HOUSTON -- The Guardians didn’t acquire too much help for the 2023 season by trading away shortstop Amed Rosario, starter Aaron Civale and first baseman Josh Bell before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, but they’re hopeful that the two prospects they added to their organization -- both of whom rank in the club's top 15 -- will be helpful in the future.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the two newest members of Cleveland’s farm system.
Kahlil Watson, 2B/SS, High-A Lake County
Pipeline scouting report: A candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2021 Draft on a below-slot deal to the Pirates, Watson instead slipped all the way to the Marlins at No. 16 amid signability and makeup concerns. Signed for $4,540,790, he batted .232/.296/.395 with a 35 percent strikeout rate in Single-A during his first full pro season in 2022 and was demoted for a month after making a threatening gesture toward an umpire in July. He was posting similar numbers in High-A this year before Miami traded him to Cleveland.
Watson, the Guardians' No. 15 prospect, still possesses the physical ability that enchanted the Marlins. He has a smooth left-handed swing, plenty of bat speed and sneaky strength that led to at least solid raw power and well-above-average speed. But he won't come close to realizing his potential if he can't learn to make better swing decisions and stop getting himself out at the plate, and he also needs to do a better job of controlling his emotions.
An explosive athlete, Watson has the quickness to be a dynamic basestealer and cover plenty of ground at shortstop. He has nice infield actions and plus arm strength, but needs to develop more consistency after making 14 errors in 51 games at short last season. He was more reliable at second base, and that also has been the case in 2023.
Organizational fit: It will be a few years before Watson gets into the big league mix. The Guardians need offensive depth in their system, especially hitters who have power potential. Watson may be able to fill that type of need. Cleveland has an overwhelming number of middle infielders in the Minors, however most are quickly making their way to the Majors. By the time Watson would be ready, the Guardians may not have the same level of depth at shortstop or second base and he could be needed at either of those positions. But with his athleticism, he may end up moving around the diamond, which is something the Guardians value tremendously.
Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Triple-A Columbus
Pipeline scouting report: Washington State's first All-America position player since John Olerud 33 years earlier, Manzardo established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the 2021 college class by batting .366/.437/.640 with more extra-base hits (31) than strikeouts (29) that spring. Manzardo, the Guardians' No. 3 prospect, continued to rake after signing with the Rays as a second-rounder that July, ranking second in the Minors in OPS (1.043) while advancing to Double-A during his first full season in 2022. He didn't dominate as much in Triple-A this year before Tampa Bay traded him to the Guardians for Civale at the end of July.
The left-handed slugger can be a hitting coach’s dream. Utilizing a relatively quiet setup at the plate, he often sees pitches out of the hand well and makes impressive swing decisions, thus cutting down on strikeouts, while maintaining healthy walk rate. His hitting performance was remarkably consistent following his first jump to the upper Minors, strengthening the belief that he could threaten for multiple Major League seasons around (or exceeding) a .300 average. Unlike many at his position, Manzardo is hit over power with exit velocities that don’t typically pop off the page, but his ability to find the barrel has helped drive his slugging ability to this point.
The Rays worked with the 23-year-old on improving his strength, conditioning and agility, in the hopes of unlocking more power and making him more mobile at first base. He has made steady progress in his ability to make defensive plays at first, but even if he can increase his range a touch, a below-average arm will keep him there. Still, Manzardo’s Minor League profile has similarities to Vinnie Pasquantino’s in his ability to clear the high offensive bar for a first-base prospect.
Organizational fit: Now that Bell is in Miami, the Guardians have more of an opportunity at first base for Manzardo in 2024. When Josh Naylor is the DH, Manzardo can play first and vice versa. The biggest void that Manzardo can fill is Cleveland’s lack of power. In 2022, he hit 22 homers in 93 games. But with his power comes a pretty consistent bat, which could just be a much-needed boost for this offense overall. He’s coming off of a shoulder strain now and will likely finish the year in Triple-A. But when he comes into Spring Training in '24, he’ll be competing for a big league roster spot.