3 Guardians prospects who aren't ready for Cleveland just yet
The Cleveland Guardians called up an unprecedented 17 players last season who made their major-league debuts. Anyone that was ranking in Triple-A was going to get a call-up, and they didn’t have to wait until the end of the season to get the call to the show. This season already, two pitchers - Tim Herrin and Peyton Battenfield - have made their first appearance with the big-league club. Herrin earned a spot in the bullpen out of spring training, while Battenfield was nabbed to replace Aaron Civale in the starting rotation for the time being.
But there are so many top prospects banging on the door at Columbus for an opportunity to prove that their insane performances in the minors is just the cusp of their talents. Ten of Cleveland’s top 11 prospects are at Double-A or higher right now, with ETAs all listed as this season (aside from Angel Martinez). The Guardians' stockpile of top prospects over the last few years as they slowly built up one of the best farm systems in the league is just about ready to pay off at the major-league level.
But plenty of positions on the team are filled, clogging the top level of the system and blocking these top guys from making their way up to MLB. The entire field is taken care of, with only the third catcher spot, a few bullpen roles and maybe a utility bench player spot up for grabs. Add to that the fact that Triston McKenzie and Civale are likely to come back from injury before July and those ten guys waiting in the wings better get comfortable.
Here are three of Cleveland’s top, most exciting prospects who will still be in the minor leagues when the calendar flips to July.
What’s frustrating about this likely reality is that Bibee has been absolutely dominating the minor leagues. Actually, he’s been nearly perfect through two starts in Columbus, compiling a microscopic 1.76 ERA while allowing just eight hits and eight walks while striking out 19 batters. The 24-year old California State-Fullerton product has literally gotten better as he’s climbed the Guardians’ minor-league system, slicing his ERA, WHIP and batting average against each time he’s jumped up a level over the past two years. Fast-tracking him has worked so far, so why not continue that to Cleveland?
Well, he’s only pitched in 28 professional games and was drafted in 2021. There’s still plenty of seasoning to go, even if he has been absolutely spectacular in Columbus through three outings. For me, it’s not that there’s a glaring statistic that Bibee needs to work on or a mechanical issue that’s going to get manipulated at the major-league level. I simply think he hasn’t been in the system long enough for the Guardians to be comfortable enough to call him up and entrust him with a spot start, let alone a permanent role in the rotation.
He’s butting into the fact that Battenfield is already up and Logan Allen has more experience at Triple-A than him. Cleveland rarely reaches for guys and opts to let them season for a while in the minors before starting their clock and bringing them up to the majors. Bibee only has 15 1/3 innings pitched with the Clippers, so I’d expect the Guardians to wait a little longer to ensure the fast start isn’t just a fluke.
Another victim of the major-league roster being clogged up is Rocchio, who at just 22 years old is following up his 33 games in Columbus last season with a stellar .344/.414/.459 slash line through just 15 games. Rocchio was a long shot to make the major-league roster out of spring training but didn’t impress enough to jump players like Gabriel Arias or Will Brennan. He’s likely to take over an infield position at some point, but I don’t foresee it being anytime this season, though if he continues to tear it up in Columbus, it’ll be hard to argue against him getting called up to actually play (he was called up as an insurance option this week in Detroit).
Rocchio, like Bibee, might need more time to marinate at Columbus before the Guardians are confident enough to start his clock and call him up. The other issue for Rocchio, aside from the fact that the infield is basically locked down and Arias is trying to hit his way into the lineup, is that Tyler Freeman already made his major-league debut but lost out to Arias for the utility job out of spring training.
The wrinkle here is that Amed Rosario and Freeman are both nursing injuries at the moment, so Rocchio's chance could come sooner than later, but a true, full-time look is likely a year away.
Don’t let the slashline fool you. Since starting the season with an 0-for-18 slump, dwarfing the slow start of Josh Bell, Jhonkensy Noel has quickly pulled the nose up on his April campaign and has since gathered a .308 batting average with two doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs. He’s the next big bopper that, in a perfect world, was going to be platooning at first base with Bobby Bradley or Franmil Reyes. He’s never going to be someone who hits for average, nor will he walk more than he strikes out, but he’s already collected 70 home runs and 238 RBIs in his minor-league career, spanning 328 games.
There’s just really no need on the roster for a power bat that can only play the corner spots and designated hitter. Bell and Josh Naylor have those positions locked up, and Jose Ramirez isn’t going anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if Noel becomes a trade piece, because Cleveland has plenty of players who can back up those positions. The team also isn’t one to hang on to players who are all-or-nothing home run or strikeout-type players. Think about how long Bradley, Mark Reynolds and Mike Napoli lasted.
With Noel on the 40-man roster, there’s no need to rush him to the majors and face pitching that’s going to quickly find holes in his swing and destroy his confidence. Cleveland loves to call up versatile players who can plug holes across the field. That’s not Noel, but he could eventually provide some much-needed pop to a lineup that severely lacks it.