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Williams, Valera provide Cleveland starpower

Young Guardians proving to be up to the challenge at higher levels
Gavin Williams was one of only five pitchers in the Minors to complete at least 70 innings and post an ERA lower than 2.00. (Lianna Holub/
October 27, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Cleveland Guardians.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Cleveland Guardians.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Columbus: 85-64
Double-A Akron: 79-59
High-A Lake County: 76-53 (Midwest League runner-up)
Single-A Lynchburg: 63-68
ACL Guardian: 28-24
DSL Guardians Blue: 31-29
DSL Guardians Red: 17-42
Overall record: 379-339 (.528 winning percentage, seventh among MLB organizations)

Guardians Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Bo Naylor

While Naylor fits the organizational theme of being young for his level, the 22-year-old's rebound season in the Eastern League and performance at Triple-A showed a lot of maturity.

“[Bo] dedicated himself in the offseason to attacking some of the areas, developmentally, that we thought we could really move the needle on,” said Guardians director of player development Rob Cerfolio. “A lot of impressive jumps both on the bat-to-ball side to limiting chase and then obviously, when he put the ball in play, he did damage.”

MLB Pipeline’s No. 75 overall prospect batted .263 with an .888 OPS across both levels while bashing 21 homers and driving in 68 runs. His power really showed after his June promotion to Columbus, where the 2018 first-rounder cracked 15 long balls in 66 games.

First base: Micah Pries

Only 38 Minor Leaguers compiled at least 18 homers and 20 stolen bases, and Pries was one of three in that group who played primarily at first base in 2022.

A 13th-rounder in 2019, Pries made his professional debut last season and batted .296 while climbing from Rookie ball to High-A. This season, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound slugger hit .266/.341/.473 at Akron, driving in 73 runs and collecting 29 doubles. Pries got off to a slow start in April but was named Eastern League Player of the Month in June.

Second base: Brayan Rocchio

Like Naylor, Rocchio reached Triple-A as a 21-year-old during his first year on the 40-man roster, joining Columbus in August on the strength of his elite bat-to-ball and on-base skills and terrific defense.

“You started to see that as he gets older and physically more mature, he starts to impact the baseball a little bit more,” Cefolio said. “Another guy on the long list of middle infielders we're really excited about given the instincts.”

Ranked as the No. 69 overall prospect, Rocchio set career highs with 18 homers, 27 doubles, 54 walks, 64 RBIs and 83 runs scored. The Caracas, Venezuela, native had more than 100 strikeouts for the second consecutive season but lowered his strikeout rate from 2021, with a noticeable drop to 13.8 percent after his promotion.

Third base: David Fry

The Guardians landed Fry in March as the player to be named in the November deal that sent J.C. Mejia to Milwaukee. In his first year with the organization, the 26-year-old fit in nicely with Columbus and earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League.

Fry batted .256/.329/.450 with 17 homers, 27 doubles, 74 RBIs and 64 runs scored at Triple-A. The 2018 seventh-rounder was drafted as a catcher but has been a versatile defender. This season with the Clippers, he mostly played third base but saw time at first base and catcher.

Shortstop: Jose Tena

Coming off a year in which he won the AFL batting title, Tena opened in Akron before earning a late-season promotion to Triple-A. The 21-year-old posted slightly better numbers than he did during his first full season last year, batting .267/.306/.419 while setting career highs with 143 hits -- second-most in the system -- 81 runs scored, 27 doubles, 29 walks and 68 RBIs. Although his time in Columbus was brief, the club’s No. 17 prospect collected seven hits in his 19 at-bats while drawing four walks.

Outfield: Will Brennan

While the Guardians may have more depth of talent in the middle infield, there's definitely star power in the outfield. Though Brennan didn't come into the season with that notoriety, he had arguably the best offensive season in the system. The 24-year-old ranked second among all Minor Leaguers with 40 doubles while leading the system with 166 hits, 109 singles and 107 RBIs between Akron and Columbus. His .314 average was also best among Guardians’ Minor Leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances.

“I think it speaks volumes to his work ethic, his preparedness, everything,” Cerfolio said. “Another guy with really elite bat-to-ball skills. He's done that his entire career, and then you look at some of the ways in which he's impacted the baseball in terms of slug, OPS and that's really ticked up over time.”

The club’s No. 20 prospect was called up to the Majors for the final 11 games of the regular season and hit .357 in 42 at-bats to earn a spot on the postseason roster.

George Valera

With successful seasons again from Valera, Rocchio, Tena and Jhonkensy Noel, Cleveland’s 2017 international class is proving to be a big success. Noel led the system with 32 homers, but Valera showed his skills as a well-rounded hitter as he reached Triple-A for the first time.

“He's just an incredibly patient hitter that really knows the strike zone. He's done that since the second we've had him in our organization, which I think is just an outlier skill set,” Cerfolio said. “Another guy that is really young that we challenged, but he continued to showcase some of the performance signature we've seen out of him with his on base skills and power production.”

Valera’s 89 runs scored led the system, and he set career highs with 24 homers, 25 doubles, 82 RBIs, 74 walks and 121 hits. The No. 31 overall prospect belted nine homers in 42 games following his August promotion to Columbus, and he’s continuing his season in the Dominican Winter League. Defensively, Valera consistently showed off a cannon in right field while testing his versatility with some games in left.

Jhonkensy Noel

In addition to leading the system in homers, Noel had an interesting season as he climbed from Lake County to Columbus with 60 extra-base hits and only 51 singles. Johnathan Rodriguez, the system’s leader with a .540 slugging percentage, earned some consideration for this spot on the list, and it’s an interesting comparison between the two. Noel had more total strikeouts (150) but whiffed at a lower rate (27.4 percent) than Rodriguez. Noel also had more hits (111), doubles (26), runs (80) and RBIs (84), but Rodriguez had a higher average and OPS. Either way, this is the second consecutive year on the All-Star list for Noel, who also made a Futures Game appearance this season.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Gavin Williams

Williams was not only one of just five pitchers in the Minors to complete at least 70 innings and post an ERA lower than 2.00, he was the only pitcher in that group to make his professional debut in 2022.

“Coming out of college, there's no secret this guy had a big fastball,” Cerfolio said. “He was just able to really raise the bar of the rest of his secondary. And that was something we spent a ton of time working on with Gavin both on the sides in between starts and then in-game as well -- just trying to make him a complete pitcher.”

The No. 53 overall prospect went 5-4 with a 1.96 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 115 innings between Lake County and Akron. His .171 batting average against was second-best in the system and 12th lowest among qualified pitchers in the Minors. The 2021 first-rounder allowed more than one run in just five of his 25 starts and collected double-digit strikeouts on three occasions.

“We've got work to do, of course, and Gavin will tell you that as well, but we're really excited about what he can do in terms of attacking the strike zone … while continuing to raise the bar on his secondary stuff,” Cerfolio said.

Williams has one of the highest graded fastballs in the Minors to lead an arsenal that includes a plus changeup and curveball and developing slider.

Left-handed starting pitcher: Will Dion

The Guardians have a lot of talented lefties in the system, including organization strikeout leader Logan Allen, but Dion managed to stand out in his first full season. The 22-year-old finished with a 2.11 ERA while recording 157 strikeouts over 128 innings between Lynchburg and Lake County.

“Will went out there and really dominated,” Cerfolio said. “And he did so by throwing a ton of strikes and missing some bats as well. Maybe not the same type of velocity as Gavin Williams or Tanner Bibbee, but a guy that really knows how to use his stuff, can come at you with a four-pitch mix and knows how to locate it.”

Selected in the ninth round of last year’s Draft from McNeese State, Dion made 17 starts in which he allowed one run or fewer and reached a personal-best 10 strikeouts twice in a three-start span in July.

Reliever: Davis Sharpe

Like Williams and Dion, Sharpe was a 2021 college pitcher seeing his first Minor League action this season. The 22-year-old finished second in the system to Williams with a 2.02 ERA between Lynchburg and Lake County, while his 1.51 walks per nine innings ranked as the best among all Cleveland prospects to complete at least 70 innings. The 13th-rounder from Clemson fanned 87 over 71 ⅓ innings while holding opposing batters to a .208 average.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for