By Jon Weisman
For now, Erisbel Arruebarrena is simply joining Miguel Rojas in holding down the fort at shortstop until Hanley Ramirez returns from the disabled list, as early as Monday. Ramirez was taking grounders at shortstop during batting practice today and looked fairly loose.
It’s no secret how good a fielder Arruebarrena is — his fluidity makes him about the only guy in town that Rojas wouldn’t take to school on defense.
“The way he’s played, he makes everything look pretty easy,” Don Mattingly said of Arruebarrena. “He’s one of those guys that you catch people just kind of watching him take ground balls.”
Mattingly thinks that Rojas has more versatility at second base and third, but Arruebarrena has more potential on offense — with the caveats that Mattingly hasn’t seen much of Arruebarrena at the plate in game action.
“I think he could hit a little bit,” Mattingly said. “The ball comes off his bat well. It sounds like in Cuba, he didn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on his hitting — it was all about defense. We feel like there’s some upside there with his bat.”
Mattingly compared the 24-year-old Arruebarrena’s potential to that Atlanta defensive wonder Andrelton Simmons, who turns 25 next month. A Gold Glove winner in 2013 who has a .643 OPS this season, Simmons is listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, while Arruebarrena measured at 6-0, 200.
“He’s not a small guy,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy that’s got a little pump in his bat. … We think he’s got a good swing.”
Arruebarrena’s reputation was scarred a bit when he found himself at the center of a minor-league brawl July 27, but Mattingly has been impressed by his work habits. Mattingly related that early on, Dodger hitting coach Mark McGwire worked with Arruebarrena on some small skills. Then later, when Arruebarrena returned to the team, he showed that he had continued that work in the minors.
“That’s kind of rare,” Mattingly said. “A lot of times, a guy (goes) and when he comes back, he’s just lost the whole concept of it. He looks like he’s held on to it.”
McGwire called Arruebarrena a “line-drive, doubles-gap hitter” but agreed with Mattingly that it was too soon to know how good a hitter Arruebarrena would become.
“We’ve only seen him play a handful of games up here, but I like what I see,” McGwire said. “I think the first thing that comes to my mind is his strike zone has to be narrowed down, especially up here in the big leagues. I know he’s had some success in Triple-A and Double-A. But it’s just yet to be seen. It’s obviously a different game up here, the game’s obviously fast. I like the potential — just have to work on the strike zone.”