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40-Man Deadline Analysis: AL Central

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last Tuesday’s 40-man roster deadline led to the usual squall of transaction activity, with teams turning over portions of their rosters in an effort to make room for the incoming crop of young rookies. Often, teams with an overflow of viable big leaguers will try to get back what they can for some of those players via trade, but because we’re talking about guys straddling the line between major league viability and Triple-A, those trades tend not to be big enough to warrant an entire post. Over the next few days, we’ll endeavor to cover and analyze the moves made by each team, division by division. Readers can view this as the start of list season, as the players covered in this miniseries tend to be prospects who will get big league time in the next year. We’ll spend more time discussing players who we think need scouting updates or who we haven’t written about in the past. If you want additional detail on some of the more famous names you find below, pop over to The Board for a more thorough report.

The Future Value grades littered throughout these posts may be different than those on the 2022 in-season prospect lists on The Board to reflect our updated opinions, and may be subject to change during the offseason. New to our thinking on this subject and wondering what the FVs mean? Here’s a quick rundown. Note that because we’re talking about close-to-the-majors prospects across this entire exercise, the time and risk component is less present here and these FVs are what we think the players are right now.

Cleveland Guardians
Current 40-man Count: 39
Added Prospects: SS Angel Martinez (45 FV), MIRP Tim Herrin (40 FV), SP Joey Cantillo (40 FV)
External Additions: 2B Juan Brito (40+ FV), Ross Carver (35+ FV, not on 40-man)

For the second straight year, the Guardians were among the teams facing the biggest roster crunch. Last year, they turned over roughly a quarter of their roster on 40-man deadline day rather than make an elaborate trade. This year was a bit different, as the Guardians made three deals, starting by sending contact-dependent infielder Jose Fermin to the Cardinals for cash, well ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. On deadline day, they sent Top 100 prospect Nolan Jones to Colorado in exchange for 21-year-old switch-hitting second baseman Juan Brito, who they immediately put on the 40-man. This was not a “kick the can down the road” trade, as Brito would have otherwise been Rule 5 eligible in December. The weakness of Cleveland’s roster is currently first base and right field, assuming you don’t think Oscar Gonzalez, one of pro baseball’s least selective hitters, is a long-term answer. Conversely, the Guards’ are fathoms deep on the middle infield, not just on the big league roster but in the upper minors. Jones, who I still like long-term more than I do postseason hero Gonzalez, had seemingly fallen behind other corner outfielders on the Cleveland depth chart, but this deal indicates that, in some combination, Cleveland is taking the under on Jones and/or covets Brito, who is likely to spend a developmental year on the 40-man like Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena, and others did in 2022. Brito has plus hit tool projection, and even though he has 40-grade raw power right now (the high-end exit velocities are below average even for a player his age), the amount of contact he makes, his approach (just a 22% chase rate in 2023), and the consistency of the lift in his swing (there’s a stark contrast between his 17 degree average launch angle and Jones’ three degrees) all indicate he’s going to actualize whatever raw power he grows into in games. Brito was stuffed pretty good on last year’s Rockies list (complex-level players who earn a 40+ FV grade or better are rare, and you need only round him up one FV tier and round Jones down one for them both to be 45s), but that might require offseason adjustment, and his sudden proximity to the majors is a factor.

With some obvious holes — this team needs at least one middle-of-the-order slugger, as it can’t have Owen Miller and Gabriel Arias as its primary first basemen if it wants to take another playoff step — and so many young middle infielder on the roster, a trade looms. Adding to that depth is shortstop Angel Martinez. Martinez is even younger than Brito and doesn’t run 21 until January, though he’s played two levels ahead of Brito and has already had some time at Double-A. Martinez’s bat-to-ball feel is closer to average, but again, he was the age of a college sophomore in 2022 and reached Double-A. It feels like he’s behind the Rocchio/Arias/Tena contingent for 2023 big league reps, but he could probably pass in an infield utility role immediately if Cleveland needed him to.

As always, the Guardians’ ability to develop pitching tends to create tough decisions on the fringe of their roster. They traded 23-year-old righty Carlos Vargas to Arizona for 23-year-old righty Ross Carver, who reached Double-A in 2022 and who doesn’t need to occupy a 40-man spot until after the ’24 season. Vargas had no 2020 season, then had Tommy John in ’21, which kept him out until June of this year, and while his arm strength returned (he sat 96-99 in the back half of the season), he has very little feel for location. Of course, Vargas just completed injury rehab and hadn’t pitched for several years. Carver is a drop-and-drive righty with an uphill, low-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball. Dominant at High-A, he struggled after a promotion to Amarillo, but it’s incredible that the 2021 20th rounder got there so quickly. He threw only 19 total innings at Dallas Baptist and gives Cleveland a pitching prospect with a deeper 40-man horizon who may just be scratching the surface, while Arizona rolls a short-term draft-and-dev success into high-ceiling help for their big league bullpen.

Ho hum, Cleveland also added two pitchers who enjoyed three-tick fastball velocity bumps in 2022. Joey Cantillo, who came over in the Mike Clevinger trade, was still sitting 87-91 upon his initial return from Tommy John late in 2021 and hadn’t shown any improvement in this area since turning pro. His heater still played in the low-minors due to its angle and carry, but it hadn’t been tested against upper-level hitters. Then his fastball averaged 92 mph in 2022 and generated slightly above-average whiff and chase rates at Double-A. In concert with his plus changeup, Cantillo now looks more like a long-term rotation piece in Cleveland, though probably not a star unless this velocity trend continues. Tim Herrin’s fastball also picked up three notches this year, and he trampolined off a strong 2021 into a dominant ’22 as a multi-inning reliever, at times working two to three innings. His fastball’s angle makes it tough to get on top of, and Herrin mixes in a nasty slider and cutter that give him the repertoire depth to work all the way through a lineup.

A few notable relievers who weren’t added. Nick Mikolajchak‘s stuff backed up a little bit in 2022, he lost a tick on his heater and his performance regressed against Triple-A hitters. Andrew Misiaszek’s sneaky low-90s fastball puts him in an up/down relief bucket, enough to continue to project him as a big leaguer but making him perhaps not an imperative guy to protect. Nic Enright (sits 91 with ride, above average slider) and Trey Benton (sits 93, plus breaking ball) are of a similar ilk. High-profile former high school draftees Ethan Hankins (threw one inning coming off of TJ, I didn’t see him during instructs and I can’t find a scout who did either) and Lenny Torres (stuff was below average in the Fall League) were also passed over.