Photo credit: David Monseur/Accent Images/Courtesy Akron RubberDucks

Welcome back to another edition of Justin’side baseball…I haven’t been writing these as consistently this season due to time spent recording and editing a podcast, editing all the site’s content, and writing notebooks and nightly minor league recaps, as well as other columns. So I am making this edition free. Inside I have some quotes from Guardians Director of Player Development Rob Cerfolio. I’ll share more from the conversation on other players in the coming weeks, to keep this column to not read like a textbook. Make sure you subscribe for our MLB draft coverage coming up this weekend and all week, as well as game coverage in the minors and future columns like this, and for future comments from my interview with Cerfolio.

  • Take a look at our midseason rankings that are up now up. These rankings will be up until after the trade deadline then we will probably just add in the draft picks and won’t make any other movements, unless Cleveland trades for more prospects, which, that seems impossible
  • I pointed out on twitter before Nolan Jones was called up that he changed where his barrel sits pre-load. He’s out away from his body and has the barrel upright. He’s a little shorter to the ball with it, as Guardians manager Terry Francona mentioned. The strikeout rate isn’t down really, it’s right around where he’s always been, hovering in the mid to high 20% range. But it has been fueled just as much by his sometimes passive approach at the plate. He doesn’t often swing and balls, but he will take strikes on the black that he doesn’t think are strikes or that he doesn’t think he he can do damage with. His two strike approach has appeared to improve so far at least, But likely you will see a lot 0-2 counts than will run to 3-2 and end in a walk, and you might see some 3-0 counts that end in a strikeout looking.

“I would say just as a starting point like obviously Nolan ended the year injured last year and then everything with the lockout this year made it really tough to work with communicate with our 40-man players. So we had a ton of hurdles. I think a lot of credit here, obviously, goes the sort of our staff. But Nolan as a starting point, I think used some of those hurdles and injuries to his advantage as motivation and, and came in ready to work. And despite having a slower start with some of the stuff we dealt with in spring training, he was able to kind of really focus his efforts in extended spring and as you rejoined Columbus to get ready from a physical and fundamental side of things. And obviously our group down in Arizona, with Jeremy Harrison, kind of leads a lot of our medical rehab efforts, and, and Larry Day, who kind of like runs a lot of our return to play progression with our on the fundamental side, just a tremendous job working with Nolan and one, making sure physically, he was ready to go. But to your point on some of the things that we were working on offensively in particular, with a couple alterations to his mechanics and stance and just his approach. And again, Nolan gets all the credit as the player for being the individual to come motivated to do that, and bringing his own thoughts, to the equation and working on a lot of stuff.  And our coaches have been supportive in them. I think we’ve seen they have translate and he’s come in with the, you know, like a new fresh mindset and really excited to to see some of the production. He’s had so far this year and what you know he’s obviously some of that information came out yesterday and today and again an opportunity here with our Major League team here in the short term.  So pretty exciting in that sense. And I think a lot of credit goes to him and just our staff that’s been able to work with him in preparation in Arizona and then obviously Andy Tracy and Jason Esposito and Columbus to continue that. You know, another guy that’s that’s worked in a new position defensively.”

Rob Cerfolio, Cleveland Guardians Director of Player Development 
  • This week was a curious one in Akron. LHP Joey Cantillo had his start skipped last week when he was scheduled in the rotation at the start of the week, but ended up not making his start. Akron manager Rouglas Odor told our John Elrod that Cantillo was scheduled to make his next start, that would be just one start missed. But he was not in Akron’s rotation this week either. It’s worth noting that Cantillo only pitched 13 innings worth of official game action in 2021 after his core muscle injury kept him out most of the season, and of course didn’t pitch in 2020 like anyone else. He’s been kept on a pretty conservative pitch count most of the year, so it’s not a shock that they would rest him to keep his innings count down, but is’s worth keeping an eye on if he misses a third start, which would start to look iffy.
  • Jhonkensy Noel was hit by a pitch on Thursday in the hand at Bowie and came out after the second inning. He is scheduled to play in the Futures Game on Saturday, July 16. Hopefully he’s able to get in the game, but it wasn’t a good sign for him to be taken out and it was a 94 mph fastball to his hand/wrist area. He’s still really only hitting homers in Akron, and his pace has kind of slowed a little. His outfield defense is getting better. He’s athletic enough for his size to make it work and has the arm, but there are still some tough nights. It was a little surprising to see his promotion to Akron considering his numbers were all coming from homers at High-A Lake County as well. But promotions aren’t just about production, especially at the High-A level. His hot streak at Double-A to start before he cooled off really could have been more about the scouting report not circulating, a small sample size, but also pitchers being more in the zone with less bad pitches to chase for him. But his progression has slowed to mostly just homers.

“There’s a lot of different pieces of the puzzle for promotions, and I think the easy thing for people to look at that, you know, are not in it, every day is, is the performance and the age, and some of the roster stuff. And those things are certainly a factor, right?  Why would we be promoting guys that weren’t performing? And there are times where that happens. It’s a piece of the puzzle, it’s not the full piece of the puzzle, but it’s a piece, it’s obviously with Noel in particular. We were working through some of the defensive versatility and exposing him to the outfield and we had a good plan in place at Lake County. And the group that we had there could really help him with that transition. And once we had hit some of the benchmarks we were looking for there, just from a volume and readiness standpoint that we could then start to weigh some of the the challenges, the next level with, you know, (Noel) missing some time last year too, like with the ankle injury and then the back, we just want to make sure that he was ready and felt good about the plan in place. I think we saw the things that we were looking for from an on field standpoint and an off-field standpoint from, you know, preparation and routines and the other things that that we think really translate to having success when you get challenged at higher levels and so a lot of different pieces of the puzzle and a lot of different opinions that go into that but objective and subjective. Ultimately, we don’t know if we ever get those right. But we kind of ran our normal play and felt like the timing had synced up to the things that we were hoping to see. And we were able to get Noel an opportunity to go to Akron. “

Rob Cerfolio, Cleveland Guardians Director of Player Development 

“(Noel’s position) is something we’re trying to be agile with. If I gave you an answer now, I’d probably change it in a week and then it might be different the week after that. In the very short term like we’re gonna try and get as many opportunities in the outfield, as we can just because he has the least amount of exposure and game reps out there. I think we also are trying to in pregame work, making sure he’s getting his practice in it third. We want to keep those opportunities alive. I think versatility, especially with where the game is today is it’s just a really important thing and with how young our roster is the the more positions you can play an opportunities to get the lineup and impact the major league team, the better. That’s kind of really what we talked to Jhonkesny about. Making sure that we have, as many bullets to fire as possible, so that you can go out there and do it. He can do in the box with a with a multitude of positions of the group feels confident in playing on defense. So I think in the very short term, we’ll probably be a little bit more outfield than infield.”

Rob Cerfolio, Cleveland Guardians Director of Player Development 
  • Will Benson has obviously had a huge year progressively dropping his strikeout rate, down to 24% from the mid to high 30% range most of his career. His swinging strike rate has also curbed along with it. He may just be swinging less overall, but it’s amazing he’s striking out less and turning it into offensive production that’s better than he’s ever produced. His OPS is over .900 now. He’s always been a somewhat streaky player that could drive the ball in bunches and make his stats soar, but then go through a cold stretch as well. But Keith Law mentioned something on the Athletic Baseball Show podcast last week that I’ve been wondering all year about. Is there something going on with the baseball in Triple-A? Not to take anything away from Benson, but there are several pitchers who are seeing strikeouts drop, and not shockingly, hitters are performing better and Law wondered if guys like Benson or Estevan Florial and some other swing and miss issue guys are putting together career seasons there because of the ball. That doesn’t mean it’s true and Law didn’t insinuate that he was doing anything more than guessing or simply questioning if there is something with the ball causing this. But I have wondered it a lot this year, too.
  • Carlos Vargas has to be activated back onto the 40 man roster on July 19 when his 30 day rehab is up. Because he is a Tommy John comeback, Cleveland can ask for two 10 day extensions of his rehab, so we’ll see. The plan for Vargas’ buildup seems unclear right now, and they’re really just basing it off of how he is responding. He’s only pitching every fifth day so that would seem to indicate that they are planning to keep him as a starter, but he’s bounced between one and two inning outings.
  • As for another hard thrower in Akron, it sounds like Daniel Espino should be on track to pitch in Akron again this season barring any setbacks.

“We’re hopeful that that’s coming soon and and obviously a guy that his talent speaks for itself and something that, you know, we as a group wanted to play conservatively within coming back from the knee. He’s going through his progression currently and we expect to see him back in Akron at some point this year.” 

Rob Cerfolio, Cleveland Guardians Director of Player Development 
  • Ethan Hankins made his debut on Friday in the Arizona Complex League and Cody Morris will make his second appearance on Sunday out there. Hankins looks to be about a month behind Vargas in terms of rehab. They may take it slower with Hankins given that he’s not on the 40 like Vargas (though he has to be added this winter, or potentially would have to be) and wait for him to build up his pitch count before sending him to an affiliate.
  • Ryan Webb seems to be further ahead than both Hankins and Vargas in terms of Tommy John rehab. He’s already made two appearances at Lynchburg and will be around three to four innings in his outings for now
  • It’s believed that George Valera will head to Columbus after the Futures Game and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Alexfri Planez fill his spot in Akron. He lost his 22 game hit streak on Thursday but picked up just his third walk of the season to extend it to a 23 game on-base streak. He doubled and homered Friday to extend it to 24. Though he doesn’t walk a lot, his at abts are still quite good. He may swing and miss a little more than Oscar Gonzalez with the same ultra-aggressive approach, but he has good barrel control. He also has defensive value with good rang,e some speed and a big arm.  
  • I wanted to include this a few weeks ago, but here are some names to keep an eye on in the ACL/DSL the rest of the way, some of them are obvious but there are a few name you might not be aware of yet, besides Hankins and Morris right now.
  • SS Angel Genao (ACL)
  • C Robert Lopez (ACL)
  • RHP Yorman Gomez (ACL)
  • C Victor Izturis (DSL)
  • C Emilio Tavares (DSL)
  • INF Yanki Jean-Baptiste (DSL)
  • OF Jaison Chourio (DSL – brother of rising Brewers prospect Jackson Chourio)
  • OF Luis Aparicio (grandson of HOF Luis Aparaicio)
  • I’m not the expert our own Willie Hood is on the draft, but here are the names I’m most interested in for the Guardians this coming weekend.
  • OF Drew Gilbert 
  • LHP Cooper Hjerpe
  • SS Jett Williams
  • SS Zach Neto
  • RHP Dylan Lesko
  • LHP Hunter Barco
  • RHP/3B Owen Murphy
  • RHP Walter Ford
  • RHP Drew Thorpe
  • RHP Karson Milbrandt
  • LHP Trey Dombrowski
  • OF Jace Grady
  • I have more quotes from a chat with Guardians Director of Player of Development Rob Cerfolio on Bo Naylor, Will Brennan and Micah Pries that I’ll share soon.


  1. What happens to Alex Call when O Gon comes back, too soon to know. He plays all OF positions well, needs to produce at the plate.

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