Juan Brito is a fairly good prospect. This doesn’t seem up for debate. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be all that much discussion around Brito at all – why is that?
The easy, or maybe I should say the most explainable, answer is that Brito isn’t the type of prospect that generates buzz. He’s not overly toolsy. He’s listed at 5’11, 200 pounds. He has some speed but he’s not eye-poppingly fast – especially for a middle infielder. He doesn’t look like someone who would have a ton of power, though he gets to some in games. He’s not a flashy infielder and it’s still unclear where his ultimate home is on the dirt.
Honestly, just reading those few sentences may have put you to sleep. Or, it may have made you out on Brito. Both could be fair, but it’s also possible that Brito is one of the highest floor bats in all of the minors. A switch-hitter with an enviable plate approach, paired with contact abilities that allow him to maximize his power and overall production.
He may not be the type of player who is a human highlight reel and as a result, will never be the type of prospect that skyrockets up prospect lists. But Brito is a producer that is worthy of our attention.
Being overlooked or blending into the shadows isn’t anything new for Brito. As a 16-year-old back in 2018, Brito agreed to terms with the Colorado Rockies for $60,000. For reference, 26 players signed for at least $1,000,000 in that class, and Brito wasn’t close to sniffing anything close to that amount of money.
But it didn’t take too long for Brito to begin to look like one of the steals in the draft. As a 17-year-old in the DSL the following summer, Brito played 35 games and slashed .328/.403/.491, hitting three homers and swiping 12 bags. Oh, and he walked more than he struck out. Walk and strikeout rates in the DSL should be taken with a grain of salt, but everything we’ve seen from Brito since indicates that his plate discipline is legitimate.
Due to the lack of minor league season in 2020, we didn’t get to see Brito in a professional setting, but it was more for him in 2021. The switch-hitter appeared in 27 games in the Complex League, triple slashing .295/.406/.432 in 27 games, while hitting three home runs and stealing five bases. We finally got a glimpse of him in a full-season level in 2022, with Brito spending 107 games at Single-A as a 19-year-old. Surprise, surprise, but Brito performed yet again.
There, Brito finished with 11 home runs and 17 steals, and finished the campaign with a career-best .184 ISO. He, again, walked more than he struck out, closing the season with a 15.7% walk rate compared to a 14.3% strikeout rate. That’s a rare feat for a 19-year-old in full-season ball. The .286/.407/.470 triple slash was nothing to sneeze at, either. Naturally, this type of performance put Brito even more on the map in prospect circles. But it also led to him switching teams.
In November of 2022, the Rockies traded Brito to the Cleveland Guardians for former first-round pick Nolan Jones. All Jones did following the trade was spend 106 games in the big leagues, notch 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, and hit close to .300. He finished 4th in National League Rookie of the Year voting, and it’s reasonable to think in other seasons he may have had a legitimate chance at winning it. All of that is to say that despite the intro to this article indicating that Brito gets a bit forgotten at times, he’s certainly a name that Guardians fans know well. The Rockies got an immediate payoff from the deal and Jones, although having some warts himself, looks like a potential cornerstone for the franchise going forward. As a result, Brito already has a high bar to clear in the eyes of Guardians’ fans.
Brito’s 2023, although not inclusive of an MLB impact like that of Jones, was productive in its own right. It was his age-21 season and he kicked off the season in High-A. The infielder tallied 35 games, triple slashing .265/.379/.424, with four home runs and three steals. Once again, Brito had a higher walk rate (14.9%) than a strikeout rate (13.0%) at this stop. This earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he would spend the bulk of the rest of the season.
There, as a member of the Akron Rubber Ducks, Brito produced similarly to all of his previous stops. He triple slashed .276/.373/.444, yanked out 10 home runs, and swiped four bags in 87 contests. Brito also walked 12.8% of the time while striking out at a 16.8% rate, and finished with an ISO of .168 and an 80% contact rate. He then closed the season with five Triple-A games, a sample so small that it’s not worth diving into.
In totality, it a was very nice season – a .271 batting average with 14 home runs and seven steals in 127 games. A full MLB season worth of games and this is a borderline 20/10 profile. His ability to draw walks (14.1% clip) led to an impressive .377 OBP and should be one of his carrying cards once he eventually makes an MLB debut.
Looking to 2024 and Beyond
So what’s in store for Brito heading into to 2024? Let’s try to identify his path. As previously stated, Brito spent most of the 2023 season at Double-A. The switch hitter did log five games at Triple-A, but it would be shocking for him to skip the level entirely and break camp with the big league club.
Beyond needing to still be tested by the pitching at the highest levels of the minors, there is the matter of Brito’s defense. An optimistic viewpoint would be that Brito can log innings at multiple positions on the dirt – in 2023, he saw time at second base, third base, and shortstop. A pessimistic (and unfortunately, maybe the more realistic) viewpoint is that the 22-year-old seeing playing time at these various positions is not a result of positional versatility but rather the opposite. Brito isn’t seen to be a strong defender and lacks a true defensive home. Cleveland is making a concerted effort to get him more reps at those second and third (he logged a career-high in innings at both in 2023), but second base is still his ultimate fate.
Right now, the Guardians starting infield is a little crowded. José Ramírez is still one of the best players in all of baseball at third base. Andrés Giménez has been the primary second baseman for the past two and half seasons, and while his offensive output has been inconsistent during that span, he’s also racked up 10.7 fWAR in 367 games in that span, and he’s also under team control through the 2030 season. So while he may not have quite as strong of hold on the starting position as a star like Ramirez, it’s undeniable that Giménez is a very valuable player in his own right, and one that is a clear part of Cleveland’s plans.
That brings us to shortstop, where the currently slated starter is 23-year-old Brayan Rocchio. Rocchio is a valuable prospect in his own right, and one that has been seemingly a back-end Top-100 prospect for half a decade. He can play all around the infield dirt, but unlike Brito, Rocchio’s versatility is a result of his positive defensive ability. He appeared in 18 games at the MLB level last season, logging almost all of those games at shortstop, but triple slashed a paltry a .247/.279/.321 in 86 plate appearances. That also came with goose eggs in home runs and steals. It’s not an overly exciting showing, but his .280/.367/.421 output in 116 Triple-A games points to more.
Gabriel Arias is yet another young middle infielder for the Guardians. They clearly have a liking for these types of players. Arias is somewhat of the inverse of Brito – he’s a fantastic defender, and even more so than Rocchio, is one that can play all over the infield dirt. But he’s not much of a force at the plate. He logged time at every infield position for Cleveland last year, but hit just .210. Arias has some pop in his bat but doesn’t make a ton of contact.
The Guardians are also a little clogged at first base. Brito is not expected to end up there, but in general it makes his path that much more difficult. Josh Naylor has become the team’s best hitter outside of Ramirez, and Cleveland acquired Kyle Manzardo at the trade deadline a year ago. Manzardo is coming off a down year (by his standards) at the plate after he triple-slashing .236/.337/464 at Triple-A. But it was not so long ago he was considered to be one of the top bats in the minors and all indications are that he should open the season in the big leagues, meaning him and Naylor are likely to split first base and DH duties.
All of this is to say that Brito, while having proven himself as a very capable bat at every stop of the minors so far, does not have a clear path to the majors. It helps that he is already on the 40-man roster, but the fact that he has barely played at Triple-A and Cleveland has a surplus of bodies at the MLB level means that it is likely going to take an injury (or two or three) to get Brito to the bigs in 2024. The possibility remains open, but he is not a prospect fantasy managers should count on to contribute in 2024.
Brito will get there eventually. But how exciting is this profile? From a fantasy perspective, it’s not the highest ceiling we will come across. As discussed, Brito’s high walk and contact rates make him a very high-floor offensive bat. He’s likely to log an above-average batting average and gets even more of a bump in OBP-focused leagues. But how much power and speed will he have? That will determine his ultimate fantasy value. Given the contact ability, it’s more likely that the power comes along and Brito can at least get to somewhere around the league average. There is much less confidence that Brito can contribute on the basepaths. While in a full season he may be able to swipe a handful of bags, it’s discouraging that he was caught stealing eight times in 15 attempts in 2023.
Ultimately, this isn’t the type of profile that dynasty managers are sprinting out to get. Brito has modest power and is not likely to contribute many steals, though his bat should be more than good enough to play. A best-case peak season feels similar to what we just saw from Ketel Marte – a .275 average, 25 home runs and eight steals. But even for that we are probably squinting more than we would like to and it’s more likely he’s someone who in his best seasons hits for a .270ish average and occasionally flirts with 20 home runs while not stealing many bags.
This feels like a lot of words to come out to the same conclusion that we came in with – Brito is a solid bat-first prospect with limited upside, especially from a fantasy point of view.
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Photo courtesy of Cleveland Guardians | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on X)