Name: Joaquin Arias
DOB: September 21, 1984
As Rangers fans currently gush over the tools of young shortstop Elvis Andrus, they are taken back to 2004, when another blockbuster trade gave the Rangers a 19-year-old Class-A shortstop.
That trade – which sent Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees – brought Joaquin Arias to the Rangers system. Although Arias does not have some of the intangibles Andrus currently possesses, it would be difficult to find two more similar players tool-wise.
Arias originally signed with the New York Yankees for a $300,000 bonus in July of 2001. But it wasn't until the summer of 2002 that Arias made his pro debut, appearing in 57 games with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees. Arias flashed his outstanding potential by batting .300 with seven doubles, six triples, and 12 walks versus just 14 strikeouts in 203 at-bats.
The prospect struggled as an 18-year-old in Single-A ball, hitting just .266 with 23 extra-base hits in 481 at-bats, but his potential was still evident. After Arias' season, some scouts compared him to Mets prospect and 2003 rookie phenom Jose Reyes.
Arias joined the Rangers organization in 2004 and immediately displayed his potential. Playing with High-A Stockton, Arias got off to a slow start, but a strong second-half gave him a final batting average of .300. Arias also began to show developing power, as he added eight doubles and one home run to his 2003 totals.
Sticking with the pattern of moving up one affiliate per season, Arias joined Double-A Frisco in 2005. Much like the season before, Arias started slowly. The native of the Dominican Republic hit .252 in the season's first two months, but he bounced back to bat .348 in his final 333 at-bats of the season. Additionally, Arias, who had committed 40 errors (.928) in 2004, made just 29 (.952) with Frisco.
Arias lived up to his reputation of struggling early in the season with Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006, but his usual second-half surge never occurred. Though he did set a career-high with 10 triples, Arias had just 14 doubles in 493 at-bats. The speedster also drew only 19 walks, leading to a porous .296 on-base percentage.
The Rangers gave Arias a September call-up even though he did not have a strong finish to the minor league season. Arias, who had impressed the Rangers brass in previous spring training appearances, looked outstanding in six games with the big league club. Arias notched six hits in 11 at-bats, including one double and one free pass.
Excitement over Arias' tools had waned due to the lack of dominant minor league numbers, but his impressive stint in the majors helped to rejuvenate some of it. Arias entered 2007 spring training with hopes of making the Rangers as a utility infielder.
Unfortunately, Arias' much-anticipated 2007 season never really got off the ground. The shortstop went down with a tricky thumb infection in spring training. Arias then suffered a shoulder injury. Though he did resurface with Triple-A Oklahoma in late-June, Arias' shoulder was so weak that he was unable to make routine throws to first base from his shortstop position. After just three games, Arias was placed back on the disabled list and sat out the rest of the season.
Arias' shoulder, which has yet to fully heal, kept him out of the Arizona Fall League over the offseason. Though he has been able to hit for a few months now – he is currently taking batting practice and has appeared as a DH in some spring training games – Arias is still unable to play in the field. Whether or not Arias will be ready to play in the field by the start of the 2008 season is still not clear.
Also See: Sizing up the middle infield prospects (October 8, 2007)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (November 6, 2007)
Batting and Power: Arias has always possessed good raw power in batting practice, but it has yet to translate into game situations. At this point, it seems unlikely that Arias will ever develop much home run power, but his speed gives him the ability to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Because Arias is an aggressive hitter with outstanding hand-eye coordination, he doesn't strike out much, but he also doesn't walk much. Arias must improve his plate discipline and learn to wait for his pitch in order to be a successful hitter at the next level.
Base Running and Speed: Arias is one of the speediest players in the system, but his baserunning skills remain somewhat raw. The infielder's baserunning did improve in 2006, as he posted career highs in stolen base percentage (72%) and triples (10). Though Arias is still raw on the bases, he has shown improvement in each season as a professional and should continue to progress as he matures.
Defense: Many observers are currently gushing over shortstop Elvis Andrus' defensive skills, causing Arias' glove to be overlooked. Like Andrus, Arias possesses Gold Glove potential due to his eye-popping range and strong arm. While attempting to return from a shoulder injury last season, Arias had problems making routine throws to first base. His arm strength should return in 2008. Despite his other-worldly talent with the glove, Arias sometimes struggles to make the routine play on both ground balls and throws to first base. He has improved, going from 40 errors with Stockton in 2004 to 24 with Oklahoma in 2006. Because of his outstanding athleticism, the Rangers have toyed with the idea of turning him into a centerfielder or super-utility player, but he will remain at shortstop for the time being.
Projection: Arias' defense will not keep him from becoming an impact player in the majors, but his bat just might. Still unable to consistently reach base or hit for power, Arias looks to be suited for a bench/utility role with the Rangers. Even after missing the entire 2007 season, Arias is just 23-years-old, and he still has outstanding tools and potential. There is plenty of time for Arias to break out. If he does, he could be a Gold Glove shortstop that hits .280-.300 with 30 steals and good gap power. But at this point, Arias seems more likely to become a utility player with good speed and strong defensive skills.
2008 Outlook: One more year in the minor leagues would be beneficial to the former Yankees prospect. Although Arias has never repeated a level in his career – moving up from rookie ball to Triple-A in 2002 through 2006 – he posted just a .296 on-base percentage in '06 and missed nearly all of last season. Arias has excelled in all of his big league opportunities, going 26-for-73 (.356) in his spring training career and 6-for-11 (.545) with the Rangers in 2006. While it is a small sample size, Arias has shown the ability to take his game to another level against big league competition. That could lead the Rangers to give him a look during the second half of 2008, especially if Michael Young or Ramon Vazquez go down with an injury. Should Arias bounce back with a strong 2008, it will be difficult to keep him out of the majors, even if Michael Young has shortstop locked down for the foreseeable future.
|2002||GCL Yankees (RK)||.300||203||7||0||21||29||2||12||16||.338||.394|
|2003||Battle Creek (A)||.266||481||12||3||48||60||12||26||44||.306||.343|
|2007||AZL Rangers (RK)||.286||7||1||0||1||1||0||1||0||.250||.429|