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

Coming in to the 2020 season, it seemed like Cleveland had a farm system on the rise after coming off a strong run with a core at the major league level that was starting to diverge. The lost minor league season of 2020 derailed the ascension in some ways (though trades seemed to buoy it), or at least delayed that. In 2021, when it seemed like most minor league players (or all, really) would have to work to regain their footing after a missed season, several Cleveland prospects worked to make strides despite the lost season came back strong and deliver the promise of the system. Some (Steven Kwan, Will Brennan, Daniel Espino, and Oscar Gonzalez, to name a few) really broke out in 2021 in unexpected ways. That all led to an unprecedented need to add 11 players to the 40 man roster last offseason to protect from a Rule 5 draft that never actually happened. In 2022, those additions delivered on that promise, with several prospects, many of which were unexpected, made their major league debuts and helped lead the Guardians to an improbable and somewhat shocking division title. 

With the farm system seemingly in full bloom around the surprise extension to Jose Ramirez, and finding other core parts of the roster (Andres Gimenez, Kwan, Emmanuel Clase and other relievers, as well as Triston McKenzie), it finally looks like it has now reached the direction it had been trending towards – needing to consolidate the prospect depth into proven major league talent that can help the pieces that found a place in 2022.

Here’s an outlook of the 2022/2023 offseason for the Cleveland Guardians roster

(by the way, you can see the entire list of Rule 5 eligible players along with every other roster in the Guardians system here – including minor league free agents)

The 40 man

The must adds/will adds

INF Angel Martinez

Had a breakout first half in 2021 as a 19 year old in Low-A before fading in the second half. As a 20 year old in 2022, Martinez was solid in every facet of his game – hitting, approach, showing some pop, base running, and defense. He even earned a promotion to Double-A late in the year and kept it up. He doesn’t appear to have a huge star upside, but he does everything well and has been extremely young for the level at every step of his journey so far, so he feels like one of those players who has skills over tools but breaks out once he fully matures thanks to the sum of his parts. He’s a slam dunk addition and Cleveland will add him to the 40 man roster.

The must adds/maybe add

LHP Joey Cantillo

After coming over to Cleveland in 2020 from San Diego in the Mike Clevinger deal, Cantillo didn’t get a real chance to show what he could do until 2022 after a core muscle injury in spring training derailed most of his 2021 season. He came back strong this past season, improving his fastball from the 88-91 range he sat at in 2019 as a Padres prospect to 92-94 in 2022, and along with it showing improvements in his curveball to go with a plus changeup, and added a slider. The real question is health. Cleveland took a chance by not adding him at the end of 2021, and there’s a good chance another team might have taken him in the Rule 5 draft that never happened due to the lockout. The Guardians shut Cantillo down with what they were calling rest in early July after not pitching mostly all of 2021, but he came back to make one appearance at the end of July before being placed on the IL to end his season with a shoulder issue. All reports suggest he’ll be finishing his rehab and be ready to go in 2023 for spring training. There’s no doubt about Cantillo’s talent. His 2022 season was pretty electric. He went five starts in May without allowing a run (earned or unearned) and outside of two starts where he had five walks, he really curbed some control issues. I’d lean towards the Guardians protecting him, but it’s not the surefire decision as Martinez.

Most Intriguing Relief option

LHP Tim Herrin

Herrin’s stuff took a leap in 2022, with his fastball going from 92-94 to 95-97 and hitting 99, adding a cutter and has a good slider. He had a couple of blowup outings that ballooned his Triple-A ERA but his control improved from a year ago overall to go along with the stuff. Perhaps with Anthony Gose missing all of 2023 with Tommy John and likely heading towards a non-tender, Herrin would be an interesting option in the bullpen next to Sam Hentges as another towering left handed reliever with high octane stuff.

Other Relievers that could draw Rule 5 interest

RHP Nick Mikolajchak

RHP Nic Enright

LHP Andrew Misiaszek

RHP Kevin Kelly

RHP Kyle Marman

Mikolajchak is kind of the opposite of Herrin. A year ago, he appeared to break out as a reliever. He was sitting 93-95 most consistently with his fastball and metrically, saw improvements to his fastball, curve, slider and showed above average control. In 2022, that velocity didn’t hold. He was back down more towards the 91-93 range, his strikeout rate fell and his walk rate rose. After 2021, he seemed like he was on a path as a no doubt 40 man add in 2022, but now he’s a question mark. There should be very much concern over another team seizing the opportunity to grab Mikolajchak if unprotected and help him rediscover his 2021 stuff and make Cleveland regret it. It’s a tough call. Out of everyone on this list, he’s the most likely add if Cleveland decides to make room.

Enright is a weird parallel universe version of James Karinchak. He has a back-spinning fastball and an overhand curveball that tunnel well off of each other that helps him miss bats. Except he does it by throwing 91-93 and with above average control rather than high octane stuff and unpredictable control. Enright’s minor league results seem to at least put him in line for someone to be curious to see if it works at the big league level.

Misiaszek (miss-e-ah-zek, in case you were curious) sports a low 90s fastball (89-93) with a flat angle that gives it metrics to make it play above the velocity and a good slider. His control is fringe-average and he doesn’t necessarily have the stuff to overcome that despite the deception. Still, a team that likes the sneaky fastball and slider from the left side could be inclined to give him a shot. Not sure Cleveland has the space to add him, but I wouldn’t count him out. I just personally like Herrin a little better.

Like Enright, Kelly isn’t a hard thrower (90-92), and his control in 2021 was better than it was in 2022. He has missed more bats than you’d expect for a reliever that tops out at 94 and really doesn’t have a plus pitch as a reliever. His slider is average, but it’s his funky high side arm slot that helps his fastball run in on right handed hitters, and the slider plays off of that, that works for him. He induces a ton of groundballs with that tandem. If the control reverts back to 2021 levels, he’s even more interesting. Also like Enright, perhaps the results will make someone see if he can do it in the majors.

Marman will be 26 when the 2023 season gets underway and has a history of injuries. But he throws 93-95 from a higher arm slot that gives him backspin on the fastball and a big over the top curve as well (see the pattern?) that allows him to miss bats. His control is fringe at best but his stuff and ability to miss bats might as least draw some eyes towards a team that likes his spin data.

An intriguing option?

C/INF David Fry

Cleveland got Fry from the Brewers as a PTBNL in the J.C Mejia trade and he played all over in their system, but was listed as a catcher. It made sense. Cleveland’s system was bereft of much catching depth coming into 2021. Bryan Lavastida had a great 2021 season and was on the 40, but hadn’t yet reached Triple-A. Former first rounder Bo Naylor had a very down year offensively. Austin Hedges was returning and the club signed Luke Maile as the backup. Andres Melendez, who was probably the third best catching prospect in the system (and was only in Low-A) tragically passed away. But even with an injury to Maile putting Lavastida on the big league roster to start the season due to lack of 40 man space, and then an injury to Lavastida later, Fry didn’t catch much until the end of the year, or much at all. But he’s catching in the AFL now, albeit with very uncertain results defensively. He offers the ability to catch, and play third or first, and has a very solid bat that could be useful against left handers. He makes a very useful bench option in the majors. Would Cleveland add him if they had room? Could they utilize this on the big league roster? Would another team take him in the draft due to the versatility? A lot of questions but Fry is at least an option worth thinking about.

Sleepers who could draw interest

  • 1B/OF Micah Pries
  • OF Johnathan Rodriguez

If you want a name on this list that might come out of nowhere to be selected and surprise (non-relief category) it could be Pries. As we’ve covered this past year, Pries comes from rich baseball lineage, so by name alone he’s not an unknown in baseball circles, though he might be in prospect ones. There’s some swing and miss to his game, but there’s potential above average raw power to go with it. Pries has gone from a very little recruited high school centerfielder with some speed that wound up at a small Division-II school, to a major league draft pick playing some first and left field. Not only did he make that leap, he also missed 2019 recovering from Tommy John and then obviously missed 2020. He came back to have a solid 2021 and followed that up with an even better 2022 at Double-A. Don’t let Pries’ age fool you. He’s still lacking the reps and experience of a normal 24 year old in Double-A because of those circumstances. He popped 18 homers in a pitcher friendly Eastern League and stole 20 bases to boot. He didn’t have trouble with lefties and hit well against older competition. There’s some sneaky upside to be looked at here. I won’t be shocked if he’s unprotected and hears his name in the Rule 5. 

Rodriguez was a switch hitting outfielder drafted in 2017 with a lot of tools and a patient approach. In 2022, he was a right handed only hitting outfielder with immense power and not much else offensively. He’s sort of like Oscar Gonzalez, but he strikes out more. He’s swing happy, hits for a ton of power and has a big outfield arm, albeit with fringe abilities in the corners defensively. Small chance he could be popped on the power and upside alone. Enough to be with mentioned here.

Rule 5 eligible names you’ll probably recognize and wonder about

  • RHP Ethan Hankins
  • RHP Lenny Torres Jr
  • RHP Peyton Battenfield
  • INF Gabriel Rodriguez

Speaking of draft picks, Hankins was a comp pick in 2018 with big, raw stuff. He missed plenty of bats in 2019 but really hasn’t pitched since then thanks to the pandemic and Tommy John last year. He threw just one competitive inning in 2022 dealing with non-surgery related issues when he came back. At the least, Hankins overcame some conditioning issues he had before the pandemic, but given that he hasn’t thrown above Low-A ever and has one inning in a complex league since 2019, the odds seem slim. Luis Oviedo faced a somewhat similar situation with the Pirates in 2020, but he pitched in winter ball in 2019 and was showing recovered fastball velocity. Not the case yet for Hankins. 

Torres Jr. also had Tommy John before the pandemic and then the pandemic wiped out his comeback. A comp pick in 2018 as well, the stuff or control haven’t bounced back for Torres Jr. yet and he missed a good chunk of time in 2022 with a family tragedy.

A year ago, there was every expectation that Battenfield would be on the ‘likely added’ portion of this list. But his velocity was around 90-93 this year and he missed bats less frequently and walked more. The stuff wasn’t quite the same, and given that Cleveland chose to add Xzavion Curry and Hunter Gaddis for spot starts in August and September, they sort of made their pecking order clear and there may not be room for him now.

Rodriguez is notable because he received the highest signing bonus for an international free agent position player in club history ($2.5 million) in 2018. He had some conditioning issues and had a tough return to play in 2021. But in 2022, the bat improved quite a bit and he showed a good glove at third. He’s only 20 and didn’t play 100 games at High-A this year because his season ended with shoulder surgery. Perhaps there is a team out there that liked him as an international prospect back in 2017 and sees the surgery as a chance to stash him on the IL and see what happens with his recovery. Maybe a small shot, but worth at least mentioning.

Moves to clear up roster spots

(Major League) Free agents

C Austin Hedges

Mutual interest has been expressed in a reunion next year but Cleveland said it first would work through some things before that. So for now, he’ll hit the market. The coaching staff feels very strongly about his leadership and there’s some sense as to be made as a backup to Bo Naylor if he’s ready to start the 2023 season on the roster, but that’s perhaps not a guarantee yet.

Non-tender candidates

  • C Luke Maile
  • LHP Anthony Gose

Cleveland would risk some catching depth by non-tendering Maile and going into the winter with only Naylor and Lavastida on the 40. But they could probably revisit bringing Hedges or Maile back at a moments notice. Even if they add Fry, they would still lack serious experience, but a non-tender of Maile gives them some roster flexibility early in the winter with a chance add catching later.

Being out all of 2023 with Tommy John, it seems likely Gose will be non-tendered and could be re-signed to a minor league deal to rehab his surgery.

DFA Candidates

  • LHP Kirk McCarty
  • INF Owen Miller

Cleveland thought enough of what McCarty gave them late in the year to put him on the playoff roster against the Rays for some reason over Cody Morris but if they need to create 40 man space, he seems like the first candidate to get a ‘thanks for your service’ meeting.

Miller still has options left and his minor league track record suggests the bat still has potential. Heck, he made it through the minors pretty quickly really (just 2 ¼ seasons), so it’s probably too soon to DFA Miller. The odds of this are pretty low but maybe not zero given how they went to Gabriel Arias to fill his role in the playoffs.

Fringe trade candidates

  • OF Richie Palacios
  • OF Will Benson

Palacios will be 26 next season and he’s got a good approach at the plate, but Cleveland pigeonholed him in left field, where he has no chance to play with Steven Kwan claiming the spot. Palacios could still serve as depth in left field, maybe some center and second base. They really only used him as a pinch hitter/platoon DH. There may be another team interested in his approach to take him on as a bench piece. He doesn’t seem to really have a role in Cleveland.

Is there room here in the future for Benson? Kwan, and Myles Straw seem set in two of the outfield spots. Benson was really only used for defense and pinch running late in the year. Oscar Gonzalez, Will Brennan and maybe Nolan Jones hold higher priority. And George Valera is coming as well. Maybe it’s between Benson and Valera, and they could use Valera as a big trade chip. But if Benson doesn’t have room to play, what do they do? One thing to note is that Benson always seems to adjust his second year at a level, so if Cleveland gives up on him too soon after cutting down on his strikeouts, they could regret it. So maybe the odds here should be low.

Once the World Series ends, Cleveland will have to activate Gose from the injured list and make a move, likely a non-tender/DFA. With Hedges gone the roster sits at 39, leaving room to add one player. So here is what seems likely at the least.

Remove

  1. DFA Anthony Gose (currently doesn’t count against the 40 so this won’t actually clear space)
  2. Non-tender Luke Maile
  3. DFA Kirk McCarty

(37)

Add

  1. Angel Martinez
  2. Joey Cantillo

(39)

That leaves room for Herrin, Mikolajchak or Fry, who are hard to say for certain right now, but seem like the other possibilities here.

Trade Targets

  • C Sean Murphy
  • LHP AJ Puk
  • 1B Christian Walker
  • C Danny Jansen
  • UT Lourdes Gurriel
  • RHP David Bednar
  • OF Bryan Reynolds
  • RHP Corbin Burnes/RHP Brandon Woodruff
  • OF Hunter Renfroe
  • INF Juan Yepez
  • RHP Alexis Diaz
  • DH/P Shohei Ohtani

Cleveland has had conversations with Oakland about Murphy. The price likely remains high, but it might be time to make it happen. There’s at bats to be had for both Murphy and Naylor, but Naylor could still use some time in Triple-A. It might make some sense to ask about Puk’s availability in the same move with Murphy.

Walker seems like an ideal fit for Cleveland but it’s hard to say what Arizona’s intentions would be.

The Blue Jays have Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno and Danny Jansen. Do they need all three? Would they be willing to use Jansen to shore up other needs as Kirk and Moreno have more upside?

Gurriel has versatility and has one more year left on a deal he signed with the Blue Jays. He’s been their left fielder but outfield, especially a left handed hitting one, seems to be a target of Toronto. Perhaps a Nolan Jones for Gurriel/Jansen deal might benefit both teams? Jansen has two more years of club control. This could open up at bats for both Kirk, Moreno and allows the Jays to add a left handed bat with power to their lineup

The Pirates really aren’t in a place to need a 28 year old closer with four years of control left at their current position. He’d cost a ton because of that but it’s worth checking in on. Cleveland’s pen might already be too set to give up that much to acquire someone like Bednar, as good as he is.

Will Cleveland revisit their interest in Reynolds again?

What are the Brewers going to do this winter? There’s some speculation (none of it coming from credible sources yet, mind you) that they’ll probably try to offload some arbitration eligible players such as Burnes, Woodruff and/or Renfroe. They did it with Josh Hader. The Brewers need some young pitching to go with their exciting coming core of bats and Burnes and Woodruff have two years of control left. Renfroe with one. Would Cleveland be interested in hanging onto Bieber one more year and go into 2023 with a rotation of Bieber, Burnes/Woodruff/McKenzie? They’d probably need to give up one of Daniel Espino, Gavin WIlliams and Tanner Bibee to get the deal started, but they’d probably retain two of the three. They could either extend one of them or move one of them after the 2023 season. Renfroe also would be a nice fit in Cleveland as well.

Yepez has the kind of versatility and contact ability Cleveland likes. St. Louis briefly demoted him to Triple-A. If there’s no room for him in St. Louis, he’d be an ideal fit for Cleveland’s bench.

Diaz is the brother of free agent (ex-Mets) closer Edwin Diaz and he’s pretty good. He’s also got a lot of club control left (five years). He’s good but perhaps he’s more like Bednar, where Cleveland already has an established closer and Diaz would require more than it makes sens for Cleveland to give up to land someone with his control at this time.

Ohtani is a pipe dream. The Angels would be stupid to trade him. They’d still get a massive haul for him despite just one year of control left, and Cleveland has the pieces to probably land him. But neither team should explore this option.

FA Targets

  • INF Brandon Drury
  • 1B Jose Abreu
  • 1B Josh Bell
  • DH Michael Brantley
  • 3B Justin Turner (as a DH/1B?)
  • 1B Yuli Gurriel

Cleveland was interested in Drury last winter and at the deadline. His contract range could possibly fall into Cleveland’s comfort zone. He’d essentially take over the role they hoped Miller would fill.

Despite a down power year for Abreu, the metrics under the hood suggest there are still some good miles left in his bat. Everything metrically was consistent year to year with him, but he was hitting the ball at a lower launch angle. Could a few more fly balls get him back to 25 homers? Chances are everyone else sees this and Abreu probably winds up out of Cleveland’s comfort range price wise. A two year deal but he could get $40 million over those two years.

Bell seems like a pipe dream as well. He’s a switch hitter who controls the zone well and he’s only 30. Despite a down second half in San Diego, he’ll probably command a three or four year deal that won’t be in Cleveland’s range.

He can’t play the field any more and there will be questions about the surgically repaired shoulder, but Brantley’s skill set falls right in line with everything else Cleveland does. If he’s healthy, he could be a good veteran DH in the locker room. We know the relationship between the player and organization is good.

Turner’s power numbers slumped to a Dodgers-career low, the worst since he was let go by the Mets. He still had an OPS of .788, keeps his K% low and his OBP high. At 38, he’s probably an injury/decline risk but he could be serviceable DH/veteran type and he has played some first base in the past

The older Gurriel brother is coming off a career worst season. But he’s just one year removed from a batting title although he will play next year at age 39. Still, his K% is low too and he can play first, DH and maybe some other spots if needed and give some good veteran leadership This seems like too big of a bargain bing, hoping for one more year of the fountain of youth signing though.

1 Comment »

  1. I’m going to throw out a name that hasn’t been included in the list of RP provided in this article that might generate some interest in the Rule 5 Draft, and I have mentioned him before.

    RHP Sergio Morillo will 23.2 years old at the time of the draft. To the best of my knowledge, he’s had 2 TJ surgeries. He’s never pitched above ‘A’ ball, and this year appeared in 21.2 innings over 14 games. He had an ERA/FIP of 5.82/3.06, and the high ERA was largely due to a BABIP of .449. He had a K/9 of 16.2 and a BB/9 of 6.23. Interestingly, he had a GB-rate of 58%, which is very high, particularly for a strikeout pitcher. And he also seems to induce a relatively high % of IFFB on those occasions where hitters are able to put the ball in the air.

    Morillo started the year slowly as he was coming back from his 2nd TJ surgery. However, his results started improving in the late stages of the season, which is not unusual for a pitcher recovering from TJ surgery. In his last 6 outings covering 11.2 innings, Morillo had 26 K, a K/9 equivalent of 20.1, and 3 BB, a BB/9 equivalent of 2.3. Those numbers are very encouraging, notwithstanding the fact that they were achieved at ‘A’ level ball.

    All that said, the most exciting thing about Morillo is that he has a mid-90s, 4-seam FB, and a very-good-to-excellent 2-plane SL. From what I’ve seen, which is admittedly very little, his stuff should play at the major league level. He may also throw a CH, but I don’t have any information on that pitch.

    IMO, Morillo has the kind of profile that teams are looking for in the Rule 5 Draft. There’s some risk because he hasn’t pitched above ‘A’ ball, but that is offset by his potentially high ceiling, which none of Cleveland’s other RP prospects appear to have.

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