Could the Cleveland Indians call-up Nolan Jones or Gabriel Arias this year?
The 2021 season has really put the term “retooling season” to the test. The Cleveland Indians were overachieved at the beginning of the season, playing their schedule correctly and beating bad teams. They were 10 games over .500 with an outstanding bullpen and a surprise performance from May call-up Harold Ramirez gave a glimmer of hop.
Then the brakes came off. Injuries happened. Luck ran out. Now, the Indians find themselves in the midst of their longest losing streak since June of 2013. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Ebbs and flows occur during the flow of a 162-game season and the lack of starting pitching can quickly explain away any doom and gloom fans may have about the team.
But this is as close to a rebuild season as Cleveland has seen since 2012. It started with the Francisco Lindor trade, culminating in an unthinkably low Opening Day payroll. Seven players have made their major league debuts already. So the writing is on the wall for the obvious — the long-anticipated call ups of Nolan Jones and Gabriel Arias, both of whom are lighting it up for the Columbus Clippers in Triple-A.
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Could we see Cleveland’s No. 1 and No. 5 prospects from their Top 30 lists add their names to the previous list of seven? Sure. Will we? No and yes, and here’s why.
Jones can’t seem to break out offensively the way the front office would like him to in order to warrant a call up. Since his 30 games with the then-High A Lynchburg Hillcats, his batting average has slowly declined. There’s reason to believe he can get on base at a major league clip — he holds a career .404 OBP in the minors. But he is striking out at almost a 40% rate at Triple-A.
Cleveland is known to slow-play the development of their top guys. The M.O. within the front office is to let prospects marinate at Triple-A so that they’re as ready as they can be. What fans saw with Owen Miller was an aberration. So with the lackluster hitting performance in Columbus, combined with Cleveland’s recent track record, expect to have him finish out 2021 with the Clippers, even if he has been able to string together a run of hits recently.
Arias is a different story. First, he’s a middle infielder. Not that Cesar Hernandez has been rumored to be a trade candidate, but on a team that continues to lose, there’s no place for him. Arias, who was acquired in the Mike Clevenger trade, went from San Diego’s High-A team in 2019 to Columbus after spending 2020 at the alternate site following the trade. That’s an aggressive jump for almost any 21-year-old prospect.
His performance at the plate is similar to Jones’s. Solid on-base percentage, too many strikeouts, but a dip nonetheless in production. The potential for an open pathway is really the only thing separating why he is more likely to find himself in Cleveland than Jones.
A late August or September call-up seems likely, especially if the team slides far out of contention. Relegating Hernandez to the bench to get a look at prospects, Arias could find himself a solid stretch of “meaningless” games in the lineup at second base or even shortstop to hone himself at the big league level before entering a full 2022 season with the Cleveland Indians.
Now, if Cleveland pulls out the improbable, the nearly impossible, neither gets that call up. They haven’t had the revolutionary performances of a Jo Adell that would force Cleveland’s hand. If the team is still in contention, then why rush and risk two top prospects sputtering out and losing confidence?