Everyone knew that drafting and signing nothing but short stops and pitchers (not literally, but pretty close) was going to catch up with Cleveland eventually. Using the 2017 international free […]
Everyone knew that drafting and signing nothing but short stops and pitchers (not literally, but pretty close) was going to catch up with Cleveland eventually. Using the 2017 international free agent class as an example, every player was a pitcher, outfielder, catcher or short stop except Jhonkensy Noel (3B) with Aaron Bracho, Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena and Wilfri Peralta all signed at short. In 2018, Gabriel Rodriguez, Angel Rodriguez, Junior Sanquintin, Dayan Frias, Jose Baez, Jesus Lara and Henyer Gomez were all signed as short stops with no other infielders and only one outfielder in the class.
Given the glut of short stops and extreme lack of depth considering real first basemen, it was apparent that they would have to spread the short stops around the infield in 2021. Now that we’re a bit into the season, we have a clearer picture of how that looks.
Bobby Bradley started the season at first for the Clippers, but he’s been back in the big leagues since June. This left the Clippers with exactly zero players who were regularly first basemen, allowing them to experiment a bit with the roster. Starting with one who isn’t being used there, Nolan Jones had been discussed as an option in the off-season and worked out there in instructs, but played just one game at first in May and has been splitting his time between third, right and DH. While right field is a new position for Jones, he’s still primarily a third baseman.
Another short term option this season has been former short stop, now super utility man Yu Chang, who those who watch big league games already know about. He played a couple of games at all four infield positions during his time with Columbus this year before regularly playing the position for the Indians in the big leauges. Owen Miller is in a similar situation, although he has played more games in AAA and spent most of his time at second with just a handful of games at the other infield positions.
While most of the other levels have infielders working out at first, Columbus has primarily been using outfielder Trenton Brooks (with a few games from Connor Marabell as well in May and June). At this point, Brooks has been fully converted from outfield to first. He’s having a decent offensive season, but given his track record (.254/.333/.401 over five years) and his age (25), this seems to be a stop gap measure rather than a team trying to find a future big league 1B. Given the long term control of Bradley, the Indians don’t necessarily need a future big leaguer in AAA, but it is surprising they ended the Nolan Jones side of the experiment so quickly to focus on Brooks.
In non-first base news, Tyler Krieger’s career has taken him all over the field, but he’s now back where he started. He was drafted as a second baseman, moved to center and left field in 2018, third base in 2019 and is now back to second full time in 2021. Like Brooks, his poor offensive performance over the last few years makes him a non-prospect at this point.
In Akron, Jon Engelmann has fully converted from right field to first base, but this was something we knew was going to happen a few years ago. They have also tried out Josh Rolette, who has since been released, as well as Brooks before he was promoted. The more interesting change of late has been short stop Marcos Gonzalez moving to first. With Tyler Freeman taking up most of the starting time at short, Gonzalez started the year playing third and second, then began mixing in games at first at the end of May. Now, he is exclusively playing first base, although he has missed much of July due to injury.
What is interesting about Gonzalez is that he does have good speed and range, but has always committed far too many errors to be a consistent short stop or second baseman. His struggles at third early this year made it difficult to keep him there as well. While he was a decent OBP player with good baserunning in the past, his low average and moderately high strike out rate seem to have caught up with him. He is yet to commit an error at first, but his bat is more suited to a high skill defensive position.
To mix things up, Richie Palacios was drafted as a short stop and played second pretty exclusively until May 2021. He did play some outfield in college (Towson) and has now spent time in all three outfield positions with the RubberDucks. While quick footed, Palacios doesn’t have a great arm and has one assist and one error this season in 18 games. He likely provides the most value staying at second.
The only strange positional experiment in Lake County has been with Aaron Bracho. Originally signed as a shortstop, Bracho only played second as a rookie, but has regularly played first, second and third for the Captains this year. His defensive numbers haven’t looked great at any of the three positions (possibly a reason he’s also regularly been the DH), but are best at his normal position of second. His defensive struggles are not Bracho’s only concern in 2021 as his offense has greatly fallen off after skipping A ball and jumping straight from the Arizona League to High A at 20 years old.
The Hillcats have had the largest group of non-first basemen playing first. The starter has generally been long term 1B Will Barlett and the second most used has been Miguel Jerez, who converted to the position two years ago. The new 1B list is long, however, including 2B/SS Wilfri Peralta, SS/3B Ike Freeman and OF Micah Pries with C Yainer Diaz, 2B/3B Christian Cairo and SS/3B Gabriel Rodriguez filling in for a game or two each. Of these, Rodriguez is the best prospect and a fantastic defender at third. The Hillcats are trying to get Cairo, Peralta and Jhonkensy Noel time at third this year, so Rodriguez playing a game at first and a few in the outfield are more likely about keeping his bat in the line-up rather than changing his position. Cairo, Freeman and Peralta, however, are working on increasing positional versatility and can now essentially be used in any infield position at any time. Pries only played outfield in college, but is a solid candidate for a permanent move to first base.
The ACL Indians opened the season with zero players with first base experience on the roster. The general solution to this problem has been SS/3B Junior Sanquintin. With the exception of Pries when he was on rehab assignment and a couple games by catcher Micael Ramirez, he has been the sole proprietor of that base (he played 3B when Pries was at 1B). He is listed at 6’0″ 172 lbs, but is just 19 and has likely grown significantly since those measurements were taken three years ago. His frame now makes him look more 1B than SS and his power matches the position (he’s pictured at top so you can judge for yourself). With the extreme level of competition in the lower minors at short stop, it is likely that Sanquintin will be relegated to the corners from now on.
The final positional change of note in Arizona was Jordan Brown, who was drafted as a short stop in 2019. He played mostly 3B as a rookie, but has moved into the outfield this year, playing most of his time in left with just single games at third and first.
It was always assumed that the short stops would spread to second and third as has happened throughout baseball history. The odd things here are that the Indians have drafted so few first basemen that they are having to use highly skilled infielders there. Of everyone mentioned above, most seem to be simply placeholders or super utility men rather than permanent solutions at the position. Keep an eye on Pries and Sanquintin, however, as they seem to have the bat and glove to stick at first and join Joe Naranjo and Will Bartlett as the next generation at the position.