SAN FRANCISCO -- Being the baby of his family prompted Giants infielder Joaquin Arias to grow up quickly.Arias' background is nothing short of extraordinary. His father, Felipe, had 21 children, including eight with Joaquin's mother. "I get along with my seven siblings," Arias said recently through an interpreter. "I'm good friends with the others, too." Moreover, Arias happens to be the youngest child -- as well as the most athletically gifted, obviously enough. This combination has placed Arias in a position of responsibility. He not only supports his wife, Yinet, and their three children, but he also assists other family members as often as he can. "I see the economic situation's not so good. So I try harder to make things better for everybody else. And for myself, of course," said Arias, a native and resident of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. "I'm very happy to help not only my family but anybody else I'm able to help. For me, it's a matter of pride and I feel very good about this."
Arias has reason to feel good about this year. Formerly a highly regarded prospect whose progress was derailed by injuries, Arias has found a niche with the Giants as their top infield reserve. He hit .417 with a 1.154 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in August and appeared headed for the finest season of his career."He has provided us with a lot more than we expected," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "He's the player that you know he can be." Said Jeff Borris, the Beverly Hills Sports Council agent who represents Arias, "It's great to see Joaquin get an opportunity to play and produce and watch his hard work pay off." Arias turned 28 on Friday, but he already has played professionally for 11 seasons. Though he has performed for five organizations and made 858 of 971 pro appearances in the Minors entering this year, teams have continued to covet his tantalizing talent. Arias' considerable promise as a youth led the New York Yankees to enlist him in their Dominican academy before they signed him as an undrafted free agent in July 2001 for $300,000. In 2004, Baseball America's Prospect Handbook rated him the organization's fourth-brightest prospect, ahead of Robinson Cano. The Texas Rangers acquired Arias as the player to be named later when they traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano. Arias changed uniforms but not status, as the 2005 Prospect Handbook listed him third among Texas' farmhands, one spot ahead of Ian Kinsler. Arias made his Major League debut in 2006 before encountering bad luck the following spring. With Michael Young established at shortstop, Texas tried him in center field. He developed shoulder soreness and ultimately needed arthroscopic surgery. "That shoulder injury was a big, big, big setback for me," Arias said. "After the operation, I sensed that my shoulder was not the same. I was not free to throw the way I throw. It's like from Earth to heaven how much I have improved since." Arias cited a 2008 game with the Rangers as an example of how dramatically his shoulder hampered him. Playing second base, he tried to turn a double play and made a two-hop throw to first. "That frustrated me a lot, because my shoulder was not working the way it was supposed to work," he said. Gradual rehabilitation and healing has helped Arias regain full force on his throws. But he said that his arm remained short of 100 percent as late as last offseason, when he played for the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. "Thank God the offense has been there," said Arias, a right-handed batter who has been particularly effective against left-handed pitching. "But the most important thing for me was the shoulder. Because I knew once I get over that situation, I could do everything else." Another example: The 27th and final out of Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13 against Houston. Stationed at third base, Arias cemented history by handling pinch-hitter Jason Castro's grounder and throwing across the diamond. Arias had to back up slightly to field the ball, increasing the difficulty of the throw. Asked if he could have made that play a few years ago, Arias expressed doubt. "Maybe I would have thrown, but the ball would have gotten to the first baseman in a couple of bounces," he said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.