Attempting to guide a prospect along his development path, one that hopefully ends for every team with a trip to the major leagues, is already a winding road with a foggy timeline at best. Add to that the element of also having to be a Major League roster fit for a team trying to compete, and suddenly a prospect development schedule looks more like a game of 4-D Chess.
Manager Terry Francona often says that the goal is to put a prospect in the best position possible to not only make the jump to the majors, but to have the ability and conditions to stay there long-term. Still, it’s an imprecise science to plan exactly when a prospect is ready to call the majors, and fitting into a major league roster isn’t always seamless. It takes planning at the very least.
It’s a balance that teams in baseball must consider.
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“That’s our primary responsibility. You just don’t know what position they’re going to play here,” said James Harris, Guardians assistant general manager and former director of player development. “Ernie Clement played for us almost every day at shortstop [in the minors]so did [Yu] chang. And those kids don’t play shortstop at all [in the majors]† We didn’t know [Owen] Miller was going to play first base. [Josh] Naylor played most of his games in left field and now he plays first base every day. We even play Franmil [Reyes] now in the left field. We just don’t know, so we need to publicize them in multiple positions to give Tito the flexibility to create a lineup to help us win.”
give guardians prospect Nolan Jones more defensive versatility
Nolan Jones is a good example of this. Formerly ranked as Cleveland’s top prospect (now No. 7 by MLB Pipeline after a loss in 2021), Jones has primarily played third base among the minors. But the Guardians have held on to that position, barring injury, throughout the 2028 season, with Jose Ramirez adding his name to the lineup every day. That led to Jones being given time in right field and first base, but that is also not enough, as the team also plans to find him some more time in left field in Triple-A Columbus.
Strikeouts were the main problem for Jones last season, as he made 122 in 341 at bats. He maintained a .356 on-base percentage and posted a .787 OPS (13 home runs, 25 doubles, 48 RBIs), but was unable to control the swing-and-misses.
Jones had his 2022 season delayed due to back and ankle problems. Now healthy, he hits .286 with a .397 OBP to go with five doubles and 11 RBI’s. He also has no home runs and has struckout 23 in 56 at bats.
Starting spring training ahead of the 2021 season, Jones looked set to be the best to make his major league debut, but that date remained on the horizon. Lately, some progress has been made, and the ever-present need for positional flexibility exists.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s mainly played on right field,” said Harris. “We try to keep him in one position because of the back. He had some pain before. We tried not to move him too much. He played third, mostly played right, we introduce left field. I believe he once or twice played in left field, he will continue to play more in left field.
“That’s where we start, but you know, we have no idea where those guys are going to play when they get here. [in Cleveland]† In 2016, Jose Ramirez played 48 games in left field. So we have no idea.”
However, Jones’ path to the majors isn’t nearly as open as it was around this time last year. The two corners in the outfield and first base were mainly handled by Steven Kwan, Oscar Gonzalez, Naylor and Miller. For now, he is one of the team’s many top prospects who makes regular at bats, but in various positions in the minor leagues.
Guardians infield prospect Gabriel Arias has a tough 2022 physically
So are some of the team’s top mid-infield prospects, an area where the team has a surplus. Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman, who make up the Guardians Nos. 3-4-5 respectively, are all infielders. Arias and Freeman are with Triple-A, while Rocchio (age 21) remains with Double-A Akron. Jose Tena, the number 9 on the team, is also in Akron.
Arias hasn’t exactly had the easiest time lately. Arias broke his right hand in early May, eventually returned on Saturday-evening and was promptly hit in the elbow with a pitch. He was fine and was in the lineup on Sunday when he fouled a ball from the plate. The ball bounced up and hit him in the face, and he left the game again. While Arias can’t seem to stop getting hit by baseballs, reports of his hand are positive.
“It was going well with the hand, he was back, he swung, he played in games in Arizona,” Harris said. “We had moved him, he had played third base, a short stop. He felt really good, we were very excited, but you know what this game is like, it’s full of situations you have to adapt to and he’s out today get that chance.”
guards No. 1 prospect Daniel Espino throws again but still has no timeline to return
The Guardians are wary of pitcher Daniel Espino, who is now ranked as the club’s No. 1 by MLB Pipeline.
Espino has been sidelined for over a month, first with knee pain and then shoulder pain.
“It actually starts all over again,” Harris said. †[We want to] give him a chance to sync everything.”
Espino this season registered a 2.45 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 18.1 innings with the RubberDucks. Harris noted that Espino has started throwing again, but there is still not much time for his return.
“He’s a big, physical person from a man who’s done a great job, so we’re not going to rush him back,” Harris said. “It’s not like we have a need in that category in Double-A. So we’d rather he be healthy and get back in shape. When he gets back in shape, he’s special. So we’d rather take our time. “
Ryan Lewis can be reached at [email protected] Learn more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/leveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Top Guardians Prospects Daniel Espino Has No Timetable For Return