Why Brayan Rocchio Must Start the Season in Cleveland

Keeping Brayan Rocchio in Columbus while maintaining the mediocre status quo in the outfield would be an unforced error by the Cleveland Guardians' front office.
Aug 12, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA;  Cleveland Guardians shortstop Brayan Rocchio (6)
Aug 12, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Cleveland Guardians shortstop Brayan Rocchio (6) / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s say you are going through a bad spell financially.  You are late on your mortgage, and the fridge is getting empty, but you have three nice cars sitting in your driveway.  There’s no way you need more than two cars, and you can get by with one in a pinch.  In fact, with the price of gas, you aren’t doing much driving anyway.  It seems silly to keep those three nice cars in the driveway while you go hungry.

It feels like the Guardians are making that kind of mistake right now.

They have three middle infielders – Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, and Tyler Freeman – who seem capable of being quality major league shortstops.  Beyond those three, Juan Brito, Angel Martinez, and Jose Tena are waiting in the wings, possibly ready to help in either 2024 or 2025.  And the lower levels of the farm system are just teeming with middle-infield prospects. 

On the other hand, the list of quality outfielders that the Guardians can count on to be productive is as follows: 

  • Steven Kwan

That’s it. 

If the season started today, Will Brennan and Ramon Laureano would likely platoon in right field, and Myles Straw and his .598 OPS would be battling Estevan Florial in center.  It’s possible that Brennan will show more of the flashes we saw down the stretch in 2022, or that Florial will make enough contact that his power and speed will finally flourish on the major league level.  But neither of those things is likely enough to count on going into a season where contending is the goal. As the cliché goes, hope is not a strategy.

If only there was a way to turn the glut of shortstops into a serviceable outfielder. 

But wait!  You could trade a shortstop for an outfielder.  Or you could, say, move Kwan to center field and convert Rocchio into a left fielder.  Or you could trade Andres Gimenez for an outfielder and play Rocchio at short and Arias at second.  Or play Rocchio at first base and move Josh Naylor back to right field. 

There are a lot of ways to use the glut of shortstops to boost the outfield depth. 

Remember back when the front office started acquiring shortstops like they were Cruella de Vil collecting Dalmatians?  One of the ways they justified it was that shortstops were by definition the best athletes on the team, so if you had too many shortstops you could move them around the diamond to fill other gaps.  Well, here we are!  A lineup full of gaps and as many as six shortstops ready to help. 

What you cannot do under any circumstances is start the season with Brayan Rocchio in Columbus. If this was the Dodgers and we could just go spend twenty million any time a hole opened in the lineup, then maybe stashing quality players in the minors would make sense.  But the Guardians run on a margin of error so thin that wasting any talent can be crippling.  Rocchio is the best prospect in the system and he has almost 700 plate appearances at Triple-A. Last year at Columbus his OPS was .788.  He is ready.

There’s another reason Rocchio can’t go to Columbus.  Prospects are like fresh fruit.  When they have done all that they need to in the minors, either you get value from them or their value starts to decline.  If Rocchio spends the season in Columbus, or bouncing back and forth, other teams will begin to view him skeptically as a prospect, and his trade value will go down.  Meanwhile he might use up a minor league option, which isn’t a problem until it suddenly is, like with Nolan Jones. 

So make Rocchio the shortstop.  Or make him the leftfielder.  Or make him the second baseman.  Or trade him for someone who can play leftfield.  But don’t have him spend the season tearing up the International League while we play two sub-replacement-level outfielders. 

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