The 2024 Winter Meetings have just wrapped up, and there is a lot to unpack as the Guardians move on from a very profitable couple of days. On one side of the coin, the team acquired Deyvison De Los Santos from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 Draft, but they also received the rights to the first overall pick in the 2024 MLB Draft. Somehow, this happened when the team had approximately a one-in-fifty chance to land the pick. Now the Guardians have the pick of the litter, and there are plenty of candidates in a solid class to be taken at the prized position of the Draft. These candidates have plenty of potential to be a serious player in the future generations of the Cleveland Guardians, so it is only right to cover these potential picks.
Since the Guardians are in possession of the No. 1 pick, they will most likely aim to take the best player available, rather than a player at a position of need. Especially when you consider the fact that the Guardians have three top 50 picks, they must shoot for the player that they believe will most likely be a cornerstone and the most talented one out of the class. Sometimes we could end up taking the best player on the board and a need at the same time, but sometimes we can’t. So with that being said, everything is on the table for the team. There is no one path that we will take, and we will consider all possibilities with the best pick in the draft. Now, let’s dig into this group of potential Guardians for this draft.
Nick Kurtz, 1B - Wake Forest University
Many people across the Guardians’ fanbase have taken a liking to Nick Kurtz since the organization gained possession of the first overall pick. Kurtz stands in at a towering 6 feet and 5 inches, weighing 235 pounds. Although he is a 1st baseman, Nick provides a great heaping of power and contact potential, with high grades on both of those tools. He displays a vicious swing with great barrel accuracy, allowing him to make hard contact on many pitches. In 265 plate appearances this year, Kurtz hit for a .353 batting average, .527 on-base percentage, and .784 slugging percentage for Wake Forest. He also hit 24 homers and walks nearly twice as much as he strikes out. Prospects Live also gave Kurtz a plus field grade, and he even reached a .998 fielding percentage this year. Given all the evidence provided, I believe that Kurtz has the biggest chance to be taken by the Guardians at first overall so far. He is very toolsy, and even though the Guardians already have options at 1st base right now, there is still no denying how big of an impact he may have for the organization further down the line.
Travis Bazzana, MIF - Oregon State University
Just a fun fact to start off Travis’ case for the first overall pick: The dude is from Australia, so he automatically gets points from me for living in the Land Down Under. But on a more serious note, Travis Bazzana might take the title as the best draft prospect and run with it this Spring. He managed to take one of the most prestigious awards for a college baseball player and that is the MVP of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He contains a prodigious affinity for making contact with the ball as well as hitting the ball very hard. Just to give you an idea of how great Bazzana is at making consistent hard contact, the Sydney kid has made contact with pitches in the strike zone 90% of the time and barrels 36% of the pitches he makes contact with (regardless of whether they were in the zone or not). It is most common for hitters to only have a tendency to do one or the other but Bazzana could do both. This is a hitting coach’s dream, because the tools are already there and all he needs to do is sharpen them up for the big leagues. He could also hold his own at 2nd base with great sprint speed (stole 36 bags this year), so he could easily have the best case to be taken by the Guardians in July of next year.
PJ Morlando, OF - Summerville HS, SC
This is my favorite draft prospect of the bunch. Morlando is the No. 1 ranked high school prospect in America by Perfect Game, and it isn’t hard to tell why they think of him so highly. PJ’s quick hands and smooth bat path help him a lot in producing a lot of easy power in his swing. Morlando this year was able to pull the ball in the air at a very high rate with a 60.9 Pull% and a 52.2 fly ball%. His Walk-Strikeout ratio was also exceptional at 2:1, and with a 1.261 on-base plus slugging (OPS) it isn’t hard to see how great he could really be. To add, he has good enough speed (77th percentile 60 yard dash out of his HS class) and fielding capabilities to play center field, so he likely could provide great potential beyond his bat. As it stands, though, Morlando still has a few months to go before he could realistically prove his case as a No. 1 overall pick. I won’t be willing to take him this high at this point, but I really believe that has a great possibility of changing once his senior season of baseball is all said and done with. As a little kicker for Morlando’s case, PJ reached out to me in a direct message on X Wednesday to mention that his grandfather played for the Indians, and his mother was born during that time in Cleveland. He expressed some interest in playing for the Guardians, so take this for what it’s worth, but it is pretty intriguing (and cool if you ask me). This was all in response to me posting about him and his case for the draft pick on the app.
JJ Wetherholt, MIF - West Virginia University
The aforementioned Travis Bazzana holds a lot in common with JJ Wetherholt. Both the contact and power abilities are out of this world. Wetherholt has a very free swing with a lengthy leg kick, but still is able to get under the ball consistently, averaging an 18 degree hard hit launch angle. His barrel percentage falls under Bazzana at 28.8%, but he still managed to post a .333 isolated power (ISO) despite that. His overall slash line of AVG/OBP/SLG is as follows: .449/.517/.782. He is an all-around hitter at its purest form, which is what many scouts look for in college prospects. I would throw caution into the wind about his 9.7 walk rate, however. But with that being said, I could live with that and his okay fielding abilities at second base in exchange for a guy meant to be stapled in the cleanup spot for years to come.
Chase Burns, RHSP - University of Tennessee
For my last candidate, I am turning over to the mound for the best pitcher in the draft. Chase Burns’ pitch arsenal is headlined by a wicked slider sitting in the upper 80s in mph that displays plenty of late, heavy lateral break. He also throws a mid-upper 90s four-seam fastball that tops out at 101 mph. Furthermore, Burns chucks a changeup that ranges from the upper 80s to the low 90s. That changeup runs on the arm side and is able to miss some bats when it is thrown complimentary to the fastball. Lastly, he started to utilize a curveball this year that sat in the low 80s with plenty of vertical drop. As it is right now, Burns’ changeup and curveball need a little bit of work, but everything is there for him to have an elite overall pitch arsenal. Also, with enough work with the Guardians’ excellent pitcher development program, Burns can further sharpen up his fastball and slider to be among the best in the league. Moving on from the arsenal, Burns posted a 4.25 earned run average (ERA) and a 1.14 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) in 72 innings pitched this year. His fielding independent pitching (FIP) dropped down to an excellent 2.79 as he went on to strike out 14.3 batters for every 9 innings pitched. Though he gives up a good amount of barrels, he still generates some whiffs and gets hitters to chase on a regular basis. I do believe that Chris Antonetti and the rest of the Guards front office will opt to choose a position player this high in the draft, but I wanted to provide at least one serious pitching candidate nonetheless. I would have full confidence that Burns would evolve into a premier pitching talent in the Guardians’ system.
Who Should the Guardians Pick?
In its current state, this slew of prospects has not provided enough evidence for one clear-cut winner. I see Morlando as one of, if not the the likeliest possibility once the rest of his high school career plays out, but I also do not doubt the abilities of his older counterparts in college ball. Luckily for us, we have until July to make a decision and we get to watch the candidates separate themselves from the non-factors. I have a lot of confidence that Antonetti and co. will make the right choice for the team. It could be one of the guys I mentioned, or it may not even be any of them. But no matter what, the Guardians always seem to make the right choices when it comes the Draft lately.