clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Are we underestimating Gabriel Arias?

Is an injury-plagued season making us overlook Gabriel Arias?

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Guardians have so many middle-infield prospects, you can be excused for forgetting about one or two of them. I’m here today to tell you not to forget about Gabriel Arias.

At the age of 21, Gabriel Arias put up a 115 wRC+ in Triple-A Columbus in 2021. For comparison, the average age of a hitter in Triple-A in 2021 was 26.6 and the average age of a Triple-A pitcher was 27.2. So, he was a percentile and a half better than an average Triple-A hitter, despite being five to six years younger than his competition. He accompanied 13 homers in 483 Triple-A plate appearances with scintillating play on defense thanks to a strong arm and a knack for making slick plays at short.

Arias proceeded to put up a 1.205 OPS in spring training with Cleveland in 2022, leading to some folks speculating that he could take over for Amed Rosario at short if the Guardians could find a trade partner for him in the early season. Unfortunately, Arias fractured his hand in early May and, fortunately for the Guardians, Rosario had a good season where he was, again, a league-average hitter and showed improvement defensively (at least in terms of defensive runs saved, going from -9 to +6), while leading the club in hustle plays and max effort.

I think it’s fair to wonder how it affects a young player like Arias, mentally, to go from performing extremely well at Triple-A to tearing it up at spring training, to scuffling a bit and suffering a hand injury that knocks him out for two months. We should keep this in mind while processing the offensive struggles he endured for much of 2022.

From April to July, including a two-month stint on the injured list and time spent in the minors working his way back from the injury, Arias had a .604 OPS with a .236 BABIP in the minors. From Aug. 1 until getting the call-up to the majors, he had a .791 OPS with a .324 BABIP, the latter number being far more typical for a good hitter in Triple-A than the .236 BABIP from earlier in the year. He proceeded to produce a 158 wRC+ in 37 plate appearances for the Guardians in the regular season (obligatory small-sample size alert, as 20 of those PAs were against the Royals).

Arias also held his own in the playoffs, including two hits off of Luis Severino in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees.

Defensively, it didn’t go so well for Arias in his brief time in Cleveland in 2022 when he was at second or short, but I think it’s fair to chalk that up to getting comfortable and dealing with some nerves. He can look a little distracted at times on routine plays, but I do think tightening that up generally happens with time and effort. On the bright side, he was able to put up an out above average in his brief time filling in at first base, a position where he may also find some playing time in 2022.

Overall, in his time in Cleveland’s minor leagues since coming here in the blessed trade of Mike Clevinger, Arias has been an above-average hitter, an excellent fielder, he has 70th percentile sprint speed, a 23/8 K/BB, and he is still only turning 23 years old on Feb. 27. When I look at his age, his stats, and his highlights, I can only come to the conclusion that we should not be counting this player out as a potential core piece of this Cleveland Guardians team for the future.

Covering the Corner’s readers deserve credit for not forgetting Arias, ranking him No. 11 in a very talented system while completing their annual prospect voting.

With José Ramírez, Amed Rosario, and Andrés Giménez firmly entrenched at third base, shortstop, and second base for the Guardians, respectively, where will Arias find at-bats in 2023? Well, from late August to September, he saw time in Columbus at both first base (10 games) and left field (seven games). He will have opportunities to fill in for Josh Naylor at first base with Josh Bell at DH against left-handed pitching. He can also give Steven Kwan a breather in left field, especially against lefties where Kwan only managed an 85 wRC+ against them in 2022.

In the minors, in 2021, Arias had an .814/.757 OPS split vs. RHP/LHP, and in 2022 it was a .713/.694 split. Those numbers don’t look like a player who is likely to hit southpaws at a significantly better clip than he hits right-handers, but they do look like a player who will perform adequately against right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers, overall.

Giving Arias regular at-bats — letting him fill in at first base, left field, and at second base, shortstop, and third when the regulars need a rest day — makes a lot of sense for 2023 and could amount to something similar to the 300 plate appearances Owen Miller got at first base in 2022 if he takes advantage of his opportunities.

I think I am guilty of forgetting about the talent Gabriel Arias has displayed with the Columbus Clippers and underselling how much he could help the Guardians in 2023. I encourage you to join me in being excited about watching him in spring training and rooting for him to get regular playing time in Cleveland in the regular season ahead.