The baseball world is currently in a lockout, but the prospect lists must go on.
Five Guardians prospects were named in Baseball America’s Top 100 list this week, including infielder Tyler Freeman (63), Daniel Espino (65), infielder Brayan Rocchio (66), outfielder George Valera (68) and shortstop Gabriel Arias ( 100).
Freeman, 22 and ranked as the club’s top candidate by MLBPipeline.com, hit .323 with a .372 on-base percentage, two home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, 19 RBI and four stolen bases in 41 games with the RubberDucks his season previously ended after he had surgery to address the labrum in his left shoulder. Freeman is expected to be ready for spring practice, or when teams report back to baseball after the lockout ends.
“That’s the hope. He’s actually in Arizona rehab with our group there and continues to make good progress,” Chris Antonetti, Guardians president of baseball operations, said in November. “So we expect him to be ready for spring training.”
Espino, 21, scored a combined 3-8 in 2021 with a 3.73 ERA, 1,124 WHIP and 152 strikeouts in 91 2/3 innings between Lynchburg and Lake County, while opponents averaged .192.
Rocchio, also 21 and one of the many talented center infielders in the Guardians’ farm system, earned his promotion to Double-A Akron last season, hitting .294 with a .865 OPS, four home runs, 13 doubles, four triples, 30 RBI and seven stolen bases in 203 at bats.
Valera, 21, was the bright spot among Guardians prospects. In 2021, which ended with Valera in Akron, he hit a combined .260 with a .405 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage, including 19 home runs, five doubles, four triples, 65 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
Arias – you guessed it, he’s 21 – just cracked the Top 100 list after hitting .284 with a .802 OPS to go with 13 home runs, 29 doubles, three triples, 55 RBI and five stolen bases in Triple -A Columbus last season.
Freeman, Rocchio and Arias contribute to a growing blockage among talented center infielders in the Guardians system, so much so that the club had to find alternative positions to get all these at bats at different levels. It also made the roster crisis ahead of the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline even more muddy.
“At least in the short term, we think we will continue to have opportunities for each of them based on where they are and where we expect them to contribute next year,” Antonetti said. “I think you’ll probably see us with some of those guys continue to give opportunities to other positions to increase the flexibility and opportunities to contribute at the highest level for us.”
“We see that as a good problem to have. You won’t find Mike [Chernoff] and I complain about having too many good players in every position, especially positions as demanding as the mid-field positions.”
Nolan Jones, ranked as the No. 3 prospect according to MLBipeline.com, was on the list in 2021 but dropped out after a disastrous season in which he hit just .238 with 122 strikeouts.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/leveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.