It’s no secret that the Cleveland Guardians are letting the kids play, and if we are being honest – I freakin’ love it! I’m glad the organization is getting extended looks at these guys, and as much of a bummer as it was at the trade deadline, not making a move was probably the best thing (though another bullpen arm would’ve been so clutch).
So as the club inches closer and closer to the club record, set in 1922, of 16 player debuts, let’s take a look back at each of the 14 prospects who have made their MLB debut thus far this season.
Steven Kwan (April 9): What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Kwan? He’s been an instant spark to this lineup since day one. Now that he’s claimed the leadoff spot for good, his value has seemingly only increased over the course of the season. Kwan has also made some truly awe-inspiring, highlight-reel plays in the field, too. He should certainly receive some ROY consideration. Oh, and one last thing, take a look at Tony Gwynn’s stats through his first two seasons (1982 and 1983, a span of 140 games) – Kwan’s 2022 season mirrors it pretty closely.
Bryan Lavastida (April 10): Lavastida didn’t get a long look early in the season, but was critical in giving the club some much-needed depth. He only has 12 MLB at-bats to his name, but still remains a piece the club will likely count on to a much higher degree, probably as early as the start of next season (I think he keeps the seat warm for prospect Bo Naylor in early April).
Konnor Pilkington (April 15): There’s a theme among the pitchers who have made their debut this season. Most have been thrown to the wolves, so don’t put too much stock into their major-league numbers. Before making his debut with the parent club, Konnor had never pitched at the Triple-A level, so who knows, maybe Pilkington becomes the lefty the rotation has seemingly been missing since 2009.
Gabriel Arias (April 20): Acquired in the Mike Clevinger trade with San Diego, Arias has consistently ranked in the Guardians’ top prospect lists, and is currently ranked #11 in the system by MLB.com. He only appeared in six games before being sent back to Columbus, and though his overall stats haven’t been what the organization would hope for, he has quietly been putting up some strong numbers of late. The big question, like many other middle infielders in the system, is where he ultimately fits in the club’s plans moving forward.
Tanner Tully (April 22): Tully has only appeared in six innings, so if you’re asking yourself who he is, don’t worry, you are forgiven. Tully is another lefty, and has been getting some work down in Columbus. He’s likely destined to be a depth piece, but as we know all too well, you can simply never have enough pitching.
Kirk McCarty (April 24): This poor guy. Talking about being thrown to the wolves, McCarty has made three starts for the club, two of which came against the Yankees. In both games, he got roughed up pretty badly. Since then he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, released, and then reclaimed by the Guardians. In his appearances since rejoining he has pitched out of the pen with better results.
Richie Palacios (April 25): Palacios predominantly played in left while up with the club, but showcased his versatility and athleticism while donning the Guardians uniform. Plus he gets like a +2 WAR simply based on the Rec-Specs alone!
Oscar Gonzalez (May 26): O-Gon rakes! The combination of average and extra-base hits that Gonzalez has provided likely made the DFA of Franmil Reyes an easier pill to swallow. Not to mention, he has 18 multi-hit games in less than 50 games played. His defense, which was seen as a liability, has been a pleasant surprise as well, as he currently has six assists.
Nolan Jones (July 8): Jones is finally getting a chance to show fans why he was such a highly touted prospect (still ranked sixth overall in the system) for so many years. Though he has only seen time in right field and DH (and just got sent back down to Triple-A), hopefully the club can get a look at him at first base as well. In his limited time, Jones has shown some flashes of pop and a rocket cannon arm in the field.
Alex Call (July 11): Things to know about Alex Call: He was acquired from the White Sox following the 2018 season in exchange for Yonder Alonso. He appeared in 16 games while a member of the Guardians, and had 16 plate appearances. Call was released and now plays for the Nationals.
Will Benson (August 1): Benson was the then-Indians’ first selection of the 2016 draft, and thus far he has shown some flashes as to why. It’s no secret that Benson is extremely athletic, but on the other hand he’s still a bit raw. He also has a history of needing time adjusting to a new level, so don’t panic just yet when looking at his numbers.
Tyler Freeman (August 3): Freeman hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time thus far, but the book on him is that he will most definitely hit. Again, his sample size is small but I’d love to see more of him at second with Andres Gimenez manning shortstop. That could be a nice duo for years to come. MLB.com still ranks Freeman as the Guardians’ tenth-best prospect.
Hunter Gaddis (August 5): Gaddis is physically intimidating presence on the mound. The righty stands 6’6″ and weights 260 lbs. Drafted in 2019, Gaddis has ascended the minors in rather quick fashion. While pitching between High-A Lake County and Triple-A Columbus over the past two seasons, he’s racked up 253 strikeouts in 193 2/3 innings.
Xzavion Curry (August 15): Curry has also rocketed through the system, playing for five teams over the course of the last two seasons. In his only major-league appearance, he pitched fairly well. There are certainly things he will need to work on in order to become a mainstay on the roster, but based on his history and prospect status (ranked 13th in the organization), it would be a shock to see him not at least carve out a spot in the bullpen.
As I alluded to earlier, we could very likely see the club tie or even surpass the 16 debuts made during the 1922 season. Let’s not forget that Peyton Battenfield was recently called up to fill in for James Karinchak while the team was in Toronto. Cody Morris is coming back from injury and could be a bullpen addition come September as well. Logan T. Allen may also get the tap on the shoulder to head up I-71 from Columbus. Not as likely, but Will Brennan may also have his number called.
Ideally, by season’s end the front office can feel comfortable knowing it has found three or four contributors from this group. If I had to make judgements on this group, it appears that Kwan and Gonzalez are locks for everyday playing time moving forward, and a number of these pitchers could be contributors as well.
With another wave of prospects still on their way, if they can find an additional 5-7 pieces over the next season or two, then this club will surely be stacked for years to come.