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5 underrated Cleveland Guardians prospects heading into 2024

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Mike Cardew / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cleveland Guardians farm system is loaded with talented and interesting prospects, today we’re gonna talk about 5 prospects that I haven’t seen a lot of people talking about this offseason that I think could have big seasons in 2024.

1. IF Aaron Bracho:

To be quite honest, this season from Aaron Bracho was wild. He wasn’t the best hitter in the Guardians system, but he was pretty close. Among players with 300 or more plate appearances, Bracho had the 6th best WRC+ at 115, and the 4th best .ISO at .196.

Bracho was very highly touted when Cleveland signed him back in 2017. He was seen as the best player in that class along with George Valera, signing for $1.5 million, which was higher than anyone else in that 2017 class, over guys like Valera, Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena, and Jhonkensy Noel. So Cleveland CLEARLY loved Bracho and were incredibly high on him.

His first season he looked like the guy that Cleveland had hoped, posting a 162 WRC+ in rookie ball and then a 141 WRC+ in a small sample at Low-A. With high expectations going into 2021, he had a disastrous season at High-A Lake County with a slash line of .174/.269/.299 and a 58 WRC+ in 279 plate appearances. He improved a little bit in 2022 but still had a rough season when repeating High-A and hitting .184/.272/.333 with a 69 WRC+.

So what changed in 2023? Well, for starters, he went from being a switch hitter to just hitting left handed, which seems to have provided him consistency for him to be able to just focus on one swing. His strikeout rate drastically improved, going from 31.9% and 30.4% in 2021 and 2022, to 22.9% in 2024. The raw power had always been there, and he finally tapped into that, while simultaneously cutting down his strikeouts, which to me, points to a big improvement in swing decisions.

Bracho was signed as a SS but is mostly a 2B/1B now, and he really should be a 1B/DH type. The bat is going to have to carry him, and it did in 2023, it’s going to be really interesting to see if he can keep it up in 2024.

2. SS Angel Genao:

Angel Genao was one of Cleveland’s highest touted prospects in the 2021 international class. He showed why in his first 2 seasons posting a WRC+ of 133 in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 and a 127 WRC+ in the Arizona Complex League in 2022. I was very excited to watch him in Lynchburg in 2023, but his season was delayed due to a knee injury that required surgery.

Genao didn’t necessarily have a bad season in 2023, but it was below what I expected from him. He slashed .263/.345/.385 with a 110 WRC+ as a 19 year old in Single A, not bad at all. Now when you take a closer look at his season, I think it is very likely that the knee injury and the recovery process made his overall season look underwhelming. Here is Genao’s OPS by month:

May: .488

June: .657

July: .694

August: .817

September: .917

Now, this could just be a young kid figuring out Single A pitching as the year went on, which is perfectly fine and would also be encouraging. Either way, he had a great finish to the season and I’m very excited to see what he can do in High-A Lake County next season.

3. SS Rafael Ramirez Jr.:

Rafael Ramirez is super intriguing to me, and I would say that he is the best prospect on this list. With his July birthday, Ramirez will be incredibly young for every level he plays at. After a pedestrian season as a 16/17 year old in the Dominican Summer League, he really took off in the Arizona Complex League last season. Ramirez slashed .250/.453/.426 with a 133 WRC+ as a 17/18 year old, which is super impressive. While we have to take complex league numbers with a grain of salt, his 26.3% BB rate suggests that he has a phenomenal command of the strike zone. The 28.4% K rate is a bit concerning at this level, so that will be something to keep an eye on next season when he starts as an 18 year old in Single A Lynchburg. The swing is gorgeous and a great season from him could launch him into the top 5-10 of the system by the end of 2024.

4. 1B/OF CJ Kayfus:

Baby Manzardo??? The Guardians drafted Kayfus out of Miami in the 3rd round of the 2023 MLB draft. He was one of the best hitters in college baseball last year, slashing .348/.464/.581 with more walks(46) than strikeouts(44). He’s a lot like your typical Guardians hitter, plus contact, plus plate discipline, but I think his power is underrated.

These are some elite advanced metrics listed in the tweet above by Joe, and are a big reason why he reminds some of Kyle Manzardo. It was a small sample size of course, but he also crushed Single A pitching in 2023 with a .271/.429/.542 slash line, good for a 171 WRC+, and the swing is beautiful. The Guardians are clearly high on him, and I think he is going to prove them right this season.

5. 1B/3B Luis Merejo Jr.:

The first and only true sleeper on this list. Who was the best qualified hitter in all of the Guardians minor leagues last year? Johnathan Rodriguez? Juan Brito? Nope, it was Luis Merejo Jr. Now, again, we always have to take complex league stats with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to get excited about Merejo. Listed at 6’2 and 185 pounds, Merejo won’t turn 18 until July, and he absolutely dominated the Dominican Summer League, slashing .321/.441/.485 and a 147 WRC+. With potential for a plus hit tool and plus power, I’m so excited to see what Merejo will do next season.