Cleveland Guardians

The Indians’ offense was sub-optimal in 2021.  They scored the ninth fewest runs in all of baseball with a .235 batting average and a .302 OBP.  Their pitching was also down, but that was more due to injuries.  But fear not, there is finally help on the way.  For several years, many of their top prospects were high-risk, high-reward offensive players who were in the lower levels of the minor leagues.  Now, they’re nearly ready to contribute and the upside is still there, but the risk has lowered.  It’s a good system and one that should yield results as early as 2022 for the newly rebranded Guardians.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: George Valera
  • Biggest Mover: Brayan Rocchio
  • Emerging Prospect: Peyton Battenfield

1. George Valera (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: Classic right field profile with 30 home run upside and some speed early in his career

I’ve been writing about George Valera for what seems like eons.  That’s what you get when you sign as a 16-year-old and get paid a lot of money ($1.3 million).  He’s had some trouble staying healthy, including this year when he missed nearly a month with an oblique injury.  However, when he’s played, it’s been very good.  In 63 games in High-A, he’s only hit .256 but also posted a .430 OBP with a .548 SLG and 16 home runs.  In August, he was promoted to Double-A where he struggled making contact. I’m not too worried about that, but it does show there is still work left. He’s still stealing bases and should early in his career, but I’d be looking for regression as he fills out.  He’s walking nearly as much as he’s striking out with only a 21% strikeout rate.  It’s the profile of an All-Star corner outfield with 30 home run pop with good OBP and a decent batting average.

2. Brayan Rocchio (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary: Fantasy-friendly skills with a chance to hit

I was a little apprehensive about Brayan Rocchio entering this season as he was unable to travel last year due to Covid and therefore, didn’t play at the Alt-Site.  But, after another solid year where he slashed .277/.346/.460 across High and Double-A, hitting 15 home runs and stealing 21 bases, all seems to be fine.  He has fantasy-friendly skills with a good feel to hit and should be able to stay at shortstop.  He’ll likely split his time between Double and Triple-A, but he’s getting close.

3. Nolan Jones (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
  • Tools Summary: Like last year, we are still waiting on the big power to emerge

I’ve been waiting for Nolan Jones to develop over-the-fence power and while he slugged .431 in 99 games in Triple-A this season, it’s still more doubles-power.  Plus, he’s still striking out too much, posting another 30% strikeout rate.  I still see a more productive player than that, albeit with pressure on his batting average.  I also believe the power will develop and those doubles will turn into home runs. If it all comes together, his upside is a classic three true outcome player with a stat line of .230/.330/.450 slash line with 25 plus home runs.  But I must admit, he needs to start doing it.

4. Peyton Battenfield (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: Improving stuff with 70-grade control

I profiled Peyton Battenfield several times in our Hot Prospect of the Week podcast and was, therefore, excited for the Guardians when they acquired him from the Rays in a deadline deal.  Since being drafted by the Astros in 2019, he’s added velocity to his fastball and improved his secondary pitches significantly.  More specifically, he’s added a cutter that has become a real weapon.  He pounds the strike zone, rarely walking anyone, and is striking out over a batter an inning.  The upside is a number three starter with a chance to see the Guardians’ rotation in 2022.

5. Gabriel Arias (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary If the improved approached he demonstrated in Triple-A is sustainable, he’s a different player

The Guardians aggressively started Gabriel Arias in Triple-A to begin the season and he more than held his own.  In 115 games he slashed .284/.348/.454 with 13 home runs and 5 stolen bases.  He improved his approach, striking out less and walking more, and traded that for some power.  I think that will work to his advantage as more power will naturally come as he matures and fills out.  Despite an improved approach, there is still work left.  He still strikes out too much to hit at the top of the lineup and is still aggressive at the plate.  But, if he can build upon what he did in 2021 next season, he might be the Guardians’ best option at short as he’s the best defender of the several middle infielders who are getting close to the Major Leagues.

6. Tyler Freeman (SS/2B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS or Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary Plus hit-tool with a chance to hit .300 annually.  A little bit of speed but below-average power

Tyler Freeman was having one of his typical seasons before having season-ending shoulder surgery in late July.  He makes exceptional contact, rarely striking out, is a solid-average runner, but with well below-average power.  A potential stat line could be a .300 batting average with a .350 plus on-base percentage, 8 to 10 stolen bases, and a handful of home runs.  He’s also solid defensively at short, but better at second.  From a baseball standpoint, that makes him very valuable, but his lack of plus secondary skills makes him a middle infielder if he stays at short or a Top 15 2B.

7. Bo Naylor (C)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: The Guardians challenged him in a Double-A assignment, and he performed poorly with a spike in his strikeout rate.  The bat is too good to suggest a 30% K/9 rate

It was a down season for Bo Naylor.  Like many clubs, the Guardians were not sure where to assign players.  Naylor played well in Low-A in 2019 and would have started the 2020 season in High-A, but there wasn’t a season.  Instead, he spent time at the Alt-site which yielded very inconsistent results.  Pitchers seemed to have fared better than hitters.  Naylor wasn’t ready and struck out 32% of the time which led to a .188 batting average.  He did hit 10 home runs and stole 10 bases.  I saw him this year in Double-A and did get a time down to first and he has slightly better than average speed.  I maintain he’s one of the better fantasy catchers in the minor leagues with a chance to slash .260/.340/.425 with 15 to 20 home runs and a handful of stolen bases.

8. Gavin Williams (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with risk
  • Tools Summary He has the size and arsenal to warrant his first-round pick.  It’s a big fastball, but injuries in college hurt his development

Gavin Williams was the Guardians’ first-round pick last June.  He was injured a lot in college, only pitching 68 innings in his first three seasons (only five starts).  He decided to go back to school and it’s a good thing as everything came together.  In 81.1 innings (12 starts), he struck out 130 while walking only 21.  The Guardians decided to rest him, and he has yet to make his professional debut.  If he continues to stay healthy, he has the size and the big fastball to pitch at the top of the rotation.  Because of the risk, we will put his ceiling at slightly less.

9. Logan T. Allen (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary High-floor pitcher with a plus change-up and double-plus control

Logan T. Allen, not to be confused with Logan Allen, the other lefty who has spent time in the Majors already, is a high-floor pitcher who pounds the strike zone and rarely issues a free pass.  I saw him in Double-A this year and his fastball averaged 89 to 92 with a pretty flat curveball, but a change-up that caused a lot of issues for hitters. Everything plays up because he throws strikes.  He’s a potential big leaguer for sure, perhaps even a good one, but I’m going to put a number four starter on his ceiling with upside.

10. Daniel Espino (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
  • Tools Summary The arsenal points to at least a mid-rotation starter but his lack of control might allow his arsenal to work better in the bullpen

Espino has electric stuff with a fastball that can touch the upper nineties and a wipe-out slider.  However, he’s never been able to throw strikes and that was the case in 2021.  In 10 starts, he’s he walked four per nine.  In fact, outside of Rookie ball, he’s never walked less than four per nine.  His high-effort delivery and lack of control might work better in the bullpen and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the direction the Guardians pursue.

11. Aaron Bracho (SS)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary: A down season with an increased strikeout rate

If you read my write-up before the season, I wrote that Bracho can really hit.  Well, I’m not sure what happened this year, but it was a bad year.  His promotion to High-A did not go well.  In 70 games, he hit .174 with a 32% strikeout rate.  He’s a switch hitter and struggling against both lefties and righties. He is young for the league as he will not turn 21 until April.  He’ll likely start 2022 back in High-A with the hope that he can get back on track.  For now, we are leaving his ceiling unchanged.

12. Steven Kwan (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF and rising
  • Tools Summary: Starting to show some power in 2021 after adding loft to his swing.  If he can just hit for average power, with his contact and on-base skills, he could be a full-time regular and the answer for Cleveland in center field

Kwan was a fifth-round pick out of Oregan State in 2018 and the ceiling was considered a fourth outfielder.  He’s always been able to hit posting a .301 batting average in 217 minor league games and even more impressive .380 OBP.  He has good speed and will steal some bases and is a great outfielder.  However, he never showed any power.  This year, he added loft to his swing without sacrificing contact and slugged .539 in Double-A.  After his promotion to Triple-A in early September, he kept hitting and hitting with power.  If this is indeed a new baseline, then his ceiling moves from an extra bat to potentially a full-time regular.

13. Ethan Hankins (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Former first-round pick with size (6-foot-6) and the big fastball.  He had Tommy John Surgery in July and will likely miss the entire 2022 season

Hankins was the Guardians’ first-round pick in 2018 and has all the tools to pitch at the top of the rotation.  He has the size at 6-foot-6, the big fastball, and the ability to spin a curveball.  He’s never been able to throw strikes and the Guardians have shortened his stride, much like the Mariners did with Taijuan Walker.  It didn’t work for Walker and appears to have not for Hankins as he had Tommy John Surgery in July.  There’s still a lot to like and the Guardians have a long history of getting the most out of their pitchers.

14. Oscar Gonzalez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary Impressive 2021 season where he showed plus power and solid contact.  However, he chases too many pitches out of the zone and that needs to be addressed for long-term success

Oscar Gonzalez provided some encouragement for the Guardians, who are always looking for power.  He slugged .542 with 31 home runs across Double and Triple-A in 2021.  He’s always had the plus raw power and it’s good to see it finally emerging.  The swing also works as it’s short to the ball with good bat speed.  Where he struggles is he chases too many pitches out of the zone and being left unchecked will make him a one-dimensional player at the highest level.  He’ll hit home runs, but will likely post a sub .300 OBP and in today’s game, that’s a problem.

15. Xzavion Curry (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or reliever
  • Tools Summary Had a great season but his size and lack of a big fastball point to a reliever or back-of-the-rotation ceiling

Curry was drafted in the 7th round of the 2019 draft out of Georgia Tech.  He didn’t pitch until this year and across Low and High-A, he looked great.  He struck out nearly 12 per nine and hardly walked anyone.  Physically, there are issues…like in he’s only 5-foot-10 and doesn’t have the big fastball.  He does throw strikes with good secondary pitches though.  It’s hard to believe that he’s a starter in the big leagues, but he’s a pitcher in the Guardians organization, and for that alone, I would keep an eye on him.

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