Let’s just get this out of the way, my name is Ralph Lifshitz Esq., and I am an A.J. Preller fan boy. It hasn’t always been this way. Oh no, at one point I was just like you, wide-eyed and lost in his trades of the 2015 offseason. I appreciated the 2016 exodus of MLB stars, as Preller added top talents like Manuel Margot, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Anderson Espinoza. But where Preller really hooked me was the 2016 July 2nd International period. Over the duration of that signing window Preller landed the top rated Dominican talent in Luis Almanzar, Cuban starters Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, and Ronald Bolanos, in addition to Jorge Ona, Tirso Ornelas, Jession Rosario, Jordy Barley, and today’s focus Gabriel Arias. At least four of these talents have found their way into various versions of my Top 100 and Top 200, while I was on Arias early, he was merely a mention earlier this offseason in my 2018 Dynasty Sleepers list. Since then, Arias has shipped off to the land down under to further hone his craft, with a head full of zombie. No word on whether there’s any truth to the rumor that a man from Brussels handed him a Vegamite sandwich. Anyway, here’s why Gabirel Arias is a 2018 Dynasty Sleeper.
During his time in the Aussie League, Arias has captured the hearts and minds of the Prospectors across this great land. Meaning the time to buy Arias is now, before the helium inflating his prospect balloon floats him into the periphery of your leaguemates. He’s not a fit (at the moment) for leagues where under 150 prospects are owned, or those where you can’t sit on a player for three plus years. In all other formats he’s a must own. If only as a speculative upside flier. The price tag shouldn’t be too high yet. That’s proven true if we’re using two of my currently active dynasty leagues as a gauge. I added him off waivers in one league Monday morning, and he went 54th overall in another league’s first year player draft.
A toolsy 17 year old shortstop, Arias is a product of the same Venezuelan training institute that produced Gleyber Torres, amongst others. He of course signed during the same period as compatriot and super prospect Kevin Maitan. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Arias had a better first professional season. His defense is widely lauded as bordering on wizardry, with plus plus range, and an all world arm getting a ton of focus in his early scouting profiles. I tell you this for no other reason, than to assure you a future at short is likely. It’s also an underrated component of figuring out a player’s ETA. Players at demanding defensive positions (catcher and shortstop in particular) can often take a little longer while they get up to speed. Beyond Arias’ defensive ability there’s a lot to be excited about from a fantasy perspective. Signed for $1.9 Million back in July of 2016, the shortstop ranked 11th on MLB.com Jesse Sanchez’s Top 30 of the 2016 signing class. At that point, he was graded as having a 50 hit with 50 power, and a 40 run. His balanced swing and future power production were lauded in their scouting report on Arias. However he’s still nowhere to be found on MLB’s Padres Top 30. I’m sure that will change with their update, but still…sleepy. Amirite?
As often happens between signing and the beginning of rookie ball, many of the top July 2nd players go through somewhat of a larva period, as they get introduced to professional baseball training regiments, and life in North America in general. This period often ends in the weeks after the draft, as short-season and rookie ball kick off. At that point, reports start to trickle out from the backfields and training complexes where these rookie ball leagues are played. You’ll usually hear a lot about draftees, and players like Michel Baez who were far too advanced for the competition. This is where Arias is funny, the reports were mostly about how advanced his defense is, while his offensive skills were mostly described by evaluators as “projectable”. Meaning you could see the speed of Arias’ bat, you saw the at least average gap to gap power, and the quality of the contact. Keep in mind we’re discussing a 17 year old player, he was probably learning something new everyday.
When Arias was called up to Fort Wayne of the full season A Midwest League, many thought it was just to cover short after the promotion of Fernando Tatis Jr. to AA San Antonio. Perhaps they were right, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly when a 17 year old gets a taste of full season ball in his first pro season. He didn’t exactly set the league a blaze in 16 games slashing .242/.266/.258, but then the playoffs started. Over the course of 8 games Arias hit .364 leading the team in hits, moving his way up from 8th in order at the beginning of the playoffs to 5th by the end. It culminated in the season’s penultimate game where he went 3-3 with 3 extra base hits. This performance was enough to get his helium tank started, but it really didn’t pick up steam until the last few weeks, where he made Baseball America’s Padres Top 10, ranking tenth in a loaded system.
Then he did this on Saturday…
— ABL (@ABL) December 7, 2017
And then followed it up with this later in the game…
— ABL (@ABL) December 7, 2017
So far through 15 games in the Australian League Arias is slashing .259/.310/.537, with 3 homers, and 13 RBI. Exemplary production from a 17 year old in any pro league. On the other hand he’s struck out 21 times in 54 at bats, so there’s still some growing to do. But not unlike last season’s ABL darling Ronald Acuna, Arias will head stateside with lofty expectations heading into next season. In recent weeks Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser has described him as possessing “Top flight makeup”, and that he’s “rapidly improving as a hitter”. Others have described Arias as 2018’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and San Diego’s “next top prospect”. It will be fun to see if that all comes to fruition, but for now, judging by the power in the above videos (even if he’s hitting meatballs), the swing, scouting reports, and talk of his all around ability. I think we could be looking at a potentially elite power bat in the middle infield, think Carlos Correa. Sure Arias lacks the usual speed profile of your typical toolsy teenage shortstop, but he does posses the rare middle of the order thump where steals don’t matter as much. Then again he’s not legally able to buy cigarettes yet, so there’s a long way to go.