Latest on Guardians top prospects

May 20th, 2022

Welcome to the Guardians prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

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Valera belts two homers, plates five runs (May 19)
50 pesos and a dream.

George Valera grew up 10 blocks from Yankees Stadium. At age 13, the native of Queens, N.Y., wound up moving to the Dominican Republic. It ended up being key to his dream of playing professional baseball.

Now, the 21-year-old is ascending the Guardians' system and MLB Pipeline's rankings as the No. 43 overall prospect in the game. And nights like his two-homer, five-RBI effort for the Double-A RubberDucks will only add to the growing legend.

Valera went 3-for-4 in Akron's 12-1 victory over Binghamton. In the first inning, he delivered a solo shot to deep center field. Then as part of a seven-run fifth, Valera crushed a grand slam to right-center. He doubled his home run total while amassing a season-high five RBIs.

In the Dominican Republic, he was denied the opportunity to play on multiple teams because of his stature. As a smaller athlete, coaches overlooked him left and right until his father gave a coach 50 pesos (approximately $2.50) to throw a few pitches to give his son a chance to display his talent and potential.

"The guy threw me a couple balls and BP and I was a little upset, so I just started hitting a couple of homers in the BP, and then [the coach] was like, you can come practice today if you get changed," Valera said. Full story »

Noel, Rodriguez star in slugfest loss (May 15)
The Lake County Captains got some help from two Top 30 Guardians prospects in their 10-9 slugfest loss to Great Lakes, with Jhonkensy Noel and Gabriel Rodriguez homering in the effort. It was a two-homer game for Noel, the organization’s No.13 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who also doubled and stole his first base of the season as part of a four-hit day. Rodriguez, Cleveland’s No. 30 prospect, also doubled and walked in addition to launching his first homer of the year.

This is the first season at Single-A Great Lakes for Rodriguez and the second for Noel, both 20-year-old, right-handed-hitting corner infield types. Noel more than held his own in his first taste at the level last summer, slashing .280/.351/.550 with eight homers in 26 games. He’s followed that up this year by hitting .240/.327/.583 with nine homers in his first 29 games, though with a 10:35 walk-to-strikeout ratio. — Joe Trezza

Rocchio lands on IL with concussion (May 9)
All things considered, the Guardians organization seems relieved with Brayan Rocchio's diagnosis. Guardians manager Terry Francona explained on Monday that the team's No. 4 prospect was placed on Double-A Akron's injured list with a concussion after hitting his head against the knee of Richmond's third baseman while diving into the bag in the first inning of Sunday's contest.

"I believe he has a slight concussion and a little bit of whiplash," Francona said. "In the grand scheme of things, yeah [he's OK]."

Rocchio has hit .236 with three homers, 13 RBIs, 11 walks, 20 strikeouts and has a .717 OPS in 25 games for Akron so far this season. As of now, the 21-year-old middle infielder isn't expected to miss too much time due to his concussion. -- Mandy Bell

Brennan drives in career-high six runs (May 8)
Will Brennan produced two-thirds of Double-A Akron's runs in a 9-1 victory over Richmond, putting together some professional-best numbers in the process.

The 24-year-old went 3-for-5 with a career-high six RBIs. He started the scoring with an RBI double to left field in the first inning. In his second at-bat, Brennan crushed a three-run homer to center. The outfield prospect had to wait until his final at-bat in the ninth for his third hit, a two-run single to center. He fell a triple shy of the cycle.

Brennan was the 250th overall pick in the 2019 Draft, and he's slashing .337/.413/.500 in his third professional season. -- Ethan Sands

Williams tallies second double-digit strikeout performance (May 7)
Gavin Williams racked up his second 10-plus strikeout appearance in High-A Lake County's 2-0 victory over Dayton.

In the win, Cleveland's No. 7 prospect threw five scoreless innings allowing just two hits and walking two while striking out 10 batters.

This is the 22-year-old's best performance through five starts to begin his professional career. This is the second time that he's thrown over five innings and allowed no runs; the first was against Lansing on April 30.

This is the right-handed pitcher's first season in the professional system after being drafted with the 23rd overall pick in 2021.

Williams already had a double-digit strikeout count to his ledger when he fanned 11 on April 15 against the Dragons.

To begin his young career, Williams has tallied 39 strikeouts in five starts, which places him atop the Midwest League. -- Ethan Sands

Espino removed with right knee discomfort (April 30)
On the heels of a 14-strikeout outing in which he fanned the first 11 batters he faced, Daniel Espino wasn’t able to finish his start on Friday night with Double-A Akron in Altoona. After tossing 4 2/3 innings, Cleveland’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline was removed from the game due to right knee discomfort that flared up while he was covering first base.

According to Guardians manager Terry Francona, Espino felt the same discomfort in his previous outing, but was not removed from the game. He had undergone treatment on his knee all week leading up to Friday’s start.

“Sounds like he had patella tendinitis,” Francona said. “Think he was covering first and they didn't feel like he was moving really well. I think he's had some of that in the past.” -- Mandy Bell

Allen twirls six scoreless for Double-A Akron (April 27)
Logan Allen continued his torrid start to the year, posting his best outing yet. The left-hander worked around a pair of hits and three walks to toss six scoreless frames with six punchouts for Double-A Akron in a 2-1 loss to Altoona.

The eighth-ranked Guardians prospect retired the side in order in the third, fifth and sixth innings. He exited the game after throwing 95 pitches -- 61 were strikes.

Allen has not allowed more than two runs in any of his four starts this season. The 23-year-old sports a 2.11 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and a .187 average against over 21 1/3 frames this year. -- Rob Terranova

Noel's two homers key Captains victory (April 24)
Following up a 1-for-15 slide with a multhiit effort,  added a little more punch to his ledger. The 13th-ranked Cleveland prospect went deep twice, including a go-ahead three-run shot in the ninth to lead High-A Lake County past Great Lake, 9-6.

The Captains entered the ninth tied with the Loons, 6-6, after rallying from a six-run deficit. With two on and two outs, Noel took the first pitch over the left-center-field fence for his tie-breaking blast and his sixth career multihomer game. The 20-year-old's first long ball of the game in the sixth brought Lake County within a run.

Noel enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2021 when he batted .340/.390/.615 with 19 homers and 66 RBIs in 70 games across three Minor League levels. He's off to a .263/.383/.632 slash line with six extra-base hits, four homers and 11 RBIs in 12 games. -- Michael Avallone

Espino K's 11 straight to open game, finishes with 14 strikeouts (April 23)
Daniel Espino keeps his mind "blank" when he’s out on the mound. Even when he’s just struck out 11 straight batters to open a game for the Guardians’ Double-A affiliate, the Akron RubberDucks.

“That’s when I’m at my best,” said Espino, Cleveland’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and No. 52 overall. “That’s the key for me -- to just be in the flow of the game and trust what I’ve been working on in Spring Training and during the offseason.” Read more >>

Valera finds the seats in multihit effort (April 19)
There wasn't much to cheer about for Double-A Akron in a 20-6 loss to Bowie, except for the play of top Guardians prospect George Valera. The 21-year-old clubbed his second dinger of the year as part of a three-knock game with a pair of RBIs and two runs scored.

After lacing a base hit to right in the opening frame and coming around to score on a double by Will Brennan, Valera plated Jose Tena with a two-run jack to right-center in the fifth. MLB Pipeline's No. 46 overall prospect added a single to right in the sixth to secure his first three-hit effort since June 18, 2021 with High-A Lake County.

Valera is sporting a .280/.486/.600 slash line with three extra-base hits, nine walks, eight runs scored and four RBIs over nine games with the RubberDucks this season. -- Rob Terranova

Espino unhittable in second start (April 16)
No. 2 prospect Daniel Espino put on a show in the first game of Akron's Saturday afternoon doubleheader against Reading, tossing 4 2/3 hitless innings, walking three batters and striking out seven. The no-no continued after Espino's departure, for a full six innings -- a single to open the seventh inning would be the only hit allowed by an Akron pitcher in the team's 11-0 victory.

The 21-year-old right-hander has lived up to his ranking in Cleveland's stacked farm system thus far in 2022. His smooth transition to Double-A competition hasn't come as much of a surprise, however, following a 2021 season in which he struck out an astonishing 152 batters in 91 2/3 innings between Single-A and High-A. Espino showed how well his stuff already plays to big-league hitters in Spring Training, where his electric fastball topped out at 102 mph.

Williams dominates in second start (April 16)
There's a reason the most common name discussed throughout Minor League Spring Training was No. 7 prospect Gavin Williams. Every hitter who made their way through the media room noted that he was the most difficult hurler to face in live batting practice. Now two starts into his Minor League season with High-A Lake County, he's already proving why that was the case.

After four scoreless innings in his first start, Williams followed that performance with 11 strikeouts in 4 2/3 frames. Through 8 2/3 innings this season, he's already racked up 17 strikeouts with three walks.

Williams has a mid-to-high 90s heater that can easily hit triple digits. He spent the offseason improving his breaking pitches to make his arsenal even more deadly. When talking with people in Cleveland's player development staff or other prospects, the word "effortless" was often used when describing Williams on the mound. And if his success continues, it wouldn't be surprising to see him advance quickly through the Guardians' system.

"It definitely makes me smile a little bit when people are already talking about me," Williams said during Spring Training, "but I'm gonna try not to let that get to my head early. I still have a job to do; I haven't even gone through my first year, so I haven't really proved anything [to] anybody." -- Mandy Bell

Kwan keeps incredible whiff-less streak alive (April 12)
Steven Kwan has turned heads throughout the realms of baseball with his offensive performance this season. With another game in the books after the Guardians' 10-5 win over the Reds on Tuesday at Great American Ball Park, nothing has changed.

Cleveland's fifth-round pick from the 2018 MLB Draft out of Oregon State still has yet to swing and miss at the plate through his first five games at the Major League level, maintaining a professional streak that goes back to his time as a member of the Guardians' Triple-A affiliate in September 2021. More »

Kwan hasn't swung and missed yet in 2022 (April 11)
KANSAS CITY -- Is Cooperstown calling yet?

 has found himself in the brightest of all spotlights after a strong opening series to his first big league season, punctuated with his first career triple, two more walks and a little more history in the Guardians’ 10-7 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

With a triple and two walks (in addition to his 8-for-10 efforts entering the day), the club's No. 15 prospect has reached base 15 times in his first four MLB games -- the most any player has logged in his first four career games since at least 1901. Full story »

Kwan making strong first impression (April 10)
Steven Kwan
 may be everything the Guardians have been searching for over the last few seasons. The problem is, the team needs more than one spark in its lineup to start to see success.

Kwan has been in the Majors for all of two games, and has already captured the heart of the fanbase with his plate discipline, bat-to-ball skills, baserunning and defense -- all of which were on full display in Cleveland’s 1-0 extra-inning loss to Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.

Aside from the strong pitching the Guardians have received thus far, Kwan has been the lone source of optimism this season. It’s only been two games, which is a ridiculously small sample size, but in a time when some could easily get overwhelmed by the jump to the big leagues, Kwan has demonstrated each of the tools that the organization has raved about throughout his Minor League career, showing why it’s easy to believe he can have a successful career in the Majors. Full story »

Top pitching prospects off to dominant starts (April 9)
Daniel Espino and Xzavion Curry, Nos. 2 and 23 on the Guardians Top 30 Prospects list, respectively, were dominant in Double-A Akron's 3-2 loss to Erie.

Espino got the start and threw 40 of his 64 pitches for strikes. The right-hander yielded two runs on three hits, but also racked up nine strikeouts over four innings in his Double-A debut. Curry, making just his second career appearance at the Double-A level, followed up with 4 1/3 scoreless frames.

A seventh-round pick from the 2019 Draft, Curry threw 54 of his 81 pitches for strikes, gave up four hits, walked one and struck out seven. -- William Boor

Gonzalez “might really get dangerous” (April 1)
We knew it wasn’t going to be Oscar Gonzalez’s time just yet. Entering camp, there wasn’t an expectation that the 24-year-old was going to crack his way onto the Opening Day roster. This was merely a chance for him to be able to show the strides he’s made in his development since joining the organization in 2015.

And he’s given them a reason to dream.

Gonzalez had a good showing at camp even in his short period with the big league team, going 6-for-19 (.316) with two doubles, one homer and six RBIs. He split the 2021 season between Double- and Triple-A, owning a collective .293 average with an .871 OPS. Even in this short sample size, he looks like an answer the big league club has been searching for.

His biggest concern thus far is his strikeout rate. Even though he racked up 31 homers with 83 RBIs last year, he struck out 112 times in 121 games. While he’s certainly caught plenty of fans’ attention and has put himself on the club’s radar, he’ll just need to show improvement with his plate discipline before being able to take that next big step.

“There's a lot to like,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said of Gonzalez. “You look at the body. He's still kind of a work in progress, or I'd say he's more raw in the outfield. That's OK. He's pretty young. At the plate he's ultra-aggressive, but he also has the ability to drive the ball to right-center.

“He's never going to be a high walk guy, that's OK. But if he swings at enough good pitches, he might really get dangerous.” -- Mandy Bell

Valera tested in center field (March 25)
Guardians No. 2 prospect George Valera entered Friday’s 10-2 win against the Giants in center field in the bottom of the sixth as a defensive replacement and immediately went to work.

He caught a fly ball for the second out of the frame and later fielded a single to center field off the bat of Will Toffey. In the next inning, third baseman Jason Vosler smashed a double with a deep drive over Valera’s head. He later made an outstanding sliding catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Luis Gonzalez for the final out in the seventh.

Valera walked to lead off the top of the eighth and struck out in the ninth.

“We tell them all of the time that it doesn’t matter what inning they play in, it’s an honor to play in a Major League game,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “The young kids have done a good job. They come in and they have some enthusiasm and that helps us.” -- Jesse Sanchez