Guardians add prep catcher Velazquez to deep farm system

Cleveland also tabs RHP Clemmey, LHP Walters to round out Day 1 selections in MLB Draft

July 10th, 2023

The Guardians already have the fourth-best farm system in the Majors, according to MLB Pipeline. Now, they’re hoping they’re even better.

The Guardians made their first-round selection of the 2023 MLB Draft, selecting 18-year-old catcher/first baseman Ralphy Velazquez out of Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School with the 23rd overall pick in Round 1 on Sunday night. Velazquez is currently committed to Arizona State University.

Cleveland also tabbed high school left-hander Alex Clemmey with the 58th pick in Round 2 and right-hander Andrew Walters from the University of Miami (Fla.) with the 62nd pick in Competitive Balance Round B.

“We’re super excited to be able to add Ralphy, Alex and Andrew,” Guardians vice president of scouting Paul Gillispie said. “We’re super excited about these three.”

As rich as their system was coming into the night, catching is one of its weakest spots. The last time the Guardians drafted a catcher in the first round was 2018, when they selected (No. 29 overall). Now that Naylor is becoming a permanent fixture in the big leagues, that leaves plenty of space in the farm system for new, exciting up-and-coming catchers to make their mark.

Velazquez could do just that, assuming he remains behind the plate. His size is likely the first thing people will notice. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 215 pounds. But then comes his bat.

This season for his high school squad, the lefty-hitting Velazquez played in 30 games and hit .402 with six homers, eight doubles, a triple, a .525 on-base percentage and a .706 slugging percentage during his senior season, as he helped lead his team to a National High School Invitational title.

“He was a mainstay on the summer showcase circuit,” Gillispie said. “He really stands out for his bat, ability to hit, control the strikeout, feel to hit -- not only for average, but also power. Just really impressive track record of success.”

According to MLB Pipeline, Velazquez’s bat and arm strength are his greatest tools. His consistency at the plate has been impressive and he showed an ability to make hard contact even when elite pitching is on the rubber.

Many believe he has plenty more power to tap into.

Velazquez isn’t known for his speed, but he is still a solid athlete with the potential to stick behind the plate. MLB Pipeline believes Velazquez’s arm strength and leadership traits are two big reasons why he should at least get the opportunity to start his pro career as a catcher. He has the ability to play first base, if needed.

“Ralphy is somewhat new to the catcher position,” Gillispie said. “He hasn’t been doing it for very long, but he’s shown some upside there, and some promise there. But he also has played the corners, as well.

"Looking forward to getting him in the organization and partnering with him to explore the defensive versatility that he has.”

Velazquez joins Nick Pratto (2017) and Hank Conger (2006) as first-round picks out of Huntington Beach High School.

Round 2, No. 58 overall: LHP Alex Clemmey, Bishop Hendricken (R.I.)
There’s no better organization to develop a 17-year-old hurler with electric stuff than the Guardians.

Cleveland has been able to master pitching development, as we’ve seen with Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams over the last handful of years. Clemmey could be one of the names everyone is talking about in a few short years, as he already has one of the most impressive fastballs in this prep class.

The 6-foot-6 Clemmey's heater can already touch 99 mph. The fastball has elite-level spin rates and can ride up in the zone. He pairs it with a “slurvy breaking ball,” as MLB Pipeline describes it, and a newly added changeup.

“The thing about Alex, not only is his work ethic off the charts,” Gillispie said, “he has a really good understanding for not only his body and his delivery but also, especially for a high school kid, really advanced understanding of pitch design.

"I think that’s something as he continues to develop and continues to use that changeup in situations where he might need it ... it’s something he knows can be a difference maker for him in the future.”

His arsenal is impressive, but the reason Clemmey didn’t go until the second round is that he has some inconsistencies in his delivery that have led to some command issues. But again, only being 17 and now in an organization that’s primed to lead hurlers down the right path, this could be a perfect match for the Guardians.

“Thinking about how Alex stands out, it’s just the ability to know himself,” Gilispie said. “Really advanced feel for his mechanics and the way his body moves.”  

Clemmey is currently committed to Vanderbilt University.

Competitive Balance Round B, No. 62 overall: RHP Andrew Walters, University of Miami
Walters was an impressive and consistent reliever for Miami. After beginning his career at Eastern Florida State College, he moved to Miami after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Walters, who was among the Division I leaders with saves at the end of the 2022 season, was originally taken by the Orioles in the 18th round of the MLB Draft in '22, but he opted to head back to his collegiate team. This season, he owned a 1.21 ERA with a whopping 72 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings.

Although Walters was strictly a reliever in college, the Guardians aren’t ready to pigeonhole him to a specific role just yet.

“He has had a really successful career as a reliever,” Gillispie said. “He’s been durable. He’s been successful. He’s thrown a ton of strikes. That’s a role he’s really done well in. At the same time, he has a lot of things he does well. He has a super unique fastball. He throws a ton of strikes. His delivery and arm action work really well. I don’t think we’d rule out anything.”

A strikeout machine, Walters will pair well with the Guardians' pitching development staff. His heater sits around 95 mph and can touch 99 mph. According to MLB Pipeline, the deception in his delivery and the life up in the zone help him miss bats.

Walters has a slider that he’s added into his pitch mix, but it’s not as effective as his heater. He has pinpoint command, walking fewer than two batters per nine innings in 2022 and ’23.