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Cleveland Guardians 2019 draft in review

Who were the hits and misses of the Guard’s 2019 draft?

Cleveland Guardians v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As we begin our coverage of the upcoming 2023 MLB draft, which begins July 9th, I’ll be reviewing three of the last four Cleveland Guardians drafts, which have added considerable depth to their minor league system.

Just FYI, the age listed below is the age of the players when they were drafted just over four years ago, so just add four years for their current age.

1 (24). Daniel Espino. RHP. Age 18. $2.5M bonus.

The Guardians drafted Espino 24th overall in the first round out of Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia. Here’s what Cleveland scouting director Scott Barnsby had to say about the powerful right-hander at the time:

He’s extremely athletic, he’s loose, he’s flexible, he’s got a power arm. We’ve seen Daniel throw 100 miles per hour. Pretty special arm strength. ... He’s got two different breaking balls, both slider and the curveball have depth, finish, angle, bite to them. I feel like both of them have a chance to be plus. Developing feel for a changeup. And he’s just a really talented young kid.”

Espino rose to a top 10 prospect in all of MLB, drawing comparisons to Gerrit Cole, Steven Strasburg, and Jacob DeGrom by top talent evaluators. Unfortunately, he’s been plagued by injuries since the first month of the 2022 season, first getting tendonitis in his knee, then injuring his shoulder while working his way back, which eventually resulted in season-ending surgery this year. If he can come back all the way, he still could be an electric and devastating weapon either as a starter or reliever, but health will be a concern until he proves otherwise.

2 (63). Yordys Valdes. SS/SH. Age 17. $1M bonus.

Drafted out of McArthur High School in Hollywood, Florida, Valdes was a glove-first shortstop many scouts thought was the best defensive prep player in the draft. Here’s what Barnsby had to say on draft day:

This guy has elite defensive instincts. He’s got hands, he’s got actions, he’s got range to both sides with an impressive transfer and the arm strength to stay at shortstop. He’s also a switch hitter with a feel to hit from both sides of the plate.

Valdes made his full-season debut in the 2021 season and struggled to a .212./270/.263 slash over 92 games. He repeated the first half of the 2022 season at Lynchburg and earned a promotion to High-A Lake County, where he’s still playing this season. He’s yet to post a wRC+ over 100 at any level, but his 85 wRC+ at Lake County is currently a career best.

3 (101). Joseph Naranjo. 1B/LHH. Age 18. $770K bonus.

A prep first baseman, Naranjo was given an aggressive placement in 2021, advancing straight to High-A Lake County, where he struggled in his age-20 season. He repeated at High-A in 2022, where he impressed with a 120 wRC+ and smashed 18 home runs over 119 games, slashing .235/.364/.414 while walking 16% of the time.

Naranjo was promoted to Double-A to begin this season, but he’s struggled, particularly with his power, hitting just one home run over his first 65 games and slashing .198/.314/.258. He’s still young at 22 years old, but he’ll need to pack some more punch if he wants to become an interesting prospect.

4 (130). Christian Cairo. SS/RHH. Age 18. $955K bonus.

The son of former big-leaguer Miguel Cairo, Christian Cairo had high expectations in the Cleveland system and he looked to be living up to them after being promoted to High-A in his age-20 season.

He stayed at High-A all of last season, sporting a 96 wRC+ and repeated there once again this year, primarily due to the depth of middle infield prospects ahead of him in the system. While his progress has stalled, the good news is he’s taking advantage of his situation, sporting a 131 wRC+ and slashing a rock solid .255/.394/.386 thanks to an elite 17.4% walk rate while dropping his strikeout rate over nine points to 18%.

5 (160). Hunter Gaddis. RHP. Age 21. $415K bonus. (Interview)

Drafted out of Georgia State, Hunter Gaddis was a workhorse in the Cleveland system, working his way to MLB by last season, where he struggled against some top offenses in the league.

Gaddis had fared better this year at the MLB level, impressively having two separate outings where he tossed 6.0 shutout innings as a fill-in starter, although he’s been inconsistent in his other appearances. He’s also struggled at Triple-A this year, actually pitching worse at that level than MLB with a 7.22 ERA over eight games started spanning 33.2 innings pitched.

Gaddis appears to be little more than starting pitching depth at this point, but he could be invaluable in the second half of the season as rookie starters Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams have their innings limited and Cleveland continues to deal with injuries to the starting rotation.

6 (190). Jordan Brown. SS/RHH. Age 17. $230K bonus.

A lanky middle infield prospect out of Juniper High School, Brown went to the Arizona Complex League after being drafted in 2019 and his development has been going at a snail’s pace.

Brown made his full-season debut at Lynchburg last June, but struggled with injuries and only played 32 games. He’s played 37 games this season repeating at Lynchburg, where he’s slashed .182/.289/.318 for a 81 wRC+, although he’s at least slugged a career-best four home runs thus far.

7 (220). Xzavion Curry. RHP. Age 21. $125K bonus.

A Georgia Tech standout, Curry missed all of 2019 and 2020 but made up for lost time with a sensational 2021 season that saw him start at Lynchburg, get promoted to High-A Lake County, then get promoted again to Double-A Akron, where he helped pitch the team to the Eastern League championship in the playoffs.

Curry made it to the MLB level in 2022, where he had some spot starts for Cleveland. This year, however, he’s served effectively as the long man out of Cleveland’s bullpen, where he’s posted a 3.11 ERA over 22 games spanning 47.1 innings with 30 strikeouts and just 10 walks.

8 (250). Will Brennan. OF/LHH. Age 21. $169.3K bonus.

Perhaps the biggest bright spot of Cleveland’s draft, Brennan has hit at every level, but he exploded into relevance last season. After posting a 140 wRC+ at Double-A through his first 36 games this season, Brennan was promoted to Triple-A ... where continued to rake and eventually earned a promotion to Cleveland. He his good enough to make the Guardians’ playoff roster.

After beginning this season in a platoon with Oscar Gonzalez, Brennan has carved out a starting role as one of the team’s more consistent hitters, slashing .271/.305/.400, good for a 92 wRC+. He has the potential to be a fixture in Cleveland’s outfield for years to come either as a right fielder or center fielder.

9 (280). Will Bartlett. 1B/RHH. Age 18. $275K bonus.

Initially a high school catcher, Bartlett was converted to a first baseman after being drafted. He spent a short time at full-season ball in 2021, where he showcased an elite walk rate but has struggled to make consistent contact.

He posted a 103 wRC+ in his age-21 season repeating at Lynchburg and was promoted to High-A Lake County this season, where he’s continued to post that elite walk rate of over 20%, but his strikeout rate also is sky high at a career-worst 33.7%, which has kept his wRC+ at a replacement level 98. Bartlett will need to cut down his strikeouts if he wants to become a legitimate prospect.

10 (310). Zach Hart. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus.

A college senior, Hart signed for the minimum and has been a decent bullpen arm thus far in his pro career. He had a 3.35 ERA in 2021 at Lynchburg and currently is at Double-A Akron, where he’s sporting a 4.33 ERA in 15 games spanning 27.0 innings this season.

11 (340). Nick Mikolajchak. RHP. Age 21. $125K bonus.

The pride of Sam Houston State, Nick Mikolajchak made huge waves as a sleeper bullpen prospect. He spent the 2021 season as the closer for Double-A Akron, where he sported an elite 35.2% strikeout rate.

He had a decent ERA in 2022 at Triple-A, but his strikeout rate plummeted. He then had Tommy John surgery at the beginning of this year, costing him the 2023 season.

12 (370). Allan Hernandez. RHP. Age 18. $140K bonus.

Hernandez has showcased a powerful arm, touching 98 mph out of the bullpen, but he’s had difficulty staying healthy. He pitched 11 times the year he was drafted in the Arizona Rookie League, but Hernandez has made just three appearances ever since. He was slated to make his full-season debut in 2022 but unfortunately underwent Tommy John surgery. He has yet to return to action and is currently on the 60-day IL for Lynchburg.

13 (400). Micah Pries. 1B/OF/LHH. Age 21. $125K bonus.

Pries didn’t debut the year he was drafted due to being a rare position player who underwent Tommy John surgery. When he made his pro debut in 2021, he was sensational, sporting a 150 wRC+ at Lynchburg and earning a midseason promotion to Lake County.

Pries spent his entire 2022 season at Double-A Akron, where he continued to hit, earning back-to-back Eastern League Player of the Week honors. He’s finished the year slashing .266/.341/.473, good for a 119 wRC+.

This season, he came out of the gate slow in his Triple-A debut, but most recently has found his power, blasting five of his 10 home runs on the season in the past week alone. He currently is walking at a near-career-best 9.6% while striking out at a career-low 21% but has been unlucky with a career-low .275 BABIP. Hopefully he’ll have better batted-ball luck in the second half.

14 (430). Ike Freeman. SS/RHH. Age 21. $125K bonus

Used primarily as organizational depth, Freeman bounced around several levels where utility infielders were needed. He had his best success this season at Triple-A Columbus, posting a .396 OBP through 13 games, although he struggled to make contact. He was traded to the San Diego system in June of 2022 when some of Cleveland’s other infield options got healthy and needed spots at the upper levels of the system. He was released by the Padres less than two weeks later.

15 (460). Trey Benton. RHP Age 21. $100K bonus

Benton impressed out of the bullpen last season, posting a 1.13 ERA and striking out 27 batters in 16 innings at Lynchburg, earning a promotion to High-A Lake County, where he finished with a 2.63 ERA over 26 appearances.

He began this season at Double-A and has not found that same level of success with an ERA of 4.81 through 23 games, although his strikeout rate has rebounded nicely to 28.2%.

16 (490). Jordan Jones. RHP. Age 21. $100K bonus

Cleveland attempted to use Jones as a starting pitcher in 2021 with mixed results. He was converted to a reliever in 2022 and struggled initially with the transition, posting a 5.55 ERA at the High-A level.

He’s been much better this year with a 2.26 ERA at Double-A over 19 appearances spanning 42.0 innings of work. If Jones wants to make it to MLB, however, he’ll need to improve his current 8.57 K/9 and reduce his walk rate, which has hovered at 5.5/9 all season. He’s been difficult to hit with a .166 batting average against, but those bases on balls could catch up to him.

17 (520). Julian Escobedo. OF/LHH. Age 21.

Escobedo was been a decent, but overall unremarkable college bat in Cleveland’s system where he mainly was used as an org-filler. His best season was 2021 when he posted a 102 wRC+ at Lynchburg before being promoted to Lake County. He spent his entire 2022 season at Double-A with ho-hum results, repeating there this year before being released June 2.

He’s now playing for Algodoneros Union Laguna in the Mexican League.

18 (550). Matt Waldron. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Waldron got off to a decent start in Cleveland the year he was drafted, but then was traded to San Diego as the throw-in piece with Mike Clevinger and Greg Allen in the deal that brought Austin Hedges, Cal Quantrill, Josh Naylor, Joey Cantillo, Owen Miller, and Gabriel Arias to Cleveland.

San Diego continued to use Waldron as a starting pitcher, repeating at Double-A in 2022 and advancing to Triple-A. He recently made his MLB debut in a spot start June 24th for the Padres, tossing 4.2 innings and allowing two runs before being sent back down.

19 (580). Kevin Kelly. RHP. Age 21. $100K bonus

A college pitcher, Kelly was transitioned to the bullpen in Cleveland’s system. He was mediocre in 2021 at High-A Lake County but was dominant in 2022 at Double-A Akron, sporting an impressive 1.11 ERA with 32 strikeouts over 16 appearances spanning 24.1 innings. He earned a promotion to Columbus, where he finished the season strong with a 2.73 ERA while maintaining a solid 11.73 K/9.

Kelly was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft and he’s still there, having made 35 appearances this season with a 2.66 ERA spanning 40.2 innings. Kelly even earned a save in April.

20 (610). Nic Enright. RHP. Age 22. $75K bonus

Enright was terrific out of the bullpen at every level, advancing to Triple-A last season. He was selected by Miami in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, but almost immediately after revealed he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went into remission and made some minor league rehab appearances for Miami before being returned to Cleveland at the end of May.

Enright has struggled this season at Triple-A, but given what he’s been battling outside of baseball, that’s to be expected. Hopefully he can continue to make strides and improve in the second half.

21 (640). Michael Amditis. C/RHH. Age 21. $110K bonus

Amditis hasn’t shown much offense thus far in his minor league career, but he’s managed pitching staffs well enough to earn regular playing time at the full-season level. He doesn’t appear to be much more than organizational depth at the moment, however. He currently is hitting just .129 through 20 games at Double-A this season.

22 (670). Austin Pinorini. C/LHH. Age 22. $5K bonus

Pinorini played seven games at the Arizona Rookie League the year he was drafted, then voluntarily retired at the end of the season.

23 (700). Chandler Fidel. LHP. Age 21. $75K bonus

Fidel made 13 appearances in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019, going 5-0 with a 5.33 ERA, then promptly retired at the end of the year.

24 (730). Joab Gonzalez. SS/RHH. Age 19. $100K bonus

Gonzalez played parts of the 2019 and 2021 seasons, failing to get an on-base percentage over .300. He was released from the organization in June 2022.

25 (760). Eric Mock. RHP. Age 22. $50K bonus

Mock appeared out of the bullpen at four different levels in 2021, rising as high as Double-A. He made two scoreless appearances out of the bullpen for Columbus this season but was a roster casualty in June 2022 .

27 (820). Landy Pena. SS/SH. Age 18. $125.6K bonus

Pena didn’t show much at the professional level, briefly making an appearance at Lynchburg in 2021, where he slashed just .111/.179/.222 over 14 games. He did not play the entire 2022 season and was released by the organization in August 2022.

28 (850). Serafino Brito. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Brito made spot appearances throughout Cleveland’s minor league system all the way to June 2022, when he was once again a roster casualty. He was picked up by Oakland and is currently on the injured list, having not appeared yet this season.

29 (880). Nate Ocker. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Ocker pitched well in his full-season debut in 2021, managing a 3.03 ERA over 74 innings pitched at High-A Lake County. He repeated 2022 at Lake County and pitched just 10.1 innings before being released in June 2022.

31 (940). Jared Janczak. RHP. Age 23. $5K bonus

Janczak struggled at High-A in 2021 out of the bullpen but started 2022 at Double-A Akron, where he impressively had a 2.00 ERA over nine appearances when he was released in June 2022.

32 (970). Andrew Misiaszek. RHP. Age 21. $5K bonus

Andrew Misiaszek pitched himself into relevancy as a potential bullpen piece with a dominant 2022 season. He was terrific at Double-A Akron last year to the tune of 48 strikeouts and eight walks over 32 innings while maintaining an elite 0.56 ERA over 17 appearances. He earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he whiffed 42 batters in 29.2 innings and had a 3.64 ERA. He was in line to be added to the 40-man roster this season and earn some opportunities in Cleveland’s bullpen, but he unfortunately underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2023 campaign.

33 (1000). Kevin Coulter. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Coulter had the opportunity to start 13 games in 2021 but didn’t take advantage of it, struggling to a 5.10 ERA at Lake County. He was transitioned to the bullpen and advanced to Triple-A, posting an 8.10 ERA at Columbus. He was released in June 2022.

34 (1030). Alec Wisely. RHP. Age 21. $5K bonus

Wisely showed an ability to strike batters out, but was far too hittable out of the bullpen and walking a batter every other inning. He was released in June 2022.

35 (1060). Randy Labaut. LHP. Age 22. $50K bonus

Labaut pitched well at Lynchburg out of the bullpen in 2021, and has pitched even better out of the bullpen in 2022 for High-A Lake County, managing a 1.89 ERA over 20 appearances. He began this season at Double-A, dominating to the tune of a 1.86 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 29.0 innings and was promoted to Columbus in June.

37 (1120). Jacob Forrester. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus

Forrester spent most of his time in Arizona, then was pounded in his full-season debut at Lynchburg in 2021, owning a 9.27 ERA over 12 appearances. He was released at the end of the 2021 season.


MLB: 2 (Will Brennan, Xzavion Curry)

AAA: 4 (Hunter Gaddis - 40 man roster, Micah Pries, Nic Enright, Randy Labaut)

AA: 5 (Joe Naranjo, Zach Hart, Trey Benton, Jordan Jones, Michael Amditis)

A+: 3 (Yordys Valdes, Christian Cairo, Will Bartlett)

A: 1 (Jordan Brown)

Injured (Allan Hernandez - A, Nick Mikolajchak - AAA, Andrew Misiaszek - AAA, Daniel Espino - AA)

Rule 5 drafted: 2 (Nic Enright - returned; Kevin Kelly - Tampa Bay)

Traded: 2 (Ike Freeman - released, Matt Waldron - MLB/AAA)

Retired: 2 (Austin Pinorini, Chandler Fidel)

Released: 8 (Julian Escobedo, Joab Gonzalez, Eric Mock, Nate Ocker, Serafino Brito, Jared Janczak, Kevin Coulter, Alec Wisely, Jacob Forrester, Landy Pena)

Signed players/Still in the organization (34/22)