3 Guardians prospects making noise and moving up

June 16th, 2024

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.

The Guardians have exceeded expectations so far this season, sitting 20 games over .500 (44-24) entering play on Sunday. But no matter how well they’ve played, it’s always important to see who is waiting in the pipeline.

Cleveland has seen a handful of promotions in its Minor League system already, aside from the Major League callups like Kyle Manzardo (No. 2 prospect), Daniel Schneemann or Johnathan Rodriguez (No. 16 prospect). Who has made the most noise? Who could be the next to make their big league debut? Let’s take a look.

LHP Matt “Tugboat” Wilkinson
Ah, yes, the nickname that exploded on social media when he struck out 15 batters in six innings with Single-A Lynchburg on April 25. And when he was promoted to High-A Lake County on May 21, the jokes about the Captains getting their Tugboat couldn’t be avoided.

But this hurler is more than just a catchy nickname. His 15-strikeout performance put him on the map, however the outing was not a fluke. He owned a 1.12 ERA in eight starts with Lynchburg before getting moved up to High-A. In four starts with his new squad, he’s given up a few more runs (as expected with any transition to higher competition), but he’s still pitched to a 3.79 ERA thus far. His ridiculous strikeout ratio of 99 K’s in 59 1/3 innings (combined between both levels) is more than attractive and he’s held opponents to just a .176 average in his 12 outings.

RHP Andrew Walters (Guardians’ No. 24 prospect)
Another week, another blurb on Walters. We’ve talked about him all season long, but there are reasons for that. Walters has a chance to make his big league debut this season after being drafted just 11 months ago in Competitive Balance Round B (No. 62 overall). He was a dominant closer at the University of Miami -- so much so that the Guardians were comfortable starting him in Double-A Akron to begin his professional career.

In 17 appearances with the RubberDucks, he owned a 1.35 ERA, striking out 38 batters with eight walks in 20 innings. He quickly earned a promotion to Triple-A Columbus, where he faced some adversity for the first time. But after a shaky first outing with the Clippers on May 30, in which he surrendered four runs in one inning, he settled back in and had three consecutive scoreless appearances.

Walters can hit triple digits on the radar gun and he pounds the strike zone. His profile would mix in seamlessly with the dominant bullpen the Guardians have boasted all season long. But can Walters continue to show that he’s ready for the Majors just one year removed from college? This summer will give us that answer.

1B C.J. Kayfus (Guardians’ No. 28 prospect)
The last time we checked in on Kayfus, he was dominating for Lake County. Now, he’s dominating in Akron.

Kayfus gave his organization no choice but to give him a bigger challenge after hitting .338 with a 1.015 OPS, 12 doubles, two triples, seven homers and 37 RBIs in 40 games in High-A. So on June 3, he was sent to Double-A to see if that success could continue. In his first 10 games, he did just that and more.

Kayfus has yet to struggle with the tougher competition, hitting .387 with a 1.125 OPS, two doubles, one triple, one homer and 10 RBIs in his first 10 games with Akron. Maybe the Guardians have a bit of a logjam at first base right now with both Josh Naylor and Manzardo in the mix, but the team is always looking for another consistent bat. The 22-year-old first baseman isn’t on the radar for 2024, but if he continues to hit the way he has so far this season, he could bump up his projected 2026 arrival to the Majors, according to MLB Pipeline, to 2025.

To close out every Pipeline Newsletter, we go around the horn and hit on a standout player from every part of Cleveland’s farm system. Since we already touched on Triple-A, Double-A and High-A, let’s give some love to Single-A, too:

Single-A Lynchburg
LHP Alex Clemmey hasn’t been promoted just yet, but he may be heating up. On Wednesday, he turned in his second consecutive home start with eight strikeouts. The Guardians’ second-round pick from last year has a 1.59 ERA over his past four outings.