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. Lake County is now the High-A team, which 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 High-A Lake County:
Notable in the pitching department is the extremely high placements for Cleveland’s 2020 first-round competitive balance pick Tanner Burns, 2020 second-round pick Logan T. Allen, and 2020 fifth-round pick Mason Hickman, who are all making their pro debuts this season at age 22. All three pitchers fit the Cleveland mold of having great control, high strikeout rates, and were workhorses in college.
Other pitchers that stand out to me are Hunter Gaddis, a fifth-round pick in 2019 who pitched very well in a small sample size that season after being promoted to the now-defunct Low-A Mahoning Valley, and Matt Turner looked sensational in 2019 and has the ability to stand out from this crew if he picks up where he left off. Ignore Francisco Perez on this list. He has since been promoted to Double-A Akron. (I like Perez, he throws gas and is a solid southpaw arm).
Kellen Rholl and Nate Ocker have looked dominant out of the bullpen thus far and are worth keeping an eye on.
Of the three catchers on the roster, Bryan Lavastida is by far the most intriguing. He converted from shortstop to catcher after being drafted and has raked at every level. He has slashed .319/.412/.440 thus far in his minor league career, briefly advancing to Lake County in 2019 when it was the regular Single-A affiliate. For those wondering about his defense, he caught 20 of 56 would-be base stealers in 2019.
The standouts on the infield are obvious, as this team is loaded with elite international prospects. CTC No. 6 prospect Brayan Rocchio is expected to play shortstop and could very well be Cleveland’s shortstop of the future. CTC No. 9 prospect Aaron Bracho will be the primary second baseman. Bracho has made up for lost time due to injury in 2018 and reasserted himself as a top middle infield prospect in the game. Jose Tena also is an elite shortstop, but it looks like he’ll be spending a majority of his time at third base.
Of the remaining players, Joe Naranjo stands out. he was a third-round pick by Cleveland in 2019 as a first baseman and he’s skipping Single-A entirely, so the club brass must think highly of him. Raynel Delgado hasn’t put up elite numbers yet, but he was signed for one of Cleveland’s biggest bonuses as a sixth-round pick in 2018. Could this be the year they both break out?
In the outfield, the obvious standout is George Valera. Valera is the No. 4 CTC-rated prospect in the system and, while he’s put up good numbers in brief minor league action thus far, this will be his first taste of full-season baseball.
While there aren’t any other top 20 prospects in the outfield, former first 2018 second-round pick Quentin Holmes is still just 21 years old and hopefully can figure it out. Also, Victor Nova was a lesser-heralded return in the Trevor Bauer trade in 2019, having never played above the Arizona Rookie League level. It speaks volumes that he’s starting in High-A in his age 21 season.