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 kept him out of the Arizona Fall League in 2007 and it prevented him from spending much time at shortstop in 2008. Though he had no trouble at the plate, Arias' arm remained woefully weak for most of the year and didn't begin showing improvement until the season's latter months.
The toolsy infielder was just fine at the plate last summer, as he posted a career-best season offensively. Arias batted .296 with nine triples and seven home runs in 104 games with Oklahoma. He was even more impressive in 32 late-season games with the Rangers, batting .291 with 10 extra-base hits in just 110 at-bats. Arias also showed improved patience with seven free passes.
Also See: Texas Rangers Top 50 Prospects (November 11, 2008)
Batting and Power: Arias has batted .289 over his minor league career, and he has a reputation for making in-season adjustments and being a strong second-half hitter. But Arias' career average is somewhat empty. While his outstanding hand-eye coordination keeps him from striking out much, Arias has been an impatient hitter who doesn't draw many walks. To his credit, Arias has been a completely different hitter during his two Major League stints. The youngster had a selective approach with the Rangers last year, as he consistently worked deep into counts. If Arias continues his streak of patience, he can become a serviceable big league hitter.
Most scouts projected Arias would develop at least average game power when he was in the Yankees system as an 18-year-old, but that has yet to happen. Arias has always shown good batting practice power, but it hasn't translated into games – until last season. He began showing some pop in 2008 while belting a career-high seven home runs with Oklahoma. He also had 15 doubles and nine triples in 432 at-bats. His power will be more gap-to-gap in the Majors, but the extra pop will allow him to stretch more hits into extra bases.
Base Running and Speed: Arias is a plus-plus runner, and he has improved his baserunning skills with each season. The speedster opened his career by stealing just two bases in six attempts with the GCL Yankees in 2002. He had converted just 66 percent of his stolen base tries in his first four professional seasons.
But Arias began showing significant development with Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006, when he legged out a career-high 10 triples and stole 26 bases in 36 attempts. He continued to improve last season, getting 12 triples and 27 steals in 33 tries between Oklahoma and the Rangers. Arias' speed is perhaps his best tool, and it could help make him a valuable asset to a big league club.
Defense: The 24-year-old has terrific defensive tools, and he has the ability to become a plus defender at a couple of positions. A natural shortstop, Arias has phenomenal range to both sides. He is comparable defensively to Elvis Andrus in that both players can get to just about any ball in their general vicinity. Like most youngsters, Arias has had troubles making the routine play at times. He made 40 errors with a .928 fielding percentage as a 19-year-old in 2004, but he has since steadily improved. In 30 games with the Rangers as a second baseman last season, Arias committed just two errors [.983 fielding percentage].
Arm strength was once a plus-plus tool for Arias, but it has quickly developed into his biggest question mark. Shoulder surgery caused Arias to miss nearly the entire 2007 season, and a recovering arm relegated him to second base for the majority of the '08 campaign. Arias' arm was so weak at times last year that he was unable to make a routine throw from shortstop to first base.
The Rangers say Arias' arm strength is beginning to return, but it's unlikely to be a plus tool again. If his arm strength becomes at least average, he could play some second base, shortstop, and third this season. With Arias' range, an adequate arm is all he needs to be a valuable defensive player.
Projection: Even if Arias doesn't develop into a strong Major League hitter, his game-changing speed and defensive abilities should keep him near the Majors for awhile providing he stays healthy.
Arias has performed very well in the big leagues when given an opportunity, but due to the Rangers' talented infield, he isn't likely to have a starting spot with them in the near future. For another club, Arias would still have a slight opportunity to become an everyday player. But with the Rangers, he figures to be most valuable as a versatile utility player.
2009 Outlook: Although Arias has an opportunity to crack the Rangers' 25-man roster out of Spring Training, it isn't likely following the signing of Omar Vizquel. Regardless of where he starts, Arias will see more time in the Majors during the 2009 season. If the shortstop performs like he did last September – and continues to show improved arm strength – he'll eventually stick as a utility player.
|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||0||2||.250||.429|