Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Hernando High

Giant step

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Published:   |   Updated: July 23, 2013 at 02:50 AM

Typically, at this time of the year prep baseball players can look back and reflect on the season they just completed.

They can then look forward, start preparing for next season, for college or simply life after baseball.

But Christian Arroyo's season isn't exactly over yet.

The recent Hernando High graduate was an easy choice as Hernando Today's Baseball Player of the Year, an award handed out to reward a tremendous season gone by.

Yet for Arroyo, his final prep campaign was just the beginning of his 2013 on the diamond.

He no longer dons purple and gold, traded in for orange and black. He's not a Leopard anymore; he's a Giant - currently an Arizona League Giant.

Already a few weeks into his professional career, Arroyo has appeared in 16 games for the San Francisco Giants' Rookie affiliate through Friday. He's hitting a modest .254, but with three doubles, two triples, a home run, 13 runs batted in and 17 runs scored.

Since last month, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound shortstop out of Brooksville has been named the Class 5A Player of the Year, and nearly Mr. Baseball for the state. Baseball America tabbed him as a first team All-American.

He was a first-round draft pick - the first in the Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft from Hernando County - and signed a contract worth over a million dollars.

A year ago he was the MVP for Team USA in a major international event, and eventually signed a Division I scholarship with the University of Florida.

For good measure, he was the salutatorian for this year's graduating class at Hernando, thanks to a 4.4 grade point average as impressive as any baseball statistic on his resume - which is saying something.

At this point, being named the finest player on the local level might seem a bit trivial, but Arroyo wouldn't downplay the honor.

"I thought it was awesome," said Arroyo by phone from the AZL Giants' home of Scottsdale, Ari. "I didn't go out in the season looking to get Player of the Year. I was trying to be successful for my team and that's what I did.

"Now I'm looking forward to the future, not get a big head, stay humble, stay grounded and keep working hard. With hard work and perseverance, the future is inevitable."



If Arroyo's senior season was based solely on his team's performance, it was hardly a disappointment.

For the fourth straight year, Arroyo's third since arriving as a sophomore transfer from Springstead, the Leopards advanced to a regional final.

Hernando finished 24-6, claiming a district championship along the way. The only major blemish: falling just short of returning to the Final Four, after reaching that round in Arroyo's sophomore season of 2011.

It was Arroyo's go-ahead, two-run home run in the fifth inning that put the Leopards in front of their 5A-Region II semifinal victory against Eustis, so he could certainly claim a significant contribution to that playoff run.

However, the numbers scream that Arroyo achieved considerable individual success.

He was the county's Triple Crown winner, with a .524 batting average, 11 homers and 35 RBI across 30 games.

For good measure, he also paced the county in runs scored (42) and doubles (13). He was second in triples with three, and went 9-for-9 stealing bases.

That ridiculously high average set a school single-season mark, as did the 55 hits he produced to accumulate it.

Though he was a repeat All-County selection the year prior, it was a relatively quiet campaign at .306, one homer and 16 RBI.

Whether it was confidence built from helping the national team capture the XXV IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship in Seoul, South Korea last summer, or just a product of his offseason diligence, Arroyo turned an offensive corner this spring.

"Last year when he pressed and everybody was talking and doubting he could hit, he was pressing," Hernando head coach Tim Sims said. "The focus and confidence was there, he was just overanxious.

"This year he let the game come to him. He played the speed of the game that particular day and adjusted to that."

"I think the biggest thing was I learned more about the mental state of the game in hitting," Arroyo said. "My junior year I felt not too much pressure, but a little bit. This year I was relaxed and let things happen.

"Team USA was the best experience baseball-wise I've had so far. To wear USA across your chest, to represent your country was huge."

Right now, though, Arroyo's attention is clearly on what's next.

"I think I had a really great, successful senior year," Arroyo said. "I left with a bang and hopefully I start my career with the Giants the same way."



Arroyo was something of surprise pick by the Giants at 25th overall. He was rated 102nd among prospects heading into the draft by Baseball America, and doubts remain over whether he can play shortstop at the big-league level.

Ironically, Arroyo's defensive prowess was his calling card early in his high school days.

As a freshman at Springstead in 2010, he played in every varsity game but only had 46 at-bats. Though he hit .370, he often was the player who didn't bat in favor of the designated hitter, left to merely display his glove at second base and short.

Even as he became more of an offensive force, he remained a slick fielder in the middle of the infield.

"When they hit it to him, it's an out," Sims said, speaking on Arroyo's ability to play shortstop long term. "That's what I say. It's not a question mark in my mind."

So far he has played shortstop for the AZL Giants, and that's where he'd like to stay, though he'll willingly move if it comes down to it.

In the end, Arroyo's greatest goal is to play in the majors, whatever route it requires. He said the decision to turn down the Gators and sign with the Giants, for his draft slot value of $1,866,500, was an easy one.

"He's going to go in there and compete," Sims said. "Someone is going to have to beat him out."

Two other Hernando alums, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo (no relation) and former Indians, Cubs and Tigers pitcher Mike Walker, have already paved the way to the "bigs" for county players.

Bronson Arroyo once played for Sims. So the veteran mentor's evaluation of Christian Arroyo's legacy carries considerable weight.

"At this stage, he's the absolute best player I've ever coached, period," Sims said. "You've got to have that hunger, and he's the hungriest player I've ever coached. He's gotten to where he's at because he's hungry to improve every day."

Where he goes from here is yet to be determined. Christian Arroyo may have left Hernando, but this is far from the end of his story.

"The past year has been crazy," Arroyo said. "Going from playing on a dream team on Team USA, to going and playing high school baseball, I set two records there.

"It's nice to see all the hard work pay off and I can hang with the older guys. I think I'll make my way through the (Giants) organization pretty quick and when I get to the big leagues I think I'll be an improved player.

"But the organization has its own plan and I completely respect that."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

By the numbers: Christian Arroyo

YR SCH GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG

Fr SPG 26 46 13 17 1 0 1 5 .370

So HER 18 45 20 21 2 0 3 15 .467

Jr HER 29 85 25 26 8 1 1 16 .306

Sr HER 30 105 42 55 13 3 11 35 .524

TOTALS 103 281 100 119 24 3 16 71 .423

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