The pitching factory is alive and well for the Cleveland Guardians

Adam Roberts
Akron RubberDucks pitcher Daniel Espino warms up between innings against the Erie SeaWolves at UPMC Park in Erie on April 9, 2022.P7seawolves040922
Akron RubberDucks pitcher Daniel Espino warms up between innings against the Erie SeaWolves at UPMC Park in Erie on April 9, 2022.P7seawolves040922 /
Akron RubberDucks pitcher Daniel Espino warms up between innings against the Erie SeaWolves at UPMC Park in Erie on April 9, 2022.P7seawolves040922
Akron RubberDucks pitcher Daniel Espino warms up between innings against the Erie SeaWolves at UPMC Park in Erie on April 9, 2022.P7seawolves040922 /

Cleveland is well-reputed as a strong producer of elite pitching at the major-league level. Let’s check out some up-and-comers who could be making waves with the Guardians in the future.

Cleveland knows pitching. For a team that unearthed multiple gems and a couple Hall of Fame-caliber batters in the glory days of the 1990s, the onus for the franchise has shifted to developing top-flight pitchers, while winning a Cy Young every couple of years. The system that has produced the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber has a reputation across the game of baseball as one of the elite pitching factories.

As we watch the Guardians play a sporadic brand of baseball, the factory is currently working as 2022 carries towards the summer months. A couple of well-known prospects are bolstering their stock in Cleveland’s system, and some less-heralded names are working to gain legitimate recognition amongst the faithful off the coast of Lake Erie.

Let’s check out some of the up-and-comers who could be taking the bump in Cleveland in the future.

Daniel Espino: No. 1 Prospect (No. 11 Overall)

Daniel Espino might currently be the best pitching prospect in Minor League Baseball. With the Double-A Akron Rubber Ducks, the 21-year-old has ripped off a 2.45 ERA over 18 1/3 innings of work. He’s also struck out 35 while only walking four batters. In his third outing of the year, Espino struck out 14 batters in five innings on only 66 pitches thrown (49 of which were strikes).

Espino has relied on a truly electric four-seam fastball, which tops out as high as 103 mph. He has the ability to consistently throw it in the high 90s deep into outings, and can blow hitters away when pairing it with two strong breaking balls in his slider and curveball. Espino’s slider can average plus horizontal break or can be dropped with plus vertical movement, making it an extremely difficult secondary weapon for batters to square up. His curveball also grades out as a good secondary offering, giving depth to his arsenal.

Although currently on the IL, Espino figures to be back with Akron soon, if not Columbus in the near future. If the Guardians rotation runs into road bumps or incurs any lengthy injuries, the flame-throwing righty could fit into the major-league picture sooner rather than later.

Gavin Williams: No. 7 Prospect

2021 first-round draft pick Gavin Williams has shot up prospect rankings leading into his first full season of action in the Guardians system. Starting in out in High-A Lake County, Williams has quickly shown the quality of his arsenal, racking up 52 strikeouts in 35 innings, while only allowing an average against of .148.

Even only having scratched the surface with the Captains, Williams has the kind of stuff that could play in the upper levels of the minors. His primary weapon is a mid-to-upper 90s four-seamer, with the ability to push it into the triple digits on occasion. Although his secondary pitches are still developing in comparison to his fastball, Williams can throw serviceable power curves, sliders, and changeups, giving him a similar profile to Daniel Espino in terms of his offerings.

It is obvious that it will take Williams some time to reach Cleveland, but if he is able to continue pitching the way he is, he won’t take long to climb the system. Paired with Espino, the youngster could help form a dynamic 1-2 dual ace tandem in the Guardians rotation in the next couple of seasons.

Logan T. Allen: No. 8 Prospect

The second of his name to pitch in Cleveland’s system over the last couple of years, Logan T. Allen has turned himself into one of the most anticipated starters climbing the organizational ladder in Cleveland. Whereas Espino and Williams have electric power pitches to rely on, Allen banks on innate pitching savvy and a good delivery to keep hitters off-balance.

Through his first eight starts, Allen has thrown 43 1/3 innings, crafting a 3.74 ERA and striking out 62 against only 13 walks. Although some statistical regression from his stellar 2021 season was to be expected, the young southpaw has still pitched reasonably well against the strong competition at Double-A, and has surrendered more than two runs in just two of his eight starts.

Allen throws a four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. He lacks overpowering velocity, but compensates with good command and placement on the four-seamer and breaking stuff while having strong fade on his change. His ability to mix pitches and keep hitters off-balance helps him generate strikeouts and weak contact.

With Espino and Williams as the presumable co-aces of the future, Allen could potentially slot in as a third starter who provides a strong pitching IQ and deepens the rotation. He’s not going to throw seven shutout innings each outing, but he could be the kind of starter who’s good for a quality appearance nearly every time he takes the bump.

Xzavion Curry: No. 22 Prospect

Xzavion Curry came on out of nowhere in 2021 and has looked to continue his ascension through the system here in 2022. Hailing from Georgia Tech by way of a 2019 seventh-round pick, he dominated nearly every team he faced, and made a name for himself as someone to watch in the lower levels of Cleveland’s system.

In 2022, Curry has pitched to a 2-1 record, notching a 4.03 ERA across 38 innings of work. He’s made seven starts and one relief appearance for the Rubber Ducks.

Curry is a fastball-first type of pitcher, featuring a plus mid-90s four-seamer that is tough for hitters to square up. He also features a developing slider, as well as a curveball and changeup that both need some seasoning. With his fastball and good command of his arsenal, Curry is able to generate weak contact and strikeouts, garnering 47 Ks so far this year, and 123 across 97 2/3 innings a year ago.

Curry will need to further develop his secondary offerings to make it higher in the system, but he has shown that he could be a potential future starter for the Guardians. He could also make it as a reliever, giving him two different paths to ascend closer to Cleveland in the coming seasons.

Joey Cantillo: Unranked Prospect

Joey Cantillo has started making a name for himself as another strong addition to the home-run haul Cleveland brought back from the Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade. With the Rubber Ducks, the young southpaw has gone 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 28 innings of work.

Cantillo missed much of his 2021 season with abdominal issues, but has looked healthy early in 2022. He’s only allowed a .180 average against on the year, and has worked a 1.11 WHIP. He’s also limited opposing batters to only 18 hits, but has allowed 13 walks, showing that he does have areas for improvement.

The 22 year-old throws a low-90s four-seam fastball while featuring a good changeup and a developing curveball. The fastball has good natural movement and run, and should see an uptick in velocity as Cantillo continues to progress through the system. His changeup is good for swings and misses due to its natural fading action, while playing well off the heat.

Cantillo will need more work getting stretched out and completely back to form following his unusual 2021 season, but he profiles as a potential middle-of-the-rotation option for the Guardians within the next couple of seasons. With his upside, along with the other blossoming acquisitions that came to Cleveland, the Mike Clevinger trade gets a little sweeter everyday.

Tanner Bibee: Unranked Prospect

High-A starter Tanner Bibee has quietly put together a strong start to his 2022 season with Lake County. The 2021 fifth-round pick has pitched to a 1.60 ERA over seven starts, covering 33 2/3 innings.

Bibee hasn’t generated the same name recognition as the likes of Gavin Williams or Tommy Mace, but he has shown the potential to be a starter at higher levels in the system. He’s displayed excellent control and good use of his stuff, striking out 52 batters while only walking six. Bibee has also spun a 0.98 WHIP, showing that he can keep men off the basepaths.

Bibee features four pitches in his repertoire, with his primary pitch being a mid-90s four-seamer. He also features a slider, curveball, and changeup. The 23-year-old doesn’t possess top-notch stuff in terms of velocity or other metrics, but his command allows him to utilize all of his weapons effectively and generate weak contact. Since his college days, he has also tapped into more strikeouts, giving him a solid profile as a potential fourth or fifth starter in the rotation.