2023 International Reviews: Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians international signings from the past half decade or so are starting to bubble up to the major league club, led by shortstop Brayan Rocchio and outfielder George Valera from their 2017 class. Shortstop Angel Martinez is another top 10 prospect in the organization who reached Double-A last year as a 20-year-old, while the lower levels remain full of intriguing breakout candidates. One of the biggest breakout players in the minors is shortstop/third baseman Junior Caminero, a Guardians signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2019 who raked in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 before Cleveland traded him to the Rays after the season. 

Top Of The Class

Cleveland’s biggest bonus this year went to Dominican shortstop Welbyn Francisca, who signed for $1.375 million. Francisca, 16, is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, having grown from a smaller stature player who stood out early in the scouting process for his hitting ability. Francisca isn’t tall, but he is physically well developed for his age, adding significant strength over the last couple of years, with big bat speed from both sides of the plate. Francisca has a rhythmic swing with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to manipulate the barrel well to make a lot of contact. He takes an aggressive swing but typically is able to maintain his balance to produce a high contact rate in games. It has been a hit-over-power profile for Francisca, but with his bat speed, added strength and ability to drive the ball for hard contact in the air, there could be a good amount of slugging to go with his hit tool. A lot of scouts viewed Francisca as a future second baseman. There’s still a chance that happens, but his defensive progress gives him a better chance to stick at shortstop. He’s an athletic shortstop with solid-average speed and an above-average arm. He can get too quick at times and is still learning to slow the game down at shortstop, but he moves his feet well laterally and has good defensive actions for his age. 

Names To Know

Yerlin Luis, OF, Dominican Republic: The Guardians have collected switch-hitters from Latin America in recent years. Luis, who signed at 17 for $850,000, is a switch-hitter who stood out as an amateur for his feel for hitting from both sides of the plate, particularly from the left side where he has a compact, efficient swing. He’s 5-foot-9, 155 pounds with flashes of average raw power already. It’s a mix of hitting ability and power, though the hit tool has stood out the most so far. He’s a solid-average runner with a strong arm who should get a chance to develop in center field. 

Jose Marcano, SS, Venezuela: Marcano is an $800,000 signing at 17 who showed a high-contact bat from the left side. He’s 5-foot-10, 160 pounds with a sound stroke, putting together consistent quality at-bats to perform well in games with good bat-to-ball skills and line drives spread around the field with gap power. Marcano doesn’t have the quick-twitch explosiveness that some teams prefer at shortstop, so some scouts thought he might end up at second base, but he has good hands with an average arm and a chance to stick at the position. 

Luis Merejo, 3B, Dominican Republic: Merejo was born in Port St. Lucie, Fla. and grew up in the area before moving to the Dominican Republic to train and eventually sign with the Guardians for $340,000. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, showing big power for 16 from the right side of the plate. Merejo has some unorthodox components to his swing, something that will be tested against more advanced pitching, but as an amateur he generally found a way to make it work for him against live pitching, with a chance to develop plus raw power once he fills out. 

Jose Pirela, OF, Venezuela: Pirela, 17, has more physical upside than a lot of Guardians international signings, with an intriguing mix of potential power and speed. He’s 6-foot-3, 180 pounds. It’s a long, lean build with some strength now and a lot more that could come with how much room he still has to fill out. Signed for $320,000, Pirela is able to generate impressive pop for his age from the left side without having to sell out his swing to get to that power. He’s a plus runner too, giving him a chance to play center field, though as he packs on more weight it’s possible his speed backs up and he could migrate to a corner. 

Juan Frances, OF, Venezuela: Another $320,000 signing for the Guardians, Frances is 17 with a smaller, skinny build at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds. Getting stronger will be important for Frances, but he’s already a plus runner who has the speed, athleticism and defensive instincts that should allow him to play a premium position in center field. He’s a switch-hitter whose swing can get long from both sides, but he showed good timing at the plate and generally performed well in games before signing, spraying line drives around the field. 

Jonathan Martinez, SS, Dominican Republic: Martinez is another member of the Guardians international class who was born in Florida but trained in the Dominican Republic before signing for $300,000. He’s 16 until Aug. 16, so he’s one of the youngest players in the class, narrowly making the cutoff to be eligible to sign this year by just a few weeks. He moves around well at shortstop, where he has quick feet and soft hands, projecting to stick in the middle infield with a chance at shortstop. He’s a switch-hitter with good bat-to-ball skills, though at 5-foot-9, 130 pounds, he will need to get stronger to do more damage on contact. 

Yaikel Mijares, SS, Venezuela: A $275,000 signing, Mijares is another switch-hitting shortstop with good bat control stemming from a sound swing and a good approach at the plate for 17. At 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, Mijares doesn’t project to be a big power threat, with a hit-over-power profile. He’s a high baseball IQ player who has the glovework and actions to stick in the dirt with the arm strength for the left side of the infield. His first-step quickness might ultimately push him to third or second base, but he should get a chance to develop at shortstop. 

Pablo Arosemena, C, Panama: Arosemena signed for $275,000, the top bonus so far this year for a player from Panama. He’s 5-foot-8, 155 pounds and projects to stick behind the plate with solid catch-and-throw skills for 17 and an above-average arm. He has a simple swing from the right side with flashes of pull power. 

Heribert Silva, OF, Venezuela: A lefthanded outfielder signed for $250,000, Silva has some wiry strength in his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame with good contact skills. Silva, 17, recognizes spin well, has a good eye for the strike zone and has a direct swing. With his all-fields approach, he has the foundation for good on-base skills with gap power. He’s not a burner, but he will develop in center field with average speed and arm strength. 

Jonathan Taveras, SS, Dominican Republic: Taveras signed for $175,000 and fits the mold of many Guardians signings as a switch-hitting shortstop who won’t blow away scouts with his tools but makes a lot of contact against live pitching. He’s 5-foot-8, 145 pounds at 17 with a low swing-and-miss rate, spraying line drives around the park with occasional doubles pop. Taveras is a shortstop for now, with some scouts expecting he might eventually land at second base. 

Jhorvic Abreus, SS, Venezuela: Abreus is another smaller-framed, switch-hitting shortstop in Cleveland’s international class. Signed for $125,000, Abreus, 17, is 5-foot-7, 145 pounds with a good swing from both sides of the plate that produces a high contact rate in games, albeit without much power yet. Abreus is more skills than raw tools, with hands that work in the dirt, possibly at second base long term. 

Sleeper Watch

Dominican righthander Raudy Rivera was a relatively later signing given the speed of the international market, landing a $10,000 deal in April. He’s 18 with a strong 5-foot-10 frame and a fast arm that has delivered a fastball up to 95 mph, pairing it with a hard slider with more upside once he refines the shape and action on that pitch.

One other pitcher to keep an eye on is Yatner Crisostomo, another $10,000 signing from the Dominican Republic. Crisostomo technically is from the previous year’s class, though he didn’t sign until August, so he’s going to make his pro debut this year in the Dominican Summer League. He’s 5-foot-11 at 19 with a fastball that was touching 92 mph when he signed and now sits in the low 90s with the ability to reach 95. The early returns have been good, with a lot of strikes from his low arm slot that enhances his deception, and he pairs it with a slider he shows good feel to spin as well.

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