The Cleveland Guardians called up 17 prospects in 2022. That number should be lower in 2023, but to return to the playoffs, a rookie will no doubt factor in as a spark to get there. Who is the early front-runner for that spark?
Recently, MLB listed its top 100 prospects heading into 2023, and the Guardians had seven representatives. Even after the surge of youth called up to the majors in 2022, the seven players represent the second-most for any franchise in MLB. One of the players, Bo Naylor, is expected to break camp with the Guardians and be a factor all season.
Most recently, the Guardians swapped prospect outfielders with the Cincinnati Reds. To make an impact in 2023, the young prospects need more than just talent, they'll need opportunity. The Will Benson trade previews a log jam of young outfielders who will be fighting for reps at the big-league level. So who amongst the many will make the biggest impact in 2023?
The prospect that I'll be expecting to enter the MLB roster mid-summer is RHP Gavin Williams. Currently, Williams is ranked as the 42nd MLB prospect, and was a 2021 first-round pick by the Guardians. Williams has been a fast riser, and after two professional seasons finds himself already in Double-A Akron. With the Guardians' penchant for drafting and developing strong starting pitching, Williams is certainly on track.
In 2022, the Guardians used 12 different starters. Granted, Bryan Shaw was in there twice, but the point remains that the five starters on the opening roster won't be all that's relied upon in 2023. Gavin Williams' ascent has been fast, and by mid-summer, with the trade deadline approaching, his performance in Columbus may factor into the Guardians using some veteran pitchers with less options as trade chips.
In 2022, Williams' MiLB line was 5-4, 1.96 ERA, 115 IP, 0.96 WHIP, and 149 Ks with 40 BBs. Having demonstrated superior control is already a trait that makes him MLB ready. The concern for Williams is the development of his secondary pitches in order to have the same success when he arrives in MLB.
Williams is a power arm whose fastball can hit triple digits, and remain as high as 97 mph late in games. Having an elite first pitch like his fastball also allows the Guardians to use him out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations during the playoffs or late in the season. The longer he stays in the Guardians organization, the more his secondary pitches will develop to make him a more effective starter. Many of the young pitchers the Guardians have turned into quality MLB starters have been on the same multi-year path to develop their secondary pitches.
While he's not the highest prospect in the Guardians' system, his path to the majors may be the quickest (except for Bo Naylor). Other top prospects include RHP Daniel Espino, who has battled injury issues during his minor-league career, and OF George Valera, who I expect to see for spot starts, but to expect he'll create a major lift and break the starts of Straw/Kwan/Gonzalez is probably a bit a reach at this point given how the Guardians integrate their younger position players. Hence, Gavin Williams is my early betting favorite to create the biggest impact in 2023 amongst all Guardians prospects.