SCOTTSDALE — After getting selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, Christian Arroyo told reporters he was a math and science geek in high school and listed AP calculus as his favorite subject. It turns out he’s pretty good at history, too.
Arroyo looked around the clubhouse late Sunday evening as he packed up and prepared to head to minor league camp. He smiled and talked about how fun it’s been spending a month working with star infielders in their early 20s, and then he nodded toward Matt Cain’s locker.
“Seeing guys like Matt Cain and (Madison) Bumgarner, who came up at such a young age and made a direct impact, that’s definitely a confidence booster,” Arroyo said. “It’s like, if you play well, we’re serious about winning, and if we think you can help our team win, we’ll ask you to help.”
While the Giants rarely get listed in the upper half of “top prospects” lists, they have consistently plugged young players into contending teams. Cain was in the big leagues as a 20-year-old and an anchor of a World Series staff by 25. Bumgarner also made his debut at 20 and won a World Series game a year later. Matt Duffy jumped from Double-A to the big leagues as a 23-year-old, made the postseason roster as a bench bat, and entrenched himself as a full-time starter the next summer.
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Arroyo has seen how it works around here, and in his second big league camp, the shortstop looked very much like the next player who will simply be too good at such a young age to spend much more time in the minors. The 20-year-old walked to the plate late in Sunday’s exhibition win knowing that he was taking his final at-bat before heading to the minors. He scorched a single to left, raising his average to .538. Arroyo went 7 for 13 this spring, with a double, homer and four RBI. He struck out once in 15 plate appearances.
“It’s been impressive,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I can’t think of somebody off hand who has had a spring like he’s had coming out of A-ball. The kid can hit. He’s a ballplayer. He’s got a great approach up there, he’s quiet, he’s patient, and he doesn’t panic with two strikes.”
More than one observer in camp has likened that approach to Buster Posey’s, and Arroyo showed his patience during a televised game on Tuesday night. He fell behind 0-2 during a late at-bat and then calmly worked the count full. When Arroyo got a cutter on the inner half of the plate, he blasted a two-run shot over the bullpen in left.
Arroyo’s phone lit up as he rounded the bases. Family members from Florida to New Hampshire were able to watch live, and friends reached out via text, Twitter and Instagram. Arroyo’s mom called after the game, which was part of a month that helped reinforce Arroyo’s belief in his approach at the plate.
“It’s a confidence booster,” he said. “There are some days where you go into the game with a certain approach and you’re grinding out at-bats and getting hits and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I wonder if this will work at the major league level?’ Because that’s the ultimate goal, to be a good — a really good — baseball player at the major league level.”
Arroyo said he tries to play minor league games the same way he would in Scottsdale or San Francisco. After hitting .304 with a .344 on-base percentage and .459 slugging percentage in San Jose, Arroyo is almost certainly headed for a different time zone. He’s likely to begin the year in Double-A, where the Giants will have him mix it up a bit.
Arroyo is blocked at short, his natural position, but the Giants will keep him there for now. Bochy said Arroyo will also play some second base this season, and he primarily worked at third in Cactus League games. Then there’s the fourth option, the intriguing one given that the infield looks locked in for years to come. While the Giants won’t publicly talk about moving Arroyo to left, there are some in the front office who quietly talk of that being a possibility sometime soon.
For now, the Giants are putting the emphasis on the development process, and Arroyo is, too. He said he learned a lot this spring, and he focused on watching veterans and seeing what it means to be a professional in a big league clubhouse. Arroyo called himself a “silent student on the side,” someone who tried to follow the lead of the Poseys and Pences of the organization. More than anything, he tried to take it all in.
“It was a good time,” Arroyo said. “It’s really fun being in the big league clubhouse.”
When will he be back?
As Arroyo put pressure on big league pitchers this spring, it wasn’t hard to picture a scenario where he follows Duffy’s path, tearing through the Eastern League and then making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues in a limited role. Duffy, remember, got called up at the deadline in 2014 and ended up as a surprise contributor in the postseason.
“You never know — he’s had that good a spring,” Bochy said. “At his age, he’s mature beyond his years with how he’s handled himself … I wouldn’t rule it out, but (seeing him this year), that’s more of a long shot.”
Arroyo said the dream is always bouncing around in the back of his head, but as he prepared to head to minor league camp, his focus was elsewhere.
“I’m going to go wherever I’m assigned and just play as hard as I can,” he said. “(My goal) is to go wherever I’m playing and focus on that particular place and play as well as I can and help that team win. If the cards fall in the right place and I end up getting a call, or even getting called up to Sacramento, so be it. That’d be an honor.”