Remember Mike Carp?
He was a lefthanded-hitting first baseman and outfielder who was designated for assignment by the Mariners during spring training in 2013 then sold to the Red Sox.
Carp arrived with no guarantee of playing time but appeared in 86 games during that magic season. He had an .885 OPS, 29 extra-base hits, and 43 RBIs.
He fit well on that particular roster and manager John Farrell was adept at putting him in positions to succeed, including as a pinch hitter. Carp had a knack for big hits and played with a little bit of an edge.
It’s similar to what we’re seeing with Christian Arroyo this season.
Arroyo, a former first-round draft pick, was claimed off waivers from the Indians last August and showed the Sox enough to stay on the 40-man roster all winter.
Like Carp, he arrived at spring training with no guarantees of a spot and played his way onto the team.
Now he is playing a significant role in turning a last-place team into a contender.
Arroyo started at second base against Toronto on Saturday. He’s been in the lineup 29 times at second, which has allowed the Sox to use Kiké Hernández in center field and keep Marwin Gonzalez in the utility role that suits him best.
Manager Alex Cora said during spring training that Hernández would almost certainly play second base in the late innings of any game the Sox had a chance to win. But Arroyo’s solid play in the field has made that unnecessary.
It’s a small sample size to be certain, but Arroyo has shown a flair for turning double plays and a strong arm.
When Cora returned to the Sox last year, coaches Carlos Febles and Ramón Vázquez told him how much they liked Arroyo defensively. Cora was impressed by what he saw on television and then even more so when Arroyo arrived at spring training 15 pounds lighter.
“He’s been great at second and the numbers show it,” Cora said. “Christian makes us a better defensive team overall because Kiké is really good in the outfield.”
Arroyo is hitting, too. He came into Saturday’s game with a .792 OPS, 12 extra-base hits, and 15 RBIs in 118 plate appearances.
His three-run homer in the fifth inning against Houston on Thursday tied a game the Sox went on to win. Arroyo had a solo shot against Toronto on Friday that again tied a game the Sox eventually won.
Arroyo pounded his chest with his left fist as he rounded first base after the home run on Thursday. At 26, he’s having his most fun in baseball in years.
“Sometimes you have to slow it down with him,” Cora said. “He gets very emotional and upset and gets away from the game. But when he’s in control he puts up good swings.”
As the crowds grow at Fenway, Arroyo has found the atmosphere energizing.
“It’s pretty unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced in my entire life,” he said. “It’s just different. It’s hard to explain.”
For some players, it’s about timing.
Arroyo was taken 25th overall in the 2013 draft by the Giants and turned down a full scholarship to the University of Florida to sign. His agent, Tom O’Connell, was also Carp’s.
Arroyo made it to the majors with San Francisco in 2017 but was blocked by shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Joe Panik. He was then one of four players traded that December to the Rays for Evan Longoria.
Injuries hampered him with Tampa Bay and Arroyo was traded to the Indians in 2019. He appeared in one game then was designated for assignment.
Like lefthanded relievers, former first-round picks always seem to get second or third chances to succeed that many other players don’t.
“I have to hold myself accountable because there were some things I could have controlled,” Arroyo said. “There’s other things you can’t control.”
That Arroyo is a middle infielder with power helped. But more than anything he needed a team and a manager who believed in him.
Carp never regained what he had in 2013. He lost playing time the following season, demanded a trade, and was picked up off waivers by the Rangers.
He drifted from there to the Mexican League and independent ball and is now retired.
Arroyo hopes to have a longer stay. For now, he’s happy to have found a home.
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