Friday, November 16, 2018
  • The Heater
  • Marc Topkin

From the archives: Rays infielder Christian Arroyo’s time at Hernando High

Before infielder Christian Arroyo was headed to the Rays in the Evan Longoria trade, he was a standout shortstop at Hernando High.

He was the Tampa Bay Times' North Suncoast player of the year in 2013 and the state's Class 5A player of the year. Arroyo orally committed to the Gators before the Giants picked him No. 25 overall – the highest a Hernando County player had ever been drafted.

"It was the most exhilarating moment of my life," Arroyo said that night. "It was crazy."

MLB Network thought so, too; its telecast called it "a shocking pick" because of Arroyo's hard-to-project position.

To get to know Arroyo better, he's my story from our archives, written in June 2013 just before the draft:

Despite Christian Arroyo's potential and work ethic, questions swirled about the Hernando High School shortstop last fall.

The University of Florida signee had the tools – he was the most valuable player of the United States' gold medal-winning under-18 team at September's world championships in Korea. But his junior season production was subpar – a .306 batting average that dropped 171 points from the previous year.

So when his adviser suggested a handful of options to improve his conditioning, body and draft prospects, Arroyo was ready to try new things, however weird they seemed.

Like yoga.

"It sounds kinda silly," Arroyo said.

But it worked.

His periodic downward dogs and yoga mat warmups helped the senior become one of the state's top prep players and a likely first-day pick in this week's Major League Baseball first-year player draft.

Arroyo's dip into yoga got its origins late last summer. At the 18U World Baseball Championship, he started all 13 games at shortstop and batted .387 with 11 RBIs. He was a tournament all-star and its MVP.

His accomplishments earned him a mention in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd feature, and they served as a reminder for his sky-high potential. When he returned from Korea, teammates said he seemed even more focused on his craft.

"He's really taken everything seriously," said Hernando ace Brandon Lawson, a USF signee. "Not that he didn't before, but he's taken it to another level."

That includes improved conditioning to prepare him for the rigorous schedule he'll face either in the minor leagues or the SEC. So to keep his body healthy, boost his draft stock and, most importantly, help his Leopards vie for their fourth consecutive region final appearance, Arroyo was open to new ideas like deep-tissue massages.

So Arroyo tried yoga, going once or twice a week to keep his muscles loose and improve his flexibility.

"You're out there every single day," Arroyo said. "If you don't take care of your body, you're just gonna shut down."

Arroyo never did. He came through with the best season of his high school career, batting .524 and leading his Leopards to the Class 5A region final. On Tuesday, the Florida Dairy Farmers named him their 5A player of the year and a finalist for the state's Mr. Baseball award.

Arroyo credits yoga for three key aspects of his success: his power, focus and durability.

He had always been a solid hitter but hadn't shown much pop until his senior season. Through yoga, Arroyo increased his flexibility, especially in his hips. More flexibility means more torque, and more torque translates into more power.

The result: After combining for 32 RBIs and four homers in his sophomore and junior seasons, Arroyo knocked in 35 runs this spring and ranked among the state's leaders with 11 home runs.

"It really did show," Arroyo said.

One of his biggest blasts also displayed his improved mental game.

Hernando trailed Eustis 1-0 in the 5A region semifinal when he came up to bat with a runner on. He used what he learned in yoga to center his breath – and bash a pitch over the leftfield wall for the go-ahead runs in a 3-1 victory.

Arroyo also noticed a difference in his durability. He hit better in the last five games of the year (.625, seven RBIs, two home runs) than he did in the first five (.563, six RBIs, one home run).

More importantly, he avoided injuries. In the district final, he was diving to first base and was on a collision course with Eustis ace Alex Hagner, a fellow UF signee, who was sliding for the tag. Arroyo flipped over his possible Gators teammate and walked away with a minor bump instead of something worse.

Those dividends could pay off this week after boosting his stock in the spring, analyst Kiley McDaniel said. Arroyo could sneak into the late first round and probably won't last past the second.

"He's sort of an intangibles guy," McDaniel said. "He does everything well and can really hit."

Questions remain around the North Suncoast's top talent. Some scouts suggest his frame and newfound power might project better at catcher, while other teams would like to move the shortstop to second base.

Regardless of how highly he's drafted or whether his immediate future is in Gainesville or the minors, Arroyo credits yoga for helping him get closer to realizing his dreams.

"People say seeing is believing," Arroyo said, "and I believe it now."