The Swift Rise of San Diego Padres’ Prospect Gabriel Arias

MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 13: A San Diego Padres hat sits in the dugout during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on May 13, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 13: A San Diego Padres hat sits in the dugout during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on May 13, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Many national evaluators are very high on 17-year-old shortstop prospect Gabriel Arias going into the 2018 season. After a highly successful offseason in the Australian Baseball League, can he continue his development stateside? Who is Gabriel Arias? Today, we examine the 15th ranked prospect.

There is no denying that the San Diego Padres’ farm system is the deepest in Major League Baseball. We learned over the weekend that some of the top talent in the farm, like Cal Quantrill, Luis Urias, and Fernando Tatis, Jr., will be in big league camp this spring. However, most of the Top 30 prospects within the system are two-three years away from contributing at the major league level.

Last season, Tatis, Jr. was the breakout prospect. Going into the year, he was considered an average prospect who may make some noise one day. He then hit 21 home runs, maintaining a .281 average with a .390 on-base percentage as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League. Tatis is now considered the top prospect in the organization.

This season, it may be a 17-year-old shortstop out of Venezuela who took the minor leagues by storm, Gabriel Arias. Arias was originally signed in July of 2016 for $1.9 million. He was an extremely raw 16-year-old athlete, ranked 11th on the Top 30 international signing class rankings. Arias quickly flashed the tools that justified the ranking in the Arizona League.

After 37 games hitting .275, including six doubles and three triples with a .329 OBP, Arias was promoted to Fort Wayne of the Midwest League. He appeared in 16 games for Fort Wayne, a very small sample size. He held his own, hitting .242 in his limited time. Arias finished the season going 10-38 (.263) over his last 10 games, an impressive performance for a 17-year-old on a full-season A-ball team in a playoff chase.

Local and national evaluators are very high on the young prospect.

The hype around Arias continues to grow, seemingly, on a monthly basis. Jeff Sanders of the San Diego-Union Tribune says the Padres are “bullish on his ceiling.” Sanders believes Arias has Gold Glove potential and “budding gap power.”

In the same article, Sam Geaney, the Padres’ Farm Director had this to say about Gabriel Arias. “ He’s a guy we think has a chance to be a very gifted defensive shortstop, play the position long-term without doubt and we’ve seen tremendous offensive growth in him.”

His defense is unquestionably elite. Evaluators grade Arias at plus-plus range with a cannon for an arm, suitable for the infield or outfield. Watching him play, he looks silky smooth on his feet. You’d think you’re watching a High-A or Double A prospect, not a kid who couldn’t get into an R-rated movie this time last year.

The biggest question is his offense. Kyle Glaser of Baseball America has been quoted as saying that Arias has a “top flight makeup”, and is “rapidly improving as a hitter.” Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs backs up those claims. “He’s an everyday player at the very least,” said Longenhagen of how he projects Arias’ future role.

His swing is compact and simple. He doesn’t add a lot of unnecessary movement in his approach. It’s very clearly more refined and polished than most of his peers. Even at 17, Arias can drive the ball to the gaps and covers the entire field. Various reports project him to hit between 10-15 home runs a year with the ability to hit at a high average.

Arias lacks real speed on the basepaths, but that won’t impact his projection. If his offensive projections play out, he won’t need to rely on speed, hitting in the middle of the lineup. A stable, long-term shortstop has avoided the Padres for longer than a lot of fans can remember. Will Gabriel Arias provide that stability for the Friars?

What does the future hold for Arias?

Currently, there are seven middle-infield prospects in the Top 30 for the Padres. Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Luis Urias appear to be future all-stars in the organization. Urias’ best fit at the major league level is second base. If Tatis moves over to third base, that will leave shortstop open to Arias.

Competing with Arias in the battle for shortstop is 26th ranked Jordy Barley (18-years-old, .242/.292/.434/.726 slash line in AZL, above-average defense), #29 Eguy Rosario (5’5”, 150 pound teenager, youngest player in Midwest League LY, sent back to AZL after hitting just .206 in 50 games), and #30 Esteury Ruiz.

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Ruiz is the most polished of the three. John Sickles of ranks Ruiz as the 19th best Padres’ prospect. He hit .350 with 34 extra-base hits and 26 stolen bases in the Arizona League in 2017. Ruiz possesses a bat that is beyond advanced for his current level. Some scouts, however, have questioned whether his bat can hold up to advanced pitching as he moves through the system.

Despite the hype, Arias is still extremely young.

It’s important to keep in mind that Gabriel Arias will only be 18 when the 2018 season starts. More importantly, he’s played just 53 games in the United States. With an ETA of 2021, a lot can happen or not happen for Arias. The best predictor of future success usually comes at the High-A level, so we’re still a year or two away from seeing his true potential.

Coaches within the organization love him. Those who have been around Arias in Australia this winter rave about his development.

Is he this year’s Fernando Tatis, Jr? Where will he rank in the updated Top 30 list (currently 15th on MLB Pipeline)? Can he hit more advanced pitching? Will there be room for him at the major league level? All of these questions will be answered shortly. In the meantime, enjoy the hype and one of the best defensive shows you will see in the minor leagues.

Next: Eduardo Nunez is a Dynamic Option for the Padres