Okay, technically the Columbus Clippers 2023 season already started with a loss last night, but I couldn’t write this preview until I was certain of the team’s roster to begin the season and that wasn’t made official until yesterday.
Columbus is the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians, just a two-and-a-half hour drive up I-71 to the show, and let me tell you, we have quite a few talented players who are almost ready to make their MLB debuts.
The 2022 Clippers finished an impressive 85-64, a top-four record in the International League. They did so based on an elite offense that pounded opponents into submission. There’s a good chance that will repeat in 2023.
Let’s take a look at the opening lineup for the Clippers last night.
- Richard Palacios, LF
- Tyler Freeman, 2B
- Bo Naylor, C
- Micah Pries, 1B
- Brayan Rocchio, SS
- Jhonkensy Noel, RF
- David Fry, 3B
- Zach Collins, DH
- Chris Roller, CF
That’s a pretty damn impressive lineup, and it doesn’t even include top Cleveland outfield prospect George Valera, who was held out of game one and might still be healing from his wrist injury in spring training.
Richie Palacios and Tyler Freeman are former top 10 prospects who graduated last year in Cleveland but did not make the MLB team out of spring training. Bo Naylor, Brayan Rocchio, and Jhonkensy Noel are current top prospects who are all champing at the bit for an opportunity while David Fry and Micah Pries have impressed Cleveland and could earn an opportunity at the MLB level this season if they perform well in Columbus and a spot opens up on the big league club.
Zach Collins is a former top prospect for the White Sox who is a bat-first catcher while Chris Roller provides depth in the system in the outfield. Outfielder Roman Quinn and infielder Daniel Schneemann also will provide some depth for now.
On the pitching side of the equation, here’s my best guess at the team’s starting rotation to begin the year.
- Konnor Pilkington
- Adam Scott
- Peyton Battenfield
- Logan Allen
- Tanner Bibee
With Triston McKenzie injured, Xzavion Curry, who would have been in the Columbus starting rotation, is currently a long relief option on the Guardians while Hunter Gaddis has taken McKenzie’s spot in Cleveland’s starting rotation.
The biggest surprise here is Tanner Bibee, a fifth-round pick by Cleveland in 2021 who made his pro debut last season and advanced to Double-A, becoming one of the top pitching prospects both in the system and in baseball. The fact that he’s starting the season at Triple-A just proves how much confidence Cleveland has in him.
Konnor Pilkington pitched admirably for Cleveland in 2022 with spot starts, but he got absolutely tattooed last night in his season debut, giving up 10 runs on 11 hits in just 3.1 innings. Scott is more roster depth at this point in his career and Battenfield is looking to have a bounce-back season in which he got skipped over for starting pitching opportunities in the MLB level in 2022.
Logan Allen remains a top prospect in Cleveland’s system and must be added to the 40-man roster after this season to avoid the Rule 5 draft. Look for him to try to rebound from a rough second half of 2022 in which he struggled at Triple-A after being promoted.
Other starting pitching options from the Columbus bullpen are former top prospect Luis Oviedo and former Braves standout Touki Toussant, although it appears both are instead being groomed for the bullpen.
I’m a bit surprised that Jose Tena, Bryan Lavastida, and Joey Cantillo aren’t starting the season at Triple-A, but maybe Cleveland felt they would have more opportunities for regular playing time at Double-A to begin the season.