Programming note: For comprehensive Giants coverage from Arizona, watch SportsNet Central tonight at 6 p.m., 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On photo day at Scottsdale Stadium, Ryan Vogelsong and Christian Arroyo walked through the clubhouse at the same time. Vogelsong was sporting a thick beard, Arroyo just a few short hairs on his chin. The young infielder smiled as he touched the attempt at a spring training beard.
“A cat could lick this off,” Arroyo joked.
You can’t blame Arroyo for being far behind in the facial hair department. A first-round pick two years ago, Arroyo has reached big league camp three months before his 20th birthday. At an age when most are college sophomores, Arroyo is taking ground balls with Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik, and spending his mornings in a locker that puts him just a short bunt away from Hunter Pence and Vogelsong.
“It’s been awesome,” Arroyo said. “It’s been different, for sure. Learning how to be a professional is the biggest thing I’m trying to take away from this.”
That process actually accelerated last season. The Giants selected Arroyo 25th overall out of Florida’s Hernando High in 2013 and he hit .326 that summer in rookie ball. He was sent to Low-A Augusta to open the 2014 season but struggled at the plate before a hyperextended thumb put him in the trainer’s room. When he got hurt May 10, Arroyo was hitting just .203, with a .226 on-base percentage and five extra-base hits in 118 at-bats.
“That was kind of a rude awakening to baseball,” Arroyo said this week.
It was also one Arroyo learned to appreciate.
“It’s something that helped me a lot,” he said. “Getting hit with adversity early in your career is awesome. You’re no longer the best — you need to work. I looked at it as a positive.”
Arroyo played with plenty of future draft picks growing up, and he says he wasn't always the most talented player on his team. But he figured that “fundamentals can take you a long way,” and he focused on doing the little things right. That changed when he got to Augusta, and looking back on that experience, Arroyo realizes he had the wrong approach. He was trying to hit home runs and produce big numbers right away, getting away from the solid, on-base-percentage-driven approach that made him a standout in the first place.
“You have to remember a team takes a guy (in the first round) for a reason,” he said. “They see something in him. For me, that’s getting on base, creating runs. I went back to what I know I’m good at.”
If that realization sounds familiar, it should. Joe Panik, a first-round pick three years earlier, has said it took him a couple of years to realize that he needed to stick to his basics.
“You start getting greedy and thinking, ‘I’m a first-rounder, let’s try to do more,’” Panik said. “No. The Giants drafted you for a reason. If (Arroyo) is thinking that way, he’s got the right mindset.”
Arroyo stuck to his old approach when his thumb healed and he was sent to Salem-Keizer, a small step down from Augusta. He focused on squaring the ball up, knowing the rest would come if the approach was sound. The numbers dramatically improved. Arroyo hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage and five homers in Salem-Keizer despite being 2.2 years younger than the league’s average age.
The strong finish helped Arroyo secure an invite to Scottsdale Stadium. He likely won’t be here long, since there’s little point in letting an A-ball player sit on the big league bench once Cactus League games start, but Arroyo is trying to take advantage of the time he’s been given. He watches the veterans to see how they prepare in the mornings, stretch before workouts and eat afterwards. The last category is an important one to Arroyo. He is, after all, a teenager.
“Grocery shopping is one of the biggest things for me,” he said. “The first time I went, I was looking up, like, I have no idea what to get. You’re still a kid running around a lot and you don’t have to worry about what you eat, but over the course of (the past couple seasons), I’ve been learning.”
At an age when many of his high school classmates are crushing pizza for breakfast and nachos as a late-night snack, Arroyo talks of learning the ingredients he likes in a homemade salad. It’s another adjustment he’s making off the field, but it’s much easier than the one he has already made on it.