Top 100 Countdown: Cleveland Guardians’ Prospects, Nos. 5 and 4

Top 100 Countdown: Cleveland Guardians' Prospects, Nos. 5 and 4
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SportRelay.com continues our countdown of the Cleveland Guardians’ top 100 prospects for 2023 with Number 5: Xzavion Curry and No.4: George Valera.

Curry competed for a bullpen spot during spring training while Valera had five at-bats and was shut down with a sore right wrist. Curry was strong early, gave up some hits late, and both were sent to Triple-A Columbus.

Then No. 3 starter Triston McKenzie got hurt and Curry was added to the opening-day roster.  When Zach Plesac was hit hard in Oakland on April 3, Curry suddenly got the call. He battled for five innings, giving up two runs on three hits without a walk. That held the fort and Cleveland overcame a 6-2 deficit to claim a 12-11 win in 10 innings.

Manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis were particularly pleased with Curry saving the bullpen. Francona had trotted out five relievers the previous day in a 6-5 win in Seattle.

“He competed,” Francona told reporters afterwards. “I mean, fortunately he got some really (early-in-the-count) outs because we were up against it. Me and Carl were looking at it, this early in the year, we’re five games into the season and you’re starting to think, ‘OK, who can we pitch, who can we not pitch?’ But he got us deep enough.”

Here are the previous listings:  6-10|11-15|16-20|21-25|26-30|31-35|36-40|41-45|46-50|51-60|61 – 70|71 – 80|81 – 90|91 – 100

X Marks His Spot

5. Xzavion Curry, RHP                                    7th-round pick (220 overall) in 2019                               6’0”      195       B: R     T: R      7/27/1999

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Curry throws strikes, something Cleveland scouts liked when he was at Georgia Tech for three years. He gets results from a rather ordinary four-pitch mix but altogether it makes Curry effective either as a starter or reliever. His fastball sits in the 90-93 MPH range and is utilized with a low-70s curveball, low-to-mid-80s slider, and a so-so changeup. His overhand release point creates some rise and deception on the heater thrown up in the zone. That pitch sets up his 12-to-6 curve. This spring, he piled up some Ks and groundouts with the slider that remains a work in progress. Everything in his arsenal is purely controlled by command. When he hits his spots, he’s tough.

Curry’s pro debut was delayed by the COVID shutdown of the minors in 2020. He came out firing in 2021 across three levels, compiling an 8-1 record, 2.30 ERA, and 123 strikeouts with only 16 walks. The right-hander was not as outstanding in 2022, but again worked his way up three levels. He made his MLB debut in Cleveland in September. In two starts, he atypically walked six and fanned only three. Despite that, he was very much in the mix for a roster spot this spring. When sent down in late March, he was slated to be in the Columbus Clippers’ starting rotation. His overall repertoire is reminiscent of current Cleveland starter Aaron Civale or Josh Tomlin, who had a 61-53 record (2010-18) for the team.

Rambling Wreckers

Curry is the 66th player in Georgia Tech history to make the majors. That includes Jim Poole. The little lefty reliever compiled an 8-3 record in two stints (1995-96, 1998-99) in Cleveland. The best pitching product constructed at the school was feisty right-hander Kevin Brown. He won 211 games for six teams (1986-2005) but was battered by Cleveland (0-2, 8.18 ERA) in the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins. The best hitters to come out of the school are current Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon and former all-stars Mark Teixeira and Nomar Garciaparra. The best fielder was eight-time all-star shortstop Marty Marion. He remains perhaps the worst hitter to win an MVP award. He snagged NL honors in 1944 when he hit only .267 with a career-high six homers and 63 RBI.

How Georgia Tech sports teams have two notable nicknames has nothing to do with Xzavion Curry. It does have a great deal to do with legendary football coach John Heisman. And his being born in Cleveland makes it interesting here. In 1905, Heisman noted that many Georgia Tech fans wore yellow jackets. To honor them, he gave his team the nickname Yellow Jackets. “(I’m a) Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech” is the school’s fight song, adopted in 1908.

Is He Ready, By George?

4. George Valera, OF                International free agent (Dominican Republic) 2017                    6’0″   195   B: L   T: L   11/13/2000

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He earned a $1.3 million signing bonus at age 16 with a smooth swing and advanced approach to the game that looked like a 25-year-old veteran. Born in New York, his family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 13. The move helped his development as he faced tougher competition. Valera quickly impressed everyone in his first spring camp. “You can put him in the big-league camp and his swing would match up against everybody except maybe Michael Brantley,” former Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner said five years ago. “He’s a hitter now. I think he’s going to develop power, too.”  Valera told Baseball America: “I want to be a contact hitter, gap-to-gap type of guy. Of course, I want to keep getting stronger. I want to get mentally stronger as well.”

Valera’s biggest problem has been the hamate bone in his right wrist. He broke it in 2018 and had surgery on it last fall. That wrist may be responsible for some regression in making contact. At High-A Lake County in 2021, he hit for power (16 homers) and drew walks (55) in 63 games to earn a promotion. Last year in 132 games overall at Double-A and Triple-A, he had 24 homers, 25 doubles, 82 RBI and 74 walks. He also had 145 strikeouts and an ordinary .250 average. The rise in strikeouts, particularly against high heat and low sliders, may have been due to that aching right wrist. The Guardians hope that was the lone issue.

Pull-happy?

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One veteran scout is not so sure. “He’s changed and I’m not sure for the better,” he said last year. “I liked him a lot when he put the ball in play and showed doubles power to the gaps. Now, he’s trying to yank every ball into the seats. Why use half the field instead of the entire thing?” Valera looked like a young Harold Baines or Robinson Cano a couple years ago. Now at age 22, he seems to want to be Jim Thome and at times gets wildly inconsistent all-or-nothing results like Joey Gallo. He’s not as big and strong as those boomers. Valera has proven he is dangerous if a pitcher misses his spot. He must eliminate the spots where he can be pitched to and cut down weak groundouts and whiffs.

Valera has played all three outfield spots and projects best in either corner. He takes charge on the field. That aggressiveness plays well on the bases. Valera regularly advances from first to third or scores from second on a hit. He has emerged as a clubhouse leader, communicating well with all teammates in Spanish or English. Always flashing a wave or smile to fans, he could be quite popular in Cleveland. First, he must make sure that wrist is strong and polish his considerable overall skills. His affable nature makes you want to pull for him — as long as he quits pulling off the ball and makes solid contact.

Civale Ailing

The Guardians placed right-hander Aaron Civale on the 15-day injured list Monday due to a left oblique strain. Right-hander Peyton Battenfield was called up from Triple-A Columbus and could make his MLB debut at Progressive Field against the New York Yankees on Wednesday.

Battenfield, ranked No. 9 on the SportRelay top 100 prospects for 2023, gave up three runs (two earned) in five innings in his only start for the Clippers this season. Cleveland also moved right-hander Triston McKenzie to the 60-day IL to open a roster spot. McKenzie, out since March 26 with a sore right shoulder, has been cleared to resume throwing later this week.

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