Name: Rafeal Arias
DOB: January 3, 1989
Signed as an international free agent, Arias spent three years in the Padres Dominican Summer League. He worked just six innings in his debut season after a late start.
In 2007, Arias was a bit overwhelmed after being thrown into the closer's role. He ended up blowing four of the six save opportunities en route to a 0-3 mark with a 7.84 ERA. Across 23 appearances, Arias allowed 27 hits and walked 16 – four more than he struck out.
Command was again an issue in 2008. Still in the DSL, Arias saw action in 19 games and went 0-1 with a 3.26 ERA. He did, however, have to pitch out of trouble, as the right-hander saw 31 base runners in 19.1 innings.
Coming into the 2009 season, there was talk of sending him back for a fourth year. The DSL Padres staff, however, was adamant in his ability and fought hard for him to stay stateside.
"There was a point in extended where we didn't know if Rafeal Arias would get anybody out," former vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said.
"He was in extended spring and was awful, he couldn't throw the ball into the cage," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said.
"I give the DSL staff a lot of credit," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "Varo (Evaristo Lantigua) and (Luis) Amancio stayed with this guy when most people were getting a little frustrated with him. And he's got a plus arm fastball, 92-95, sometimes more, with a very good slider.
"He had a tremendous year. Put himself on the map. Again, we've got to credit Varo and Amancio down in the DSL and of course this guys here. Really, I think the guys in the Dominican did a great job of developing him and sticking with him. It pushed him."
He ended up in the Arizona Rookie League and performed exceptionally. The Dominican native went 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA across 22 appearances. He saved five games in seven opportunities and allowed seven earned runs all year – three coming in one outing. In 28.1 innings, Arias struck out 37 – 11.75 strikeouts per nine innings.
"That is a perfect example of what development is all about," minor league field coordinator Tom Gamboa said. "Arias was just a little guy – a Pedro Martinez not a prototype body – but gifted with tremendous arm speed and a plus-plus fastball but had no command of it. To be truthful, when he came to the states, I thought it was before his time. The game was way too fast for him. In the first couple of outings I saw, he was a fish out of water. He had a difficult time competing.
"By the time extended ended, Bronze (Bronswell Patrick) and Jimmy Jones were telling us that you would be amazed by this guys progress. I saw a guy with much more confidence. The game had slowed down. He had better presence. He had better command. Better on the mound skills with fielding and throwing. He worked his way into the closer's spot. When you have a guy that can throw 95 and has a pretty good slider to go with it – that is exciting."
Arias limited the leadoff hitter of an inning to a .148 average and walked just seven batters all season – the first time since 2006 that he struck out more batters than he walked.
His 71.9 percent of runners left on base also spoke of his ability to limit the big inning. His 1.79 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) ranked 10th in the league among all pitchers with more than 20 innings.
What changed for the right-hander?
"He came to extended not really sure if he was ready," AZL Padres pitching coach Jimmy Jones said. "He is a strong kid – lean and muscular – but there were some issues with his mechanics, not a whole lot. I pulled out a velocity card in extended and he was topping out at 88.
"He took to what we were teaching him mechanically and started to put it altogether. He got stronger as the summer went on as well. He was hitting 95 and 96 mph during the summer as well. He really took to what we were teaching him mechanically. It fit him really well."
As Jones mentioned, Arias fastball is lively and reaches the mid-90s. It is consistent in that area as well, routinely recording 94-95 on the radar gun. His ability to control it with cleaner mechanics, giving him a free and easy motion was critical to his development.
Working ahead with his fastball and throwing it to all four quadrants of the zone with confidence, Arias is able to control the pace of each at-bat. He really does a nice job of staying on top of the ball and keeping his elbow from dropping to give the fastball late movement down in the zone.
Wiping out hitters is accomplished with a tilting slider that has good depth and quick bite as it nears the hitter. It is a true swing-and-miss pitch that he utilizes to both lefties and righties with equal effectiveness. It is a plus pitch.
"He has been throwing 94 to 95 to 96 and is throwing it over the plate," roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He has a nasty slider."
"Jimmy Jones just did an incredible job with him," Cluck said. "This kid's downhill with strikes, above-average fastball, his slider and changeup are works-in-progress, but he's 18 or something. He gets me excited when I watch him throw. He's another guy from the Dominican who has a good arm, has mechanical stuff, and knew no English. And now here we are, three or four months later, the delivery is cleaned up, he's learning English. He's doing fine."
Arias also has a show-me changeup that comes in too hard and is not thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball, giving hitters the ability to telegraph the offering. Given his role, it is uncertain whether this pitch will play a role in his future. It would be a nice piece to add, even it ends up being an average pitch, to keep hitters off-balance.
Very athletic, Arias fields his position well and is aware of situations. He could improve his move to first but is cognizant of the running game.
"He's the guy who could be the Alexis Lara of this year in the Midwest League (next season)," Cluck said. "My gosh, electric arm."
Conclusion: A stout specimen that is lean and strong, Arias has grown mentally in the last year. Brimming with confidence, his sky is the limit. He has the stuff to be a closer at the big league level but needs to prove that this was not a one-year aberration. If he can continue to perform at a high level, Arias could move quickly. It won't surprise to see him closing in Fort Wayne in 2010. Success there will push him rapidly up as a prospect and in the organizational reliever hierarchy.
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