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Christian Arroyo probably isn’t how the Giants will fix left field

The Giants are lucky enough to have a solid prospect enjoying a torrid start to the season, but don’t get carried away

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Christian Arroyo is hitting .479/.510/.750. That is ... good. Dare I say it’s really, really good? It would be good if you pretended the batting average and on-base percentage were his on-base percentage and slugging percentage, then slapped a “.250” in front of it. He is a fine prospect, and he’s off to a ludicrous start to the 2017 season.

He’s probably not going to fix the Giants, though. Not yet. Someday, perhaps, but not yet.

Let’s start with what Arroyo is: a young, talented baseball player with oodles of potential. He can play all over the infield, and he’s a career .300 hitter as a professional, with plenty of doubles. He isn’t even 22 yet, which means he’s young for Triple-A, just like he’s been young for every league he’s played in so far.

There’s a part of me that thinks if Arroyo hit .300/.400/.500 in the South Atlantic League last year, with a call-up to San Jose toward the end of the year, he would have been a much hotter prospect for a lot of the national writers. We all know to adjust for age, but we’re also suckers for sweet, sweet stats.

So please, don’t take this as me pooh-poohing what Arroyo has done in the past, what he’s doing right now, or what he will do in the future. I’m a fan. Everyone raves about his baseball instincts, and, Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In 10 years, we will look back at this post and marvel at its naïveté. Remember when we weren’t sure what to think about Arroyo? Dude has 3,000 career hits now.

But we’re here talking about the 2017 Giants, and I’m skeptical that Arroyo would be a slam-dunk (baseball term) guarantee to help the lineup as currently constructed. The case for letting him marinate in the minor leagues for additional flavor:

He doesn’t play left field

This is kind of a big one. It’s possible that Arroyo can play left field. Aaron Hill was the left fielder on Wednesday, even though he isn’t a left fielder, either.

But Bobby Evans is on record suggesting that it’s tough for a young player to learn a new position while attempting to establish himself as a hitter at the major league level, and it makes sense. If his future is in the outfield, he should probably figure that out in the minors. But it’s also a shame to waste a perfectly good middle infielder, so I don’t blame the Giants for not testing him in the outfield yet, either.

If you’re wondering about Eduardo Nuñez moving to left field, I wrote about that in the offseason. It’s not pretty.

Brandon Belt to left and Arroyo to first is an even worse take. Stop that.

The bat is likely to be “good for a middle infielder,” not “good enough to start at any position”

While it’s hard not to improve on what the Giants have received from their left fielders this season, I would like you to compare two players:

Player A (career): .281 BA, .344 OBP, .403 SLG, 106 OPS+
Player B (career): .287 BA, .353 OBP, .387 SLG, 103 OPS+

Player A is Joe Panik, considered to be a building block and important part of the Giants’ future.

Player B is Norichika Aoki, whose option was declined by the Giants before last season, and who was waived this offseason after a completely expected performance.

Panik can play a Gold Glove second base. Aoki can play an amusing but terrifying left field. That’s the difference, and it’s substantial. If Panik played an amusing but terrifying left field, he’d bef far less valuable.

If you’re looking for a slash line that Arroyo might emulate, Panik’s .281/.344/.403 is a pretty good place to start, based on an optimistic reading of his minor-league numbers. That’s a great middle infielder. It’s less exciting in left.

(And if you’re getting him into the lineup by moving a current starter to left field, you’re basically making Arroyo a left fielder by proxy.)

He might not be a true .479 hitter, everyone

I don’t have any evidence to support this, but maybe we should give it another month, see what happens? Arroyo might be on his way to an exciting season, but that doesn’t have to mean that he’s evolved into an All-Star.

He did hit just .274/.316/.373 last year in Double-A, after all. It was a tough hitting environment, for sure, but let’s not rush him because of 51 plate appearances in April.

He’s still learning how to command the strike zone

Arroyo set a career high with 29 walks last year in 517 plate appearances. That’s acceptable, but it isn’t especially impressive. This season, he has two walks in 51 plate appearances, mostly because he’s been slapping the ball all over the danged place.

That’s not to say he’s doomed because of poor plate discipline, but his aggressiveness is certainly something the best pitchers in the world will try to exploit. The good news is that he makes a lot of contact, so it’s not as if he’s completely out of sorts when it comes to controlling the strike zone. But if he’s not walking, and he’s not hitting 20 homers a year, he’s an average-dependent player.

Average-dependent players are finicky creatures, especially when they’re adjusting to the majors for the first time.

If he keeps hitting like this for a month, sure, let’s have the conversation again. Please don’t mistake this for “Christian Arroyo isn’t going to help the 2017 Giants” or anything similar. But where you see a hot-hitting prospect at the highest level of the minors, I see a young prospect that still needs some polish. If there’s an injury in the infield, I’m all for it. If there’s a gnarly gutterslump of biblical proportions in the infield, I’m all for it.

Screwing with the defensive alignment and ignoring the positional spectrum, though? Dunno. Seems a little premature for that. The real answer to left field is probably one of the very large baseball men rehabbing in San Jose right now. I’m excited for Arroyo’s future as much as anyone. I’m just pretty sure that future isn’t in left field in April or May, 2017.