With seven teams in its minor league system, Cleveland has over 200 players under contract heading into the 2022 season, so it’s a bit unfair to stop counting prospects at just the top 20.
Every year I pick some other non-top 20 prospects to keep an eye on and the track record has been pretty solid thus far. Last year, I picked pitchers Joey Cantillo, who joined this year’s top 20. I also had Konnor Pilkington, who used up his rookie eligibility with the big league club, and Nic Enright, who was selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
Covering the Corner readers finished their voting recently, but here are some prospects who just missed the cut and deserve some recognition as well. Prospects are listed by their proximity to MLB.
And for clarity’s sake, I’m going to list these pitchers by proximity to MLB, not by ranking.
Hunter Gaddis, 25, RHP
First off, ignore how Hunter Gaddis did at the MLB level last year. He was thrust into a pair of tough situations against nasty lineups in Houston and Chicago that absolutely teed off on him. He’s going to learn from that and be much better this season. Gaddis has mid-90s velocity and an absolutely filthy changeup. Along with Cody Morris, Konnor Pilkington, and Xzavion Curry, he’ll be one of the first players on stand-by for spot starts this season during doubleheaders or if there’s an injury in the rotation. If he can improve his command, he still has a lot of potential.
Doug Nikhazy, 23, LHP
Cleveland’s second-round pick in 2021, Doug Nikhazy was inconsistent in his debut at High-A last season, but he had some great moments, particularly three games from June to early August where he struck out 10 or more batters. Nikhazy sported a solid 3.19 ERA and 4.45 FIP at Lake County and earned three starts at Double-A late in the season, striking out nine more batters in one of them. He’ll begin the 2023 campaign at Double-A.
Ross Carver, 23, RHP
Acquired in a trade with Arizona for Carlos Vargas, Ross Carver was a 20th-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2021. He impressed at High-A last season with a 3.10 ERA and 3.81 FIP over 15 starts spanning 81.1 innings, earning a promotion to Double-A, where he struggled to keep the ball in the park at the worst pitching environment and most homer friendly park in all of minor league baseball. He sits in the mid 90s with his fastball, can throw two breaking balls for strikes and is still working on refining his change up. If the change up doesn’t develop, he has the velocity to be an effective reliever.
Ethan Hankins, 22, RHP
Once considered the Guardians’ top pitching prospect, Ethan Hankins has pitched a grand total of one inning of professional baseball since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic and then Tommy John surgery in 2021. Hankins is still young and hopefully this is the year he gets a chance to show us he’s back to full strength. If he is, he could soar back up the prospect rankings.
Jack Leftwich, 24, RHP
A college senior taken in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB draft, Jack Leftwich made the best of his opportunities last season. He began the year in the second half of piggyback duty at Low-A Lynchburg, then was upgraded to front-end starter. He impressed enough with an elite 2.39 ERA and 1.82 FIP to earn a late-season call-up to High-A, where he also dazzled to the tune of a 3.12 ERA and 3.30 FIP over 10 starts. Leftwich is a legitimate sleeper candidate this season if he can continue missing and locating the ball well.
Will Dion, 22, LHP
Nicknamed “Baby Kershaw” due to his similar delivery to the legendary L.A. Dodger, Dion was a ninth-round pick by the Guardians in 2021. Like Leftwich, he began 2022 at Low-A and put up impressive numbers. Over 23 starts spanning 115.1 innings, he held a 2.26 ERA and a 3.20 FIP, earning a late-season promotion to High-A, where he had a 0.71 ERA over two more starts spanning 12.2 innings. Dion doesn’t throw much harder than 90 and could explode through the system if he can add velocity while maintaining his command.
Rodney Boone, 22, LHP
I feel like I’m repeating myself, but like Leftwich and Dion, Rodney Boone began his 2022 season in the Low-A Lynchburg starting rotation. He was actually the first of the three players to earn a promotion to High-A because he was so impressive through his first 10 starts, sporting a 1.85 ERA and 2.28 FIP over 48.2 innings. He wasn’t as effective at Lake County, however, spiking his HR/9 rate and seeing his ERA climb to 4.80 over 13 starts. He currently sits in the upper 80s and will need to improve velocity.
Ryan Webb, 23, LHP
Ryan Webb was one of the top left-handed college pitching prospects before Tommy John surgery sidelined him. Cleveland still liked him enough to select him in the fourth round in 2021. He debuted late in the 2022 season at Low-A Lynchburg and put up decent numbers with a 3.91 ERA over 14 starts and about 50 innings. If he can continue to get his command under control, he’s another huge breakout candidate for 2023.
Trenton Denholm, 23, RHP
A buy-low candidate in the 2021 MLB draft, Trenton Denholm has the potential to pitch in a starting rotation if he can reclaim some of his lost velocity from his breakout sophomore year at UC Irvine. He had an average 2022 season at Low-A Lynchburg, but if the pitching factory can fix him, he has a higher ceiling than pretty much any of the team’s 2021 day-three picks.
Parker Messick, 22, LHP
A second-round pick in 2022, Parker Messick had a sensational junior season at Florida State with 144 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks (he sounds like a Cleveland starter already). He possibly has the best changeup in the system already and if he could add any velocity or continue to refine his command, he could be a high riser in the system. Messick could debut at High-A as long as there’s room for him and he stays healthy.
Alonzo Richardson, 20, RHP
In his age-19 season, Alonzo Richardson sported an impressive 1.93 ERA over eight appearances (four starts) at the Arizona Complex League, earning a promotion to Low-A Lynchburg. Richardson struggled at Lynchburg, but he was one of the younger arms at that level and I expect him to repeat there to begin 2022. He has a lot of potential due to his age, so don’t say I didn’t warn you about him!
Jacob Zibin, 18, RHP
Cleveland must have thought pretty highly of Jacob Zibin because despite being selected in the 10th round, he was given a whopping $1.2 million signing bonus, which was over $1 million over the slot value and might have set a record for a 10th-round pick. He can already touch 99 mph and was the youngest player in the entire 2022 draft class. He stands 6-foot-4 with the potential to develop at least two additional nasty secondary pitches with his slider and changeup. He’ll be a work in progress, but Zibin is definitely someone to keep an eye on moving forward.
Javier Santos, 19, RHP
The hardest-throwing high school pitcher in the 2022 draft, Javier Santos can touch 98 mph, but he also was older for a high school arm. Standing an even 6-foot, he doesn’t have a ton of projection left in his frame, but at worst, he could end up being an interesting relief option. It will all come down to health, command, and his ability to develop at least a third pitch from his current fastball and curveball, which are both plus.
Jackson Humphries, 18, RHP
Jackson Humphries reaches 95 mph as a high school arm with solid projection and a plus breaking ball to go with a four-pitch mix. Cleveland liked him enough to pay him $420,000 over slot when he was drafted. On draft day, scouts said Cleveland was confident in his ability to remain a starter.
Other starters of note: Peyton Battenfield, Tanner Burns, Tommy Mace, Aaron Davenport, Reid Johnston, Jake Miller, Brauny Munoz, Kendeglys Virguez.
Tim Herrin, 26, LHP
A 29th-round selection by Cleveland in 2018, TimHerrin has earned comparisons to Sam Hentges due to his size (6’6), being a southpaw, and the fact that he’s slowly increased his velocity to where he’s now topping out at 99 mph. He possesses a highly-rated fastball and slider, which, paired with a cutter, makes him an interesting bullpen option for 2023. Herrin was added to the 40-man roster and will absolutely make his MLB debut at some point this season.
Andrew Misiaszek, 25, LHP
A former 32nd-round pick in 2019, Andrew Misiaszek broke out in 2022. He began the year in Double-A Akron, where he impressively sported a ridiculous 0.56 ERA and 1.66 FIP while striking out 41% of the batters he faced in 17 appearances spanning 32 innings. He earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he was more hittable, but maintained his elite strikeout rate over another 25 appearances. After Herrin, Misiaszek is the next most intriguing left-handed option as a bullpen prospect.
Nick Mikolajchak, 24, RHP
Once considered an elite bullpen prospect, NickMikolajchak’s luster has worn off a little since he had shoulder surgery in 2021. He currently sits in the low 90s and still has a nasty slider, but he was far too hittable in 2022. If his velocity can rebound back to 97 mph where it was before his surgery, he’ll be interesting again.
Mason Hickman, 25, RHP
A fifth-round pick in 2020, Mason Hickman repeated 2022 at High-A Lake County and didn’t appear to get any better as a starting pitcher. Instead, Cleveland converted him to a multi-inning relief role and he instantly started shining. From July 23 to the end of the season, he sported a 1.44 ERA and struck out 36 batters in 25 innings pitched, earning a well-deserved promotion to Double-A. He also appeared in the Arizona Fall League.
Cade Smith, 23, RHP
Undrafted in 2020 (the draft only had five rounds) Cade Smith has sported impressive 40% strikeout rates at every level. He pitched at both High-A and Double-A in 2022, posting impressive strikeout rates at both. He even pitched in Cleveland’s first spring training game, tossing a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout.
Davis Sharpe, 23, RHP
A 13th-round pick in 2021, Davis Sharpe was handed a multi-inning relief role in the Cleveland system for the 2022 season, where he debuted at Low-A Lynchburg. Over 15 games and 25 innings pitched, he dominated opposing hitters to the tune of a 39.4% strikeout rate, a 1.42 ERA, and a 2.11 FIP, earning a promotion to High-A Lake County. His ERA climbed to 2.35 but his walk rate actually dropped from 5.1% to 3.9% despite pitching another 46 innings at High-A. Sharpe still has a four-pitch mix due to being a converted starter and has already seen his velocity bump in his first pro season to where he’s topping at 96. If he can do it again, he’ll become one of the system’s top bullpen prospects.
Tyler Thornton, 22, RHP
A 17th-round pick in 2021, Tyler Thornton spent his entire 2022 season as a bullpen option for Low-A Lynchburg, where he posted an elite strikeout rate of 15 per nine innings. Thornton has a unique delivery and a low three-quarters arm slot, but he still can top out at 96 mph. He has plenty more projection if he can stay healthy and if he can learn to better command his slider, which more advanced hitters will spit on until he can locate it consistently.
Hunter Stanley, 25, RHP
An 11th-round pick in 2021, Stanley missed most of the ‘22 season with an injury sustained in May, but he impressed in limited action, holding opposing hitters to a 1.84 ERA over four games spanning 14.2 innings. He also pitched 20 innings in the Arizona Fall League. I’m intrigued to see what he’ll do in 2023 now that he’s healthy.
Others of note: Lenny Torres, Josh Wolf, Alaska Abney, Trey Benton.