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Single-A Lynchburg Hillcats season preview

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The Hillcats are loaded with some of Cleveland’s youngest prospects making their full-season debuts

USA Baseball 18U National Team Trials Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

There have been several changes to the Cleveland minor league system heading into 2021. The biggest one to affect the full-season clubs is the fact that Cleveland’s Lynchburg and Lake County clubs switched levels. Lynchburg will now be regular full-season Single-A while Lake County becomes the High-A team. This makes sense because it allows High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A to all be in Ohio, where Lynchburg will be a good transition point between Arizona rookie ball in and the three higher-level clubs.

Here’s the expected roster for Single-A Lynchburg:

Pitching

What stands out right away to me is the pitching. The team features three top starting pitching prospects in 2019 first-round pick Daniel Espino, who touches 100 mph and has been making waves with his work ethic, former 2018 first-round competitive balance draft pick Lenny Torres Jr., who is reportedly hitting 98 mph in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, and Josh Wolf, a former New York Mets 2019 second-round pick who was one of the key returns in the Francisco Lindor trade. Of those three players, Torres is the oldest at just 20 years old.

I’m also really high on right-hander Xzavion Curry, who was unable to make his pro debut in 2019 after Cleveland selected him in the seventh round. I’ve also heard good things about Sergio Morillo, who was a stud in rookie ball in 2018 but has not pitched professionally in two years due to an injury and the pandemic.

Catching

Moving on to position players, both Yainer Diaz and Andres Melendez are intriguing catchers. Melendez, 19, was acquired from the Brewers for second baseman Mark Mathias in a prospect-for-prospect deal. Diaz was one of the best hitting catchers in baseball in both 2018 and 2019, posting a ridiculous 202 wRC+ in the AZL in 2019 before getting promoted.

Infield

On the infield, Angel Martinez and Gabriel Rodriguez are the highest-regarded prospects currently, both signed as top international free agents and ranked No. 13 and 14 respectively in the system by MLB Pipeline. Jhonkensy Noel is an intriguing slugging corner infielder. Don’t forget shortstops Christian Cairo and Yordys Valdez were second and fourth-round picks in 2019. Both Cairo and Valdez struggled offensively in their brief pro debuts, but they’ve had a year and a half to work out the kinks and could rocket up prospect rankings if they’ve turned it around. Will Bartlett plays first base and outfield, was in that same 2019 draft (ninth round), and outperformed everyone drafted ahead of him offensively.

Outfield

In the outfield, there’s a lot of buzz around Alexfri Planez, who, depending on what reports you read, is either 6’2 180 lbs, or 6’5 200+ lbs. Regardless, he can mash, and he could be an imposing presence.

Korey Holland also is intriguing. Don’t be fooled by him being a 14th round draft pick, he was a highly regarded player who slipped due to signability concerns, then Cleveland snatched him up for a $515,000 bonus out of high school in 2018. Johnathan Rodriguez, the team’s third-round pick in 2017, has improved each season and could finally be in line for his breakout campaign.