Things have certainly changed the last few weeks on the utility front. This was supposed to be all about Khalil Greene, who was signed in the offseason to handle the infield positions.
Greene's decision not to report to camp (the club ended up voiding his $750,000 contract) means that the utility position is up for grabs. The intention at this point is for an internal candidate to win that job, though the Rangers will continue to look around (possibly Julio Lugo?) and check the waiver wire as spring training comes to a close.
But this is a big opportunity for Joaquin Arias.
Arias is out of options. At one time, he was one of the club's top prospects. But arm and shoulder issues slowed him and surgery means he'll likely never fully regain the arm strength he had a few years ago. Arias, though, comes into spring training on a mission.
"I don't want to play in Oklahoma again," said Arias the day he reported, referring to Triple-A Oklahoma City. "I want to play in the big leagues. It's my time."
Arias, 25, was acquired from the Yankees in the Alex Rodriguez-Alfonso Soriano trade in 2004. He made his major league debut in September of 2006 and was on pace to keep improving. But he spent all of 2007 on the disabled list and had surgery on his right shoulder. He says he feels healthy and even better than he did last spring training. He must prove he can make the throws necessary. The Rangers will see if he can seize the opportunity.
"He’s in a better position now to be considered for this job than he’s been the last two years," general manager Jon Daniels said. "That’s what spring training is for. Joaquin’s going to be given a chance to compete for the job, but he’s going to have to go out and win it."
Both Daniels and manager Ron Washington said the most important component of a utility infielder is the ability to play shortstop. That's Arias' natural position and one that he played in winter ball leading up to spring training. He also played some at second base in 2008. Arias is not a first baseman, but Max Ramirez could be a candidate to back up at first base (as well as play catcher if needed) as the 25th man on the roster. Or the Rangers could go out and get a right-handed hitting first baseman as a backup.
But Arias would give them a backup that can play in the middle of the field. That position is an important one. Omar Vizquel did a solid job in that role in 2009. He was there to help mentor Elvis Andrus, but when injuries occurred -- to Ian Kinsler and Michael Young -- Vizquel was able to step in and produce.
Arias must show he can limit mistakes and earn the trust of his teammates and the manager. Arias had a solid stay in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .296 with 11 RBIs, 14 runs and six stolen bases in 27 games. He had 504 at-bats for Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, batting .266 with five homers, 52 RBIs and 24 stolen bases (in 27 attempts). Arias would give Washington another pinch-running option late in games as well.
Arias isn't the only player who will get a look. Ray Olmedo and Esteban German are both in camp, though not on the 40-man roster. Washington said he didn't know much about Olmedo before camp, but he's working with him and discovering more about all of his reserve infielders as the spring progresses.
Do you think Arias is right for the job? Should the Rangers look outside the organization?