It was a two-man race, but Daniel Espino captured 48% of the vote, outpacing Gabriel Arias (39%) for the No. 4 spot on our list.
Espino is the top-ranked pitching prospect in the Cleveland system, and deservedly so. His 2021 season provided many sleepless nights for opposing hitters.
Espino’s 152 strikeouts ranked 13th overall in the minors, which was made even more impressive because only one of the players who struck out more batters than him was age 20 or younger.
A first-round pick by Cleveland in 2019, the talented right-handed flamethrower made his full-season debut last season at Single-A Lynchburg, eventually earning a promotion to High-A Lake County.
Throughout his age-20 season, Espino recorded a 3.73 ERA in 91.2 innings, struck out 14.9 per nine innings, and allowed a .192 opponent average.
Perhaps most impressive of all was the fact that his most important numbers improved significantly when he was promoted to High-A. Espino’s strikeouts per nine innings jumped from 13.5 to 16.2 and his walks were nearly cut in half from 4.85 to 2.94 per nine innings.
Espino’s performance garnered him Cleveland’s “Minor League Player of the Year” award from Baseball America.
Espino’s fastball touches 100 mph and when paired with an elite wipeout slider, he’s got the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Don’t believe me? See for yourself. Here are some highlights from a game where he struck out 12 batters ... in four innings pitched.
Indians prospect Daniel Espino recorded 12 outs tonight — all strikeouts pic.twitter.com/qZj08KtHHw— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) July 31, 2021
Logan T. Allen, LHP (Age 23)
2021 (A+): 51.1 IP, 9 GS, 33.5 K%, 6.5 BB%, 1.58 ERA, 2.80 FIP
2021 (AA): 60.0 IP, 10 GS, 32.9 K%, 5.6 BB%, 2.85 ERA, 3.73 FIP
Made an impressive MLB debut after being drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft. Earned a promotion to Double-A after just nine starts, where he continued to show a plus changeup, a mid-90s fastball, and impressive command.
Gabriel Arias, SS (Age 21)
2021 (AAA): 483 PA, .284/.348/.454, 13 HR, 5 SB, 8.1 BB%, 22.8 K%, 115 wRC+
Spent the entirety of 2021 in Triple-A and held his own as a 21-year-old with an improved plate approach. Expected to debut with Cleveland sometime in 2022, likely as their starting shortstop.
Nolan Jones, 3B/OF (Age 23)
2021 (AAA): 407 PA, .238/.356/.431, 13 HR, 10 SB, 14.5 BB%, 30.0 K%, 113 wRC+
Expected to make his MLB debut in 2021, but a slow start in Triple-A prevented his ascension. One of the best players in baseball occupying his primary position in the majors doesn’t help either, but he could see a shift to the outfield.
Bo Naylor, C (Age 22)
2021 (AA): 356 PA, .188/.280/.332, 10 HR, 10 SB, 10.4 BB%, 31.5 K%, 69 wRC+
Offense took a step back in 2021, but has earned good marks for his defense and framing behind the plate. One of the youngest players in Double-A last season.
Jose Tena, SS (Age 20)
2021 (A+): 447 PA, .281/.331/.467, 16 HR, 10 SB, 6.0 BB%, 26.2 K%, 115 wRC+
An under-the-radar middle infield prospect who made his presence widely known when he dominated the 2021 Arizona Fall League despite being one of the youngest players participating.
Gavin Williams, RHP (Age 22)
2021: 1st round pick in MLB Draft
Drafted 23rd overall by Cleveland in the 2021 MLB Draft. Features a high-90s fastball capable of touching triple digits. Led East Carolina to the College World Series.
Who should be the No. 5 Guardians prospect for 2022?
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Logan T. Allen