Even as 2022 was a great season for the Cleveland Guardians, their future looks brighter all the time. Nobody has more ready-soon, major-league-level starting pitchers in their system, which is a nice fit because you could make a case that nobody is better at developing pitchers, particularly in the early stages of their major league careers.
1. RHP Daniel Espino | 22 | AA | 2024
Injuries kept Espino sidelined for much of 2022, but he was around long enough to leave a loud impression, striking out 35 batters in 18.1 Double-A innings and posting a 0.71 WHIP across those four starts. He’s listed at 6’2” 225 lbs and looks like a bodybuilder. Upside is as high as any pitcher in the minors thanks to an 80-grade fastball and double-plus slider. I’ve got 2024 listed as the ETA just because he hasn’t thrown that many innings, and the team is deep in pitchers both in the majors and on the cusp, but Espino could almost certainly help the major league club this season if he’s healthy.
2. RHP Tanner Bibee | 24 | AA | 2023
Bibee’s currently my favorite of Cleveland’s pitching prospects for dynasty purposes in terms of cost v. value. That’s probably changing as I type, but for now it’s still cheap enough to at least ask about Bibee in your leagues. He’s coming off 73.2 innings in Double-A with a 0.88 WHIP. He allowed just four home runs there and wound up with a 1.83 ERA. He’s good enough to the naked eye that I think he’ll make waves this spring. His 122.2 innings pitched last year sets him up perfectly to step in whenever the Guardians need help. People still seem to be underrating his physical gifts. At 6’2” 205 lb, Bibee can sit comfortably in the mid-90’s deep into games and has that Cleveland specialty skill of commanding his off-speed pitches. In case you can’t tell from the blurb, I want him everywhere I can get him. You could more or less say that for every Cleveland pitcher, which I try to remind myself any time I’m making moves or building lists.
3. OF George Valera | 22 | AAA | 2023
Since an early career surge fueled by Wander-mania and Ben Badler identifying Valera as a name to track, George Valera has seen his prospect stock fluctuate as any non-Dominguez in the game. Interesting that he’s the name that’s quick to mind. Jasson Dominiguez and maybe Marco Luciano sort of fit this bill as an early-shine international signing who’s since traveled a fairly typical path toward the majors. Could throw Orelvis Martinez in here, too. Get those Austin Butler clicks. I’ve been comparatively low on all these guys throughout their baseball lives. I tend to value my own eyes and the numbers over the hype and reports from other public-facing outlets. To my eyes, George Valera is fine. A fairly good but fairly typical outfield prospect. Always has been. Patience-driven profile. Good power, especially for his age, Enough speed. I have no idea where anyone got the sense that he was some kind of superstar in the making, but hey I’m not around these kids trying to pick winners and losers among 14-year-olds, so I can’t really speak with any authority on the matter. What I can tell you is that he’s always been a sell for me. I’m not sure if he still is because I don’t think he trades for all that much today. I’d probably hold him if I had him. Any player with talent can make a leap, he’s in one of the game’s best organizations, he’s always been young for his level, and he bats left-handed in one of the best left-handed power parks. A few takeaways from the mini rant: part of the reason I don’t love patience-driven profiles is that most hitters add patience across time. Age is like that. Makes you smarter in some ways. Most players also add power across time. Another age thing. So if what you bring best in your teens is patience and power, I’m happy to see it, but there’s gotta be more.
4. RHP Gavin Williams | 23 | AA | 2023
A huge man with an equally enormous fastball, Williams checks in at 6’6” 255 lbs and hasn’t run into much competition as a professional since being drafted 23rd overall in 2021. Cleveland likes to slow-roll their pitchers to help them master off-speed command. Some have whispered that Espino and McKenzie were both deemed more injury prone than accurate because the organization slow-played their rehab to focus in the pitch lab. Williams will challenge any efforts to control his timeline this spring when he’ll almost certainly look better than Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale.
5. OF Will Brennan | 25 | MLB | 2022
The only thing between Will Brennan and fantasy relevance is the organization itself, particularly its commitment to Myles Straw and its perception of Brennan or Steven Kwan as corner outfielders On offense, it’s pretty clear that the team’s best lineup does not include Myles Straw, but he’s such a good defender that he’s probably locked in (not to mention the contract), which leaves Brennan on the outside looking in for the foreseeable future, just as he was during the club’s playoff run. On the field, he’s a bit like Steven Kwan with some power, and he made a similar splash in his first few looks at major league pitching, slashing .357/.400/.500 with four strikeouts and two walks in his first 11 games (42 plate appearances). The plate skills might settle in around where they landed in Triple-A, where he posted a 12.2 percent strikeout rate, a 7.6 percent walk rate, hit nine home runs and stole 15 bases in 93 games. For what it’s worth, I don’t think a good organization should let an empty bat like Myles Straw keep them from finding out what Will Brennan can be in the majors, but Cleveland certainly likes Straw more than me and loves how many runs he saves their pitchers, who seem to be their primary focus in most things, which has clearly worked for them. I just don’t think the math supports surrendering three-plus outs a game on offense on the chance that you save enough runs on defense.
6. C Bo Naylor | 23 | MLB | 2022
Unique skill set here. Tailor made for our game thanks to above average speed and a good idea of how to use it. Hardest part will be carving out the actual playing time. Cleveland doesn’t suffer mediocrity behind the plate on defense. Francona seems truly delighted to have landed Mike Zunino, and while that’s just a one year deal. Naylor will have to demonstrate above average framing skills to earn the majority-share of this gig. Even in a part-time role, ten homers and ten steals would be nothing to sneeze at for a second catcher.
7. OF Chase DeLauter | 21 | NA | 2025
Had sort of an Espino feel on draft night when DeLauter fell to Cleveland. Wasn’t as crazy as the Espino thing to me because DeLauter was a college bat, and unlike the Espino draft, where pretty much the whole league had a crack at him and passed to let the draft’s most talented arm go to the team most ready to weaponize that talent, DeLauter went 16th overall. He offers a quick look at the downsides of separating studs from duds too young, as he wound up playing at James Madison University after going undrafted out of high school. Along the way, he grew into a 6’4” 235 lb center fielder with double-plus speed and power. For what it’s Wuertz, DeLauter has played 100 total games since 2020: three short seasons with JMU and one in the Cape Cod League, where he was good with the wooden bat: .298/.397/.589 with 21 walks and 18 strikeouts across 34 games (146 plate appearances). That small sample with the ash and maple is where I’m hanging this hat. Cleveland has made a concerted effort to minimize strikeouts. If they think DeLauter can keep doing it, I’m here to find out.
8. SS Angel Martinez | 21 | AA | 2024
In a different organization, Martinez might be the heir apparent at shortstop as a solid defender and switch-hitter coming off a successful season covering two levels against older players. He played just 24 games at Double-A last year, and that’s probably where he’ll open 2023, but he’ll be knocking on the door by spring of 2024 on the strength of plus plate skills and a well-rounded game that could make him a five-category player in our game for standard or OBP leagues.
9. RHP Cody Morris | 26 | MLB | 2022
The code man is already 26 after the pandemic and some injuries delayed his arrival. Whenever he’s pitched, he’s been excellent. His 2.28 ERA in 23.2 major league innings was a little deceptive considering the 1.39 WHIP, but he was pitching around a stop-and-start schedule and had been dominant in Triple-A (0.72 WHIP, 51.7% K). After catching some dynasty shine last off-season, Morris is pretty cheap for a potential Guardian of the Galaxy. Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac are currently the fourth and fifth starters. Civale might be salvageable. Nobody will be sad to see Plesac go, just speculating wildly from a distance.
10. SS Jaison Chourio | 17 | DSL | 2027
Name-value juice here. Can’t let it pass if you get the chance to add him. I almost broke protocol to include the next five: Juan Brito, Brayan Rocchio, Logan Allen, Jhonkensy Noel and Gabriel Arias, but I eventually decided not to mention them. Lots of value in limiting it to ten each time no matter how deep the talent goes, and holy cow it goes James-Cameron deep here. I probably prefer Brito of the six, to be honest, but I can’t in good conscience do this list without mentioning Chourio. His older brother Jackson made a huge leap in functional athleticism in his late teens, and I think we’d be foolish to ignore the possibility that blood always tells. On the field, Chourio posted a 140 wRC+ and .446 OBP in the Dominican Summer League, but we don’t talk about DSL stats if we can help it, which, I suppose we could have here, but the 40 walks in 40 games against 22 strikeouts are interesting in any context and warrant a mention.
Thanks for reading!
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