2023 Cleveland Guardians Top 10 Prospects Chat

Teddy Cahill chatted regarding the Guardians system. You can read the transcript here.

Teddy Cahill: Welcome to this year’s Guardians’ prospects chat. Let’s get to it

Matthew (Chicago):

     Despite graduating some key contributors last season, hard not to notice that the last line of each of the top 7 is some version of “should debut in 2023.” Do you think they can successfully find opportunities for all of these guys while trying to repeat their division title?

Teddy Cahill: Well, I think there’s a big difference between debuting and playing a key role on a playoff contender. For all the players they had debut in 2022, only a few rookies were regular contributors. I wouldn’t look for, say, Daniel Espino to take a regular turn in the rotation down the stretch. But could he arrive and throw some innings, maybe even important ones? Sure. I think you’re likely to see a couple of those top prospects carve out regular roles, while the rest have more limited, get your feet wet kind of appearances in Cleveland.

Toy (New York):

     In 2022, Steve Kwan, Xzavion Curry and Konnor Pilkington all rose up from outside the top 10 through the ranks to contribute to the MLB team, Kwan especially so. Who are some candidates outside the organization’s top 10 that could have helium this year like the aforementioned or like Tanner Bibee (who didn’t get to the MLB but skyrocketed up the rankings)?

Teddy Cahill: I think a lot of the players on the cusp of the big leagues that could have that kind of impact in 2023 are ones that you already have seen – Curry, Richie Palacios, Cody Morris. Maybe Tanner Burns or newly acquired Ross Carver burn through the upper levels to get to the big leagues like Curry did. I’m also very intrigued by Tim Herrin, who could make an impact out of the bullpen in some capacity. If you’re looking for this year’s Bibee, I spent a lot of time this year watching Dylan DeLucia look amazing and I wouldn’t put anything past him. Jack Jasiak is also intriguing if he’s able to get back to full health. But, of course, the reality is that Bibee is a special player and finding the next runaway success story like that isn’t easy.

Warren (New London):

     The Nolan Jones/Juan Brito trade was kind of a surprise in that the Guardians already had a lot of interesting young middle infielders, but their outfield is in a state of flux. How much of it was them souring on Jones, and how much that they really like Brito? Would Brito have been in the top 10 if the timing of the list had been different? If not, how close is he?

Teddy Cahill: I think it says something about how they viewed both players. Brito really seems to fit with what the Guardians value in terms of offensive profile. Jones had seemingly fallen out of favor as he struggled to make the jump to the big leagues. Sometimes you get into these situations where when you’re contending and trying to bring along young players, it isn’t easy for them. I think Jones got caught in that a bit. That trade happened early enough for it to be reflected in the top 10 you see today, so Brito is outside it in the book. But you’ll find him around the middle of the list.

Brendan (Boston, MA):

     At this time last year Daniel Espino felt like “the next top pitching prospect.” How concerning is it that he was limited to less than 20 IP in 2022? How does this affect his timeline for a big league debut?

Teddy Cahill: It’s definitely not ideal. He hasn’t thrown even 100 innings in a season as a professional, which I also find somewhat concerning as he pushes closer to the big leagues. I think it’s very important for him to have a normal 2023. This year’s injury probably pushed his timeline back, possibly by a year. If he had stayed healthy, he likely ends 2022 in Triple-A and comes into this spring on the cusp of a big league debut. Instead, he still will need time at Double-A. The thing about top-flight prospects, however, is that sometimes they just become impossible to slow down. Espino could well force the issue in 2023, regardless of how much time he got on the mound this year.

Ken (Lakewood CA):

     Looking forward to this chat. Am I wrong to think Cleveland’s minor league system depth is very impressive? Brennan is the #10 yet couldn’t he end up duplicating Kwan’s 2022 season in 2023? Am I wrong? Projecting too high for their #10 prospect?

Teddy Cahill: You are not wrong to think the depth is very impressive. This is an incredibly deep top 10 and it doesn’t stop there, the system as a whole is quite strong. I’m honestly not the high man on Brennan, but you’re not the only person drawing those parallels. I have questions/concerns about his ability to handle upper-level lefthanders, something that Kwan did pretty well as a rookie. But he certainly has impact potential and exciting upside – especially for any organization’s No. 10 prospect.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     Teddy: How soon do you think Bo Naylor should be ready to carry the load behind the plate? Will the one year deal for Zunino let them turn the job over to Bo in 2024?

Teddy Cahill: I think that’s the hope. Naylor will be 23 on Opening Day and doesn’t have much time at Triple-A to this point. I’d expect he starts in Columbus and at some point returns to Cleveland with the hope of getting him further acclimated to the big leagues before expecting him to take on the everyday job in 2024. But I don’t see this organization letting him pile up JT Realmuto like appearance numbers. So, with that in mind, you may still see a lot of Bo Naylor in 2023. Carrying the load for the Guardians doesn’t mean quite as much as it does for some other teams.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     Cleveland drafted a swarm of college pitchers in 2021 and many looked really good in their debuts. Not do great by Doug Nikhazy and Tommy Mace. What do think of them now?

Teddy Cahill: I think that’s somewhat unfair to Nikhazy. He did strike out 11.3 per nine and reach Double-A in his professional debut. His walk rate was disappointing, but there were a lot of positives for the lefthander. It was a tougher time for Mace, to be sure. But it’s going to be tough for anyone to be compared with the debuts of Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee.

Frederick (Boston):

     Does Jaison Chourio have the chance to make a jump this season like his brother last year? Maybe not to the same extent, but could we see him on the top 10 next season perhaps? Thanks Teddy!

Teddy Cahill: I wouldn’t want to put expectations of the kind of breakout Jackson had this year on anyone, whether they’re related to him or not. Jaison is an exciting prospect and has an exciting combination of speed and barrel control that give him the look of a top-of-the-lineup hitter. Top 10 in this organization next year is probably going to be a bit rich for a player who will be 18 and will spend most of 2023 in the complex league.

Wes (Centerville, OH):

     Justin Campbell, Parker Messick, and Dylan DeLucia. Which is your pick to rocket through the system and become a Top 5 prospect? (Tanner Bibee 2.0)

Teddy Cahill: I’ll say none, realistically. If we’re talking about doing this in 2023. You’ll find Campbell ranked highest in the book, but the competitiveness of Messick and DeLucia cannot be overlooked.

Matthew (Chicago):

     One of the more fascinating guys in the system is Jhonkensy Noel. What are scouts saying about him? Scouting the stat line, it seems like he’s not quite going to make enough contact to get to enough power to overcome a 1B/DH only profile.

Teddy Cahill: The contact rate is definitely a concern. With the kind of power he has, there’s always going to be swing and miss. The key is limiting it, while not giving up too much power. What he has going for him is that he’ll be 21 on Opening Day, has already reached Double-A and is now getting work in the outfield, perhaps opening a new defensive role for him. If he has to be a 1B/DH as a right-right profile – that’s asking an awful lot. But if he can also mix in some time in the outfield, that opens some new avenues for him to carve out a role.

Roger (Cleveland):

     Two big-name infielders are not on this list: Gabriel Arias and Tyler Freeman (and Jose Tena if you wanted to count a third). What are evaluators saying about them that caused them to drop? Would they still be considered top-10 prospects in most systems?

Teddy Cahill: Jose Tena has actually never made a handbook top 10. He was No. 11 last year in an exceedingly close call with Angel Martinez. I don’t think his star has dimmed any, the Guardians just have too many top-10 level prospects for them to all fit. Arias and Freeman were difficult to rank, Freeman especially. You’re talking about a 23-year-old, who made his major league debut in a year that also saw him coming off a shoulder injury. Was this year great for him? No. But he’s 23, can play up the middle on the infield and has overachieved expectations at every stage of his career. I’d still give him the benefit of the doubt. Arias will be 23 on Opening Day, has also made his big league debut and is a good defender up the middle. A lot to like there too. This was just kind of a disjointed year for him. Hopefully, he has a healthier 2023, which would help him settle in and find some more consistency.

Geordy (CA):

     Assuming health, what are you hoping to see from DeLauter in his debut? Is his main question mark really just the quality of competition playing for a small school?

Teddy Cahill: It’s more than the quality of competition. It’s the lack of competition, really. He played, in three seasons at JMU, 66 games and took 323 plate appearances. Daniel Susac, taken three picks later, played 64 games and took 312 plate appearances in 2022 at Arizona. That’s not all DeLauter’s fault – both the 2020 and 2021 seasons for JMU were heavily impacted by the pandemic. But he’s a player who just didn’t get to play much in college and when he did, he wasn’t facing high level competition. That leads to more questions than the typical first-round college outfielder.

Mark (North Royalton):

     The Guardians have an excess of high quality upper minors players, especially in the middle infield and outfield. I thought for sure they would package some in a trade for Sean Murphy or Alejandro Kirk. What do you see the Guardians doing with these prospects now that they see few changes on the big league team over the next few years? If Rosario gets a new deal the openings reduce even more.

Teddy Cahill: That Rosario extension is a big if though. It is one of the biggest questions facing the club right now. The going rate for shortstops in free agency this offseason, however, is perhaps not encouraging if you’re looking for Cleveland to be able to work out that extension. You’d expect that at some point the Guardians would turn this depth into a trade of some sort, but the same could have been said for the last two years. At this point, I just kind of expect the Guardians to let things work out naturally and let the internal competition keep playing out.

Steve (Toledo):

     The Guardians have had a lot of success finding hidden gem infielders in the international market from Jose Ramirez to, more recently, Brayan Rocchio and Angel Martinez. Are there any such players starting to catch scouts’ attention in the DSL or AZL that may or may not include Angel Genao (who signed for $1+ million)?

Teddy Cahill: If we count Genao, who was quite famous as an amateur, he’s certainly on the list. If you’re looking further off the radar, Wuilfredo Antunez is the name to know. He got to Lynchburg at the end of last season and he could make some more noise in 2023.

Matthew (Chicago):

     Where would you guess the MLB Top 100 cutline falls on this list? 4-5 range or 6-7 range?

Teddy Cahill: 6-7, easily, for me

Jim (Arlington, Va):

     Did Will Brennan do enough this year to have the inside track on a starting OF position or do you see another, potentially brief, stint in the minors?

Teddy Cahill: I wouldn’t say inside track on a starting spot. But I would say that he’ll go into spring with an inside track for a spot on the roster. Sorting through the outfield options is not straightforward, particularly given what Oscar Gonzalez did in the postseason.

Matt (Cleveland):

     With Brayan Rocchio’s strength gains and the fact he was still only 21 the entire 2022 season, do scouts inside and outside of the Cleveland system think he can develop into a 20/20 threat while being an above average hitter and playing plus defensive at SS?

Teddy Cahill: So, basically, Francisco Lindor at his best? It’s possible. But obviously that’s asking a lot from a player, even one with the skill set of Rocchio. My biggest concern would be him maintaining his hittability and the power at the same time against elite pitching, but he’s exceeded offensive expectations throughout his career, so he could certainly continue to do so as he matures.

Steve (Toledo):

     A little bit of a 50,000-foot view question. The Guardians’ player development system regularly gets the “pitching factory” moniker put on them. And yet the front office (and coaching staff) keeps getting sniped, resulting in some high-profile depatures. How confident should Guardians fans be that the front office’s *system* and their internal pipeline of player development staff will keep the factory running at its recent capacity?

Teddy Cahill: Considering how long other teams have been coming to Cleveland for coaches and executives, I think Guardians fans can be confident that the organization can continue to backfill. I think the front office has proven that it not only is good at player identification and development, but it also is good at finding coaches, scouts, analysts, etc., who fit in the system and culture.

Molly B. (New Jersey):

     Hi Teddy, Appreciate your time today! Does Gavin Williams have ace level upside or do you see him more as a really good middle of the rotation type? Do you see him making 10 or more starts for CLE in the majors this season?

Teddy Cahill: With his raw stuff, his ceiling is as high as anyone. The command is probably the biggest question and he’s made significant strides in that area over the last couple years. Being an ace is so difficult and until you get into the big leagues and can see the mental component of it, it’s hard to say who is and isn’t truly capable of it, but I don’t think Williams is missing any physical tool to develop into one.

Taylor V (Seattle, WA):

     Thanks for the chat Teddy, I was wondering what type of pitcher you foresaw Tanner Bibee ending up as in the majors. I feel like I could believe any prediction on him at this point, but what are the reviews and consensus you are hearing on him?

Teddy Cahill: It’s almost impossible to escape the Bieber comparisons. Now, in many ways, that’s grossly unfair since Bieber has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. But when you look at what he’s done in terms of his velocity jump without losing pitchability, it’s quite exciting. I think looking at him as a mid-rotation starter is fair, but if he keeps building on the strides he’s already made in pro ball, maybe there’s more upside to be had.

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