Guardians' next big arms emerging at camp

March 24th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In the past three years, the Guardians have traded Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, who have combined for three Cy Young Awards, four All-Star Game berths and 319 big league victories. Yet starting pitching has remained a strength in Cleveland, thanks to the farm system's ability to keep churning out arms.

The Guardians famously drafted 60 percent of their current rotation in 2016, when they stole Shane Bieber in the fourth round, Aaron Civale in the third and Zach Plesac in the 12th. Triston McKenzie, a supplemental first-round pick in 2015, fills another starting role. And the system features wave after wave of candidates on the horizon.

In 2022, Logan Allen (second round, 2020), Cody Morris (seventh, 2018), Peyton Battenfield and Tobias Myers (acquired in separate trades with the Rays last year) could push for spots in the rotation. Daniel Espino (first, 2019) headlines a 2023 contingent that also includes Tanner Burns (supplemental first, 2020) and Xzavion Curry (seventh, 2019). A raft of college pitchers drafted last July led by Gavin Williams (first), Doug Nikhazy (second) and Tommy Mace (supplemental second) could be ready in 2024.

"We're really excited about what we have when we dig in on those guys," Cleveland assistant GM James Harris said. "Enhancing pitch characteristics is our bread and butter. We make guys more of themselves and it's allowed us to have that consistency with our pitching."

The next in-house member of the rotation may be Allen, a two-way star at Florida International who was one of the most polished pitchers in the 2020 college class. He mixes three pitches, highlighted by a plus slider and a low-90s fastball that plays up thanks to the extension in his delivery and his command. In his pro debut last summer, he led the system with a 2.26 ERA and advanced to Double-A.

"He just knows how to use his stuff," Harris said. "He competes and throws strikes. We really like his changeup, his fastball velocity went up 1 or 2 mph and his slider is there too. He's an uncomfortable at-bat for left-handers and really understands how to pitch."

Not only is Espino the Guardians' best pitching prospect, he's their best since CC Sabathia was emerging two decades ago. He struck out 152 in 91 2/3 innings between Single-A and High-A during his 2021 full-season debut and may arrive before 2023. In a back-fields game Monday, Espino struck out seven of the 10 Reds batters he faced, including big leaguer Nick Senzel twice -- first with a 102-mph fastball, then with a 93-mph slider.

"He's always had a big fastball and his consistency and command are getting better," Harris said. "His slider is keeping people guessing and he has been able to control it better. He has maturity to go with this stuff too.

"He comes to work every day and not only does his work, but he inspires other people to do their work. When you put that with averaging 97-98 mph, that's going to play and play soon."

Camp standout: Angel Martinez
The son of former big league catcher Sandy Martinez, Angel has a high baseball IQ that quickly made him an organization favorite after he signed for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. A switch-hitting infielder, he made the jump to Low-A at age 19 last season and batted .241/.319/.382. He added muscle to his 6-foot frame during the offseason and upgraded several aspects of his game.

"He has really worked hard at developing his body," Harris said. "He's impacting the ball a lot more this spring. He's got a lot stronger arm now, so you'll see him more at shortstop this year."

Breakout potential: Petey Halpin
Speaking of organization favorites, Halpin impressed the Guardians with his raw pop during batting practice at the 2019 High School All-Star Game in Cleveland and with his constant energy since signing for an above-slot $1,525,000 in the third round that summer. A center fielder, he's an advanced hitter with developing power and plus speed who batted .294/.363/.425 as a 19-year-old in Low-A last season.

"He's playing very well this spring," Harris said. "He's impacting the ball and playing a very good center field. And he's such a fierce competitor who's full go all the time."

Something to prove: Bo Naylor
Half of the only Canadian brother tandem to both go in the first round -- older brother Josh is an outfielder on the big league roster -- Naylor entered pro ball in 2018 with a reputation as a gifted hitter with questions about his future position. He has surprised on both fronts, developing into the best defensive catcher in the system but also batting .189 with a 31 percent strikeout rate in Double-A last year.

"You can see a difference in him in confidence this spring," Harris said. "He lives out here and he's been at our facility quite a lot in the offseason. It's more about finding his pitch to hit.

"In Double-A, you get pitched to and they attack your weaknesses. It's more a tactical thing than a technical thing with Bo. And he didn't let it affect his defense."