Cleveland Guardians

I overachieved with the Guardians system by writing up 18 players.  It’s a deep system with several potential Major League players.  George Valera tops the list again, and while many of you are tired of reading about him (I know I’m tired of writing about him), the tools are loud, and he’s just about ready.  Daniel Espino is the top pitching prospect but only pitched in four games before knee and shoulder issues forced him to the IL.  I also ranked Bo Naylor high after being blown away after seeing him this summer.  The kid can really play.  Brayan Rocchio started the season slowly but still has the tools to be an impact player.  I could go on and on, but I’ll stop and let you read the capsules.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: George Valera
  • Biggest Mover: Tanner Bibee
  • Emerging Prospect: Jaison Chourio

1. George Valera (OF)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: Exciting package of tools should translate into an All-Star performer

For those that roster George Valera in a Dynasty League, it’s easy for prospect fatigue to set in.  He first made my list six years ago when the Guardians signed him for $1.3 million.  Back then, that was considered a significant international sign.  Now, it would be in the next tier.  Regardless, the athleticism, bat speed, and overall swagger he plays the game could make him a star.  Also, remember, he still is only 21 and was one of the youngest players in both Double and Triple-A.  I maintain that the upside is an All-Star performer with 30+ home run pop, good OBP, and a decent batting average.

2. Daniel Espino (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: He has a premium arsenal with a fastball that will touch triple-digits and improving control.  Unfortunately, he spent most of the season on the IL with knee and shoulder problems.

It was a lost season for Daniel Espino.  The hard-throwing right-hander left a game in April with what was reported as a patellar injury that then expanded into shoulder soreness.  I was hoping he would pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but that did not happen either.  When healthy, his fastball will top out at triple-digits with a slider that gets a lot of ugly swings and misses.  I’ve always been worried about his ability to throw strikes consistently, but he improved in 2021, and in his four starts last season, he only walked four in 18.1 innings.  I’ve put his ceiling as a number two starter, but he’s got all the tools to be ace.

3. Brayan Rocchio (2B)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: He started the season slowly, but once the weather warmed, so did he.  He has the tools to be an impact fantasy performer.

It was another solid season for Brayan Rocchio.  He continues to make excellent contact (17.5% strikeout rate) and even increased his walk rate (9%).  When you see him play live, you know what all the fuss is about.  He’s athletic with plus speed and enough bat speed to project at least 15 to 20 home runs annually.  Defensively, he’s adequate at short but would probably fit better at second base.  The one knock from a fantasy standpoint is that I don’t see many stolen bases.  Sure, he has the speed but doesn’t get good jumps and continues to get thrown out more than he should be attempting to steal bases.  Perhaps in the future, someone can unlock that skill for him.

4. Bo Naylor (C)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: The speed is real.  The on-base skills are real.  This dude is for real.

I saw Bo Naylor this summer and came away incredibly impressed.  First, physically, he looks nothing like his brother.  He’s athletic and can run with a great swing.   He was batting leadoff for the Akron RubberDucks, and it was warranted.  He walked more than he struck out in Double-A (not so in Triple-A), with 20 stolen bases and 19 home runs across both levels.  The upside is a Top 5 fantasy catcher.  Behind the plate, he’s an adequate catcher with a plus arm (1.9 to 2.0 pop time).  He’s on schedule with George Valera and Brayan Rocchio to make his Big League debut sometime next season.

5. Gavin Williams (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has the size and arsenal to pitch at the top of the rotation.  The command is not there yet, but I think it will be over time.

Gavin Williams was the Guardians’ first-round pick in 2021.  The Guardians elected to rest him in 2021 and begin his professional career in High-A in 2022.  Things went as planned, and he blew through the level after nine starts.  I had a chance to see him in Double-A, and he was impressive.  His fastball sat 94 to 95 MPH and touched 97 with three average to plus secondary pitches.  I liked his slider the best.  He didn’t always throw strikes and walked three on the evening.  However, with his size (6-foot-6) and overall arsenal, the upside is that he is a number two starter.  If he can throw more strikes, it could even be more.

6. Tanner Bibee (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: One of the 2022 pop-up pitchers.  He has plus stuff with elite control.

Could you repeat after me?  Consider rostering every Cleveland Guardian pitcher on your Dynasty League. 

I did with Tanner Bibee after his fast start, and I’m smiling ear-to-ear.  He was overpowering in his debut last season.  In 25 starts across High and Double-A, he pitched to a 2.17 ERA, striking out 11 per nine while walking less than two per nine. He has a double-plus fastball and slider combination, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90s and touching the upper nineties.  His change-up will also flash plus and appears to be quickly becoming a consistent out pitch to right-handed batters.  The delivery is a little stiff with some effort, and at 6 feet, he could be homer-prone, but with his strike-throwing ability and arsenal, there’s a lot to like.

7. Gabriel Arias (SS)

  • Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
  • Tools Summary: He is still only 22 and has plenty of skills, but his approach at the plate is holding him back from realizing his ceiling.

Initially signed by the Padres, Gabriel Arias hasn’t yet lived up to his advanced billing, and after watching him play live several times, I find it frustrating.  He can pick it at short, has an excellent swing with plenty of bat speed, and is an above-average runner.  That’s enough for him to get everyday playing time in the big leagues.  The problem is that he’s overly aggressive at the plate and currently lacks the on-base skills needed at the highest level.  The Guardians used him in two Cleveland series, but he didn’t do enough to stick.  His defensive chops will make him a big leaguer, and the ceiling is still a full-time regular, but he needs a better approach at the plate for that to be realized.

8. Chase DeLauter (OF)

  • Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing fantasy power-speed upside, but he broke his foot in April, so there is not a lot of recent data.

Despite only playing in 24 games in his draft year, Chase DeLauter was the Guardians’ first-round pick last July.  He looks more like a linebacker than a baseball player but moves well with plus bat speed.  At 6-foot-4, there is some swing and miss in his bat, but in college, he walked more than he struck out.  He broke his foot in April, and the Guardians decided to have him continue to rehab in 2022. He’ll make his debut next season.

9. Angel Martinez (SS)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS or 2B
  • Tools Summary:  While none of his tools are plus, he has solid all-around tools.

I didn’t know much about Angel Martinez before seeing him this summer.  I saw him play in back-to-back games and came away impressed.  He’s a pesky hitter, walking nearly as much as he strikes out with enough power to project 15 to 20 home runs at the highest level with double-digit stolen base potential.  That’s not enough to make him a star, but it’s exactly the kind of player the Guardians play full-time.  I know they are stacked in the middle infield, but in 2024, I think he forces the issues.

10. Logan T. Allen (LHP)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but hanging a 70 on his change-up is easy.  Throw in plus control, and you can see at least a number four starter, maybe more.

Since making his professional debut in 2021, Logan Allen has dominated.  He had no trouble with Double-A last season, pitching to a 3.33 ERA and striking out 12 per nine while keeping his walks down.  He finally ran into trouble in Triple-A, where his walks uncharacteristically ballooned. The delivery is simple and clean.  He pounds the strike zone and has a wicked change-up that fooled every hitter.  They had no chance.  His fastball and slider were average, though, with his fastball being pretty straight.  When he located well, he was fine.  If he caught too much of the plate, his fastball, in particular, was struck.  In most organizations, I would put his ceiling as a number four starter, but I trust the Guardians to get the most out of him and therefore have put his ceiling a grade higher.

11. Jose Tena (SS)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He has plenty of tools, but his uber-aggressive approach and contact issues were a real problem last season.

Jose Tena has plenty of tools to get excited about.  He’s athletic with tremendous bat speed and can pick it at shortstop.  His challenge is his approach.  In 127 games, he walked 25 times, striking out 25% of the time.  Granted, he was one of the youngest players in Double-A, but unless something changes, a player I had high hopes for entering the season, might struggle to be successful at the highest level.  As an owner in several Dynasty Leagues, I will hold him through the first half of next season before making a move.

12. Nolan Jones (3B)

  • Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
  • Tools Summary: He got a chance in Cleveland last season but posted a .372 SLG and was sent back to Triple-A.  The shine is off, and we hope he’s a late bloomer.

Nolan Jones started the season on the IL after having ankle surgery during the off-season.  Once back, he played briefly in Triple-A before getting the call to the big leagues.  He lasted 42 days in Cleveland, slashing .244/.309/.372 with two home runs while striking out a third of the time.  While he still has plus raw power in batting practice, it has yet to show in games.  He has yet to post a .500+ SLG at any level.  His .414 SLG with six home runs in Triple-A was not encouraging.  Throw in his huge strikeout rate, and the math is getting difficult for him to be an impact player at the highest level.

13. Peyton Battenfield (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: The strikeouts fell off in 2022, giving pause to our mid-rotation ceiling

I’m not quite sure how to evaluate Peyton Battenfield’s season.  After dominating High and Double-A in 2021, where he struck out over 12 per nine, he stuck out almost half that amount last season.  His walk rate also increased to 3.2 per nine.  Sure, he was promoted to Triple-A, but the performance did not translate.  He doesn’t have a premium arsenal and has always thrived with command. However, the overall profile doesn’t look appealing when the command takes a step backward.  He is going deep into games; therefore, I still see him as a starter.  However, I have downshifted his ceiling to a number four starter.

14. Justin Campbell (RHP)

  • Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: He doesn’t throw hard but has a plus command and control with a great change-up.  Just the kind of profile the Guardians seem to develop to exceed their ceiling.

Justin Campbell is the perfect type of pitcher that the Guardians like to develop.  He has an out-pitch in his change-up and throws strikes but doesn’t have the overwhelming fastball.  While many teams wouldn’t know how to start, Campbell will likely move quickly through the system and pitch effectively, particularly with his plus change-up.  Look, the profile is more back of the rotation than the front, but I think he becomes a big leaguer, and if you trust the Guardians as I do, he’ll likely be better than anyone thinks.

15. Jhonkensy Noel (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 1B if he hits enough
  • Tools Summary: He has huge raw power, but there is considerable swing and miss in his game

I had a chance to see Jhonkensy Noel in 2022, and the first thing you notice is that he’s significantly larger than what is listed on his baseball card.  His length will give him plenty of swing and miss in his game, but it’s also easy to hang a 70-grade raw on his power.  Batting practice was loud and impressive.  The question will always be whether he hits enough to be a full-time regular.  I hope he does, as it’ll be fun to watch him hit 30 to 40 home runs yearly.  However, I’m leaning toward the “under” with his lack of walks and strikeouts.”

16. Jaison Chourio (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2027+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Right name: check. Athletic: check. Showed an ability to hit: check.  Add to your Dynasty League: __________.

If the name sounds familiar, well…it is.  Jaison Chourio is the younger brother of Jackson Chourio, one of the breakout players for 2022.  Like his brother, he’s athletic with plenty of tools, although he has a smaller frame and projects to have less power.  However, his ability to make contact might be better.  He showed that in spades in the Dominican Summer League last season when he hit .280 and walked twice as much as he struck out.  He’ll get a chance to play stateside next year, and fantasy owners in deeper dynasty leagues should make a preemptive add to their team, as the setup looks quite good.

17. Xzavion Curry (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: He does not have overpowering stuff but pounds the strike zone with plenty of deception to keep batters off balance.

The Guardians drafted Xzavion Curry in the 7th round of the 2019 draft and likely hoped he would develop into a helpful bullpen arm.  He doesn’t have overpowering stuff and is only 6 feet, but he throws strikes.  He did get a chance to pitch in Cleveland in September and didn’t have much success.  The fastball sat 92 MPH with decent spin with a solid slider.  Deception in the delivery could allow him to be a number four starter with a fallback as a reliever.

18. Hunter Gaddis (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Step-up season where he struck out nearly 13 per nine, but the delivery and overall quality of his arsenal point to a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.

I got a chance to see Hunter Gaddis pitch in June, and he’s an imposing presence on the mound.  He has a lively fastball that touched 96 MPH but sat 92 to 94 MPH and slightly less as the game progressed.  He has a ton of pitches, including a slider, multiple curveballs, and a change-up.  The slider flashed plus, but the other pitches were average for me.  There is “effort” in his delivery, and the tunneling of his pitches varies.  He’s more over the top on his curveballs, mainly his slow curve, and more three-quarters on his other pitches.  It’s a starter body, a starter arsenal, but given the delivery and spotty command, the upside is likely a #4/#5 starter or a reliever.  He did get a few spot starts in the Major Leagues late in the season with modest success.

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