Fighting for roster spot, Arias to test new position

February 19th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every year at the beginning of Spring Training, Guardians manager Terry Francona sits down with each of his players individually to give them a message heading into the year. Sometimes it’s just encouragement, especially for young players, to enjoy camp and absorb as much information as they can. Other times, it’s planning how to make someone the best fit they can be for the big league roster.

When it comes to , the Guardians are working on finding a way for him to fit.

“One, we always try to tell the truth,” Francona said. “I think we view Gabby as an everyday player at some point in his career. If you look around right now, we got [José Ramírez], we got Amed [Rosario], we got [Andrés] Giménez. OK, what’s your best way to be able to impact the Major League club?”

Francona met with Arias on Sunday morning and discussed the idea of moving him beyond the infield. The goal would be to see if he could handle some time in the outfield, after the natural middle infielder and third baseman was seamless in his late-season transition to first base last year.

“I think for a young kid, he has a very good understanding of that,” Francona said. “Sometimes you get a young kid and they just want to be an everyday [player] so bad that they don’t either accept it, they can’t handle it. That’s why you see, a lot of times, veterans doing that job.”

Arias falls in the same category as players like . Both have been highly-ranked prospects in Cleveland’s system for the past few years, but are stuck behind starting infielders who rarely take days off. Francona hasn’t had his one-on-one meeting with Freeman just yet, but when he does, it won’t be surprising if they discuss this very same topic.

If there’s only room for one of these utility players on the 26-man roster, defensive versatility will likely be the difference-maker. While the Guardians are already a tremendously youthful team, the organization doesn’t want young players getting sporadic playing time off the bench more than necessary, when they could be getting everyday reps in the Minors.

Arias had a rough offensive season last year. Not only did he go just 9-for-47 (.191 average) in the big leagues, he hit .240 with a .716 OPS in 77 games with Triple-A Columbus after breaking his right hand early in the year. But his reputation is enough to remain optimistic about his future.

In ’21, Arias slashed .284/.348/.454 with 13 homers, 29 doubles and 55 RBIs in 115 games with Columbus. Having his hand injury in the rearview mirror along with some big league experience under his belt should put him in a better position to replicate those types of numbers in ’23.

The Guardians don’t let Spring Training numbers define whether a player makes the Opening Day roster (though if someone gets hot during this stretch, it definitely doesn’t hurt). Most of the utility decisions will be based on track record and performance in the field. And if Arias can prove that a transition to the outfield grass would be as easy and effortless as he made the move to first base look, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in Seattle on March 30.

“Gabby came up last year and he took the first base spot where we’re playing him there in the playoffs,” Francona said. “He’s doing a pretty good job. So, he’s been taking balls in the outfield during BP and we’ll kind of see how it goes. He’s in a good place. He had a lot going on last year and he really seems like he’s in a good place. He’s worked hard at it.”