LAKELAND, Fla. — All along, as the attention turned toward Vaughn Grissom and then Braden Shewmake, Orlando Arcia continued to work. Over the offseason, the Braves maintained that they would hold an open competition at shortstop and that Arcia would receive a fair shake.
Not many people chose to believe them.
But here we are. The Braves optioned Grissom and Shewmake, clearing the way for Arcia to start. The team placed its belief in Arcia, who has played the position before but was a bench player on last season’s team (until injuries happened and the Braves needed him).
“I’m happy, very happy,” Arcia said through interpreter Franco García. “I feel very grateful for this opportunity. With that said, I just want to give my absolute best effort to help the team win every game possible and win championships. That’s what we’re here for.”
Arcia said he found out he was the starter through social media. Since then, people have congratulated him.
All spring, Arcia worked alongside Grissom and Shewmake. The Braves wanted answers on the prospects. It seemed like Grissom had the inside track on the job, especially because he seemingly didn’t do anything to lose it.
The Braves eventually saw it differently.
They went with Arcia, who has more big-league experience. They believe in Arcia. They love his hands and his arm, and they think the bat will play because they’re encouraged by last season and this spring. And by starting Arcia, the Braves will carry, and thus not lose, Ehire Adrianza.
“He’s a pro,” Braves third base and infield coach Ron Washington said of Arcia. “He knows how to play shortstop; he did it (for years) in Milwaukee. He hasn’t lost his skill set. And now he’s getting an opportunity, and we believe that he’s going to seize it, and he’s going to do a good job for us.”
Added manager Brian Snitker: “I told (Arcia) earlier, I said, ‘I know you can play short.’ I wanted to look at the other two (Grissom and Shewmake). (Arcia) just quietly goes about his business – he has the last couple years that we’ve had him. He stays ready, and when we need to call on him, wherever it is, he’s ready to go.”
In the end, it seemed Grissom would’ve needed to exceed Arcia by a lot to win the job. The Braves felt, at this moment, Grissom clearly was not the better shortstop between the two of them. So Grissom and Shewmake are headed to the minors to continue their development.
“Honestly, tremendous talent between both of them,” Arcia said of Grissom and Shewmake. “Can’t say that enough. The team does things for a reason. As far as my involvement in it, all I can do is just give my best effort every time and continue to support the team in any way I can.”
Over the offseason, Arcia went to the Venezuelan Winter League to continue to improve his game. Last season, Arcia posted a 104 OPS-plus (an on-base plus slugging percentage metric that is standardized to account for external factors). This is 4% better than the MLB average over his 209 at-bats.
Since the start of 2020, Arcia has hit .242 with a .702 OPS. The Braves think he can hit well enough to justify starting him. Arcia said he has focused on his offense this spring because he knows the defense will be there, though he added he’s still working on his defense.
In Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium, Arcia drove in four runs, including hitting a three-run homer. Over 28 at-bats this spring, Arcia is hitting ..286 with a .912 OPS.
Arcia is only 28 years old. Despite the experience, he’s still relatively young.
“I don’t know that anybody ever peaks out in this game,” Snitker said. “There’s always something you can work on, always something to get better with. He’s a skilled young man.”
On Monday, the Braves met with Grissom, Shewmake and the other players they optioned. They always try to be transparent.
What was the message to the shortstops?
“There was nothing but positive things to say about their work ethic, how they came to camp,” Snitker said. “They performed. They came in and performed. So it was very positive messages on both of those guys, and they were both very receptive. I know they’re going to go down and they’re gonna work their tails off and do everything they can to improve as a ballplayer.”
Of those two prospects, Washington said: ”Guys on the outside, they’re looking at results. Results come and go. I’m looking at the process. The process is sustained. And consistency. That’s what it is. They’re in the process right now. They got a very, very, very bright future. It just didn’t happen this spring.”
Earning the job is one thing.
Keeping it is another.
The Braves always could change their mind and call up one of the prospects if Arcia doesn’t meet their expectations. But for now, he’ll have an opportunity to run with the job.
Not many saw this coming, but as everyone opined, Arcia worked.
“I feel like I always come into spring training prepared,” Arcia said. “That’s always been my mentality. I come here to just do the job that needs to get done and give my best effort every day. So, really, it’s just about focusing on doing the job.”
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