Family central to Arcia's rise to Brewers

Family central to Arcia's rise to Brewers

PHOENIX -- The Brewers' 2010 crop of international signees included a pair of Venezuelan shortstops. The following spring, they were both sent to the team's academy in the Dominican Republic, and when they arrived for a workout, the manager there, Nestor Corredor, sent one out to shortstop and the other to second base. Later, he was shocked when the second baseman, a skinny 16-year-old, stormed into his office in a huff.

His name was Orlando Arcia.

"He basically walked in, waved his finger and said, 'No, I'm a shortstop,'" said Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan, laughing. "I love that story. Ask Nestor Corredor to tell you that story."

Corredor is still in the organization, managing Rookie-level Helena.

"Absolutely true story," Corredor said. "The day before they showed up, I got the reports. The scouts said the big one is a good shortstop, and the other one is so-so. When they showed up, Arcia was the short one, so I sent him to second.

"He looked at me like he wanted to kill me. After the workout, he knocks on the door and goes, 'Can I say something? You don't know what you're doing.'"

Corredor pauses his story to lower his head and laugh.

"He says, 'Yeah, you don't know what you're doing. You've got your best shortstop at second base,'" Corredor said. "And he turned around and left."

The next day, Corredor ordered Arcia to second base again, but the kid made a sour face and held out his hands as if to say, 'Did we not just discuss this?' Corredor relented and waved him over to shortstop.

Arcia's spinning play

"From that point to now," Corredor said as Arcia enters his first full season in the Major Leagues, "he's been the best shortstop I've ever seen."

* * *

It was his parents who introduced Arcia to baseball. His mother, Lilibeth, was a shortstop who once captained the Venezuelan national softball team. His father, Oswaldo, was a rec league catcher. Orlando, along with older brother Oswaldo Jr. and two sisters, grew up in Cantaura, in a petroleum- and natural gas-rich region about 60 miles inland from the Caribbean Sea. They lived in a neighborhood filled with families and children.

It was easy to get a baseball game together.

"We spent the whole afternoon playing ball, whether it was with a rubber ball or balled-up socks," Arcia said, via Brewers translator Carlos Brizuela. "Whatever we could find on the street."

Arcia was usually one of the younger kids, but he eagerly followed his older brother, a sweet-swinging left-handed hitter who was on a road to the Major Leagues himself.

Oswaldito, the family called him. He pushed Orlando.

Orlando eventually pushed back.

"We've always been close in that manner, since I can remember," Oswaldo Arcia said last season while he was still playing for the Twins, and the Brewers came to visit. "We've always worked hard together. He'll play a game and he'll be calling me to say, 'Hey, let's go to the gym. Let's run.' And I'll tell him, 'Hey, take a break. You just got done playing. Just take a break.'"

This is a common story in the Major Leagues, where many players were made better by playing alongside older brothers.

"That probably has a little to do with it, playing with my brother and all of the older kids," Orlando Arcia said. "I was just never scared."

The boys' father worked for a major oil company in Venezuela -- and still does, in fact. So it was their mother who made sure the boys got to their baseball games, which took on increasing importance as they got older. By 13, Orlando knew he wanted to play professionally. At the time, Oswaldo was not far from signing with the Twins.

"It motivated me to work hard to get where he was," Orlando Arcia said. "I always tried to get to the level he was at. We always played baseball as a family, so when my brother signed, I decided I was going to sign, too."

Arcia's two-run jack

The Twins made an offer, but Orlando Arcia chose the Brewers.

When asked why, he laughs.

"They offered more," he said.

Brewers scouts Fernando Arrango and Manny Batista offered $95,000. Arcia took it.

"He was known, but he wasn't a huge bonus guy," said Flanagan, a longtime Brewers front-office man who has risen to the club's top player development post. "Some of it was the body. He is slight now, but he's light years ahead of what he was then. He could always pick it, but he wasn't a speed burner on the bases. He wasn't a big-time power guy, although his power is surprising when he gets into one.

"The other thing you couldn't see in the workouts were the instincts. The ball that deflects off the third baseman, and he's not only there, he's in a position with his body where he can get a throw off with a bad angle and get the out. You know he didn't work on that in infield; it's just natural instincts. It's reactions."

* * *

Everyone who has spent time with Arcia on a baseball diamond has a favorite play.

Start with Brewers first-base coach Carlos Subero, who managed Arcia during a breakthrough 2015 at Double-A Biloxi after managing against him in the Venezuelan Winter League. For Subero, the best moment came in winter ball on Halloween night 2014.

In the top of the ninth inning, with two outs, two runners on base, the tying run at the plate and Arcia's Caribes de Anzoategui trying to hold on for a win, the batter hit a bouncer up the middle. Arcia, the shortstop, crossed behind second base to field the baseball and spun as if he was going to throw to first base. But Arcia fired instead to third, where the runner -- who'd begun the play at second base -- had strayed too far around the bag. Arcia had somehow sensed it.

Game over.

"He still doesn't know how good he's going to be," Subero said last year. "He still does a lot of stuff on instincts."

Arcia flashed that spin again at the 2015 All-Star Futures Game. After Arcia twirled and made an on-target throw to first base, he'd covered so much ground that he finished the play in center field.

"Get used to that spin move," Subero said. "That's his signature, and he can do it with the best."

"Even if he can get to it and has time to throw without the turn, I would rather him spin and throw it," said outfield prospect Brett Phillips, a teammate of Arcia's in the Minors. "It's more accurate like that, because there's no thought process involved; it's just athleticism taking over. I saw that play a lot playing center field behind him."

Said pitcher Jacob Barnes: "That throw is always right on the money. You see him make that play a couple of times and you're like, 'OK.' You're kind of shocked about it. He makes plays look easy that are actually really difficult."

Arcia's jump throw

Barnes said his gaze sometimes shifts to Arcia when he is ostensibly watching video of his outings on the mound. Minor League players do not get nearly the advance scouting data available to Major Leaguers, and yet Barnes began to notice Arcia instinctively beginning to move in the right direction as the hitter was just beginning to swing, based on the man at the plate and the sign put down by the catcher.

It's so subtle, Barnes said, that it goes unnoticed.

"But you see it enough times and you sit there and think, 'Wow,'" he said.

Another pitcher, Brent Suter, believes Arcia was ready for the Majors defensively as early as 2013, when he was an 18-year-old playing in the Class A Midwest League.

"I think we were in Cedar Rapids," Suter said. "The sky was really bad and the lights weren't getting high fly balls. There were two high flies in a row to center field, and he looks back and none of the outfielders know where the ball is.

"So he takes off sprinting and catches it in center field. I swear, it happened two times in one inning. You can't teach those instincts. Totally picking up his teammates right there."

The defense long led Arcia's scouting reports, but in 2015, the bat caught up. In his first taste of Double-A, Arcia posted a .307/.347/.453 slash line for the Brewers' new Biloxi affiliate, winning the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award. His 37 doubles and seven triples were a career high.

Biloxi went all the way to the Southern League Championship Series. They fell to Chattanooga, three games to two, but Arcia batted .300 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his eight playoff games.

He homered in three straight games, including a two-run shot to open a 6-0 lead in clincher of the semifinal round, and another homer Game 1 of the championship.

"He rounded first base and yelled out, and then smashed Taylor Green's hand," said catcher Dustin Houle. "Right then, Taylor was like, 'This guy is a dude. He's a man.' That was one of the coolest moments for me in the Minors.

"In that moment, he rose above everyone there. You could tell he was better than everyone."

Houle has felt that way about Arcia for a while. He remembers watching Arcia homer in front of then-GM Doug Melvin in the Dominican Republic in 2011, and bring swagger to the Brewers' fall instructional league.

"He was 17 and he was the leader," Houle said. "He was the loudest kid and the best player. You could tell he was above everyone, instincts-wise. He always played up."

* * *

Arcia's career arc took a bad turn early on. After a strong opening showing in the 2011 Dominican Summer League, he broke his right ankle sliding into second base during extended spring work in 2012. He would miss the entire season.

Arcia took it hard.

"It got to the point I didn't really want to play anymore," he said. "It was really my mom who kept pushing me and told me, 'Stay up.' I have to be thankful for her. She's the reason I'm here. Mother's advice.

"She kept telling me, 'This is what you wanted to do.' I had to promise her I would make it to the big leagues."

Arcia's despondence was news to Tony Diggs, an assistant director in the Brewers' player-development department and the club's roving outfield/baserunning coordinator. He helps run the Brewers' year-round operation at Maryvale Baseball Park.

"I never heard one iota of that," Diggs said. "If he felt that, he did a good job of maintaining his business and doing things the right way. He did everything he was supposed to do. You never saw him waver from the rehab work, from doing all the little things you have to do to get back on the field."

What was Arcia like as a 16- and 17-year old?

"Same way he is today: Extremely confident," Diggs said. "He knew exactly what he wanted and how he desired to get it. And he always enjoyed the game. He's always been able to wow you."

Arcia's long throw gets the out

"He loves the game," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who was just beginning a tenure as a special assistant Melvin when Arcia was injured. "That's what stands out from the back fields in Spring Training. He plays the game with his heart, you know?"

So Arcia kept his heart in it. In 2013, he posted pedestrian offensive numbers while adjusting to the cold at Class A Wisconsin. In 2014, in the humidity of Class A Advanced Brevard County, he hit 29 doubles and stole 31 bases. In 2015 at Biloxi, he enjoyed his breakout.

 Arcia entered 2016 as Milwaukee's top prospect, and rose as high as No. 9 on MLBPipeline's list of the top prospects in baseball by August, when the Brewers promoted him to the Major Leagues in the wake of the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Arcia's odd first MLB hit

He made his Major League debut in San Diego two days before his 22nd birthday.

His mom was there, and she offered a few words of encouragement before the game.

"She told me to relax," Arcia said. "Just do what you know how to do. Have fun."

* * *

Arcia is generally quiet in the Major League clubhouse, though that is starting to change. He speaks limited English, but knows enough, Suter and other teammates said, to let his big personality trickle out.

In time, say those who know Arcia from the Minor Leagues, Arcia will become more vocal.

"Believe me, you're going to hear him," Barnes said.

Asked what he sees in his future, Arcia says, "At least 30 years in the big leagues. Someone has to be the first to do that, right?"

What else? Gold Gloves? MVP awards? World Series rings?

"Yeah, all of that," Arcia said. "You think about all of that."

"He's always seemed to have had it, that confidence," Flanagan said. "Even with [losing a year to] the ankle injury, he's always been young. He's moved pretty aggressively through the system for his age."

Incidentally, Arcia was right about who should have been playing shortstop that first day in the Dominican Republic. The taller shortstop was Raphachel Colatosti, who played four professional seasons but never made it out of the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.

"Colatosti. You don't forget a name like that," Flanagan said.

A story like that, either.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.