Photo credit: Jay Gehres/Courtesy Columbus Clippers
It’s time again to start the exercise of looking at each position in the Cleveland Guardians farm system and ranking the prospects by position to get a jump start on the next season’s rankings. It’s not an exact science but it’s a good thought experiment and debate to see where we think the best prospects in the system rank by position. Our sixth look into the Guardians prospects by position are the relief prospects. These are hard to predict because many relievers are failed starters (see Sam Hentges types). Some guys can come out of nowhere as fast as they can drop off. Still, Cleveland has an interesting group of names in the system who look like pure relievers And that’s after they lost Nic Enright and Kevin Kelly, who were lost in the Rule 5 draft in 2022. Both would have been on this list and look like decent bets to stick in their new orgs. But as we said, it’s always a volatile profile among minor league relievers, as you’ll see in these comments.
Age: 26 T: L Level: Triple-A Rule 5 status: On-40 Outlook: Herrin was fifth on this list a year ago, but zoomed to the top this year due to now sitting 95-97 with his fastball and improving his control. His slider and cutter compliment his fastball well and he’s now on the Guardians 40 man roster, the only reliever of an interesting group added this offseason, which solidifies his spot at the top.
2. Cade Smith
Age: 23 T: R Level: Double-A Rule 5 status: 2023 Outlook: Like Herrin, Smith took a step forward this year. He really didn’t add a ton, sitting in the mid-90s and has a good slider. But his stuff continued to play and he was missing plenty of bats in Double-A. He needs to improve his control, but it’s hard to overlook the performance and bat missing ability so far., because Herrin made a similar leap in 2022. Cleveland will have an interesting call to make on Smith in December 2023 because he’ll be Rule 5 eligible and can Cleveland add another young reliever to the 40 man roster two straight years? There’s only so many spots for these guys and that is evidenced by Nic Enright and Kevin Kelly being selected in the Rule 5 draft this year.
3. Nick Mikolajchak
Age: 25 T: R Level: Triple-A Rule 5 status: Eligible (unselected in 2022) Outlook: #1 a year ago on this list, Mikolajchak saw a slight drop in velocity, stuff and bat missing ability in 2022. Had he repeated his 2021 season, he’d be on the Guardians 40 and maybe Herrin would have been traded or taken in the Rule 5 draft But because of his track record and stuff, there’s hope to believe he’ll regain what he lost from 2021 and become a potential impact relief option in the minors for the Guardians.
4. Andrew Misiaszek
Age: 25 T: L Level: Triple-A Rule 5 status: Eligible (unselected in 2022) Outlook: If the LOOGY role still existed in baseball, Misiaszek would either be on the roster or would have been taken in the Rule 5 draft. He doesn’t throw particularly hard but his fastball has unique traits that allow it to play up and miss bats and his slider compliments it well. He could still be a viable major league relief option next year depending on what he shows again and other team’s needs.
5. Hunter Stanley
Age: 25 T: R Level: Single-A Rule 5 Status: 2024 Outlook: Despite being drafted in 2021, Stanley is older for being a minor league reliever. And he was hurt for quite a bit of 2022. He got healthy in time to pitch in the AFL and had a good showing there, which should help his development process. Though his Rule 5 year is 2024, Stanley would be 27 heading into 2025, so he may need to move faster than that. If his AFL performance is any indicator of what he can do, he might be able to move fast.
6. Mason Hickman
Age: 24 (as of the day this article was published)) T: R Level: Double-A Rule 5 status: 2023 Outlook: In 1.5 seasons as a starter, Hickman was solid, missing some bats, not walking too many hitters but not reeally dominating or earning a promotion. But in his switch to relief at the back half of the s2022 season, he was missing even more bats and posted better results in a short term role. His velocity didn’t really see a major bump in velo (87-90 as a starter, 88-91 as a reliever) but he’s succeeding in the role. That makes him worth thinking about as a future big league option as his fastball plays well at the top of the zone and he has a big downer curveball and good command. He kind of replaces the prototype that Enright had in the system until Miami took him in the Rule 5 draft in 2022.
7. Zach Pettway
Age: 23 T: R Level: Single-A Rule 5 status: 2024 Outlook: Another 2021 draft pick who operated out of the bullpen at Single-A in 2022 and had good results. He’s an interesting arm who potentially can miss bats but we will need to see how he executes against more age appropriate players as he moves up to the higher levels.He’s here because he thinks he has the stuff to do it.
8. Trey Benton
Age: 24 T: R Level: High-A Rule 5 status: Eligible (unselected in 2022) Outlook: Really not results based for the most part, Benton is here because the data on his fastball and curveball are good. He’s a little older for the levels and he was potentially an attractive Rule 5 target this offseason. He didn’t get drafted but we’re intrigued by his stuff and see if it translates more into production on the field in 2023.
9. Kyle Marman
Age: 25 T: R Level: Triple-A Rule 5 status: Eligible (unselected in 2022) Outlook: Marman only saw three innings in Triple-A at the end of the season, but he was Rule 5 eligible last season and who knows if hwe would have been taken. Teams are intruiged by the data on him like tehy are with Benton, which makes him good enough to be on this list despite his age (he’ll be 26 by the time the 2023 season opens) and lack of onfield results plus past health issues. He just needs to put it together once to see how it all works and break out.
10. Elvis Jerez
Age: 22 T: R Level: High-A Rule 5 status: Eligible (unselected in 2022) Outlook: Jerez will be 23 wen the 2023 season opens and has yet to reach Double-A, but he had some good results in 2022 and is another relief prospect who has a ery vertical profile on his fastball and a good slider. He sits in the mid 90s and should get a fair amount of back of the bullpen type chances in 2023.
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