The way that the Cleveland Guardians are currently constructed presents a really unique challenge for the team's front office. They have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fringe major-league prospects and upcoming stars who are eating up spots on their 40-man roster. It’s what has caused the release, trade or DFA of a litany of younger players Guardians fans have either looked forward to or grown accustomed to.
Hey, you’d rather be in this position than the alternative.
The challenge for the front office, though, revolves around deciding, in relatively quick fashion, which prospects and roster fillers are worth the spot on the 40-man roster and which they are willing to part ways with. Arguments could be made that if players like Bradley Zimmer or Ernie Clement got substantive playing time, they’d improve and impress the Guardians enough to still be on the club.
The downside to the clear quick-trigger approach Cleveland has taken in order to handle this roster crunch is that there is likely going to be someone who should not have been released that is going to show out for another club (think Jesús Aguilar). To this point, it feels as though the Guardians have hung on to the fringe major leaguers that they should have and gotten rid of those they should have - time will tell. But I’m worried about one player in particular this offseason: Gabriel Arias.
The 2023 season is primed to be a huge year in the careers of many organizational talents. Aside from its pitchers, players like Arias, Will Benson and Will Brennan could be in prove it or lose it situations. But I’m mostly worried that Arias, someone who now sits as a top ten prospect in the Guardians’ organization, might get lost in the fold. It’s clear that Cleveland has plenty of infield talent and has a Rolodex of outfielders - led by Steven Kwan - that can be trusted.
It’s easy for someone to get relegated to the bench and have a difficult time breaking into the starting lineup, let alone someone like Arias, who doesn’t have a firm grasp on any position. Last year, Arias played full games at each position around the infield, but through extremely limited game play, and never really found a consistent position to hold down before getting optioned back to Triple-A. I get that the dynamic of this team has changed from a group full of young talent just having some fun and winning a couple of games into a defending AL Central champion, but players like Arias, those with so much potential and clear ability to play and contribute, need to become more ingrained into the lineup and day-to-day strategy.
MLB.com once said that Arias had the highest ceiling of all of the players acquired in the Mike Clevinger trade that brought back names such as Josh Naylor and Joey Cantillo. The San Diego Padres originally gave him $1.9 million as an international free agent, so his talent - and the potential for what he could become - has always been evident. Hopefully, the Guardians are planning on sliding him in behind Amed Rosario at shortstop, priming him to overtake Rosario up the middle. Maybe the goal is to even eventually trade Rosario, move José Ramírez to second base, Andrés Giménez to shortstop and slide in Arias at second base.
Regardless, there needs to be a plan, an avenue, for Arias to become an everyday starter. Maybe he’ll flame out and his .640 OPS with 16 strikeouts in as many games is par for Arias and he’ll be a forgotten former top prospect in a year. That’s likely not the case, though. He spent most of last season with Columbus and managed an .802 OPS with 13 home runs. Defensively, his errors are decreasing each season he’s been in the minor leagues and his assist and putout rate is increasing.
He has the potential - and has shown it throughout his career in the minors - to be a dynamic hitter that Terry Francona can slide into the bottom of the lineup as a solid addition to continue an inning. And you won’t have to worry about him defensively, either, so long as the Guardians can pick a main position and have him thrive in it.
Arias needs more time with Cleveland to grow, and I think he’s shown that he’s worth sticking with. He needs consistent playing time and the opportunity to show that his potential can soon become actual output. He needs to continue to show growth, though, because reinforcements (Brayan Rocchio, Angel Martínez, Jose Tena) are quickly coming up behind him. Arias can be a staple, if any of the talk about his true potential is realized, but the Guardians just need to give him time to showcase it.