“The Professor” took High-A and Double-A pitchers to school in 2021
With a third of yesterday’s vote, shortstop Brayan Rocchio joins 2017 international signing class partner George Valera on our top-20 prospect list.
Last season, when Rocchio was ranked as Cleveland’s No. 6 overall prospect, Brian Hemminger posed the question: Could 2021 be the year he takes the leap? If the jump from No. 6 overall to No. 2 is any indication, yes. Yes he did.
Rocchio started the 2021 season in High-A and he quickly proved that there was very little rust from missing the 2020 season due to the ongoing pandemic. As a 19-year-old he slashed .265/.337/.428 for the Lake County Captains, and hit an — at the time — career-high nine home runs.
His early production was enough to earn him a promotion after 64 games, and he only got better against stiff Double-A competition, upping his slash to .293/.360/.505 and adding on six home runs for a total of 15 on the season. He played well enough to earn significant playing time during the RubberDucks’ run to the Double-A championship. Rocchio, batting second for Akron, went 4-for-12 in their three-game sweep of the Bowie Baysox.
Following his postseason heroics, Rocchio spent the winter playing for Tiburones de La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League, where he casually slashed .391/.440/.594 in 17 games. He was one of many prospects added to the Guardians’ 40-man roster last November and should be making his case for the majors in the next couple of years.
Rocchio finished the season third in the Guardians system in hits (122), fourth in doubles (26), second in triples (5), and eighth in wRC+ (120). All as a 19-year-old for the entire season, playing against prospects several years older than him. To call his season impressive would be a massive understatement, and being voted the second overall prospect in the organization shows that Covering the Corner readers aren’t sleeping on him at all.
Now that he’s made a leap, the next question will be just how far can he go? His defense has never been in question, but now that he looks like a legitimate offensive threat? The sky may be the limit.
While he’s far from a power hitter, Baseball America’s scouts believe he has the potential to reach double-digits in the majors with his recent surge. If he can do that and continue to make contact with his aggressive approach at the plate, with some excellent, high-IQ defense at shortstop sprinkled in — well, that’s a damn good combination.
Rocchio has never had a walk rate above 7.0% at any level, but he’s consistently maintained an above-average on-base percentage because of his advanced pitch recognition and a clean, efficient swing from both sides of the plate.
He has a similar skill profile to Owen Miller — another low-walk, mid-strikeout contact hitter in the minors who debuted with Cleveland last year — but he’s doing it at a much younger age and he has more time to make any necessary adjustments before he reaches the majors.
Logan T. Allen, LHP (Age 23)
2021 (A+): 51.1 IP, 9 GS, 33.5 K%, 6.5 BB%, 1.58 ERA, 2.80 FIP
2021 (AA): 60.0 IP, 10 GS, 32.9 K%, 5.6 BB%, 2.85 ERA, 3.73 FIP
Made an impressive MLB debut after being drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft. Earned a promotion to Double-A after just nine starts, where he continued to show a plus changeup, a mid-90s fastball, and impressive command.
Gabriel Arias, SS (Age 21)
2021 (AAA): 483 PA, .284/.348/.454, 13 HR, 5 SB, 8.1 BB%, 22.8 K%, 115 wRC+
Spent the entirety of 2021 in Triple-A and held his own as a 21-year-old with an improved plate approach. Expected to debut with Cleveland sometime in 2022, likely as their starting shortstop.
Daniel Espino, RHP (Age 21)
2021 (A+): 49.0 IP, 10 GS, 45.1 K%, 8.2 BB%, 4.04 ERA, 3.08 FIP
2021 (A): 42.2 IP, 10 GS, 35.6%, 12.8 BB%, 3.38 ERA, 3.20 FIP
Features a mid- to high-90s fastball, slider, curveball, and a work-in-progress change-up. Tremendous strikeout potential as a mid-rotation starter with some command refinement.
Tyler Freeman, SS (Age 22)
2021 (AA): 180 PA, .323/.372/.470, 2 HR, 4 SB, 4.4 BB%, 11.7 K%, 130 wRC+
One of the most polished bats in Cleveland’s system. Excellent bat speed and control; could wind up as a shortstop or second baseman, depending on Cleveland’s MLB needs.
Nolan Jones, 3B/OF (Age 23)
2021 (AAA): 407 PA, .238/.356/.431, 13 HR, 10 SB, 14.5 BB%, 30.0 K%, 113 wRC+
Expected to make his MLB debut in 2021, but a slow start in Triple-A prevented his ascension. One of the best players in baseball occupying his primary position in the majors doesn’t help either, but he could see a shift to the outfield.