Cleveland Pitching Prospects Review for 2021 Season

I watched a handful of replays of pitching prospects and am sharing my opinions. There’s a lot of good pitching prospects in this system (I’d like to see more Lenny Torres for example), but I only have so much time to commit to this and for my own enjoyment my preference of watching pitchers is toward players I also saw in previous years (college in 2018/2019). I’d rank the top 5 pitching prospects as follows:

  1. Cody Morris
  2. Daniel Espino
  3. Ethan Hankins (missing 2021 due to TJ)
  4. Gavin Williams
  5. Logan Allen

Cody Morris –This is a very good example of good drafting and player development. I watched 3-4 starts of Cody Morris in 2018 at South Carolina. He was talented with a 6’4" athletic frame and arm strength (91-96), a plus change-up/splitter, but he had no real breaking ball to speak of and he had a kink in his delivery where he fell off the mound and naturally reduced his downward leverage (he still kind of has this but its better). Talented prospect but it was fatiguing watching him after a couple starts. He was taken in the 7th round, which is about where he should have gone in the draft. He looked like a highest probability destination middle relief guy. Today, he is throwing 93-98 mph with roughly MLB average command and he still has that good CH, but the big difference is he has a legitimately good breaking ball (CB at 78-82 mph) that he can throw for strikes. The development of the breaking ball is so big for him and now makes him a legitimate SP prospect, in my opinion, plus he’s developed such good velo now. Morris is physically what scouts want at a strong, athletic 6’4", 225 lbs and good agility. I still think he needs a bit more fine-tuning on command of his CB, but it is naturally a more difficult pitch to command and he’s not too far away. He looks like somebody that should be getting a taste of MLB before the end of the season. Health is always a variable to watch with pitchers and I’m not sure why he was held back at the beginning of the year, but don’t underestimate how good this guy looks right now. The Indians are only having him throw 45-55 pitches an outing which is strange, but he looks like the top pitching prospect in the system right now. It feels like Mike Clevinger when he was in the system -- never made top prospect lists so was under the radar, but by the time he was in AAA you started to realize this guy was a serious prospect due to good player dev and hard work.

Daniel Espino – Espino has two plus MLB pitches right now in a FB that generally sits between 95-98 and often hits 100 mph a time or two in most starts, and his SL has very good, hard break -- when he is on with those pitches, he dominates. Espino has toned down and simplified his delivery from when he was in high school. He has physically developed very well with a very strong lower half and upper body. As a teenager he had a reliever's delivery (very similar to Octavio Dotel), but today looks more like a starter’s. In 2019, I actually thought he looked very polished in the games I saw of him at Mahoning Valley – his walk totals look high but that is only b/c he tired late in his starts. I think his FB command looks worse than where it was in 2019, but he is no doubt throwing harder w/ a less complicated delivery so hopefully as he adapts to it things will click. He seems to struggle with runners on base and he’s not yet throwing his CB for command, showing a clear preference for his SL – these are to be expected from a 20 year old pitching prospect. Espino’s stuff is very good and he’s doing it with a delivery that translates to a MLB SP’s better than where it was when he was a teenager, but its taking time for him to bloom. He’s further from MLB than where I thought he’d be in 2021 after seeing him in 2019, but his overall upside looks better b/c he’s being developed the way he needs to in order to be a SP. As a reminder, fell in the 2018 draft to the Indians mostly b/c scouts saw reliever risk so all things considered, I think he’s in a good place.

Gavin Williams – A very nice 1st round pick in 2021. I caught glimpses of him as a freshman and sophomore in college, "Who is this upside pitching prospect touching some upper 90’s w/ a plus CB?" He wasn’t really effective then but you could see loads of potential. I wanted him in the 4th or 5th round in the abbreviated 2020 draft, but he went undrafted probably because he had a high price tag. He’s big at 6’6", 230 but very athletic body frame and is basically how scouts would draw up what they want in a MLB RHP power pitching SP. I didn’t watch much college baseball this spring but casually watched his start vs. Vanderbilt in the super regionals and he looked so much better and cleaned up than the rough version of him in 2018-2019. Realistically can be a MLB SP that sits 95-98 mph that touches 100 each outing with a strike out quality breaking ball. Don’t be surprised to see some rough patches early on with him because I think there’s still work to be done, but if he adapts to Cleveland player dev well he could be a legitimate FOR starter.

Logan Allen – He’s below average in everything except command and a change-up. He looks like a carbon copy of Marco Gonzales of the Mariners. He’s gained modest velocity since college and is now sitting 91-92 mph with some 93’s. He has put up good statistics b/c he can command offspeed pitches, which if you can do in college and low-A ball it will most often get you K’s. He’s short with short arms and legs limiting his upside, but commands his offspeed pitches well. He is going to need to avoid giving up HR’s because his stuff is soft but there’s a path to MLB success for him (Marco Gonzales) and he’s doing well in Double-A so far which is a good sign as that’s normally a big test for these kind of pitchers.

Konnor Pilkington – Acquired for Cesar Hernandez. At Miss State his sophomore year as a 6’4" LHP with 90-93 mph and a plus CB, he looked like a potential late 1st round pick however in 2018 he looked out of shape and his velocity fell to 87-91 mph and he fell to the 3rd round. Now, he is in a lot better shape and he’s able to use his body better (particularly his lower half with improved agility) which I believe has contributed to him regaining velocity where he’s now back into the low 90’s and can touch 94, 95. He throws from a good ¾ arm slot and has always had leverage and a good breaking ball. An underrated thing about Pilkington is he has always been able to pump his FB by batters, even at lower velo – there’s something about his release point that works. He still has that in him, as well as his breaking ball and good command of the pitches. He is a high probability MLB pitcher and while his upside isn’t substantial, he can certainly provide value in pre-arb years and do a reasonably decent job.

Xzavion Curry – Realistically a 5’9", 170 lbs RHP and was a 7th round pick in 2019. He was showing MLB quality FB command (maybe even slightly above avg) when he was a sophomore at Georgia Tech. I watched one of his starts and he’s definitely still got that and he was throwing 91-94. He gets better downward leverage on his pitches than you’d think for a guy his size and he uses it well. At Georgia Tech given his polish and stuff, I am always surprised when I look back at his college performance he’s the type of guy that should do very well in college. He has a good breaking ball (curveball), but I never saw him command it well when he was in college though it might have just been a small sample size. I’ve always liked Curry. I’m not surprised he’s now pitching effectively after some mediocrity in college. I don’t see a real MLB SP here, but yes I can see effectiveness in relief or one time through the order.

Peyton Battenfield – Got him for Jordan Luplow from TB. 6’3"-6’4", 225 lbs, not a flashy, athletic imposing guy but throws 91-94 mph FB with plus command from a good ¾ arm slot with leverage and a hard SL/CT at 88 mph and a CB at 80 mph. Average but playable stuff at MLB level, but plus command and ability to execute to a scouting report on batters. If Cleveland has a game plan to attack certain hitters’ weaknesses, I think you can trust Battenfield to go out there and execute a pitching plan and do well, but isn’t going to survive on just stuff alone. A team that appreciates pitchers like Nick Wittgren (Cleveland does) will also appreciate guys like Battenfield because that is basically what he is.

Tanner Burns – Only saw 1 inning of him in Lake County, so limited sample size. He’s in better shape than he was at Auburn and was throwing 91-95 which is where he was in college. His stuff is mostly average at the MLB level but he’s a competitive pitcher and a guy I grew to really like at Auburn. He’s a short RHP without overpowering stuff so he’s going to need to show performance. I often saw him dominate in innings 1-2 while in college and then gradually start to lose it, which is persisting with him as a professional thus far in his career too (its reflected in his split stats). This may point to relief in the future which is where a lot of scouts saw him as while in college but let’s give him some more time. He's a personal favorite of mine (easy to like and root for) and the type I think you appreciate the more you see of him.

As it relates to the 2021 draft, some very quick thoughts:

Doug Nikhazy (2nd round, LHP from Ole Miss): A more athletic, less polished version of Logan Allen (2nd round pick from FIU in 2020).

Tommy Mace (2nd round, RHP from Florida) and Jack Leftwich (7th round, RHP from Florida) are both guys that were expected to do better in their careers at Florida when they were freshmen but they both stagnated for whatever reasons. The Florida program was top of the world a few years ago and something went wrong, so there may be some value in here Cleveland may be able to extract from underdevelopment. Scouts really got prospect fatigue with these two so are nice value picks with upside. Don’t expect Cody Morris breakouts with either of them, but give it two years in this pitching development system and its possible if things click. Good calculated bets here.

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