against the Orioles.
And whether his playing time comes at the expense of Parmelee (.200/.288/.322), Justin Morneau (.269/.311/.378), or the suddenly-hot Ryan Doumit (.226/.291/.376), it's clear that not only should Arcia continue to play every day, but hit higher in the lineup. And if, in a few weeks when Mastroianni returns, Arcia looks even remotely like he does now, then it'll be time for him to find himself some more permanent digs.