On Nov. 15, the Cleveland Guardians traded former first round pick Nolan Jones to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Juan Brito. The 21-year old prospect was subsequently added to the Guardians’ 40-man roster and assigned to High-A Lake County. The move was seen by fans as preemptive to something bigger. Cleveland, while clearing a spot on its 40-man roster for a younger player, has been rumored to be looking for major league ready talent and is willing to deal some of its prospects.
But Jones’s trade signaled a white flag on someone who was a first round pick and — at one point — ranked as the Guardians’ No. 1 prospect. Fans are going to be left with a ‘what if’ mentality about someone who clearly has tremendous potential, but whose progression through the minors was stifled by two major injuries.
So who is Brito, the guy the Guardians got for Jones?
The middle infielder signed with the Rockies as an international free agent in 2018 out of the Dominican Republic. The next May, he was assigned to the Dominican Summer League, where he slashed .328/.403/.491 through 116 at bats, garnering four doubles, three triples and three home runs. Following the 2020 season that was canceled at the minor league level due to the pandemic, Brito went to the Arizona Complex league in 2021. In just 27 games, his slashline fell and while he struck out 21 times, he also walked 15 times.
At the beginning of this year, Brito was assigned to the Fresno Grizzlies, Colorado’s High-A affiliate, where he stayed for the entirety of the 2022 season. There, the 21-year old prospect batted .286/.407/.470 with 29 doubles, six triples, and 11 home runs while also driving in 72 runs and stealing 17 bases. He also struck out 71 times in 497 plate appearances and walked 78 times. Since he was added to the Rockies in 2018, Brito is eligible for the Rule-5 draft this year, which is why the Guardians added him to the 40-man roster.
Brito is listed as a shortstop, but has also played some second base during his professional career and is a switch hitter. Standing at 5-foot-11 and 162 lbs., he has a quick glove up the middle. Fangraphs grades him out as a 35/35 speed and 30/40 fielding with a projected MLB arrival time of 2024. He fits the mold of what the Guardians have always looked for under the leadership of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff: a good glove middle infielder who can get on base.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Guardians will package him with someone else as part of a much larger trade. Fans certainly hope that’ll be the case. Regardless, he adds an interesting piece at the lower levels of the Guardians’ system. Should Cleveland keep him, Brito could quickly climb the ranks, especially if he keeps getting on base at the pace he has throughout his minor league career with the Rockies. If not, he could be the final cherry on top of a major deal this offseason.