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Cleveland Guardians 2019 draft in review

Who were the hits and misses of the Guard’s 2019 draft?

2019 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

As we begin our coverage of the upcoming 2022 MLB draft, which begins July 17th, I’ll be reviewing the last three Cleveland Guardians drafts, which have added considerable depth to their minor league system.

Just FYI, the age listed below is the age of the players when they were drafted just over three years ago, so just add three years for their current age.

1 (24). Daniel Espino. RHP. Age 18. $2.5M bonus.

The Guardians drafted Espino 24th overall in the first round out of Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia. Here’s what Cleveland scouting director Scott Barnsby had to say about the powerful right-hander at the time:

He’s extremely athletic, he’s loose, he’s flexible, he’s got a power arm. We’ve seen Daniel throw 100 miles per hour. Pretty special arm strength. ... He’s got two different breaking balls, both slider and the curveball have depth, finish, angle, bite to them. I feel like both of them have a chance to be plus. Developing feel for a changeup. And he’s just a really talented young kid.”

Espino has certainly lived up to the hype, drawing comparisons to Gerrit Cole, Steven Strasburg, and Jacob DeGrom by top talent evaluators. He began the year in Double-A and is currently ranked the No. 11 best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline. Espino hasn’t pitched since April 29 due to knee tendonitis and then some shoulder soreness. Here’s hoping he can avoid any serious injuries and get back to dominating opposing hitters soon.

2 (63). Yordys Valdes. SS/SH. Age 17. $1M bonus.

Drafted out of McArthur High School in Hollywood, Florida, Valdes was a glove-first shortstop many scouts thought was the best defensive prep player in the draft. Here’s what Barnsby had to say on draft day:

This guy has elite defensive instincts. He’s got hands, he’s got actions, he’s got range to both sides with an impressive transfer and the arm strength to stay at shortstop. He’s also a switch hitter with a feel to hit from both sides of the plate.

Valdes made his full-season debut last season and struggled to a .212./270/.263 slash over 92 games. He’s repeating this season at Lynchburg and is performing better, slashing .251/.322/.320 in his age-20 season. He’s looking like a future utility player at this point, having spent equal time playing second base, shortstop and third base this season.

3 (101). Joseph Naranjo. 1B/LHH. Age 18. $770K bonus.

A prep first baseman, Naranjo was given an aggressive placement in 2021, advancing straight to High-A Lake County, where he struggled in his age-20 season. He’s repeating at High-A this year and got off to a tremendous start as one of the hottest bats in the system the first month of the 2022 season, although he’s cooled off considerably since then.

That being said, Naranjo has shown significantly improved power and a much better walk rate this season. If he can make more consistent contact, there’s still a place for him in the system.

4 (130). Christian Cairo. SS/RHH. Age 18. $955K bonus.

The son of former big-leaguer Miguel Cairo, Christian Cairo had high expectations in the Cleveland system and he looked to be living up to them after being promoted to High-A last season, slashing .268/.388/.465 with a 137 wRC+ over the final 21 games of the season.

But he’s come back down to Earth this year. While sticking around in High-A, Cairo’s batting average has plummeted to .144, although he’s sporting an elite walk-rate of 18%. He’s been on the injured list for the past month.

5 (160). Hunter Gaddis. RHP. Age 21. $415K bonus. (Interview)

Drafted out of Georgia State, Hunter Gaddis has been a workhorse since he debuted in full-season ball last season as the opening day starter for High-A Lake County. While he was a bit hittable, he posted a strong 30.3% strikeout rate compared to just a 6.7% walk rate.

Gaddis joined the incredible Akron rotation this season and while he’s remained hittable at times, he’s also been flat-out dominant and has increased his strikeout rate to 32.7% while facing better competition. Gaddis already has three double-digit strikeout games this season. He just needs to be more consistent with his dominance and he could make a big league rotation.

6 (190). Jordan Brown. SS/RHH. Age 17. $230K bonus.

A lanky middle infield prospect out of Juniper High School, Brown went to the Arizona Complex League after being drafted in 2019, and after the lost 2020 season, he still spent his 2021 there as well, where he struggled to hit and stay healthy.

Brown finally was promoted to full-season Lynchburg this past June but has only appeared in 13 games, slashing .237/.293/.421.

7 (220). Xzavion Curry. RHP. Age 21. $125K bonus.

A Georgia Tech standout, Curry missed all of 2019 and 2020 but made up for lost time with a sensational 2021 season that saw him start at Lynchburg, get promoted to High-A Lake County, then get promoted again to Double-A Akron, where he helped pitch the team to the Eastern League championship in the playoffs.

Curry began the 2022 season at Double-A but was recently promoted to Triple-A, where he’s settling in after three starts. Curry is quickly becoming a depth option in Cleveland’s rotation should openings arise.

8 (250). Will Brennan. OF/LHH. Age 21. $169.3K bonus.

Perhaps the biggest bright spot of Cleveland’s draft, Brennan has hit at every level, but he exploded into relevance this season. After posting a 140 wRC+ at Double-A through his first 36 games this season, Brennan was promoted to Triple-A ... where he’s posted a 140 wRC+ through 41 games. Brennan just keeps hitting and is currently slashing .341/.413/.468 in Columbus.

He also is difficult to strike out and walks at a 10% clip. He’s drawn comparisons to Steven Kwan, except he steals more bases (14 so far this season) and hits more home runs (seven this year), and produces (70 runs batted in already in 2022).

9 (280). Will Bartlett. 1B/RHH. Age 18. $275K bonus.

Initially a high school catcher, Bartlett was converted to a first baseman after being drafted. He spent a short time at full-season ball in 2021, where he showcased an elite walk rate but struggled to hit. He’s done a good job this season of dropping his strikeout rate while actually improving his already elite walk rate, and while he still struggles to make consistent contact, he’s put forth a 112 wRC+ thus far in his age-21 season at Lynchburg.

10 (310). Zach Hart. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus.

A college senior, Hart signed for the minimum and has been a decent bullpen arm thus far in his pro career. He had a 3.35 ERA last season at Lynchburg and currently is at Double-A Akron, where he’s sporting a 4.05 ERA and has struck out 35 batters over approximately 25 innings pitched this season.

11 (340). Nick Mikolajchak. RHP. Age 21. $125K bonus.

The pride of Sam Houston State, Nick Mikolajchak made huge waves last season as a sleeper bullpen prospect that could be ready for the MLB soon. He spent the season as the closer for Double-A Akron, where he sported an elite 35.2% strikeout rate, but after getting promoted to Triple-A this season, his strikeout rate has plummeted to 23.7% and his walk rate has spiked from a manageable 5.6% last year to 13.6% this season.

If he can’t turn it around soon, he’s going to lose his luster as a future bullpen option in Cleveland.

12 (370). Allan Hernandez. RHP. Age 18. $140K bonus.

Hernandez has showcased a powerful arm, touching 98 mph out of the bullpen, but he’s had difficulty staying healthy. He pitched 11 times the year he was drafted in the Arizona Rookie League, but Hernandez has made just three appearances ever since. He was slated to make his full-season debut this year but unfortunately underwent Tommy John surgery last month. It’s too early to give up on Hernandez, but it will at least be another year before he’s able to pitch professionally.

13 (400). Micah Pries. 1B/OF/LHH. Age 21. $125K bonus.

Pries didn’t debut the year he was drafted due to being a rare position player who underwent Tommy John surgery. When he made his pro debut in 2021, he was sensational, sporting a 150 wRC+ at Lynchburg and earning a midseason promotion to Lake County.

Pries has spent his entire 2022 season at Double-A Akron, where he’s continued to hit, most recently earning back-to-back Eastern League Player of the Week honors. He’s currently slashing .263/.339/.514, good for a 129 wRC+ at Double-A as a 24-year-old in his second professional season.

14 (430). Ike Freeman. SS/RHH. Age 21. $125K bonus

Used primarily as organizational depth, Freeman bounced around several levels where utility infielders were needed. He had his best success this season at Triple-A Columbus, posting a .396 OBP through 13 games, although he struggled to make contact. He was traded to the San Diego system in June when some of Cleveland’s other infield options got healthy and needed spots at the upper levels of the system and was released by the Padres in mid-June.

15 (460). Trey Benton. RHP Age 21. $100K bonus

After struggling in his pro debut in 2021 at Lynchburg, Benton repeated at Lynchburg this season, where he impressed out of the bullpen, posting a 1.13 ERA and striking out 27 batters in 16 innings. He earned a promotion to High-A Lake County, where he currently sports a 2.84 ERA over 12 appearances, although his strikeout rate has dropped at the new level.

16 (490). Jordan Jones. RHP. Age 21. $100K bonus

Cleveland attempted to use Jones as a starting pitcher last season with mixed results. He had a 4.63 ERA spanning 20 starts with Lynchburg, where he struck out less than one batter per inning. He was promoted to Lake County this season and moved to the bullpen, but he’s struggled there with a 6.11 ERA over 20 appearances thus far. His strikeout rate also has not improved.

17 (520). Julian Escobedo. OF/LHH. Age 21.

Escobedo has been a decent, but overall unremarkable college bat in Cleveland’s system thus far. His best season was last year, where he posted a 102 wRC+ at Lynchburg before being promoted to Lake County. He’s spent his entire 2022 season at Double-A thus far, dropping his strikeout rate and stealing 12 bases, but still failing to reach higher than an 82 wRC+ while currently slashing .217/.316/.324.

18 (550). Matt Waldron. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Waldron got off to a decent start in Cleveland the year he was drafted, but then was traded to San Diego as the throw-in piece with Mike Clevinger and Greg Allen in the deal that brought Austin Hedges, Cal Quantrill, Josh Naylor, Joey Cantillo, Owen Miller, and Gabriel Arias to Cleveland. San Diego has continued to use Waldron as a starting pitcher, but he currently has a 9.20 ERA at Triple-A.

19 (580). Kevin Kelly. RHP. Age 21. $100K bonus

A college pitcher, Kelly was transitioned to the bullpen in Cleveland’s system. He was mediocre in 2021 at High-A Lake County but was dominant to begin this season at Double-A Akron, sporting an impressive 1.11 ERA with 32 strikeouts over 16 appearances spanning 24.1 innings. He earned a promotion to Columbus, where he’s still trying to settle in with a 6.52 ERA over 12 appearances.

20 (610). Nic Enright. RHP. Age 22. $75K bonus

Enright has been terrific out of the bullpen at every level he’s appeared thus far. He struck out 88 batters over 56 innings last season, then began this year at Double-A, where he posted a 0.94 WHIP and earned a promotion to Triple-A. He’s since struck out 19 batters in 12 innings at Columbus and it’s entirely possible he joins Cleveland’s bullpen at some point this season due to his ability to make batters miss.

21 (640). Michael Amditis. C/RHH. Age 21. $110K bonus

Amditis hasn’t shown much offense thus far in his minor league career, but he’s managed pitching staffs well enough to earn regular playing time at the full-season level. He doesn’t appear to be much more than organizational depth at the moment, however.

22 (670). Austin Pinorini. C/LHH. Age 22. $5K bonus

Pinorini played seven games at the Arizona Rookie League the year he was drafted, then voluntarily retired at the end of the season.

23 (700). Chandler Fidel. LHP. Age 21. $75K bonus

Fidel made 13 appearances in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019, going 5-0 with a 5.33 ERA, then promptly retired at the end of the year.

24 (730). Joab Gonzalez. SS/RHH. Age 19. $100K bonus

Gonzalez played parts of the 2019 and 2021 seasons, failing to get an on-base percentage over .300. He was released from the organization this past June.

25 (760). Eric Mock. RHP. Age 22. $50K bonus

Mock appeared out of the bullpen at four different levels last year, rising as high as Double-A. He made two scoreless appearances out of the bullpen for Columbus this season but was a roster casualty this past June and was released.

27 (820). Landy Pena. SS/SH. Age 18. $125.6K bonus

Pena hasn’t shown much yet at the professional level, briefly making an appearance at Lynchburg last season, where he slashed just .111/.179/.222 over 14 games. He has yet to play in 2022, although he still is a member of the organization.

28 (850). Serafino Brito. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Brito made spot appearances throughout Cleveland’s minor league system all the way to June, when he was once again a roster casualty. He was picked up by Oakland and is currently pitching at their Single-A affiliate out of the bullpen.

29 (880). Nate Ocker. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Ocker pitched well in his full-season debut in 2021, managing a 3.03 ERA over 74 innings pitched at High-A Lake County. He repeated this season at Lake County and was pitching well, although he had a disastrous spot appearance at Triple-A, then was released this past June.

31 (940). Jared Janczak. RHP. Age 23. $5K bonus

Janczak struggled at High-A last season out of the bullpen but started this season at Double-A Akron, where he impressively had a 2.00 ERA over nine appearances when he was released this past June.

32 (970). Andrew Misiaszek. RHP. Age 21. $5K bonus

Andrew Misiaszek has pitched himself into relevancy as a potential bullpen piece. After looking decent last season, he dominated Double-A Akron this year to the tune of 48 strikeouts and eight walks over 32 innings while maintaining an elite 0.56 ERA over 17 appearances. He earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he hasn’t dominated at the same rate, although his strikeout totals are staying almost exactly the same at 37%. Like Enright, Misiaszek could be a bullpen option this season.

33 (1000). Kevin Coulter. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Coulter had the opportunity to start 13 games last season but didn’t take advantage of it, struggling to a 5.10 ERA at Lake County. He’s since been transitioned to the bullpen and advanced to Triple-A, posting an 8.10 ERA at Columbus. He was released at the end of June.

34 (1030). Alec Wisely. RHP. Age 21. $5K bonus

Wisely showed an ability to strike batters out, but was far too hittable out of the bullpen. He was released in June.

35 (1060). Randy Labaut. LHP. Age 22. $50K bonus

Labaut pitched well at Lynchburg out of the bullpen last season, and has pitched even better out of the bullpen this season for High-A Lake County, managing a 1.47 ERA over 19 appearances. He earned a promotion to Double-A recently, but was sent back down due to current COVID issues with Lake County’s pitching staff.

37 (1120). Jacob Forrester. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Forrester spent most of his time in Arizona, then was pounded in his full-season debut at Lynchburg last season, owning a 9.27 ERA over 12 appearances. He was released at the end of the 2021 season.

Summary

AAA: 6 (Xzavion Curry, Will Brennan, Nick Mikolajchak, Kevin Kelly, Nic Enright, Andrew Misiaszek)

AA: 6 (Daniel Espino, Hunter Gaddis, Zach Hart, Micah Pries, Julian Escobedo, Randy Labaut)

A+: 6 (Yordys Valdes, Joe Naranjo, Christian Cairo, Michael Amditis, Trey Benton, Jordan Jones)

A: 2 (Jordan Brown, Will Bartlett)

Injured (Allan Hernandez)

?? (Landy Pena)

Traded: 2 (Ike Freeman, Matt Waldron)

Retired: 2 (Austin Pinorini, Chandler Fidel)

Released: 8 (Joab Gonzalez, Eric Mock, Nate Ocker, Serafino Brito, Jared Janczak, Kevin Coulter, Alec Wisely, Jacob Forrester)

Signed players/Still in the organization (34/22)