Random Baseball Analysis 1: SS Gabriel Arias, Cleveland Guardians Triple-A Affiliate
21-year-old shortstop Gabriel Arias became my favorite prospect in the Cleveland farm system after he was traded in a nine-player trade between Cleveland and San Diego, which was the 40th trade they’ve conducted in the three or four years in case you were wondering(this is sarcasm). Cleveland has a great eye for infielders, especially shortstops, and getting the seventh-ranked shortstop prospect in a San Diego Padres farm system that was the first or second-best in baseball at the time made me make sure to study the data I had available and keep tabs on Arias whenever Minor League Baseball made its return. After his first 70 games as one of the youngest players in all three Triple-A leagues, Arias has me buying even more shares of the possibility where he is a productive big leaguer and hopefully this impromptu article will lead you to do the same.
Arias’s athletic 6'2'’ frame offers a combination of above-average raw power and speed. He possesses a plus-plus graded glove at shortstop and a top-of-the-scale arm to go with it. A couple more factors are pedigree and a respectable track record against opponents who are also skilled. One of the top two prospects in the 2016 J2 class coming out of Venezuela, Arias has a long history under the spotlight that goes back to his days playing for Venezuela’s 14U team at various tournaments across the globe against the world’s best in his age group. Before becoming a professional player, Arias trained under Ciro Barrios, a trainer whose program produced current Venezuelan MLB players Gleyber Torres and Willson Contreras. He was one of the centerpieces of the San Diego Padres 2016 J2 class, receiving a 1.9 million dollar signing bonus to become a professional player at the age of sixteen tears old.
During his first two years in the San Diego farm system, he was very lackluster statistically although showing flashes of why he got a seven-figure signing bonus as a teenager with power to all fields and glovework at the six that would be adequate in the big leagues. Arias was fast-tracked through the system and the bet paid off as he put up a 120 wRC+ while being the youngest player in all three High-A leagues at nineteen years old. The infielder accumulated many skeptics because of his high strikeout and low walk rates during the early stages of his MiLB career, and he also experimented with several adjustments and training methods to improve his swing/hitting approach.
One of the methods Arias used as virtual reality training to improve his ability to discern between strikes and balls, also known as tracking. The Padres organization rewarded Arias with a stint playing with the big league spring training squad in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, encouraged with his progress as a hitter. They were equally pleased with his work at the 2020 Alternate Site, and his stock was clearly on the rise. When I read scouting reports that Arias has a grooved swing and a questionable approach that was always on the mend after he was traded to Cleveland, it really stuck out to me that the front office went against their preferred type to acquire this guy. It is well known amongst the people that pay close attention to the MLB Draft and the J2 Signing Period that Cleveland prefers contact-oriented hitters with top-tier bat control and sound approaches. So why all of a sudden go against type and put the chips on tools and adjustments?
The Cleveland brain trust clearly bought into the adjustments Arias was making and thought that he could further build skill in the areas where he was lacking but clearly improving. This acquisition was also an exercise of confidence in the player development group to help Arias improve and develop as a professional baseball player. 70 games into his first stint at Triple-A as the second-youngest player in all three Triple-A leagues, the shortstop from Venezuela has made huge strides at the plate, which is a huge sign of future success. His OPS has increased every month so far this season, from a .628 in May to a .829 in June and a .856 in July. When compared to his fellow shortstops in the three Triple-A leagues, Arias is 9th in wRC+, 16th in BB/K ratio, 10th in BABIP, 12th in wOBA, and 11th in ISO. For those who prefer surface-level stats, Arias is 6th in PAs, 5th in hits, 7th in home runs, 10th in average, and 10th in walks among shortstops.
As Cleveland navigates its 40-man logjam that includes a large group of infielders that have the tools and skills to be productive pieces on Major League ball clubs, Arias should be the priority going forward. Honestly, I’ll take that opinion further as I think he is the best prospect in the Cleveland farm system at this very moment. The exponential growth in Arias’s productivity at the plate due to a persistent search for the correct adjustments combined with the fact that he did it while being one of the youngest players at every level he has played in is impressive. With the sixth-highest swinging strike percentage in all three Triple-A leagues due to a grooved swing, the high strikeout rates will probably never subside. The negative effects of Arias’s high strikeout rate are alleviated to a tolerable degree if Arias continues to walk close to or at a double-digit rate while keeping the K% at or slightly below 25%, which is perfectly within reach.
Arias has one of the highest ceilings of the position players in the Cleveland farm system due to the elite tools he offers as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop that can hit 40+ doubles, 20+ home runs, and get on base at a respectable clip. Based on the adjustments which have gradually improved his offensive productivity, his ceiling is becoming more and more obtainable. All in all, I believe that this 21-year-old shortstop from Venezuela is the top prospect in the Cleveland farm system for the near future, and hopefully, he has a long and successful career in a Cleveland uniform. The approach was the only missing piece to the puzzle, and with that seemingly being addressed by his current breakthrough with drawing walks the organization’s illustrious tree of productive infielders that started in the 90s has a good chance to continue well into the 2020s.
My work covering the Cleveland Guardians High-A Affiliate during the 2021 MiLB Season: https://indiansbaseballinsider.com/author/captainvide0/
My entire portfolio as a sportswriter: https://www.clippings.me/users/tangibleuno