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Arias provides Bochy with versatility on infield

Arias provides Bochy with versatility on infield

Arias provides Bochy with versatility on infield
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the Cactus League season heads for the clubhouse turn, at least a few position battles for the Giants are heating up along with the rising temperatures.

If anyone's positioned to handle the heat, it's infielder Joaquin Arias, who was signed to a Minor League contract after eight years in the Rangers organization. He has been a steady presence in the infield, and although the vast majority of his big league experience with the Rangers and Mets has been at second base (70 games), he also has experience at shortstop (10), first base (5), third base (2) and one appearance in left field.

Arias remains a wild card to make the roster, but he's a valuable resource for the Giants, and odds are he'll see big league action before the season ends.

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The Giants may start the season with second baseman Freddy Sanchez on the disabled list as he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder injury last June. The prime candidates to start the season at second have been Ryan Theriot, Emmanuel Burriss and Mike Fontenot, all of whom would also be in the mix for a utility infielder.

"I'll throw Arias in there," manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday when assessing the contenders. "I really like what he's done this spring. I put him at short, second, and third and he's done a good job. He can handle the bat. He can do some things, so that gives us some depth too."

Originally signed by the Yankees at age 16, Arias, now 27, came to the Rangers in 2004 as part of the trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano. He's played in parts of four big league seasons for the Rangers and Mets, including a split season in 2010 when he was traded as part of the Jeff Francoeur deal with New York. The Royals claimed him off waivers at the end of that season, and after starting 2011 with a right hamstring strain, he spent the rest of the season in Triple-A.

"I feel very happy over here," Arias said Sunday regarding his first Spring Training with the Giants. "It's different. There's regular opportunity. I had only 14 or 15 at-bats [in past camps with the Rangers]. Right now I've got a lot of at-bats. I've got more opportunity here to play."

While in past springs the limited opportunities have meant waiting for the Minor League season to get his swing in sync, Arias shows signs of getting into a groove with the more consistent appearances this year. He started at second against the White Sox on Sunday, entering the game hitting .212. After going 0-for-5 with a walk in his previous four games, Arias had a pair of hits in Saturday's loss to the Rockies.

"He can handle the bat a little bit," Bochy said. "I don't look at the numbers so much as the results, but you can tell, he can handle the bat a little bit."

Still, it's his glove that opened eyes throughout his Minor League career. He's been ranked as high as the third-best prospect in the Rangers organization, and also was recognized in various seasons as the best infield arm, best defensive infielder and best athlete in the organization.

Among his biggest challenges this spring has been to get comfortable on the left side of the infield. Going into Sunday's game, he had logged 50 innings at shortstop, 20 1/3 at third base and 19 at second.

"This spring it's a little bit different," he said of his broader focus as he eyes the Giants infield. "I haven't played a lot of third base [in the past]. But I'm playing every day. Sometimes I start, and sometimes I come in the seventh inning."

He's worked with Giants roving infield instructor Jose Alguacil every day in the infield, and the results are showing up.

"I thought he looked good at third," Bochy said after Arias' start Saturday against the Rockies. "He looked comfortable over there. There's no issue with his arm throwing from third. I've seen him make a deep backhanded play playing the Royals. He's showing a good arm.

"He's got that baseball savvy you like. He's done a nice job wherever we've put him."

Arias is realistic about his chances. Odds are he'll start the season in Triple-A, but the Giants are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea that he'll be able to help them in the infield before the season is over.

"I'm working every day," Arias said. "I hit in the cage with the hitting coach. I'm working taking ground balls. I'm working on everything to be here for the season. I'll be ready. If I get the opportunity, I'm ready to play."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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