Once upon a time, Cleveland had too many catchers.
Cleveland scanned this obvious play and disregarded it, attempting instead some inverse combination of the above by staying home to watch a movie, trading Mejia for Brad Hand and starting Gomes, who played well and endeared himself to a fan base that had been frustrated to see Mejia go.
That off-season—last winter—fans were livid to see the club swap Gomes for Jefry Rodríguez, Daniel Johnson and Andruw Monasterio. Yanny G was set to cost about $7 million, and the inferior Roberto Perez was under contract for about $2 million. Nasty things were said. Baseball Universe decided Cleveland was cheap and dumb for how it handled the catching surplus.
So my thinking in regard to this Kluber trade or any Cleveland move: que sera sera.
The Yandy Diaz trade for Jake Bauers did not go as well, but in general, Baseball Universe loved that one, and this team knows what it’s doing. I’m sure it’s depressing to lose the Klubot and Bauer in a matter of months, but if anyone can develop the pitching to make fans forget, it’s Cleveland. Maybe it’s not the perfect trade, but Emmanuel Clase is going to bring positive value across the life of his contract. Open-market relievers are pricey these days. And we have little reason for confidence regarding the state of Kluber’s health. Could be this one looks bad next New Year, but whatever will be, will be.
1. OF George Valera | 19 | A | 2023
2. 2B Aaron Bracho | 19 | A- | 2023
You will see Cleveland’s top four arranged any number of ways around the prospect world. They’re spread across three tiers here because I like George Valera and Aaron Bracho a lot and have serious questions about Nolan Jones and Tyler Freeman.
George Valera’s stock was buoyed by the Ben Badler bump to such an extent that it barely moved through a lost 2018 and is trading even hotter after Valera logged a 142 wRC+ against competitors who were 2.9 years his senior, on average.
Aaron Bracho has been on the prospect radar since he was 14 and smashing at the 2016 Perfect Game showcase.
After injury issues in 2018, he came out swinging this year, posting a 162 wRC+ while walking more than he struck out in short season ball. Simply put, I love pretty much everything about him in the batters box.
3. 3B Nolan Jones | 21 | AA | Mid 2021
In OBP leagues, Nolan Jones belongs in the top tier. The main question about him is batting average due to his extreme plate patience and propensity to swing and miss. In traditional 5×5 settings, Jones is limited to three categories, and he’ll probably have to add some aggression to be a positive force in HR and RBI.
4. SS Tyler Freeman | 20 | A+ | Mid 2021
If I’m a Freeman shareholder, I’m putting him on the trade block. He’s within some top fifties, so he’s got helium, but I’m not sure he brings enough thump or speed to really impact our game. Happy to be proven wrong, but the sound and fury around Freeman signifies very little to me, and I think someone might like him enough to back up the Brinks truck.
5. RHP James Karinchak | 24 | MLB | 2019
6. RHP Emmanuel Clase | 22 | MLB | 2019
7. OF Daniel Johnson | 24 | AAA | Mid 2020
Speaking of prospect trade values, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase are about as interesting as it gets. Some dynasty players will be extremely eager to get them, and I think they’ve got a weird kind of value in the sense that you can probably hold them in your minors all year, depending on the settings of course. I’m in one league where 50 major league innings eliminates MiLB eligibility—that’s the lowest of the four dynasty leagues I’m in right now—and even in that league, Karinchak should give me roster flexibility until September, assuming he even accrues the 45 innings he’d need.
That’s an odd-shaped leash for our purposes. We’re accustomed to waiting for years on prospects, and while we wait, they’re in the minors. While we wait on Karinchak to actualize (earn saves), he can rack up strikeouts, help your ratios, snag a couple wins, and bounce back and forth between your majors and minors so you can stream a starter or pick up a prospect who’s surging. Clase has a little less appeal because he’s already got 23.1 innings and doesn’t K everyone he faces, but in a league where 100 innings is the cutoff, he’ll still be MiLB eligible next season.
These guys are great stocks for rebuilders and contenders alike, which makes them pretty valuable trade chips. If you put Tyler Freeman on the block, a few teams will think he’s a good fit and inquire about his price. Same deal if you put Brad Hand on the block. If you put James Karinchak or Emmanuel Clase on the block, you probably catch everyone’s attention to some extent.
Daniel Johnson has a good case to make the All-Underrated team for me. His carrying tools are as loud as anyone’s in the minors. Only trouble is his hit tool. But while players with his profile are typically coveted around the fantasy game, Daniel Johnson is something of an afterthought. Sure, he’s been on top hundreds for a while, and he’s been to the Futures Game, but he just doesn’t move the neck hairs like some others. I’m not certain he should. It’s just curious to me that a guy with power, speed, and an inside lane on playing time for a good team doesn’t get much mention.
8. RHP Daniel Espino | 19 | A- | 2023
9. SS Jose Fermin | 21 | A | 2022
10. SS Angel Martinez | 18 | R | 2025
This system’s depth is rivaled by only a handful of clubs—perhaps just Tampa and San Diego with a shout out to Arizona. If you’re not seeing a name you think should be here, you’re right to think they’d make other lists.
My favorite arm in the 2019 draft, Daniel Espino was a gift to Cleveland. He’s already creeping up the top 100’s, but the assent is just beginning. In a gif-happy baseball universe, Espino will generate a lot of clicks.
Jose Fermin might catch eyes here as a name out of place. If you want to see his baseball reference page, you’ll have to google it. That’s mostly about their internal search engine, I’ll bet, but it’s a fun indicator of how little fanfare Fermin’s garnered despite two straight seasons of walking more than he’s struck out. Despite stealing 29 bases and posting a 123 wRC+ as a 20-year-old in A ball while playing older competitors. Despite being pretty similar to Tyler Freeman.
The ten spot could’ve been hosted by Junior Sanquintin, Alexfri Planez, Ethan Hankins, Gabriel Rodríguez, Bo Naylor, or Brayan Rocchio, but the distinction goes to Angel Martinez. The son of a big leaguer (Sandy), he’s smooth and quick from both sides of the plate and in the field. There’s kind of a Rocchio feel to the momentum gathering behind Martinez, and Rocchio did not rocket up the rankings the way people expected last year, but he still logged a 107 wRC+ and played solid enough defense to keep himself safely in the organization’s plans, and I think that’s kind of a worst-case scenario for Martinez in 2020.
Happy New Year! Thanks for reading! See you Sunday in Detroit?