At just 23 and 22 years old respectively, Cleveland Guardians prospects Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio are competing against one another for the team's future at shortstop. Current starter Amed Rosario more than likely has the reins as the starter for the remainder of the 2023 season. However, going forward it will be exciting to see the battle between Arias and Rocchio play out.
Throughout the past two seasons, Arias has been pulled up to the majors a handful of times, and in those times he's provided fairly average play at the plate. Through 43 total games and 102 at-bats, the 23-year-old has slashed .179/.281/.283 to go alongside 19 hits, three doubles, and two home runs.
However, this season the Guardians have been more inclined to utilize him in the outfield to get him more at-bats. The team is simply trying to get Arias as much regular playing time as possible to see what they truly have in they youngster. Arias has dabbled in the outfield during spring training and in the minors, but never in the majors. And if he excels there, it may free up the opening for Rocchio at the shortstop position.
During his time with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Arias was often regarded as a versatile hitter who has some pop. In 2022, he slashed .240/.310/.406 with 69 hits, nine doubles and 13 home runs. He also had 36 RBI, helping the Clippers win crucial games down the stretch of the minor-league season.
His fielding was often noticed as well when playing shortstop. He helped make 62 double plays in his time with the Clippers, while only committing 16 errors, with his fielding percentage sitting at a stellar .962.
So how does that compare with Rocchio?
Rocchio could truly be the next great Cleveland shortstop. At times, he's even been compared to Francisco Lindor. However, back in 2021 he distanced himself from those comparisons and reminded the public his goal is to simply work at his game.
"My focus is always on working and getting better. I see it, but I don’t put a lot of focus on that," Rocchio told the Akron Beacon Journal at the time. "I put more focus on what baseball is to me.” And that focus has been heavily seen on the field in his defensive efforts.
Throughout the entirety of his time in the farm system, Rocchio has been widely regarded as one of the top fielders. Whether it's his ability to swiftly move around the edge of the infield, or throw a heater across the diamond, his presence is always noted.
While playing shortstop in 2022, he produced a .939 fielding percentage with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, and a .960 percentage with the Clippers. Now, in 2023 he's kept his numbers relatively the same with a .929 percentage. Alongside those solid percentages, through the past two seasons, he's committed 80 double plays and just 30 errors. In 2023, he's had six errors and 12 double plays.
When it comes to hitting, he takes the slight edge over Arias. With the Clippers in 2023 he's slashing a very nice .338/.396/.487 with 50 hits, 21 RBI and 13 doubles. The season prior, he recorded a batting average of .257 with 131 hits, 27 doubles and 18 home runs across two levels. His hitting style is fairly similar to Arias, but at times is much more consistent at the plate.
Well, then who is the most likely option to take over?
It is hard to tell who the next great shortstop in Cleveland will be with two great youngsters having their entire careers ahead of themselves. The best option is to see Rocchio at the shortstop position, and either trade Arias or adapt him into the outfield. Rocchio would have the opportunity to excel next to a phenomenal second baseman like Andres Gimenez. The two, with their flashy yet consistent fielding, would be a force for opposing teams to go up against.
With the team still holding Rosario in the spot of two prospects, the ceiling of both Arias and Rocchio is lower than it could be. However, recently due to starting third baseman Jose Ramirez going on the bereavement list, Rocchio has been called up to the major leagues. While Arias has been up plenty of times, this would be Rocchio's first appearance with the organization on the highest level.
If he were to play well, Arias should be concerned with his future on the major league roster, while Rosario will have to keep his eyes peeled. It is only a matter of time till either Rocchio or Arias gets a real, legitimate shot at having the reigns of the defense next to Gimenez.