Christian Arroyo, Roster Crunches, and Buying Low

Major League Baseball is a league of pedantic rules filled with broad loopholes or pithy requirements, most of which favor teams over young players. Yet, one rule can be particularly difficult when it comes to small market teams with immense prospect depth, the 40-man roster limit.

On Sunday, July 28, the Indians acquired Christian Arroyo from the Tampa Bay Rays along with reliever Hunter Wood in exchange for prospect Ruben Cardenas and international slot money. The Tampa Bay Rays, in this moment may have fallen victim to the 40-man roster crunch and their wealth of prospects. The Rays, by all accounts have the best collection of minor league talent in baseball at the moment. A panoply of talent which Fangraphs Prospect staff have significantly ahead of the second best system in baseball.

More, the infield is crowded at the big league level between Yandy Diaz, Joey Wendle, Matt Duffy, Nathanial Lowe, Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, and Daniel Robertson with Lucious Fox and Kean Wong in AAA, and Uber-prospect Wander Franco just a year or so away. The Rays were overflowing with depth, and following a significant ailment, forearm tendinitis, the Rays were forced to move on from Christian Arroyo.

In 2017, Arroyo was ranked the 69th best prospect in baseball by Fangraphs Prospect crew, and at 22 made his big league debut for the Giants before being part of the Evan Longoria trade.

Universally, Baseball Prospectus, 2080 Baseball, Fangraphs and Baseball America projected an above average hit tool.

From Baseball Prospectus in 2016:

21 year-old, former 1st round infielder with plus future hit tool. Quick, quiet bat the generates loud contact. Line drive, up the middle approach. Doubles over home runs power. Glove is a tick below avg; combined with build, likely to move off SS before long. Has the arm to handle 3B; glove and range would play at 2B. Profiles better at 2B given compactness of body. Hit tool will carry and play

From 2080 Baseball:

Arroyo’s calling card is his hit tool, and it profiles to be above-average at maturity. He displays plus bat speed and feel for the barrel at a young age despite an approach that can get overly aggressive at times. 

In 2015 Arroyo popped at 19/20 posting a 117 wRC+ in A+ with just 17.8% strikeout rate. For age and level, this was exquisite production.

2016-2017 were solid campaigns, especially for age and level, resulting in Arroyo’s 2017 debut. Arroyo struggling in just 34 big league games to a .196 batting average and 43 wRC+ before his exit to Tampa Bay.

In 2019, before his 24th birthday Arroyo showed a little luster once again, walking 9% of the time, striking out 19% of the time with a .289 ISO before being recalled to Tampa. In Tampa Arroyo posted a competent 85 wRC+ before injury.

Arroyo has strong contact skills in with likely average frequency and potentially above average quality.

The reality is just two years ago Arroyo was considered a top-75 prospect in baseball and debuted in the big leagues at just 22 years old. Now, barely 24, Arroyo was blocked by an large collection of infield talent and moved as the result of a 40-man roster crunch.

Arroyo is certainly flawed, he walks less than teams would prefer, and is probably an average at peak defender. However, scouts saw a real plus tool in his profile just two years ago, and based on his age, results, more opportunity is a must.

The Indians fared well in 2018 by targeting Oscar Mercado in a trade with a team deep in outfielders, picking off a player who was blocked by a surplus of outfield competition. Perhaps, Arroyo will turn out the same.

Of course, the Rays, who are advanced developmentally and have the informational advantage chose to move on from Arroyo, which is worth nothing. However, these sort of deals are the ones the Indians need to make, ones which are creative and attempt to identify players blocked or overlooked.

In a time where the Indians need outfield help, and may trade Trevor Bauer, a small deal for an injured infielder and bullpen arm is not particularly flashy but in the end it may still be impactful.

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