Guardians Pitchers Get All A’s In Win

Guardians Pitchers Get All A's In Win
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

GOODYEAR, Az. — Jose Ramirez and Mike Zunino each hit two-run homers to back excellent pitching and power the Cleveland Guardians past the Oakland Athletics, 4-2, Saturday.

Aaron Civale and six Cleveland relievers limited Oakland to three hits and two walks, striking out eight. Civale (4.50 ERA), expected to be the No. 4 starter in manager Terry Francona‘s rotation, struck out the side in the second inning and fanned five overall. In his third and final inning, the right-hander gave up two runs, two hits, and made a costly throwing error on a pickoff attempt.

Pitch-clock fans note the game’s duration: a sprightly two hours and 12 minutes. Both teams are 5-8 in spring play.

Signed And Sealed

The Guardians have signed all players on their 40-man roster, 28 of them to one-year deals. Those 28 have less than three years in the majors and are not yet eligible for arbitration. … Francona said LHP Sam Hentges (left shoulder) and rookie OF George Valera (right wrist) have resumed light baseball activities. It is particularly good news on Hentges, who had a breakout season in 2022 and if healthy will be the top lefty in the bullpen for a staff loaded with right-handers.

Guardians’ Top Prospects Countdown: 45 to 41 continues to count down our list of Cleveland’s top 100 prospects. This group includes two pitchers from the University of Hawaii, an infielder from Venezuela starting to put it together on offense, a highly touted 17-year-old switch hitter, and a big right-hander who has spun some heads with high spin rates on his pitches.

Here are the previous listings: 46-50 | 51-60 | 61 – 70 | 71 – 80 | 81 – 90 | 91 – 100

Hawaiian Punch(outs) I

45. Aaron Davenport, RHP      6th-round pick (186 overall) in 2021     6’0”    185     B: R    T: R    7/25/2000

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A big curve from a three-quarters/overhand delivery is Davenport’s signature offering in a four-pitch mix. A low-90s fastball and bulldog approach help. His ordinary slider and changeup need help. He got off to a nice start in 2022 at High-A Lake County, struggled for three months, and finished with a flourish. In seven starts after Aug. 1,  he went 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA, allowing 29 hits and fanning 50 over 40 1/3 innings. That included two playoff wins when he gave up only two runs, six hits, zero walks, and fanned 15 over 13 innings.

Davenport held right-handers to a .219 average for the season and all batters to a .207 mark overall with men on base.  He has totaled 144 Ks in 123 2/3 innings as a pro. That’s all good and there’s room to improve.

He is the sixth player picked by Cleveland from Hawaii-Manoa. The only one to make it was RHP Steven Wright, a second-round choice in 2006. He spent 5 1/2 years in the Cleveland farm system, hurt his arm, reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher and worked in 81 games (24-16, 3.86 ERA) for the Boston Red Sox (2013-19). Current Seattle Mariners 2B Kolten Wong  (2013-19 St. Louis Cardinals; 2020-21, Milwaukee Brewers) has had the best career (1,102 MLB games) of 17 Rainbows players to make the majors.

Hawaiian Punch(outs) II

44. Cade Smith, RHP      Undrafted free agent, 2020      6’5”    225    B: R    T: R    5/9/1999

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He’s on the roster for his native Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic following a fine 2002 split between Lake County and Akron. He fanned 99 and gave up only 38 hits over 61 1/3 innings combined. Walks (35) were a problem. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round in 2017, he went off to college in Hawaii. After three so-so seasons, he was not drafted again. Cleveland figured old scouting reports were worth giving him a chance as a reliever. He has developed a nice, sinking changeup to go with a low-90s fastball. That has been good enough without much of a breaking ball to allow only 63 hits and fan 167 over 104 1/3 innings in 77 games out of the pen.

Smith’s power sinker was devastating against lefties last year, limiting them to a .111 average. He was crazy good down the stretch, for Double-A Akron, going 2-0 with eight saves in his final 18 appearances after July 10.  In 29 1/3 innings over that span, he allowed two earned runs (0.61 ERA) and 14 hits while striking out 47! Depending on how the Guardians distribute pitchers to the Columbus Clippers, the big right-hander could open 2023 at Triple-A or return to Double-A Akron for additional refinement.

Gabe Got Gobs Of $$

43. Gabriel Rodriguez, INF      International free agent in 2018 (Venezuela)      6’3”    210   B: R   T: R   2/22/2002

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Signed for a whopping $2.1 million, G-Rod was ranked No .6 among all international prospects in 2018 as a shortstop. His elite bat and body type then reminded some scouts of long-time NL infielder-outfielder Wilmer Flores. He made 18 errors in 68 games at short his first two years as a pro but did not play there at all last season. Rodriguez played a handful of games at three other spots, but his strong arm seems to have found a home at third base.

The Guardians are confident Rodriguez will develop the pop at the plate desired in a corner infielder. He still has work to do on his footwork and positioning at the hot corner. After lukewarm offense his first two pro seasons, he began to put it together in 2022 at High-A Lake County. He hit .313 over June and July with five of his nine homers and batted .272 overall. Included were a series of dramatic walk-off hits. There should be more to come. He gets nice extension in a smooth swing and delivers about equally against right-handers or lefties. At age 21 this year, he likely will move up to Double-A Akron

An Outfielder For A Switch

 42. Jaison Chourio, OF      International free agent in 2022 (Venezuela)      6’1”    150    B: S    T: R    5/19/2005

The Guardians love to sign switch-hitting infielders. In January 2022, they signed this switch-hitting outfielder and younger brother of highly regarded  Jackson Chourio (ranked by as the Brewers’ top prospect), for $1.2 million. His agility, speed, arm, and batting stroke all got plus grades from scouts at age 16. All of it played out in a 40-game debut in the Dominican Summer League last year as he hit .280 with 24 RBI and 14 steals. Toss in an elite 40 walks to 22 strikeouts along with solid center-field play and you understand why the Guardians are excited by his potential. The organization believes Chourio will add muscle and pop at the plate as he matures into an already strong, athletic frame. He already has mature baseball instincts.

Many already have Chourio listed among Cleveland’s top 20 prospects, figuring that at his young age, there is plenty of time to get better and better. That can go the other way, too. Take the case of Kelvin Diaz. Who? Exactly. I had him highly ranked (sight unseen, on the basis of numbers and a couple of scouts’ words) 15 years ago. In 2006, he hit .382 with 9 homers and 62 RBI in 58 games for Cleveland’s DSL club. He never got to America, despite batting .333 with 22 homers and 147 RBI across three DSL seasons. He also made 59 errors in 131 games and did not show enough hustle and baseball sense to be brought stateside. Scouting is much more refined now. It is doubtful the Guardians could be as wrong about Chourio.

Take It For A Spin

41. Trey Benton, RHP      15th-round pick (460 overall) in 2019      6’5”   210   B: R   T: R   6/18/1998

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High spin rates on both a lively fastball and crackling curve got the right-hander noticed during an ordinary three years at East Carolina. After a rocky (7.41 ERA) 18-game debut in 2021 at Low-A Lynchburg, Benton began to spin some heads with a series of fine outings last year. In 39 games in relief between Lynchburg and High-A Lake County, he totaled 12 saves, a 2.08 ERA, and 52 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. He must cut an awful career walk rate of 8.2 per nine innings at least in half and keep proceeding to have a chance.

Cleveland snuck Benton’s talent through the 2022 Rule 5 Draft and hopes he continues to develop. Benton was the sixth of seven ECU Pirates picked by Cleveland through the years. No. 7 was right-hander Gavin Williams, a first-rounder in 2021 who will be previewed extensively as our countdown continues. The first Cleveland choice from the school was Vince Colbert in 1968. He pitched in 95 games for Cleveland over three seasons, was traded to Texas, then back to Cleveland a couple of months later and finally sent back to the minors. He went 8-2, pitched one season in Mexico, and retired at age 28.

TOMORROW: The Guardians go to nearby Surprise Stadium to take on the AL Central rival Kansas City Royals. We’ll resume our countdown of prospects next week.

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