Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown: 60 to 51

The Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown Continues: 60 to 51
(Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
This article has been updated

GOODYEAR, Az. — Players with vastly interesting backgrounds and athleticism are featured in the latest group of 10 players from the Sport.Relay.com top 100 Cleveland Guardians prospect countdown with numbers 60 to 51.

Two of the players are getting new starts with a different organization after being selected in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft. Five are from American colleges, five are international signings. One is related to two former major-league infielders. Once again, an abundantly gifted switch-hitting shortstop makes the list, and perhaps most interesting  is a Cuban refugee who has overcome long odds to become a potential pitching star.

Here are the previous listings: Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown 70 – 61 | Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown 80 – 71 | Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown 90 – 81 | Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown 100 – 91

Caught In The Draft: The Cleveland Guardians Prospect Countdown Continues

60. Michael Berglund, C                   2022 Rule 5 Draft, minor phase, 2nd-round pick                 6’2” 175             B: L        T: R                  7/18/1997

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Only the second player past his 25th birthday this far in our rankings (No. 63 Hunter Stanley), he makes it due to Cleveland’s lack of catchers at the upper end of the system and the fact he has played only 156 games in the minors. That still qualifies as a prospect in our book. He hit .307 as a freshman at Texas Tech in 2017, then transferred to Cisco (TX) Junior College to become eligible for the draft. He slashed .387/.490/.670 with 11 homers there and the Tampa Bay Rays took him in the eighth round. Lefty-hitting catchers are a premium commodity, a reason why Cleveland chose him this past December. He will draw a walk, though he strikes out too much.

What truly matters first to the Guardians from catchers is defense and he has a strong arm and is agile behind the plate. In 123 games at catcher in the Rays’ system, he threw out 32% of runners trying to steal. Current Cleveland starter Mike Zunino nailed 28% and 2021-22 starter Austin Hedges 30% in their careers. Heir apparent Bo Naylor has a 33% success rate in the minors. Some of those percentages must be examined in regard to the pitchers at the time. Guys steal off pitchers. Catchers try to negate that as best they can. With the dearth of catchers in the organization, Berglund may make the majors before others ranked to come. Whether he is good enough to stay is still very questionable.

A.A. Had An A+ Season

59. Alaska Abney, RHP                15th-round pick (456 overall) in 2021                  6’1”    205    B: R    T: R     5/5/2000

Most scouts were cool on Alaska in college, with good reason. He had a 4.86 ERA in 59 games, 56 in relief. Cleveland was intrigued by his funky motion; a delivery that is between sidearm and submarine. In 54 relief outings at Lynchburg and Lake County the past two years, Abney has been absolutely dazzling: 7-2, 2.06 ERA, 5 saves, and only 29 hits allowed in 65 2/3 innings. That is an electric 4.0 hits yielded per nine innings and goes along with 80 strikeouts. He also has walked 35. That is far too many. It was fun to watch Abney at Lake County work his way from a mop-up role early in 2022 to reliable reliever down the stretch. In 20 outings and 23 innings after July 1, he gave up four hits and two earned runs (0.78 ERA).

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He misses bats with a slurvy, Frisbee-like slider. He also misses the strike zone with it too much. If he can develop a solid sinking changeup and throw strikes, he could possibly be a Joe Smith-type. Smith has never started a game in 15 years in the majors, where he has a fine 3.14 ERA in 866 outings for eight teams. In 324 games for Cleveland, he went 18-11 with a 2.80 ERA. Abney is among 100 players drafted from Coastal Carolina and 22 have made the majors. The best was probably outfielder Mickey Brantley (father of ex-Cleveland and current Houston star Michael Brantley). Mickey hit .259 with 32 homers and 34 steals in parts of four seasons (1986-89) for Seattle.

All In The Family

58. Victor Izturis, C 2022                   2022 International free agent (Venezuela)            5’9”    165    B: L    T: R      3/22/2005

He had more strikeouts than walks (20 to 16) and drove in 25 runs without a homer in 119 ABs in his debut at age 17 last year. Ranked No.40 among available international free agents last winter by MLB.com, he signed for $1.2 million. He has the soft hands the Guardians look for in a catcher though does not possess a great arm. Add in a line-drive bat and the ability to quickly recognize pitches along with advanced instincts behind the plate and he’s assuredly a backstop prospect.
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His uncles are former MLB infielders Cesar Izturis and Maicer Izturis, Cesar played 13 years for nine MLB clubs. His best year was 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he won a gold glove and hit .288 with 62 RBI and 25 steals. Maicer played in Cleveland’s farm system for six years, was dealt to Montreal in 2004, and spent 11 big-league seasons with the Expos, Angels, and Blue Jays. His top season was 2009 in Los Angeles: .300, 8 homers, 65 RBI, and 13 steals.

Moving Around The Field

57. Cesar Idrogo, OF                        2017 International free agent (Venezuela)       5’11”     200     B: S     T: R       3/26/2001

Signed in July 2017 as a switch-hitting infielder (imagine that by Cleveland!), he has played almost everywhere else as a pro: 42 games in RF; 39 in LF; 3 in CF; 20 at 1B; 12 at C; and one inning as a pitcher in a blowout game. He’s a hitter without a position and probably not power-laden enough to be a designated hitter. Injuries have limited him to 142 games over parts of four seasons in the minors. He hit .280 with 36 extra-base hits, 75 RBI, and 16 steals in 486 at-bats. That’s good production.

In just 27 games in 2022 at Lynchburg, he batted .337 with a .422 OBP and .910 OPS. The stocky batter has a nice line-drive stroke and hits about equally from either side. The Guardians are eager to see what he can accomplish over a full season. He may open 2023 at High-A Lake County, where he hit .292 (7-for-24) with a homer in eight games last September.

The Right Stuff

56. Tyler Thornton, RHP                  17th-round pick (516 overall) in 2021     6’3”   200   B: L   T: R     7/8/2000

He slipped in the draft after a poor 2021 season at Arizona State then came back in 2022 to show potential in his first pro season after being switched completely to relief. In 34 2/3 innings over 30 outings (4-1, 3.63 ERA, 2 saves) at Low-A Lynchburg, he gave up only 15 hits and fanned 58. That’s Hall of Fame stuff. He also walked 21. That’s down-the-drain stuff. He’s been up and down over the past four years. In 2019, he was the National Freshman of the Year at St. Mary’s College (Ca.), going 10-22 with a 2.71 ERA and 94 Ks in 76 innings with only 47 hits allowed as an ace starter.

Thornton transferred to Arizona State and was limited to four starts when COVID shut down the game but went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA. He dropped to 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 2021. He gets good extension from a three-quarter motion. His fastball sits in the low 90s with good movement from a high spin rate. His other pitches grade out as ordinary, hence Cleveland’s quick decision to put him in the bullpen. Any pitcher who misses bats is always in demand. Now he needs to quit missing the strike zone as well.

Hail To The Gaels

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Thornton will try to be the 70th player from St. Mary’s to make the majors, including outfielder Von Hayes. He played 12 years in the majors, mostly for the Philadelphia Phillies after being drafted in 1979 by Cleveland. The best Gael force in MLB history? That would be Hall of Fame outfielder Harry Hooper (Boston Red Sox, 1909-20 and Chicago White Sox, 1921-25). He was regarded as a tremendously gifted defender in right field and a fine leadoff hitter. He hit .281 with 375 stolen bases and 1,136 walks to only 582 strikeouts. Hooper continued to deliver after leaving baseball. He became a postmaster in his native California.

Fastballer On Fast Track

55. Luis Almonte, RHP                      International free agent in 2019 (Dominican Republic)                6’0”   195   B: R    T: R     7/19/2019

He has grown an inch while adding some muscle and a few pounds since signing a few days before his 20th birthday. Losing all of 2020 due to COVID restrictions hurt his progress but he continued working and gained a touch of velocity to a fine fastball that got him noticed in the first place. He posted eye-popping numbers in 76 2/3 relief innings across three seasons in the rookie leagues: 7-3, 2.11 ERA, 5 saves, and only 47 hits allowed with 99 strikeouts. The walks (27) are a little high as is usually the case with young, hard throwers. He has earned groundball outs against 42% of the batters he has faced while allowing line drives only about 15% of the time.

Almonte fields well and is good at keeping runners close at first base. That likely will become even more important with the larger bases and new rules geared towards more running in the game. Now is the time to see how that fastball holds up and whether his secondary stuff can improve against more advanced hitters in a full-season league, likely Low-A Lynchburg in 2023.

Angel’s In The Infield

54. Angel Genao, SS                              2021 International free agent (Dominican Republic)      6’0”    165    B: S    T: R    5/19/2003

Cleveland’s love affair with switch-hitting shortstops is on display again. Genao was ranked No. 23 in 2021 on MLB.com’s list of international talent and signed for $1.175 million. That eventually could be a chump change price. Genao has flashed great glovework, speed, and solid bat-to-ball skills in 92 games as a pro. He has soft hands, deft footwork, and a polished approach on defense though his arm grades out as average.

Genao isn’t flashy, he just makes all the plays. He has a loose and smooth swing from both sides of the plate and will use the entire field though sometimes overswings. That makes the stroke a little long and susceptible. If he takes to coaching, he has the athletic qualities to overcome that flaw. On defense alone, he should be a prime prospect in a couple of years. Any offensive upgrades can make him even more special along the lines of say … Andres Gimenez?

A New Start

53. Ross Carver, RHP                                    Trade from Arizona for RHP Carlos Vargas, 11/15/2022                    6’2”    191    B: R    T: R     8/27/1999

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The Diamondbacks selected him in the 20th round in 2021, even though he had worked only 19 relief innings over two years at Dallas Baptist University. In two previous seasons at Crowder Community College in Missouri, he whiffed 189 batters in 114 innings. The D-Backs liked his four-pitch mix and turned him back into a starter in 2022. They got poor results: 4-10, 5.06 ERA in 24 games. The Guardians overlooked those numbers, which included a 9.50 ERA at Double-A Amarillo.

If pitching for a team nicknamed the Sod Poodles wasn’t enough, home games were in notoriously homer-happy Hodgetown Ballpark, the most pitcher-unfriendly venue in the minors. He was pounded for an astounding 15 homers in only 36 innings. Cleveland’s hierarchy prefers to look at his mid-90s fastball with arm-side run, low-80s slider, and a big curveball that gets strikeouts. He needs to refine a below-average changeup to remain a starter. If not, a bullpen role beckons for a guy with good stuff who may need some coaching care to restore his confidence.

Consistent Contact

52. Jorge Burgos, OF                                 2019 International free agent (Venezuela)      6’0”     185     B: L    T: R     12/26/2001

He has always made consistent contact at the plate and added a bit of pop (6 homers, 66 RBI) for the 2022 Low-A Lynchburg Hillcats. Burgos really raked right-handers (.293 with all his home runs) and hit only .182 in many fewer at-bats against lefties. He has a professional approach at the plate, making contact and utilizing the whole field. He has above-average speed on the bases and displayed decent agility while playing all three outfield spots.

In 2022, he played mostly right field, where he had 10 assists and six errors. One scout relayed that Burgos has a “fringy” arm and that opposing managers who recognized it often sent runners to advance on him. He nailed some, but uncorked bad throws, too. He will likely be moved from right to center to left this year at either Lynchburg or High-A Lake County and receive instruction at every spot. Burgos has good baseball instincts. If he can maintain a batting average and perhaps pop a few more extra-base hits, he should keep advancing.

Long-shot Prospect On Long Path

51. Randy Labaut, LHP                               35th-round pick (1,060 overall) in 2019                 6’1″   205    B: L     T: L      10/1/1996

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A 35th-round pick? Don’t laugh. Hall of Famer Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round choice in 1988. Cleveland got a few years of good relief work from David Riske (56th round, 1996) and Tony Sipp (45th round, 2004). He’s already overcome long odds on a long path to get this far. His family escaped Cuba and he later escaped severe ailment. Diagnosed with compartment syndrome in his left leg in 2018 that if not treated would cause permanent muscle and nerve damage – or possibly cost him his leg, he underwent two surgeries.

The first was an emergency procedure. It interrupted a good junior season at Arizona. He went 8-3 with fair splits as a senior but Cleveland took a chance. It started to pay off as Labaut had an outstanding 2022 season between High-A Lake County (7-1, 1.89 ERA) and Double-A Akron (4-1). Overall in 70 1/3 innings, he gave up only 40 hits and fanned 89 with a 3.33 ERA. He ran into trouble with walks (37 overall). He has good velocity and sink to his fastball and change. Batters seldom seem to be able to square up on his pitches.

Arizona Connection to Cleveland Guardians

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Labaut is the 26th Arizona Wildcat drafted by Cleveland. Ten have made the majors including Eddie Leon (1965), Ron Hassey (1976), and Trevor Crowe (2005). Two other Wildcats have had a huge influence on the franchise. Kenny Lofton, picked in the 17th round by Houston in 1991, was acquired in a trade and became the sparkplug of Cleveland’s great teams in the 1990s. In 10 years in Cleveland, he hit .300 with a franchise-record 452 stolen bases in 1,276 games. He played 2,103 games and had 502 steals overall in 17 MLB seasons.

Cleveland’s recent run of success has come under manager Terry Francona, a first-round pick by the Montreal Expos in 1980 after batting .401 with 84 RBI and 28 steals in 65 games at Arizona. He hit .274 overall during 10 years in the majors including .311 in 62 games for Cleveland in 1988.

On Deck:

The Guardians, after a rare spring day off Tuesday, will play host to Team Mexico on Wednesday at Goodyear Ballpark. As Mexico prepares for the World Baseball Classic, SportRelay.com will look back at one of that country’s heroes on and off the baseball diamond, Bobby Avila, the last Cleveland player to win a batting title way back in 1954.


Update March 8: Article updated to replace prospect #55


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