He’s No. 1! Guardians’ Gavin Williams Is Rated Tops

Gavin Williams is Guardians' No. 1 Prospect
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This is it! The SportRelay.com countdown of the Cleveland Guardians’ top 100 prospects for 2023 has reached No. 1: Gavin Williams.

Cleveland’s first-round draft pick two years ago has almost everything anyone could want from an ace. There’s a fastball that hits 100 mph and stays in the upper 90s late into games. Many scouts say a diving curve is Williams’ best pitch and blends beautifully with the high heater. He’s a physical presence at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, and has a no-nonsense approach against any hitter, too.

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So at age 24, why isn’t this big, bad boy in Cleveland? Despite looking like Hercules, the right-hander hasn’t toted a heavy load. The 115 innings worked in his pro debut last year were just 30 shy of his four-year total at East Carolina where he dealt with back issues and a broken finger. The caution is justified.

The Guardians are guardedly optimistic they have a bona fide bulldog with — shall we dare say it — Roger Clemens stuff. When Williams has all four pitches working and with his size, he does resemble the legendary ace who won a record seven Cy Young Awards.

Big Man, Big Future

1. Gavin Williams, RHP                       1st-round pick (23 overall), 2021                                       6’6”   255   B: R   T: R   7/26/1999
In March 2022, a squad of young Guardians played Cincinnati Reds prospects. Behind the backstop were about 25 men with stopwatches, radar guns, pencils and paper. After each pitch thrown by the hulking right-hander, guys scrawled into notebooks and chatted. They were watching Williams’ first appearance in a Cleveland uniform over at the Reds’ minor-league facility. “I got 100 (mph),” one scout said. “And he just rocked back and let it go. Love it.” Offered another: “Forget that. His best pitch is the curve. Look at the drop.”

Gavin Williams after his first appearance in a Cleveland uniform in March 2022
Gavin Williams after his first appearance in a Cleveland uniform in March 2022

His first two starts at High-A Lake County showcased special and promising qualities. He pitched four hitless innings in his pro debut, fanning six and walking two. The next time out, he whiffed 11 in 4 2/3 innings. In nine starts and 45 innings, he gave up 25 hits and 14 walks, striking out 67 with a 1.40 ERA. He was good at Double-A Akron in 70 innings across 16 starts, too. His combined numbers for the season were Clemens-like. In 115 innings, he fanned 149, gave up 69 hits and 40 walks, with a 1.96 ERA.

Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Barnsby was elated to get Williams at No. 23 in the draft. “We had a recent conversation and he shared a few examples of where he always wants to be the best player on the field,” Barnsby told MLB.com after the pick. “He always wants to compete against the best. You can tell there’s that inner drive there. I think it speaks to the person he is.  (There’s) also that work ethic in terms of maintaining his throwing program, his workouts, his routines in-between starts. He’s done a great job with that all season.”

Power Pitcher

Williams’ fastball hit 95 mph as a North Carolina high school senior. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, whose pitchers have helped them open 2023 with an 11-0 record. The gangly right-hander chose to go to college. It was a wise choice. He beefed up, got stronger, and reaped a $2.25 million signing bonus — way more than he would have received as a 30th-round choice four years earlier. He was ordinary for three years, then dramatically improved in 2021. Williams became a starter and went 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA, whiffing 130 in 81 1/3 innings. He won American Athletic Conference pitcher of the year honors and finished fifth in NCAA Division I in strikeout rate (14.4 per nine innings).

His final start for the Diamond Bucs was most impressive. It was a duel against Vanderbilt star Kumar Rocker and in the College World Series. Williams struck out 13 and walked two over 7 1/3 innings, losing 2-0. His curveball and slider both showed greater velocity and movement. The fastball stayed at 100 and he calmly repeated his delivery in a pressure-packed game. The pure stuff was unreal.

“If he commands all four of his pitches, forget it,” one scout said last season at Akron. “The fastball and curve are there. When he executes the slider and changeup properly they are killers, too. He needs to polish off things and be consistent. Cleveland is just the perfect organization for him, too. They get the most out of their pitchers and really help them improve. This kid can be very, very special.”

The Future …

“We’re really excited about what we have,” Cleveland assistant GM James Harris told MLB.com. “Enhancing pitch characteristics is our bread and butter. We make guys more of themselves and it’s allowed us to have that consistency with our pitching.”

Cleveland batters claim Williams was their toughest opponent during intrasquad games and live BP at spring training. His 4-seam heater was graded the best fastball in Baseball America’s top 100 list.  The curve has exceptional spin rate, vertical drop, and approaches 80 mph. That is faster than most big breakers. His slider reaches 88 mph and when delivered from the same arm angle as his fastball, ends up 12-to-15 inches lower. The changeup fades back into a right-handed batter and moves 10 to 14 inches.

Durability and consistent command are the only things keeping Williams from being a bona fide ace. Excited fans must be as patient as the Guardians and Williams. The organization is confident that instruction and work will develop big talent into bigger results. Williams seems to buy into the thinking and understands that a rush to the majors may turn what could be an outstanding career into mediocrity.

The Complete 100

With his MLB debut Wednesday at Progressive Field, right-hander Peyton Battenfield became the ninth player from our list and the sixth in 2023 to play in the majors. Still, Williams stands tall atop our rankings. He potentially has the highest career ceiling should he put it all together. The rankings were comprised with several variables in mind and included future potential as well as being closest to making an impact at the big-league level. We see Williams’ vast potential outweighing others who look very good and have already reached the big time.

Here are previous listings: 2-3|4-5|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


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Chuck Murr

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