Last week I posted my top 5 Guardians prospects, and while I thoroughly enjoyed writing that, and loved hearing the feedback and interacting with you all, I know I’m going to enjoy these more and more the later down the list we get. So here we go, this is how I rank the Guardians top prospects 6-10.
6. OF George Valera:
Cleveland gave George Valera a $1.3 million signing bonus in their huge international class of 2017. Valera has had a ton of hype around him since the day he was signed, coming in ranked 22nd on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international prospects of 2017 list. That hype certainly went even further when José Ramírez quoted this tweet back in 2020.
Valera is a really good lesson on why you have to take hit tool grades below the upper minors with a grain of salt. A lot of scouts grade hit tools depending on how pretty the swing looks, and Valera’s sure does look pretty. Valera was given a 60 grade hit tool by a ton of scouts from 2017-2020, but once he made his non rookie ball debut in 2021, where he hit .260/.405/.505 with 88 strikeouts in 363 plate appearances between High-A Lake County and AA Akron, it was clear that there was some swing and miss in his game, and that is OK.
There is nothing wrong with swinging and missing, I’d even argue that the Guardians would’ve been a better offense in 2023 if they had swung and miss more rather than making weak contact on pitches out of the zone. Speaking of making weak contact on pitches out of the zone, which I know we are all sick of, that is something that George Valera does not do, he brings elite plate discipline and plus power. I don’t think it’s a hot take to say that Valera has the best plate discipline in the organization, even over guys like Kyle Manzardo, Juan Brito, and Bo Naylor.
If you take a look at Valera’s AAA slash line this season, you won’t come away impressed. .211/.343/.375 is very pedestrian, but it should be noted that he struggled with injuries all season, which seems to be a recurring thing with him, unfortunately. The injuries alone would be enough for me to look past the production this season, but there’s another reason that makes me feel even better about Valera long term. He was incredibly unlucky. Here are some of Valera’s advanced metrics compared to Bo Naylor(who we know is an absolute stud) in AAA last season.
Bo Naylor vs George Valera
Average exit velocity: 90.8 | 90.6
95th percentile EV: 107.5 | 107.1
Outside of Zone Swing%: 21.9% | 20.8%
HardHit%: 45.1% | 49.4%
Barrel%: 8.7% | 10.3%
A lot of these numbers are very similar, with Valera leading in the bottom 3 metrics. The main difference between these two as hitters is that Naylor is much better at making contact in the zone. That is easily Valera’s biggest weakness and is the reason he is number 6 instead of top 3.
At Valera’s ceiling, I think he can hit 30 HRs and be a .350 OBP guy, with average OF defense, most likely in a corner.
7. SS José Tena:
Ok, I know this ranking may seem crazy to some, and maybe even to all of you, but I LOVE José Tena. He is easily my biggest riser in the system this season. The improvement from being known as a free swinger, to now being a guy with what appears to be legit plus plate discipline, is nothing short of incredible development. Here are Tena’s walk rates by year.
Walk rates don’t always tell the full story in the minor leagues, which is why I wasn’t fully sold on this improvement until we saw him in AAA and even in his short sample at the MLB level. He had a very respectable 23% OZ-Swing%(Outside of zone swing%) in AAA, and then in his small sample at the MLB level had an excellent 18.1% chase rate, which is a borderline ELITE number. Again, we have to be careful with small samples, but these numbers definitely matched the eye test for me, and it is very exciting.
On top of the improvement in plate discipline, Tena has a lot of other things to offer. He has potential to be an elite defender at SS, where he won a minor league gold glove in 2021. The power potential is very intriguing to me, in his small sample size in AAA this season, he had some truly elite power metrics. He had a 91.6 average exit velocity, a 43.2 HardHit%, and an insane 15.9 barrel%. To put that into perspective, Mike Trout had a 16% barrel rate last season, which was ranked 13th in entire league. Of course that number for Tena would have gone down with a larger sample size, and he will never be a huge power guy, but I believe that he has more raw power than most of the middle infield prospects in the organization.
Tena’s 2023 was really a tale of two seasons. From April 6th-June 28th, his slash line was .220/.317/.317 with a 79 WRC+ and a 29.8 K%. From June 29th-August 31st, he hit .344/.414/.546 with a 154 WRC+ and a 26.3 K% between AA and AAA. That K% is always going to be higher than we would like, but that typically comes with guys who hit the ball harder.
I’m trying not to overreact to a half season sample size, but the clear improvement of plate discipline makes me think that this could be very real. At Tena’s peak, I think he can be an above average hitter with elite defense at SS.
8. OF Jaison Chourio:
Brother of Brewers’ Jackson Chourio, who is MLBPipeline’s Number 2 overall prospect in baseball, Jaison is an excellent prospect in his own regard. No, he is not his brother, not many are, but he is a very exciting prospect. Simply put, Chourio had a monster season in the Arizona Complex League. His 147 WRC+ ranked 6th among all qualified hitters and 2nd among all qualified hitters 18 years old or younger in the ACL. He was one of the best hitters in the whole league while also being one of the youngest players in the league, and that is a great combination. With a slash line of .349/.476/.463, and a walk rate of 20.1%, it’s easy to tell what he brings to the table right now. Just as the Guardians like, Chourio is yet another player with great contact skills and great plate discipline, and at only 18 years old, has a chance to grow into a lot more power. 2024 is going to be a huge year for Chourio, he has a chance to jump up this list and into the top 100 if he continues to perform in Single-A next season.
Jaison Chourio’s first at bat in Single-A: Double pic.twitter.com/LOFFO8VhCZ— Zach (@PhenoMVP) August 25, 2023
9. SP Joey Cantillo:
Would you believe me if I told you that Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams weren’t the best pitchers at AA Akron in 2022? Joey Cantillo arguably outperformed both of them, having a better FIP(Fielding Independent Pitching) and a much higher K/9 than both of them.
Before the Guardians acquired Cantillo in the Mike Clevinger trade, he was a low 90’s velocity guy, then the Guardians acquired him and did what the Guardians do best, they helped him add velocity and had him up to 98 mph this season. In terms of just missing bats, there aren’t many pitchers in the organization that are better than Joey Cantillo. Cantillo also does a phenomenal job of limiting hard contact, mostly due to his plus changeup, which is easily his best pitch.
On the bright side, Joey Cantillo has continued to suppress hard contact at an elite level. 24% HH rate allowed, not many barrels etc. The key is that no one can hit his CH with any authority. EV against is ~77 mph https://t.co/p4WASXG8TQ pic.twitter.com/E9Sa0ExiFy— Matan K (@mk237700) June 25, 2023
Prospect watch:— SIS_Baseball (@sis_baseball) June 17, 2022
** Joey Cantillo, Guardians P
** Currently in Double-A (@AkronRubberDuck )
He's allowed a hard-hit ball in 9% of AB against him
Among starting pitchers 24 or younger, that's the lowest rate in Double-A/Triple-A
Graham Ashcraft is No. 2 ... he's now in MLB pic.twitter.com/Y2NDpj3Lwn
So why isn’t he ranked higher? The main reason he is number 9 instead of top 5 is due to the injury history. He threw just a combined 73.2 innings between 2020-2022 due to multiple injuries. 2023 was a huge step forward for him, throwing a career high 119.1 innings and didn’t suffer a single injury.
The other red flag is that his control is all over the place, he had a BB/9(Walks per 9 innings) over 5 at both AA and AAA in 2023, which is far from ideal. Even with his dominance in 2022, he had a BB/9 over 4. IF, and it’s a big if, he can reign in that control in 2024, he could emerge as a legit middle of the rotation starter.
10. C/1B Ralphy Velazquez:
Woooh boy is Ralphy exciting, the Guardians 2023 first round pick only had 28 plate appearances in the Arizona Complex League, but he sure made them count. He slashed .348/.393/.739 with 2 HRs and 3 doubles. Velazquez appears to be another Guardians type hitter, with great plate discipline and contact skills, and he also has a ton of power upside. It’s too early to say anything definitive about Ralphy offensively or defensively because he hasn’t played above rookie ball yet, but there aren’t many prospects I’m more excited to watch in 2024. Look for him to make a huge jump on this list next season if he performs how I expect him to.
This legitimately might be the most beautiful swing I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/N4ywrmX4YE— Zach (@PhenoMVP) July 10, 2023