Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians continue to remake their organization by developing Steven Kwan-type players.  In other words, athletic players who can hit and play great defense.  Will it work?  I think it will.

It might not be the most exciting thing for fantasy managers, but as a Steven Kwan owner, I’m glad I have him. However, if you have too many of those average players on your team, you’ll likely never finish in the money.

I debated Manzardo vs. Rocchio and had both as the #1 prospect at one point during the editing process.  You can make an argument for both, but I decided on Manzardo as I believe he’s more likely to hit 20 home runs than Rocchio is to steal 25 bags.  I think their BA and OBP will be similar. In either case, they are soft #1s.  High-floor players without the fantasy-friendly tools.  George Valera is the guy who SHOULD be #1, but there’s just too much uncertainty to make that call.  He is our biggest disappointment in the system – not what I wanted to see.  I think it’s well-earned!

We know that the pitching will be there, and if Daniel Espino can ever pitch again, he has a chance to pitch at the top of the rotation.  I also like Joey Cantillo.  The stuff is sneaky good, but he needs to find the plate to succeed at the next level.

Prospect Snapshot

  • Top Prospect: Kyle Manzardo
  • Biggest Mover: Joey Cantillo
  • Biggest Disappointment: George Valera
  • Emerging Prospect: Welbyn Francisca

1. Kyle Manzardo (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 1B
  • Tools Summary: He can really hit, and with some more launch, he could develop into a 20+ home run hitter.

There was a lot of buzz coming into the 2023 season in fantasy circles for Kyle Manzardo after his step-up season in 2022.  Triple-A wasn’t as great of a statistical year, but he still controlled the strike zone well, striking out at a 20% clip while walking nearly 14% of the time.  While he hits the ball hard (Average Exit Velo of 92.6 and a hard hit rate of 42%), the launch angle is only average.  He did elevate more in 2023, and if this change starts to play out in the future, he could be a 20+ home run bat.  The ceiling is an impact fantasy contributor with 18 to 20 home run pop, maybe more, and a .270/.350/.425 slash line.  There is no speed.


2, Brayan Rocchio (SS/2B)

  • Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS or Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary:  Despite a ho-hum MLB Debut, he still controls the strike zone with plus speed.  The power will be below average.

Brayan Rocchio has lost some prospect helium after slashing .242/.271/.303 in 19 games in his Major League debut.  Honestly, the data does not look good.  He showed very poor exit velocities and beat everything into the ground.  In Triple-A, it was better, but still points to below-average power.

I do believe he’ll hit.  He’s hit at every level, and while he’s not a burner, there is plus speed with a chance to steal 20 bases annually. A lot of his baseball value will come from his defensive ability.  While that is mostly irrelevant in fantasy baseball, he’s likely to be a better baseball player than a fantasy asset.

It’s feeling more like Steven Kwan, which doesn’t excite fantasy managers, but he’s ranked as the 32nd fantasy outfielder.  He’ll provide batting average, speed, and runs scored help.  Just know that and plan accordingly.


3. Chase DeLauter (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: He’s a big guy who meaningfully cut down his strikeout rate in 2023.  Usually, hitters of his length will have swing-and-miss in his game, but he’s not showing that for now.

Chase DeLauter started the season on the IL with a broken toe and didn’t start playing competitively until mid-June.  He’s a big dude but is more athletic than his size might dictate.  His game could have some swing-and-miss, but in 2023, he made elite contact (12.5% in High-A) and kept that rolling with his late-season promotion to Double-A.

He has enough tools to profile with at least 15 home runs and stolen bases, with likely more power in the tank.  He’s not an elite talent but has a chance to be a full-time regular at the highest level.


4. George Valera (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: There’s still plenty of bat speed, although he might have become too passive at the plate.

When you hit .212 in Triple-A, it’s hard to put a good spin on the season.  George Valera missed the first part of the season recovering from wrist surgery, hit the IL for another three weeks in May, and got suspended for six games after being involved in a fight and pushing an umpire.

He never got in sync with the missed time and the wrist injury, likely zapping his power.  Do we give him a pass?  Not entirely, but the bat speed is still solid. He runs well and managed to walk 16% of the time. There are still skills, and I believe once healthy, and if he can stay out of trouble, there’s an impact player lurking.  I will keep his ceiling as a number two outfielder, but the risk has gone up.


5. Daniel Espino (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: Unknown Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He missed the entire 2023 season after having shoulder surgery.

The last time Daniel Espino pitched was on April 29, 2022.  He missed the entire 2023 after undergoing right shoulder surgery (anterior capsule repair).  He had the surgery in May, and it’s a 12 to 14-month recovery time.  Therefore, he might not see much playing time in 2024. Ugh!

I don’t know what to advise.  Before the injury, he was one of the best young arms in the game who threw strikes.  If he returns and all is well, the upside is a number two starter.  How likely is that?  No idea.


6. Ralphy Velazquez (C, #23)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 catcher if he can stay behind the plate
  • Tools Summary: He has a feel to hit with 20 home run pop.

The Guardians took Ralphy Velazquez with the 23rd pick last July.  He’s a hit-first player with the potential to hit for 20-home run pop.

At 6-foot-2, there’s no guarantee that he’ll stick at catcher, and if a move to first is needed, it’s more 20 home run pop instead of the 30+ you like to see from a first baseman in fantasy baseball.  If he can stay at catcher, he could be a Top 15 catcher in fantasy baseball, if not more.

While it was only six games in the Complex League, he was impressive, slashing .348/.393/.739 with two home runs and a stolen base.


7. Joey Cantillo (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: He has been slowed by injuries and control problems throughout his career.  Now healthy, he’s pitching better but still shows below-average control.

Joey Cantillo was a sexy pick a few years ago in Dynasty Leagues when the Guardians acquired him in a package from the Padres (who else) for Mike Clevinger.  However, injuries have slowed his development, and 30-grade control has nearly stopped his development.  2023 was more of the same, where he pitched to a 3.98 ERA, striking out nearly 11 per nine but walking nearly five per nine.

The arsenal looks solid with a fastball that’s up to 96 MPH with a lot of arm-side run.  He does pitch it up in the zone, and without a high spin rate, it’s getting hit hard and far (1.49 HR/9).  However, the secondary pitches look great and are the source of all his strikeouts.  In particular, his curveball has great shape and spin, and his change-up has nice fade.  Both get a ton of whiffs.

There are a lot of building blocks here, and with improved control, he could turn into a number three starter, maybe more.


8. Angel Martinez (SS/2B)

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

Angel Martinez was one of my sleepers entering the 2023 season.  He showed a great approach and plate awareness as a 20-year-old in Double-A, and I was impressed with his performance in the Fall League. But he’s struggled out of the gate in 2023, showing a lot more swing and miss in his game.  As the season progressed, he turned back into the player we saw in 2022 with a 19% K-Rate in Double-A.  He was promoted to Triple-A in late August and continued to show great contact with modest speed and power.

The upside is a 15-15 performer with a chance to hit .270 with a .330+ OBP.


9. Jaison Chourio (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Wide range. Top 60 OF, but if he develops power, Top 45.
  • Tools Summary: Showing early signs of being a plus hitter with speed.  He needs to get stronger.

As with LuisAngel Acuna, who is not Ronald, Jaison Chourio is not Jackson.  However, he has some intriguing skills.  He played very well in 39 games in the Complex League, walking more than he struck out (38BB/37K).

He is a plus runner and should be able to steal 20+ bases annually.  He needs to get stronger as there is currently very little power.  But the same was true about Jackson, and he filled out quickly, and we see what happened there.  The floor is a fourth outfielder on a Major League team (Steven Kwan-ish).  But, if he develops some power, watch out.


10. Parker Messick (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: Short and stocky pitcher who throws strikes with average stuff.

Messick was the Guardians’ second-round pick in 2022 and was the Friday starter for Florida State.  He’s short and stocky with a drop-and-drive delivery that lowers the arm slot.  He then lowers his delivery even further by throwing at a lower three-quarters delivery.  If you believe that angles make a difference, Messick does not provide it.  His fastball sits 90 to 93 MPH with a plus 81 MPH slider with sweeper characteristics.  His best pitch is his change-up, which has nice fade.

He gets by with deception in his delivery with the drop-and-drive and lower arms slot, but in the end, the arsenal is more back of the rotation than the front, and when you combine that with his delivery and size, the ceiling is a number four starter.


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