It was an up and down season across the minor leagues for the Cleveland Guardians in 2023. They received huge contributions at the MLB level from guys like Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, Bo Naylor, and Logan Allen. It cannot be overstated how important each and every one of those players were to the 2023 Guardians.
With those contributions came a big blow to the top of the Guardians farm system. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, graduating top tier talent and having that talent play at a high level is what this is all about.
Most farm systems would not be able to survive the loss of that much top tier talent, the Guardians, however, are still widely considered to have an above average farm system.
Here is how I view the top 5 prospects in the Cleveland Guardians system.
Tier 1-The Elite Prospects
- 1B Kyle Manzardo:
This is easily the toughest decision on this list, I believe both of Kyle Manzardo and Chase DeLauter to be elite level prospects, I am choosing Manzardo here only because of the higher floor, but you can’t go wrong with either.
The Guardians acquired Manzardo at the deadline for SP Aaron Civale. He hit .256/.388/.738 with 6 home runs, and only 14 strikeouts to 12 walks in 92 plate appearances for the Columbus Clippers. He is currently putting up a video game-like OPS(On base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 1.126 with the league leading 5 home runs in the Arizona Fall League.
Manzardo’s combination of contact, power, and plate discipline makes me view him as the best hitting prospect that Cleveland has had in a long time. Another underrated aspect of his game that doesn’t get talked about a lot is that he is a plus defender at 1B.
At Manzardo’s peak, I think he can hit .300 with 25-35 HRs and play gold glove defense at 1B.
2. OF Chase DeLauter:
The Guardians selected DeLauter 16th overall in the 2022 MLB Draft after hitting .437/.576/.828 his last season at James Madison University. Some draft analysts were projecting DeLauter to be a top 5 pick, with a few suggesting he could even be the #1 overall pick after he hit .298/.397/.589 in the cape cod league, and he might have been had it not been for a foot injury that ended his season early.
DeLauter missed time in his first pro season with the Guardians after re-injuring the same foot in January. He wound up debuting for the Lake County Captains in June and hit .366/.403/.549 in 176 plate appearances before his cup of coffee in AA for the Akron RubberDucks where he hit .364/.464/.409 in 28 plate appearances.
DeLauter offers a ton of raw power, but right now it looks like a contact over power profile, that’s less about a lack of power and more due to how insanely good his hit tool appears to be. Hit tool is one of the hardest things to evaluate in hitters before they reach the pro level, and I want to see DeLauter do it consistently in the upper minors before I am sure about it, but the hit tool appears to be elite.
There are questions from multiple scouts about his swing, and it is a weird swing. I do question if he will ever get to all of his raw power in game because of, what’s referred to as a “scissor swing” when he slides his foot backwards. With that in mind, I’m still going to take the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
At his ceiling, I think DeLauter can hit .300 with 25-30 HRs and play plus defense in RF.
3. SP Daniel Espino:
The conversation about the Guardians 2019 1st round pick in Espino has to start with health. He has not pitched since April 2022, where he was striking out 51.5%!!! of the batters he was facing in AA Akron before he was sidelined with knee tendonitis. He had right shoulder anterior capsule repair on May 2nd, 2023, and will be sidelined for 12-14 months.
If he was fully healthy, he’d be #1 on this list. The reality with Espino is that when healthy, he is the most electric pitcher that I have ever watched. I think he has true Jacob DeGrom type upside if he can stay healthy and reach his 100th percentile outcome. He has one of the best fastballs and one of the best sliders in all of minor league baseball.
By all accounts Espino is an incredibly hard worker and I’m very excited to see him bounce back from this injury and hopefully pitch again in 2024.
Tier 2-Good Prospects With All-Star Upside
4. SS Brayan Rocchio:
Part of the Guardians’ huge 2017 international class, Rocchio, a Venezuelan native, has long been viewed as the future SS of the organization.
Rocchio’s 2023 season was...weird. His home run total fell off a cliff while playing in a much more friendly environment for hitters. He hit 18 home runs in 584 plate appearances in 2022, and then hit only 7 in 623 plate appearances. Maybe the most alarming thing to me was his 2.9% barrel rate this season in AAA Columbus. A barrel is any batted ball with an exit velocity of at least 98 mph with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands. For example, a batted ball with an exit velocity of 110 only needs to have a launch angle between 14-42 degrees.
Rocchio’s lack of barreling the ball this season is very concerning, though I think the power he showed in 2021 and 2022 is still in there somewhere. Part of why I believe he had a decrease in power was the approach change he made in 2023 that lead to an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts.
The question with Rocchio I have is, can we get the best of both worlds? If he can combine the power he showed in 2021 and 2022 with the improved plate discipline he showed in 2023, to go along with his elite defense at SS, he could easily become an All-Star.
5. 2B Juan Brito:
I know, I know, I wish we hadn’t traded away Nolan Jones, too. But Juan Brito is really good. He follows the types of hitters that the Guardians have targeted the past couple years.
Like Manzardo, Brito has phenomenal plate discipline, underrated pull side power, and very good contact skills. He hit .271/.377/.434 between three different levels this season, with only 88 strikeouts to 78 walks in 555 plate appearances.
The only questions I have about Brito are defensively. Where will he play? In an organization full of premium middle infield defenders, he is not one of them, but for my money, he’s definitely the best hitter among the group.