Checking in on 3 of Guardians’ top prospects

September 10th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It’s been yet another season of callups for the Guardians.

Pitchers Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee stole the spotlight at the big league level. Middle-infield prospects Brayan Rocchio and José Tena have been given windows to demonstrate what they can bring to the table.

But there are still three other prospects who have been top of mind for Guardians fans and have yet to make their Major League debuts. Let’s check in on how the trio has fared this season:

George Valera, Triple-A Columbus

In a perfect world, Valera would’ve already made his debut.

That was the hope, anyway, for the team’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He was primed to get his chance in the Major League outfield mix this year before he dealt with a wrist injury at the beginning of the season and a hamstring injury later in the year. He has been with Triple-A Columbus for the entire season and struggled to get going offensively.

It took until mid-August for his bat to heat up, but Valera has started to show some signs of being what everyone expected him to be this season over the last few weeks. In his last 20 games, Valera has hit .284 with a .977 OPS, including three doubles, seven homers and 17 RBIs.

According to MLB Pipeline, Valera’s best tool is his power, which would be welcomed on the big league roster. The Guardians are last in baseball -- by a landslide -- in homers. If Valera can have a strong finish to the year and a healthy offseason, he should finally make his MLB debut in 2024.

“It was a really rough start to the year for George, just with the injuries and him not being able to be on the field, and he came back from [the injuries] and it was just tough to get into a rhythm,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “I think what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, he’s starting to emerge from that and he’s been more productive, and that’s been really encouraging to see.

“It’s another guy we’re hopeful that can, first and foremost, stay on the field for the balance of the year, but take advantage of the at-bats and innings he has left for this season and make sure we have a good offseason plan in place for him.”

Kyle Manzardo, Triple-A Columbus

The Guardians have their first baseman in Josh Naylor. But Manzardo has the potential to be a better version of Josh Bell, complementing Naylor at first and taking over the DH spot on days he’s not in the field. The team’s No. 2 prospect, who was acquired from the Rays at the Trade Deadline in exchange for Aaron Civale, got off to a delayed start with Triple-A Columbus as he recovered from a shoulder injury. But now that he’s back in the mix, the plan is to get him as many Minor League at-bats as possible before the end of the season, so he can be ready to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training next year.

On Friday, Manzardo launched his first homer with the Guardians' organization.

“It’s only been a handful of games, but most importantly, he’s healthy,” Antonetti said. “He’s obviously a little bit rusty because he missed a good chunk of time and didn’t play in games regularly. But he’s starting to get his timing back, starting to get his swing back. By all accounts, he’s a really good guy, a really good worker. So, we’ll continue to partner with him for the balance of the season, and hopefully it can help head into the offseason with a good plan and come in next year ready to go.”

Juan Brito, Double-A Akron

We’ve seen Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, Rocchio and Tena all showcase what they can do up the middle for the Guardians. But don’t forget about Brito.

Brito, Cleveland’s No. 6 prospect, has had an impressive season with High-A Lake County and Double-A Akron. After posting a .265 average and an .803 OPS with 24 walks compared to 21 strikeouts in 35 games with Lake County, he was promoted to Akron and has hit .279 with an .810 OPS in his first 81 games.

“He’s had a really good year,” Antonetti said. “He’s been one of the younger players at his level, first at High-A and then in Double-A. He continued to make strides on both sides of the ball. He continues to show really good, consistent contact from both sides of the plate and is starting to add some impact quality to that, which has been encouraging to see. He’s also progressing really well defensively at second, primarily. It’s exciting to think about the progress he’s made this year. He’s had a really good developmental year and has positioned himself well as we look forward.”