In 2017, the Cleveland Guardians opted to bring in a youngster, 16-year-old Jhonkensy Noel, from the Dominican Republic in hopes of finding one of the next big-time hitters for the organization.
Fast-forwarding six years, his future with the team is looking bleaker than ever before as he has struggled to find any consistent hitting in Cleveland's farm system. Alongside his struggles, recent trade acquisitions have shed a questionable light on what the future looks like for the 22-year-old power-hitter.
At the 2023 MLB Trade Deadline, the Cleveland Guardians made drastic decisions in order to set the team up for a favorable offseason once the year comes to a close. By trading pitcher Aaron Civale, shortstop Amed Rosario, and designated hitter Josh Bell, the team was able to free up openings for some of their brightest minor-league prospects to be given a shot.
When the trades were pushed through, Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio were given the keys to the starting shortstop position, while the already proven rookie starting pitchers were given a larger chance to shine. One thing remained in limbo though, the first base and designated hitter positions.
In theory, the movement of Bell to the Marlins gave the opportunity for the Guardians to sift through their 40-man roster to see what players could attempt to take his spot. Bell was primarily the designated hitter, but could also spend time as a first baseman, something that Jhonkensy Noel can do as well.
Currently, the Guardians have allowed those open positions to go to the likes of Arias, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Freeman, and a few others that have rotated through, but Noel still remains with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.
Why have the Guardians not called up Noel then if that position is free?
Unfortunately, that question is fairly complicated. For one, the Guardians already have a handful of first and second-year prospects on the major league roster that they are focusing on. Whether it's Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, Will Brennan, Freeman, Arias, Rocchio, or whoever else has been given a shot within the past two seasons.
The team has been busy trying to polish a lot of its young talent. Adding another player like Noel to that list adds another handful of work for the major league personnel to work with. Don't get me wrong, he is a phenomenal power-hitter, but he has never stepped foot in a major league batter's box, and with the inconsistencies he has shown, they could be exploited drastically.
Throughout his first two seasons in the minors, he smashed 51 home runs over the course of 203 games. At one point in time, he had 32, which at the age of 20, marked him sixth throughout every level of the minor leagues.
In the 2022 season, after being promoted to the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, he shined and was given the opportunity to play in the All-Star Futures Game. Just after being promoted to Double-A, the Guardians would give him another big jump, Triple-A.
He would go on to play just four games with the Clippers towards the end of the 2022 season, marking three levels Noel jumped through in one season alone. For the 2023 season, he has played the entire time in Triple-A, where he has shown glimpses of major-league hitting ability.
He has slashed .215/.298/.409 to go with 80 hits, 18 doubles, 18 home runs, and 64 RBIs. However, the real knock to his game resembles exactly what was wrong with former Guardians designated hitters Franmil Reyes and Bell. Bomb or bust.
If Jhonkensy Noel is not hitting a double or a home run, he is striking out.
Through 134 games in the 2022 season he struck out 150 times, and through 100 games this season he has already struck out 106 times. For the Guardians, they cannot afford to have such high strikeout numbers, especially when he is in the minors and not yet in the major leagues. The Guardians cannot also risk that those numbers will not jump even higher at the next level, given the ability of pitchers is drastically higher.
With that being said, it is very unlikely that the Guardians value his future with the team as a legitimate plan. The team already has a power hitter in George Valera on the cusp of finding a spot in the majors, and just recently brought in the number two first-base prospect in the entire league, Kyle Manzardo, to potentially fill that void next season.
A likely future sees the Guardians package him up and ship him away in a multi-piece deal the next time the team enters the market. With such a low floor and a questionable ceiling, the current state of the organization cannot afford to tank his value by letting him sink at the major league level.