top of page

The Dilemma of Coming Up Short


The Cleveland Guardians always seem to raise up and produce quality starting pitching. The outfield, however, continues to be an issue and has been for many years. Then there's the middle infield.


The face of the franchise, the heart and soul of the team plays at third base in Jose Ramirez. At second base is the gold glover and hopefully perennial all-star Andres Gimenez.


Both are locked into hundred million dollar plus multi-year deals ensuring they'll be with the ballclub for the foreseeable future.


Here's where the dilemma comes into play with the current state of the Cleveland Guardians----what to do with the shortstop position?


Since the departure of Francisco Lindor, the farm system has been restocked with a TON of middle infield prospects and now with Amed Rosario closing in on free agency, the front office must make some hard decisions on how to find the franchise's long-term solution at shortstop.


Here's a look at the options they currently have, their strengths, weaknesses, and outlook for each player:


Amed Rosario


The current shortstop of the Cleveland Guardians since the start of the 2021 season, Amed will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2023.


Rosario has been a frustrating player to root for the past few seasons. He always gets off to an ice cold start in April, then heats up with the weather but is consistently inconsistent at the plate.


On the plus side, he possesses elite speed on the bases, always ending up as one the top of the leaderboard with triples. The past two years his batting average is around .280 which is respectable.


While Amed can get red hot with his bat putting together hits in bunches, he is a free swinger and rarely walks. He doesn't provide much power as he's hit exactly 11 homers the past two seasons (his career high is just 15). His defense is below average with a lack of range and arm strength.


With the incredible amount of huge hundred million dollar contracts given to shortstops the past few seasons across baseball along with a very weak free agent class this off-season, Amed could demand top dollar for his services despite his lackluster inconsistent play and defensive skills.


The Guardians have three options with Amed as it stands: 1) trade him at the deadline for prospects or a power bat 2) let him ride out the rest of the contract this season, then allow him to walk as a free agent 3) or resign him to a multi--year contract.


We'll reexamine this dilemma after we look at the other options at shortstop Cleveland has.



Gabriel Arias


Arias is the current option off the bench who can play a wide variety of positions including shortstop where he's must comfortable. Acquired as a key prospect in the Mike Clevinger deal in 2020, Gabriel has only played in about 40 games in the majors with very little success so far in his young career.


He's batting just .194 in the big leagues with 2 homers and 6 RBI. As of last season, he was considered a top 10 prospect in the farm system but a broken wrist injury slowed him down in 2022.


Gabriel was called up in September and started in Game 3 of the ALDS at first base. His versatility in playing all around the infield (also now in right field) with an above average arm and range gives him value on the big league roster.


On the negative side, Arias has yet to prove he can hit on the big league level and does seem to have holes in his swing. There's not much power potential either on a team that's starving for some pop.


Tyler Freeman

The fourth pick out of the 2017 MLB draft, Freeman has always hit in the minors around .300 or better from low single A to Triple A. His fielding is around average to above average. Called up last season, Tyler batted .247 in a very small sample size of 24 games.


This year he struggled in spring training, then went on a tear to begin his season with Triple A Columbus batting .329 with 23 runs, 17 RBI, and 10 stolen bases.


He currently is on the big league roster but hasn't been given any playing time stuck behind Arias for starts off the bench.


The problem with Freeman is that he has a similar skill set as of the rest of the current Guardians roster---he makes contact but has no power. Like Straw, Kwan, Brennan, and others---Tyler doesn't have a lot of launch angle on his hits which means he produces mostly singles and a few doubles.



Brayan Rocchio


The top position player prospect in the Guardians farm system is 22--year old Brayan Rocchio. He's currently playing shortstop for Columbus and is off to a fantastic start in the early going. As of today he's batting .325 with 9 stolen bases, 20 runs, and 18 RBI with 11 doubles.


Rocchio's skill set projects him as an above average defender at shortstop, with good speed, and hitting ability to reach base frequently. He's also a switch hitter.


Brayan has a bit more power potential than the other options at shortstop in the system, but his ceiling is projected to be around 15-20 at most; similar to what Andres Gimenez's skill set is.


A call up to the big league club seems inevitable for Rocchio this season. His role and the amount of playing time he'll receive is very much in question, though.



Angel Martinez


Martinez is the 9th ranked prospect in the Guardians farm system currently playing shortstop for the Double A Akron Rubberducks. Like Rocchio he is a switch hitter.


At 21 years old, Angel is projected to be in the majors next season but is off to a rough start in 2023. He's batting a measly .190 with 3 homers and 13 RBI in the early portion of this season.


He's played all over the infield in his minor league career batting a solid .278 at the age of 20 last season for the Captains and Rubberducks. Most projections have him being a super utility infielder once he does make the big leagues which could be as soon as 2024.


Note for Photo: This is Angel Martinez (far left) and Gabriel Arias (far right) at Guards Fest this January

Jose Tena


Of all the middle infield prospects, Tena ranks far below the rest. He's currently on the Double A Akron Rubberducks playing second base and some shortstop. He's off to a dismal start at the plate in 2023 batting .137 with no homers and 2 RBI in a very limited playing role off the bench.


Last season, Tena put together a solid season for Akron driving in 66 runs, hitting 13 homers, with a .264 batting average.


However his defense is subpar and his upper cut swing has a lot of holes in it. He has a low contact rate that's countered with a high bat speed. So when he does make contact its hit with authority.


He's only 21 years of age, so time is on his side to figure out how to make contact more consistently and improve his defensive game. It might be a few seasons before he's ready for big league action.


Juan Brito


Acquired in the off-season from the Rockies in the trade for Nolan Jones, Brito is currently the second baseman for the Lake County Captains in Single A.


While his early season numbers don't jump off the page, he's off to a solid start in 2023 batting .256 with 10 RBI and 19 runs scored in 23 games.


Juan is another switch-hitting middle fielder who possess a strong skill set in making contact and getting on base. He scored 91 runs with 72 RBI and 17 steals in Colorado's farm system last season at the age of 20.


He projects to grow into a 15-20 homer a season middle infielder with a high contact rate. His defense is a work in progress but he does possess an above average arm at 2nd base.


Seems a likely candidate to be playing for Akron by season's end and could be big league ready at the end of 2024.


A Few Short Possibilities of What Could Happen


So there you have it---seven options for one starting position and bench role are currently on the depth chart for the Cleveland Guardians. Here's a few different ways the rest of the season could shake out with all these infield prospects in my opinion:


  • Rosario returns to the productive player he has proven to be the past two seasons while the team competes for a playoff spot in October. At the trade deadline, a few of these prospects are dealt for a right-handed power bat (possibly Freeman and Martinez) opening up spots for 2024. Rosario then is let go at the end of the season and signs elsewhere. Rocchio gets some experience off the bench in 2023, then takes over as the everyday shortstop in 2024.


  • The Guardians fall out of contention by the trade deadline and the front office deals Rosario away for a few young prospects. Freeman, Arias, and Rocchio are given chances to prove themselves at the big league level playing the middle infield on a rotating basis. Rocchio (or Arias) eventually seizes the opportunity and secures his spot as the future shortstop of the franchise.

  • Rosario bounces back to have a career season helping the Guardians make a deep postseason run. His leadership skills and clubhouse role convince the front office to resign him in a 3-5 year extension. A few infield prospects are traded at the deadline for a power bat, then Rocchio is traded in a blockbuster deal for another big league player in the off-season.

Muddled in the Middle

By the trade deadline, the picture will become much more clear on the direction the Guardians are taking at the shortstop position. One thing is for sure----a lot of activity is bound to take place, most likely in trades as the big league roster simply doesn't have the space for so many middle infielders with similar skillsets.


Hopefully the front office makes the most of an abundance of wealth that few franchises in baseball have but would love to possess. Should be very interesting to see how it all shakes out by season's end for the shortstop position.


Photo Note: This is Rocchio, Martinez, and Bo Naylor from left to right at Guards Fest in January


Sources:

All photos courtesy of Flickr.com

All stats and projections coutresy of https://blogs.fangraphs.com/

Comments


bottom of page