Twins' super utility man Luis Arraez will play 'wherever the team needs'

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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If it's good enough for Esther and Emma, Luis Arraez figures, it's good enough for him.

His 1- and 3-year-old daughters, Arraez said in a zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, don't care what position he plays. So why should he?

"They believe whatever position Daddy plays and wherever he's happy, they're going to be happy," the Twins' utility man said from Fort Myers, where the Twins open training camp on Friday. "I'm going to be ready for Opening Day wherever the team needs."

Some days, that could be second base, which until last month, when the Twins realigned their defense by adding shortstop Andrelton Simmons, appeared to be his spot for the next several years.

Some days, it might be third base, where Josh Donaldson could require regular reprieves in order to keep his sore calves healthy.

Could be shortstop, though Simmons and Jorge Polanco give the Twins depth there.

First base is a possibility, too, though he only played the position a couple of times when he was a teenager in rookie camp.

And it will certainly be the outfield on a semiregular basis, now that left fielder Eddie Rosario has departed for Cleveland.

"Growing up, I used to play outfield, in Little League and things like that. And I loved it," Arraez said of his childhood in San Felipe, Venezuela. "If left field is going to be my position where I'm going to play the most games, then so be it."

Those decisions will be up to manager Rocco Baldelli, and that should relieve any anxiety that Arraez may feel about losing playing time by being a man of many positions. In his two seasons managing previous utility wizard Marwin Gonzalez, Baldelli wrote Gonzalez's name into the starting lineup 159 times, or 71.6 percent of the Twins' 222 games. Only Polanco, Rosario, Max Kepler and designated hitter Nelson Cruz started more games.

That's the sort of assignment that Arraez is looking for.

"I don't think it's going to affect me at all. I'm looking forward to coming to camp and just working really hard on my craft," said the 23-year-old Arraez. "My job is going to be my job. Whatever it's going to be, I'm just looking forward to working hard."

He's already consulted with his former teammate about what it takes to develop and maintain that sort of versatility.

"Marwin is a living example for me," Arraez said through interpreter Elvis Martinez. "He plays all of those positions like it's natural. Obviously, it is. But he works really hard at his craft, and it shows."

Baldelli, who called Arraez the day Simmons signed to inform and reassure him of his importance to the team, said earlier this month that he appreciates the willingness of Polanco to move from shortstop for Simmons, and of Arraez to move into a roving role for Polanco.

"It makes things easier on the staff and on the organization when you have guys with that kind of character," Baldelli said. "Guys who are willing to do anything to win."

As a rookie in 2019, Arraez played 42 games at second base, 18 in left field, 15 at third base and three at shortstop after being called up in mid-May. In 2020, he stuck exclusively to second base — but played only 32 of the team's 60 games due to tendinitis in his knees.

The pain has subsided now, Arraez said, and he hopes to return to the form at the plate he had in 2019 (. 344 average, .838 OPS) rather than the hobbled hitter he was in 2020 (. 321, .765).

"My knees feel good. Way better than last year. At this moment, I'm 100 percent to start playing," Arraez said. "I worked a lot this offseason [in Fort Myers, where he spent the winter] with our trainers. They worked a lot on weightlifting workouts to strengthen my knees and ligaments. I feel good right now."

Even about not having a position. C'mon, Luis, if it was up to you, where would you play?

"My favorite position is shortstop. Rocco gave me the chance to play [three] games there, and I enjoyed it," Arraez admitted. "It's my favorite position in the infield. But I'm willing to play the outfield, and left field is OK."