The Lynchburg Hillcats 2023 season starts today and the roster features a whopping 12 draft picks from Cleveland’s 2022 MLB draft.
Lynchburg is the Single-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians, which means it’s the first full-season option for almost all prospects in the Guardians’ minor league system.
The 2022 Hillcats finished 63-68, but qualified for the playoffs thanks to a strong first half of the season and went on to finish as Carolina League runner-up.
Here’s my guess at the upcoming opening day lineup for the Hillcats today.
- Nate Furman, 2B
- Pres Cavanaugh, RF
- Guy Lipscomb Jr., LF
- Tyresse Turner, SS
- Juan Benjamin, 3B
- Maick Collado, 1B
- Wuilfredo Antunez, CF
- Angel Zarate, DH
- Manuel Mejias, C
While the names might not be familiar to most, I think this lineup might be the scariest of all four full-season clubs due to the extreme levels of young talent packed onto the roster.
Nate Furman was the highest position player draft pick from the 2022 MLB draft to debut in Lynchburg, having been selected in the fourth round. He slashed .371/.502/.474 in his final year at UNC Charlotte and followed that up with a .306/.387/.367 line in the Cape Cod League. He’s a clear contact-first guy that lacks power. He was drafted as a second baseman.
Pres Cavanaugh was a fifth-round pick in 2022, slashing .340/.403/.508 inhis final college season at UNC Greensboro so he has a bit more pop in his stick. Look for speedy Guy Lipscomb Jr., a 14th-round pick out of Belmont. He slashed .406/.484/.548 and stole a whopping 42 bases his final college year, so he could terrorize the basepaths.
Tyresse Turner was a 12th-round pick out of USC. He slashed 330/.419/.524 as the Trojans’ starting shortstop his junior season while outfielder Angel Zarate slashed .352/.425/.500 for North Carolina and was selected as a college senior in the 17th round.
On the international side, there is some serious talent here as well. Wuilfredo Antunez is the highest-rated prospect at center field. He slashed .295/.444/.538 in his debut in the United States last season, earning a late-season promotion to Lynchburg, where he flourished over a five-game stretch. He will turn 21 during the season.
Juan Benjamin posted a .300/.432/.500 slash in the Arizona league last season, good for a 154 wRC+, and also earned a late-season promotion to Lynchburg. Then there’s Maick Collado, a first/third baseman who showed no signs of slowing down in his age-19 season at Arizona, slashing .310/.425/.429, good for a 141 wRC+.
Catcher Manuel Mejias might be the next big thing behind the backstop. He’s the youngest player on the team, not turning 19 for three more months and he posted a 107 wRC+ last season in his US debut.
On the pitching side of the equation, here’s my best guess at the team’s starting rotation to begin the year.
- Parker Messick
- Alonzo Richardson
- Austin Peterson
- Wardquelin Vasquez
- Magnus Ellerts
- Yorman Gomez/Juan Zapata
Messick was Cleveland’s second-round pick in last year’s MLB draft. His fastball is below-average velocity, but his funky delivery makes it tougher to hit and he pairs it with the best changeup in the entire 2022 draft class.
Richardson bet on himself, signing with Cleveland undrafted out of high school in 2020 and it’s appearing to pay off. He was flat-out dominant in Arizona last season, leading the league in ERA at 1.93 before earning a promotion to Lynchburg for the second half of his age-19 season. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on this year.
Austin Peterson was a ninth-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft out of UConn. The 6’6” righty struck out 147 batters while walking just 25 in 110 innings last season. Magnus Ellerts has a similar frame to Peterson, standing 6’5” with 101 strikeouts in 66 innings last season.
Interesting international starts include Wardquelin Vazquez, who sported a 2.28 ERA at the Arizona Complex League last year in his age-20 season. Yorman Gomez had a 3.76 ERA in Arizona as a 19-year-old. Juan Zapata appears to have a make-it-or-break-it season, his third in a row at Lynchburg.
Others may get piggyback opportunities and don’t discount them. Jack Leftwich started 2022 as a piggyback partner at Lynchburg and now he’s going to be a starting pitcher at Akron to begin the 2023 season.