Friday November 19th 2021, a day that will go down in Cleveland baseball history. This marked the first official day of the Cleveland Guardians. This is the first name change since the team became the Indians in 1915. To say feelings from the fans are intense would be an understatement. While the fanbase was busy buying up the newly released Guardians gear, Chris Antonetti was busy setting his 40- man roster ahead of the almost certain lockout set to begin when the current CBA expires December 1st. One thing was clear, the future of the Cleveland Guardians is extremely bright.
40-man roster discussions dominated most podcasts, articles, and social media outlets after the season ended. Anyone who follows the Guardians knew there would be a lot of difficult decisions with so many young stars needed to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid them being taken in the Rule 5 draft. Including a sneaky trade with Tampa Bay, the Guardians added 11 new players to their roster. That means a quarter of their roster has been overhauled from last year. With just around 100 players around baseball seeing their names added to rosters, Cleveland accounted for almost 10 percent of those changes. It is clear Chris Antonetti did not want to risk losing any of his future stars. So just who are these players that were added? Let’s take a look at the 11 guys that were added before discussing who was left off, and what that means for the rest of the Guardians offseason.
1. Tyler Freeman, INF. Freeman is the #1 prospect in the Guardians system according to MLB.com. His 2021 season ended early due to needing shoulder surgery. Despite the injury, Freeman is said to have plus hitting tools, along with having some of the best bat to ball skills in all of the minors, touting a .323 AVG and only a 9% K rate for AA Akron last year before the injury. Freeman is thought to be the 2B of the future. Could see him in Cleveland in late 2022 or 2023.
2. George Valera, OF. Valera opened a lot of eyes in the 2021 season with his power. Between Lake County and Akron, Valera hit .260 with 19 HR, 65 RBI. Valera has drawn comparisons to guys like Bryce Harper. Only 21 years old, Valera still has room to improve his all around game. Valera is a LH hitter who is known for battling hard at the plate, showing power to all fields. Valera will likely begin 2022 at AAA Columbus, but it won’t be long before we see him patrolling the OF at Progressive Field.
3. Brayan Rocchio, SS. Rocchio might be the most exciting name on this list. He is thought to be the guy to emerge from the log jam at SS, and become the SS of the future. Rocchio is a switch hitter who just continues to improve at the plate. Rocchio split time between High A Lake county, and AA Akron in 2021 where he hit .277 with 15 HR and 63 RBI. He is also known for his speed, stealing 21 bases last season. Rocchio is an above average defender with a very quick release on his throws. Gabriel Arias (#4 prospect) is currently ahead of Rocchio at AAA, so where Arias plays where also determine where Rocchio starts 2022.
4. Richie Palacios, 2B/OF. Palacios is just a great overall story. He missed all of 2019 after having shoulder surgery, then 2020 was wiped out due to the pandemic. No one knew what to expect out of Palacios in 2021 after missing 2 full years. He did not disappoint. He started at AA Akron and hit .292 in 66 games earning himself a promotion to Columbus where he began to play more in the outfield. Palacios possesses all the tools to be a good top of the order hitter with his contact skills. Questions remain about what the best position will be for him.
5. Steven Kwan, OF. Kwan could start the 2022 year in the Cleveland OF rotation after his success in 2021. He possesses above average hit tools with a low K rate. He is known to have good instincts in the OF with a good arm. In 2021 he hit .328 with 12 HR and 44 RBI only striking out 31 times in 296 AB between Akron and Columbus. The power was a bit of a surprise. He was a great add to the 40 man who could have a significant impact in Cleveland.
6. Jose Tena, INF. Even being the #12 prospect in Cleveland’s system, he was a bit of a surprise add to the 40 man. Many thought he could be traded prior to the roster deadline with the log jam the Guardians have in the middle infield. He also has great bat to ball skills (see a trend here). He has above average speed in the field, and on the bases. Time will tell if he will be able to make it to Cleveland with all the other talent at SS. Wherever he ends up he will be a great major leaguer.
7. Cody Morris, P. Many thought we could have seen Morris in Cleveland in 2021 with all the injuries Cleveland had. Morris was tearing up the minor leagues flying through the system. He has a mid 90’s fastball with high spin rates. He has 3 quality pitches and projects as either a starter, or even a bullpen arm in the majors. Durability, and maintaining his pitches through a full season is still a concern for Morris.
8. Bryan Lavastida, C. 2021 was very good to Bryan. He went from Lake County all the way to Columbus. He just hit a cool .289 with 9 HR 51 RBI 19 doubles, and even 16 SB overall. He is a very athletic behind the plate, and through his first 2 years as a pro he has thrown out 33% of baserunners according to MLB.com. Bo Naylor will also factor in to the future behind the plate for the Guardians.
9. Konnor Pilkington, P. The lefty came over mid season from the White Sox in the Cesar Hernandez trade. In 2021 he was 7-6 with a 3.04 ERA. He struck out 120 in only 100 IP. Pilkington has a 3 pitch mix, velocity remains an issue. He has plus command which that could get him to Cleveland in 2022-2023.
10. Jhonkensy Noel, 1B. The most surprising add to the 40 man, only reaching High A in 2021. The Guardians clearly love the potential of Noel with adding such a young player to the roster, they did not want to risk him being selected. He has better hard hit ball, power potential than almost anyone in the system. He is still developing at the plate, but already shows good contact for such a young power hitter. In 2021 he hit .340 with 19 HR and 66 RBI. He is an exciting piece of the Guardians future, although still a couple years away.
11. Tobias Myers, P. Antonetti snuck a sneaky trade into roster deadline day. Trading Junior Caminero from the DSL over to Tampa Bay for Myers who could help the Guardians in 2022. In 2021, Myers went 8-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 22 starts. He struck out 146 in 117 IP between AA and AAA. Myers has a mid 90’s fastball with movement which helps his secondary pitches work effectively.
With all these additions there had to be some subtractions as well. As a result, designated for assignment were: Daniel Johnson, Harold Ramirez, Justin Garza, Alex Young, JC Mejia, Kyle Nelson, and Scott Moss. Guys like Mercado, Zimmer, Clement, Miller, Chang, Hentges, Logan S. Allen remain on the roster. Those guys could still be traded or DFA’d to make room for major league talent that Antonetti could add through free agency and trades. The offseason is still young, and the roster is far from set for 2022. With the lockout looming, and the offseason set to stall out fans can sleep easy knowing the Cleveland Guardians have a chance to be really, really good for many seasons to come.