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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Gabriel Arias is poised to become Cleveland’s next shortstop if he’s around long enough to reach the big leagues. The 21-year-old Venezuelan infielder acquired in the 2020 Mike Clevinger trade from San Diego certainly played his way into that position during the 2021 season with Triple-A Columbus.

But with Amed Rosario the likely choice to open the season at short for the Guardians, and a wealth of highly-valued minor leaguers bunched around him at the position, did Arias’ standout 2021 campaign make him a better trade chip than major-league roster solution for Cleveland?

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Arias impressed during spring training, batting .615 in eight games with a double and five RBI, but was quickly optioned to minor league camp and spent all 115 games of his 2021 season in Columbus. If skipping Double-A altogether was a challenge, he didn’t let on, after getting his feet under him in May (.211), Arias went on to hit better than .285 in each subsequent month and ended the season batting .325 in September.

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Whatever holes existed in Arias’ swing before the 2021 season were addressed. He struck out 110 times in 436 at-bats and upped his walks to 39, boosting his on-base percentage to .348. It certainly appears that Arias is ready to finish the final step of his development at the major-league level, but it’s more than likely he’ll have to wait until at least May to get started.

But that’s unless the club finds a willing trade partner in the market for a shortstop on the cusp. With Rosario in front and Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena behind, Arias looks to be in that sweet spot as trade bait. Knowing Cleveland needs a controllable corner outfield bat, Arias’ greatest value to the franchise might be what he can fetch in return.

On Thursday’s Cleveland Baseball Talk Podcast, Paul Hoynes and Joe Noga discussed Jones’ future with Cleveland and how he can improve for the 2022 season.

Gabriel Arias could be heir apparent at SS for Guardians after steady minor league season

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Arias’ 2021 statistics at Class AAA Columbus

115 436 .284 13 55 110 39 64
Arias’ contract status for 2022

While Arias isn’t expected to make the opening day roster in 2022, he’ll probably sign a split contract that would pay him just over the big-league minimum of $570,500 (based on 2021 guidelines) for any time he spends with the Guardians and another amount for his time in the minors. He has two minor league options remaining. San Diego gave him a $1.9 million signing bonus in 2016.

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Arias’ prospect rankings

Arias started the 2021 season among Cleveland’s top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and shot to the top of the list by season’s end. He was ranked No. 4 in the organization as 2021 drew to a close. While he ranks behind Cleveland’s No. 1 prospect Tyler Freeman at short, Arias has the advantage of a full season at Triple-A under his belt, and the fact that Freeman is coming off shoulder surgery last year as the two enter training camp.

What Arias did well in 2021

Arias showed extra-base power with 37% of his hits going for extra bases — 29 doubles, three triples and 13 homers. He stole five bases and drew 39 walks — two off his career high. Arias posted a .348 on-base percentage and led the Clippers with 64 runs scored.

Where Arias struggled in 2021

Arias made 82 starts at shortstop for Columbus and finished with 11 errors in 299 total chances for a fielding percentage of .963. He has a reputation for a big arm, but needs to demonstrate that he can make the routine plays at short and would be an improvement defensively if called up to the majors.

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