The Cleveland Guardians continue to have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They rely on prospect development to sustain success at the Major League level in order to keep a low payroll. A surprise season in 2022 has many wondering what strides they can take in 2023. During prospect evaluation, it is nice to be able to trust a player development staff and that is exactly what Cleveland provides. Cleveland develops pitchers as few other teams can and their current system is filled with exciting arms. On top of their exciting pitching prospects, there are several hitters who are ready to contribute in 2023 just like Steven Kwan did in 2022.
Cleveland Guardians Top Fantasy Baseball Prospects
1. Daniel Espino, RHP
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA): 18.1IP/2.45 ERA/0.71 WHIP/35 K
Daniel Espino was the Guardians’ first-round pick back in 2019. Last season, Espino was the most high-profile prospect in Cleveland’s system, but 2022 did not go as planned as he missed time with both knee and shoulder injuries. Heading into 2023, he remains at the top of this list thanks to an incredible arsenal composed of a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup.
He pairs his fastball—which sits comfortably in the upper 90s and touches 100—with a wipeout slider that also is consistently thrown above 90 mph. Only five starting pitchers in the majors averaged a slider with that velocity last year. His ability to locate the pitch down and away to righties makes it virtually unhittable. The curveball features 12-6 movement and is used primarily against left-handed batters. The changeup sits in the low 90s and while it profiles as a 50-grade pitch, it is rarely used. His floor is a high-leverage closer while the sky is the ceiling. Espino is a prospect with true ace potential, the only thing standing in his way is health.
2. Gavin Williams, RHP
Age: 23/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 115IP/1.96 ERA/0.95 WHIP/149 K
A spike in velocity during his college days helped Gavin Williams gain recognition that vaulted him into the first round of the 2021 draft. After being selected by the Guardians, Williams has moved quickly through the system, touching Double-A in his first full season of professional baseball. Williams is a four-pitch pitcher with his fastball being the best of the bunch.
His 6’6” frame and upper 90s fastball intimidate opposing batters. Williams also offers two breaking balls, both of which showed improvement in 2022. The curveball is his best of the two which breaks away from right-handed batters and sits in the mid-70s. His slider has excellent command but does not generate the same spin and swing rates as the curveball. The pitch that could turn Williams from a middle-of-the-rotation starter to an ace is his changeup. The pitch sits in the mid-80s and is still being developed. If this pitch develops as quickly as his fastball did, then the Guardians have another future ace in their system.
Gavin Williams has 3 Ks after two here at Lake County. Sitting 94-96 mph, showing a slider at 83-85 mph, changeup at 87-88 mph, and the curve at 76-78 mph. Already has ten swinging strikes on 29 pitches. #ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/VPJBj7S7v2
— Geoff Pontes (@GeoffPontesBA) May 13, 2022
3. Tanner Bibee, RHP
Age: 23/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 132.2 IP /2.17 ERA/0.96 WHIP/167 K
Is it possible that a 2021 fifth-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton might end up being the best of these elite Cleveland pitchers? Tanner Bibee certainly has a case for it as he dominated his first season of professional baseball, boasting four above-average pitches with excellent control. He did not walk more than two batters in any game he appeared in during the 2022 season. Walk rate is one of the stickiest minor league statistics around and Bibee is already demonstrating what we can expect from him in future seasons.
He has added velocity to his four-seam fastball which now sits in the mid-90s. His delivery is violent yet consistent as the film reminds me of Logan Gilbert. He hides the ball well and gets excellent extension allowing his fastball to appear even faster than it is. His go-to out pitch is a sweeping slider that dashes across the zone in the mid-80s and is effective against both lefties and righties. He also features a curveball and changeup which he has full confidence to throw in any count. The floor is high, and the ceiling could be a number two starter for Cleveland.
4. George Valera, OF
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 484 AB/0.250/.353/.463/24 HR/2 SB/89 R/82 RBI
George Valera signed out of the Dominic Republic back in 2017 and has consistently been one of the youngest players at each Minor League level. Valera has a beautiful left-handed swing that can be captivating to watch. He put to bed any concerns over his inability to stay healthy for a full season in 2022 by showing off his 60-grade power and 30-home-run potential: hitting 24 in 132 games. The most suspect part of Valera’s skillset is his ability to consistently hit as he has shown tendencies to run high strikeout and swinging-strike rates.
Despite his struggles to make contact, Valera has an excellent understanding of the zone and rarely chases a pitch. He has posted a double-digit walk rate each of his four professional seasons which helps boost his value, especially in OBP leagues. The ceiling is .250 with 30 home runs and a 12% walk rate. The floor however is a player who struggles to hit .220 and does not provide any speed on the basepaths.
5. Brayan Rocchio, 2B/SS
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 510 AB/.257/.336/.420/18 HR/14 SB/83 R/64 RBI
The Guardians signed Brayan Rocchio back in 2017 out of Venezuela. He swings the bat from both sides of the plate and although originally known for his hit tool and defensive prowess, he has demonstrated increased power, exciting many scouts throughout the industry. After setting a career-high with 15 home runs in 2021, Rocchio hit another 18 in 2022. The newfound power combined with quickness on the basepaths provides an even higher ceiling than previously believed. Don’t look closely at the .234 average in his 33-game stint with Triple-A, as that came with a .241 BABIP.
Rocchio prefers to bat from the right side and has posted better numbers against southpaws throughout his professional career. Consistency from both sides of the plate could be the one thing holding Rocchio back. Many have compared him to former Guardian Francisco Lindor, which is a fair comp for his ceiling. 20-20 is in the range of possibilities although 15-15 is more likely.
6. Bo Naylor, C
Age: 23/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 415 AB/.263/.392/.496/21 HR/20 SB/73 R/68 RBI
MLB Stats: 8 AB/.000/.000/.000/0 HR/0 SB/0 R/0 RBI
Bo Naylor is your guy if you are looking for a catching prospect with speed. The Guardians’ first-round pick from 2018 played at three different levels in 2022 including the Major Leagues. Naylor went 20-20 in the Minor Leagues which excited everybody leading to his ascent up prospect rankings. While there is no denying the speed and power, there are genuine concerns over his ability to hit. Naylor has struggled to make consistent contact and even though it was just eight plate big league plate appearances, there is reason to be concerned with Naylor’s five strikeouts. Naylor’s swing is big and aggressive which helps tap into his moon-shot power, but underneath all of that is the concerning contact rate posted throughout his Minor League career.
When watching Naylor at the plate, it is difficult not to compare him to Gary Sánchez. With this power and aggression comes both upside and risk. The speed helps raise his fantasy floor, but the inconsistencies at the plate prevent him from being ranked higher.
7. Cody Morris, RHP
Age: 26/2022 Stats (CPX/AAA): 21.1 IP/1.69 ERA/0.70 WHIP/39 K
MLB Stats: 23.2 IP/2.28 ERA/1.39 WHIP/23 SO
Since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, Cody Morris has had an up-and-down Minor League career. When on the mound, Morris has some of the best stuff in Cleveland’s system. He throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s with excellent spin. During his brief Major League stint, his fastball ranked in the 91st percentile in spin rate. He likes to throw the pitch up which could get him in trouble with the long ball. To mix up his fastball, Morris has developed a cutter which he relies on more and more each year. This pitch might end up being more effective than his four-seamer. The bread and butter pitch for Morris is his changeup. With excellent command and terrific break, this pitch could be one of the best in the game.
Since the pandemic, Morris has not topped 61 innings in a season leading many to believe he is destined for a role in the bullpen. Morris has a ceiling for a mid-rotation arm when healthy but could find himself in the bullpen.
8. Logan T. Allen, LHP
Age: 24/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 132.2 IP/4.75 ERA/1.30 WHIP/177 WHIP
There is not a more underrated prospect in Cleveland’s system than their second-round pick from 2019. “Crafty Lefty” holds true when talking about Logan T. Allen, who does not overpower hitters but rather fools them and keeps them on their heels. Allen works to deceive hitters by keeping the ball hidden and extending toward home allowing his pitches to play up beyond their metrics. His fastball sits in the low to mid-90s and is paired with a split change and slider. The changeup is Allen’s best pitch and can get both lefties and righties out. Amongst qualified pitchers in Cleveland’s system, Allen posted the second-highest swinging strike rate of them all. His 16.8% mark is higher than the two pitchers who are ranked above him, yet Allen goes virtually untalked about.
Allen struggled after his promotion to Triple-A for the first time in his professional career, but that should not overshadow the elite numbers before that. The lack of velocity causes some relief risk, but he profiles as a mid-rotation arm for Cleveland and an underrated fantasy baseball dynasty target.
9. Chase DeLauter, OF
Age: 21—Did not play in 2022
Although he ranks ninth on this list, Chase DeLauter might have the highest offensive ceiling of any player in Cleveland’s system. The 2022 first-round pick dominated at James Madison posting a .402/.520/.715 slash line during his collegiate career. Standing tall at 6’4” DeLauter provides a sweet, power-filled left-handed stroke that could make him a 30-home run threat. On top of that, plus speed could translate to a 30-25 season making this upside tantalizing. The concerns lie in his ability to hit velocity and recognize breaking balls.
Although the swing is sweet and visually pleasing to the eye, it tends to get long, and Major League pitchers could blow fastballs up and in right by him. Even with these concerns, DeLauter provides a stable floor by having great plate discipline and a solid understanding of the zone. He profiles to be a solid big-league player with the potential for much more. In any other system, he would be ranked much higher.
10. Jhonkensy Noel, 1B
Age: 21/2022 Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 485 AB/.229/.310/.489/32 HR/3 SB/80 R/84 RBI
After signing back in 2017, Jhonkensy Noel burst onto the scene in 2021, batting .340/.390/.615 with 19 home runs between Low and High-A. As an encore, Noel smashed 32 home runs in 2022, showing off his elite power. This power is fueled by the ability to elevate and pull the baseball, allowing him to post HR/FB percentages north of 20. The power is immense, but the questions of Noel’s hit tool are concerning. The batting average from 2021 was fueled by an unsustainable .382 BABIP. For a player that hits fly balls as much as Noel, the .257 number from 2022 is closer to reality. In addition, as the power has come so have the strikeouts, including a 27.4% rate in 2022.
There is a lot of swing and miss in Noel’s game which is concerning for his long-term outlook. At this point Noel, profiles as a home run hitter without a defensive home, but if he can cut down on the strikeouts Noel could be a real power asset for fantasy leagues.
11. Juan Brito, 2B
Age: 21/2022 Stats (A): 402 AB/.286/.407/.470/11 HR/17 SB/91 R/72 RBI
In a trade of prospects, the Guardians acquired Juan Brito in exchange for Nolan Jones this off-season. The hit tool is Brito’s calling card as he can make consistent contact from both sides of the plate. During his age 20 season, Brito posted a .286 batting average in Low-A, but more impressively walked 78 times and only struck out 71 times. Brito’s maturity at the plate is years beyond his age and helps provide a stable floor. Although the speed and power are not eye-popping, the 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 2022 are both solid numbers. He is quicker and more instinctive than fast, but with the new stolen base rules, this could play to his advantage. Nine of Brito’s 11 home runs came from the left side of the plate, showing a clear distinction in power.
Brito still needs a year or two before making the big leagues. Upon arriving he could be a 15-HR, 10-SB player with a good average and additional value in OBP leagues where his plate discipline makes more of an impact. A high floor but a low ceiling is a good way to describe him.
12. Angel Martinez, SS
Age: 21/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 363 AB/.278/.378/.471/13 HR/12 SB/56 R/44 RBI
Similarly to Brito, Angel Martinez is a switch-hitting middle infielder who made his way up to Double-A last season. The Guardians signed him out of the Dominican Republic back in 2018 and have watched him grow and develop into a solid prospect. Unlike Brito, Martinez has more raw power in his game, although he is yet to top 13 home runs in a season. Martinez’s swing is powerful and violent with a lot of movement in his lower body. Despite the aggressive swing, Martinez has managed to post double-digit walk rates and impressive swinging-strike rates in all three Minor League seasons. The design of Martinez’s swing potentially leaves him susceptible to high velocity. The ceiling for Martinez is higher than that of Brito, although it comes with considerably more risk.
13. Will Brennan, OF
Age: 25/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 528 AB/.314/.371/.479/13 HR/20 SB/69 R/107 RBI
MLB Stats: 42 AB/.357/.400/.500/1 HR/2 SB/6 R/8 RBI
The Guardians’ eighth-round pick from 2019 put up an excellent minor league season, leading to his promotion in 2022. Despite posting a 155 wRC+ during his 11-game stint in the majors, Brennan is going virtually unnoticed in fantasy leagues. Brennan combines an excellent ability to make contact with a swing-first approach. During his 11-game stint, Brennan swung at over 63% of pitches (the highest swing percentage in the MLB last year was 57%), but also made contact over 83% of the time. Brennan has average speed, but a strong hit tool and quick instincts provide double-digit steal potential. Throughout his professional career, he has posted single-digit HR/FB% along with a relatively high GB%. Both statistics are sticky between Minor Leagues and Major Leagues, limiting his upside. Brennan profiles more as a fringe starter than a full-time fantasy asset.
14. Jaison Chourio, OF
Age: 17/2022 Stats (DSL): 132 AB/.280/.446/.402/1 HR/14 SB/32 R/28 RBI
The younger, less-known brother of top prospect Jackson Chourio, Jaison signed with the Guardians last January at just 16 years old. Like his brother, Jaison possesses a lot of the physical attributes and raw skills that make his profile so tantalizing. Still growing into his body, Chourio stands at 6’1” and has excellent speed, evidenced by his 14 stolen bases in just 40 games last season. In the Dominican Summer League, Chourio walked nearly twice as much as he struck out and showed an above-average feel for the zone.
At times his swing can get a little bit handsy and the power has yet to show up. Without his legs, Chourio tends to pound the ball into the ground which is up to Cleveland’s player development to fix. The ceiling is close to his brother’s, although Jaison has yet to show it. He is an interesting name to watch in the Dominican Winter League and the early parts of 2023.
15. Xzavion Curry, SP
Age: 24/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 122 IP/4.06 ERA/1.21 WHIP/134 SO
MLB Stats: 9.1 IP/5.79 ERA/2.04 WHIP/3 SO
Xzavion Curry is another homegrown arm taken out of Georgia Tech in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft. Curry is on the shorter and stockier side, leading to concerns about his long-term ability to start despite pitching over 130 innings in 2022. The command and strikeout rates Curry showed in the lower levels both eased up, leading to his fall in this ranking. The four-seam fastball is the most used pitch in his arsenal and sits around 92 mph with average spin rates. The slider sitting around 85 mph is his go-to out pitch with two strikes. He also has a changeup and curveball to throw to lefties although he is not particularly comfortable with either one.
The ceiling is low for Curry who does not possess the stuff or outstanding command to keep hitters off balance. He could be a back of back-of-the-rotation guy although due to Cleveland’s plethora of pitchers he might need a trade for that to become a reality. In Cleveland, Curry’s home will likely be in the bullpen.
Photo by Chris Chow – Unsplash | Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller @kurt_player02 on Instagram / @KUwasemiller on Twitter