ST. PETERSBURG — Christian Arroyo grew up in the Tampa/Brooksville area very much an Evan Longoria fan.
He remembers when Longoria was called up to the Rays in April 2008. He remembers Longoria’s walkoff home run in Game 162 in 2011 that clinched a wild-card playoff berth. He once tacked a Rays schedule that included a picture of Longoria to his bedroom wall.
And Arroyo was one of the first to learn that Longoria was traded to the Giants on Wednesday in exchange for four players: veteran outfielder Denard Span, two low-level minor-league pitchers and Arroyo, a versatile infielder.
"I know for a lot of Rays fans out there it hurts," he said. "For me, if I was still a fan, it would hurt me, too, because I was a huge Evan Longoria fan. This is a guy who is the face of the franchise. That’s the thing about baseball. You have to make business decisions, and sometimes they hurt. "
Arroyo, the Class 5A player of the year in 2013 as a senior at Hernando High and the 25th overall draft pick that June by the Giants, hopes the reason he is part of the trade is to be a key piece in the youth movement the Rays’ front office hopes will propel the franchise back into the ranks of playoff contenders.
"I’m just trying to look at it as a good opportunity for me," said Arroyo, who plays second, third and shortstop. "I don’t ever want to replicate myself as an Evan Longoria, because he’s a once-in-a-generation-type player. He’s a phenomenal player. Evan Longoria is Evan Longoria. I just want to go out there and play my game and make myself better every year."
Arroyo, 22, considers shortstop his natural position but is comfortable playing second or third. He was rated the Giants’ top prospect by mlb.com and fourth overall by Baseball America . He made his major-league debut last season after batting .439 with a .471 on-base percentage and a .682 slugging percentage in 17 games at Triple-A Sacramento. He did struggle at the plate with the Giants, batting .192 with a .244 on-base percentage and a .304 slugging percentage with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 34 games.
Rays general manager Erik Neander said the team’s scouts determined that Arroyo is ready to take the step from being a Triple-A player to one who can succeed in the majors.
"What we saw early (last) year and some of the adjustments (he made) and the way the game was starting to slow down for him and the way he was starting to drive the ball gives us some hope that this is someone offensively that can be a guy that you can build around and defensively can move around, play a lot of defensive positions and plays the game the right way," Neander said.
The Rays are excited to add Arroyo to the group at Durham that won the Triple-A title last summer, Neander said. That core is projected to be the foundation of a winning team at the big-league level, "ideally sooner rather than later," Neander said.
Arroyo missed the second half of last season after breaking his left hand when struck by a pitch. He said the bone is healing well and he expects to be cleared for baseball activities when visiting the surgeon Jan. 9.
"The main thing is to get healthy. That’s first and foremost," Arroyo said. "From here on out it’s getting ready for the season and put myself in position to even make the team. That’s not promised to anyone. Just because you’re getting traded for a player like Even Longoria, you still have to earn it. My intentions are to earn a spot on that team and be a guy who can help the Rays out for years to come. Doing it in front of my family and friends makes it all that much better."
Arroyo said he was aware of the possibility of a trade for several days. He knew the Giants were looking for a third baseman and a right-handed bat, so he wasn’t as caught by surprise when the trade became official.
"It’s definitely not the worst thing that can happen," he said. "Obviously, it’s sad to leave an organization that drafted you as an 18-year-old kid, developed you as a player, helped you grow up. They kind of made me the man I am today. It’s bittersweet, for sure."